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Evaluating the Astros at the halfway point

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Image

Tuesday's doubleheader against the Angels represented games 30 and 31 of the shortened 60 game season, pushing the Astros past the halfway point of the year. The Astros are 17-14, which is 2nd in the AL West, 4.5 GB of the division leading Athletics. Of course, because of the expanded playoffs this season, 2nd place is good enough to get the Astros in the playoffs as a six seed. If the playoffs started today, they would square off against the Yankees.

What have the major storylines of the first half been (brawling aside)?

Injuries

This bears repeating from a previous story. Take a gander at this pitching staff.

Gerrit Cole

Justin Verlander

Wade Miley

Collin McHugh

Jose Urquidy

Roberto Osuna, Will Harris, Joe Smith, Hector Rondon, Brad Peacock, Chris Devenski, Joe Biagini, Cionel Perez

While, yes, a majority of the names on that staff are unavailable due to free agent departure, the likes of Verlander, Urquidy, Osuna, Smith, Peacock, Biagini, and Perez have all been unavailable for all of or portions of the season due to injury. Now, one could argue that the Astros would be better off with some of these guys on the IL instead, but that's a discussion for another day. The Astros staff has been ravaged by injuries, and that's just on the pitching side.

Yordan Alvarez was available for less than a week, Michael Brantley spent a stint on the IL, George Springer missed time with injury, and Alex Bregman is currently unavailable due to injury. Those guys alone would create one of the most fearsome foursomes in MLB regardless of the supporting cast. Luckily for the Astros, the rest of the supporting staff is pretty good, which is why the team has stayed afloat, but the injury bug has certainly bit the Astros.

New Faces

People say when a door closes another one opens. The exodus of talent and injury issues have provided opportunity for some youngsters to seize. Kyle Tucker has played the best baseball of his big league career over the last two weeks, Enoli Paredes and Blake Taylor seem like legitimate bullpen options long term, Framber Valdez has been the Astros second best starter, and Cristian Javier has been impressive at times. All-in-all, the Astros can't be too upset with what they've gotten from their young crop of players.

Struggling Stars

Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, and George Springer have all stumbled out of the gates to different degrees. Springer and Altuve's batting averages add up to .400 (.207 and .193 respectively), which isn't very good. Bregman was just starting to really heat up before straining his hamstring in Colorado and hitting the IL. With Alvarez out of the lineup for the year, it's hard to take the Astros seriously as a contender without these guys posing a threat and clicking. Let's hope they can get it together sooner rather than later.

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Houston scored in droves

Astros drub Twins in finale to take series win

Houston's offense showered Minnesota with hits in Sunday's finale. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

After splitting the first two games, with Houston's offense uncharacteristically ineffective in the loss on Saturday, they tried to turn things around with a win to take the series on Sunday. The Astros would bounce right back at the plate, getting hits and runs all through the afternoon to rout the Twins.

Final Score: Astros 14, Twins 3

Astros' Record: 37-28, second in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Framber Valdez (3-0)

Losing Pitcher: Michael Pineda (3-4)

Valdez keeps rolling

Framber Valdez continued to impress in 2021 after starting his season on the IL, posting another quality start with a win against the Twins. After four scoreless frames, he allowed a solo homer to start the bottom of the fifth, just the third hit of the game for Minnesota to that point. He went on to retire the next three batters to get through the inning.

He faltered a bit in the bottom of the sixth, allowing a leadoff double followed by a single, with a run coming across on an error on that play. He once again rebounded to finish that frame, then put up a 1-2-3 seventh to finish his day off, notching another quality start and a win. His final line: 7.0 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 2 K, 1 HR, 97 P.

Houston keeps their foot on the gas

While Valdez's outing was a highlight of its own, Houston's offense was the story of the day. They put their foot down on the pedal all day and did not let up, starting in the top of the first when Jose Altuve turned the first pitch of the game around for a single, later scoring on a sac fly by Alex Bregman to put the Astros in front 1-0.

After two scoreless innings, they got right back on the scoreboard in the fourth with a two-run homer by Kyle Tucker, then kept pouring it on with two runs in the fifth on a sac fly by Yuli Gurriel and an error, making it 5-0 at the time. The runs kept coming in the top of the sixth, with a two-RBI double by Michael Brantley, who would score later on a two-run bomb by Yordan Alvarez. Then, in the top of the seventh, Brantley struck again to push it to double-digits with a two-RBI single to make it 11-2 and give Brantley 4 RBI on the afternoon.

With Houston swapping out starters with the hefty lead, even their pinch-hitters were getting involved, with Chas McCormick leading the top of the eighth off with a solo shot to make it a ten-run game. They then loaded the bases with no outs, setting up a sac fly for Myles Straw to make it 13-2.

Astros take the series

In the bottom of the eighth, Ralph Garza Jr. came in as the first reliever out of the bullpen for Houston. He recorded two quick outs but then met Nelson Cruz, who lasered a solo homer to put it back at a ten-run game before finishing the frame. Houston put their twentieth hit on the board in the top of the ninth, their highest total this season, en route to another scoring inning with a sac fly by Robel Garcia to make it 14-3. Garza came in for his second inning of work to wrap things up in the bottom of the ninth, giving the Astros a successful end to this series and road trip.

Up Next: Houston will travel home before an off day on Monday to rest before 20 days of consecutive games. They'll kick off a six-game homestand on Tuesday, welcoming in the Rangers for two starting at 7:10 PM Central. Lance McCullers Jr. (3-1, 2.96 ERA) will make his return from the IL for the Astros, though Jake Odorizzi will "piggy-back" him, and Kyle Gibson (4-0, 2.13 ERA) will take the mound for Texas.

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