The Astros Report

A game-by-game look at the week that was for the Astros: Bullpen, bats underperform

Justin Verlander was one of the bright spots in a disappointing week. Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

This week had a little bit of everything for the Astros. Wins, losses, career-worsts, historical-bests, huge comebacks, and anticipated returns. Here's how it all shook out:

Monday, April 9th: 8-2 Astros (Justin Verlander) vs. 4-3 Twins (Lance Lynn)

The first game of the week was a cold one in Minnesota. Colder than the near-freezing temperatures during the game Monday night was the ice running in Justin Verlander's veins. After allowing a double to Joe Mauer in the bottom of the first, Verlander did not allow another hit until the sixth, where it looked like he might be in trouble. The Twins managed back-to-back hits to start the bottom of the sixth, a double and a single to put runners on the corners with no outs. Verlander locked in, though, and in dominating fashion struck out the next two batters before getting a popout to end the Twins' threat and strand the runners. Verlander would go on to finish seven complete innings, keeping the Twins scoreless on four hits and nine strikeouts. He left with a 1-0 lead thanks to an RBI single from J.D. Davis in the top of the sixth, a rare run scored as both teams struggled on offense to that point. Marwin Gonzalez added another run in the top of the eighth to make it a 2-0 lead for Houston, but it turned out to be unneeded as the bullpen trio of Brad Peacock, Chris Devenski, and Ken Giles combined for the last two innings to end the shutout win.
Final Score: Astros 2, Twins 0

Tuesday, April 10th: 9-2 Astros (Dallas Keuchel) vs. 4-4 Twins (Jake Odorizzi)

After being shut out the night before, the Twins turned things around Tuesday night and got the best of a struggling Dallas Keuchel early. Keuchel struggled with his command in yet another game, giving up two runs in the bottom of the first inning, then walking in a run in the bottom of the second. Some could argue that he wasn't getting some calls down in the zone, and maybe so, but Keuchel is usually one to adjust and turn things around, and Tuesday night he couldn't make that happen. He hit the 100 pitch mark in the fourth inning, ending his night short at 4 innings pitched, 3 earned runs, 6 hits, and 4 walks. The four walks made it back-to-back games with that number, a number he only reached once all of last year. Houston was able to get a run back in the top of the second, an RBI single by Jake Marisnick which at the time made it a 2-1 game, but were unable to get anything else done on offense. The Twins added an additional run off of Joe Smith in the bottom of the eighth on their way to the win. 
Final Score: Astros 1, Twins 4

Wednesday, April 11th: 9-3 Astros (Lance McCullers Jr.) vs. 5-4 Twins (Kyle Gibson)

Wednesday afternoon's game induced a roller coaster of emotions, to say the least. After going up 1-0 in the top of the first on an RBI sacrifice fly from Carlos Correa, it looked like the Astros might be in a position to edge out another low-scoring win. That all changed when things blew up in the fourth inning. McCullers experienced quite literally the worst inning of his career as before it was all said and done he gave up three walks, three singles, a triple, and a home run to allow 8 earned runs, the most in a game for his career, and give the Twins an 8-1 lead. Things turned back the Astros way, though, as they spurred flashbacks of the Memorial Day comeback on their way to scoring seven unanswered runs between the fifth and ninth innings to tie the game 8-8. They would come up disappointingly short of finishing the comeback this year though, thanks to a walk-off home run by Max Kepler off of Brad Peacock in the bottom of the ninth to prevent extra innings and send the Astros back to Houston with a series loss and bad taste in their mouth. 
Final Score: Astros 8, Twins 9

Friday, April 13th: 4-10 Rangers (Cole Hamels)  vs. 9-4 Astros (Gerrit Cole)

Friday night marked the anticipated return of Yuli Gurriel, who followed serving his five-game suspension for his insensitive gesture in last year's World Series with a 10-day stint on the DL. Despite hitting a single in his first at-bat back in the lineup, Gurriel's return would be overshadowed by another amazing start from newcomer Gerrit Cole. Cole has a phenomenal night, pitching 7 strong innings during which he struck out a career-high 14 batters, bringing his total over his first three starts to 36, and joining Nolan Ryan as the only pitcher in history to have over eleven strikeouts in the first three starts of a season. On the other side, Cole Hamels also had a decent night but made two mistake pitches to George Springer, both hit for opposite-field solo home runs. The Rangers managed to tie the game off of Cole with two solo home runs of their own in the seventh, the only blemishes to an otherwise perfect pitching performance. The difference maker in the game came in the bottom of the eighth on an RBI single by Marwin González to give the Astros a 3-2 lead, one they were able to hold on to thanks to a shutout ninth from Chris Devenski who earned the save. 
Final Score: Rangers 2, Astros 3

Saturday, April 14th: 4-11 Rangers (Mike Minor) vs. 10-4 Astros (Charlie Morton)

In another role-reversal of a highlight from last season, it was the Rangers on Saturday who overcame a five-run deficit against the Astros at Minute Maid Park. It was Charlie Morton on the mound, who looked great and on the way to an easy win after the Astros found themselves up 5-0 after a two-RBI double from Carlos Correa and a three-run homer from Gurriel in the bottom of the fourth. The Rangers trimmed the lead down to three by giving Morton his first two earned runs of the season, solo home runs in the fifth and sixth innings to make it 5-2. Despite the two runs, Morton still finished with a great line, going six innings giving up the two runs on six hits while striking out twelve. It was Brad Peacock who faltered for the second straight game, giving up three runs on two home runs to allow the Rangers to tie the game at 5-5. After a scoreless ninth, the game headed to extra innings where Will Harris was the next member of Houston's bullpen to underperform. After getting a groundout to start the inning, Harris gave up a walk, double, then an intentional walk to Adrian Beltré to load the bases before having a comebacker deflect off his glove which allowed the go-ahead run to score, giving the Rangers their sixth unanswered run which would earn them the win after the Astros failed to score in the bottom of the inning.
Final Score: Rangers 6, Astros 5

Sunday, April 15th: 5-11 Rangers (Bartolo Colon) vs. 10-5 Astros (Justin Verlander)

In the primetime game on Jackie Robinson day to close out the week, it was a showcase of pitching in a low-scoring duel. There was just one hit in the first seven innings, a solo home run by Robinson Chirinos in the top of the third off of Verlander to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead. Other than that, both pitchers absolutely dominated, with Colon keeping the Astros hitless and without a single baserunner through seven innings. Carlos Correa ended Colon's perfect game by working a walk in the bottom of the eighth, followed by the first hit for Houston, a double by Josh Reddick. Yuli Gurriel then tied the game 1-1 with a sac fly to score Correa, but the Astros were unable to get a go-ahead run home sending the game to the ninth tied. Chris Devenski took over in the top of the ninth, ending Verlander's great night, and worked around a two-out single to send the game to the bottom of the inning, where the Astros stranded two runners to set up extra innings for the second straight game. Hector Rondon took the mound in the top of the tenth, and much like Will Harris in Saturday's game got taken advantage of by the Rangers offense, giving up a leadoff single then ground-rule double, setting up a two-run RBI double for Chirinos to give Texas a 3-1 lead which they took to the bottom of the inning and held to win the game and take the series 2-1. 
Final Score: Rangers 3, Astros 1

Summary: After going 8-2 over the first ten games in the extended week 1, the Astros earned themselves a disappointing 2-4 record this week, losing both series that should have been very winnable to bring their record down to 10-6. Other than the early struggles of Keuchel, and the bad game on Wednesday from McCullers, the starting rotation for Houston has delivered on the hype they were given in pre-season predictions and been the bright spot so far. However, this week it was the other two parts of the game, the offense and bullpen that cost the Astros a couple of games. It is quite alarming when a starter throws double-digit strikeouts and has to sit and watch a game flip the other way due to cold bats or miserable relief appearances. No one is demanding the offense be as potent as last year in every single game, especially with this strong of a rotation limiting their need for a lot of runs, but until this bullpen catches its stride they are going to have to give them some more run support. We are back where we were at this point last year wondering when the offense will turn things around. Hopefully, it will be sooner rather than later because the Angels are out to a blazing fast start, and have a three-game lead in the AL West over the Astros. 

MVP of the Week - Justin Verlander

Verlander dominated in his two starts this week, with his only earned run coming by way of that solo home run in Sunday night's game. He combined for 20 strikeouts in 15 innings of work, going seven innings on Monday and eight on Sunday. He continues to be the anchor of the Astros rotation that can keep games within reach while the offense finds their rhythm. 

This Week: 

  • Mon-Thu: Astros (10-6) @ Mariners (8-5)
  • Fri-Sat: Astros (10-6) @ White Sox (4-8)

The Astros get a chance for a morale boost as they head to Seattle for a four-game series where they historically perform very well. However, the Mariners have gotten out to a decent start this year, sitting at 8-5. Then, they'll finish the week in Chicago for a three-game set against the White Sox who sit at 4-8, setting up a full week on the road. 

Charlie Morton helped create a lasting memory. Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

By the time this story is out it will be a fact; Charlie Morton will have signed with the Tampa Bay Rays ending his tenure as a Houston Astro.

Going into free agency this off season, it was hard not to expect changes to come, especially with so many high profile Astros up for free agency. I fully expect Dallas Keuchel and Marwin Gonzales to be gone, but losing Good Ol Uncle Chuck was a little surprising.

All things considered, the Astros bringing back Morton seemed to make sense. Keuchel is due for a big pay day, and all signs point to that being with another team. Lance McCullers, of course, will miss the 2019 season to recover from his Tommy John procedure. With another year of Cole and Verlander, and a promotion to McHugh, it seemed like Morton would slide back into a solid rotation.

That, as we all know now, was not the case as CFM agreed to a two year, $30 million dollar contract with the Tampa Bay Rays.


Maybe I'm a masochist, but I spent last night re-watching the 2017 World Series highlights, Game 7 to be specific. The Astros were in complete control, up 5-0 after the second. A platoon of McCullers, Peacock, Liriano, and Devenski got them through five. Morton entered the game in the bottom of the sixth. On his very first pitch, he gave up a base hit to Joc Pederson. He then proceeded to give up a walk to Foresythe and a single to Ethier, allowing the Dodgers to score their first run of the game, it was 5-1. After facing six batters in the sixth inning , Charlie reminded us why we added the F to his name as he retired the next nine batters in a row to win the game and the 2017 World Series.

Morton's post game interview with Buster Olney was as haunting, and prophetic, as it comes.

"All this (adversity) has made me a better person, a better ball player. I appreciate that as much as this ( winning the WS). This is the epitome of what you can do in this game. Look at us. This is crazy. To go from Fenway Park, to beat the Yankees and now the Dodgers. It's extraordinary. It hasn't sunk in but I'm so grateful for all these guys, for all the fans in Houston. I hope everybody enjoyed every second of this."

When the team who suffered through pitching ailments all of the postseason needed a stellar pitching performance the most, Morton delivered. When a city that needed something to believe in after a historical hurricane caused monumental damage, Charlie Morton did not falter. In a city where it's easier to find a reason why our teams won't succeed, Morton was not going to allow anything to take this moment away from him, away from us.

As iconic as Joe Bucks " ground ball to the right side could do it" call was, the moment in which McCann rushed a shocked Morton will live in my head forever. Finally, it was over. The Astros had their championship. Charlie Morton had his World Series win. Houston had its hero.

Growing up, my father had a plethora of stories about his favorite moments in sports. I have listened to more stories about Luis Hernandez than I care to ever have. It is funny looking back now because I will be doing the same thing to my eventual children. When it comes time for me to share why I love sports so much, it will be hard for me to not start with Charlie Morton's performance in the 2017 World Series.

Morton gave the best two years of his career to the Astros, and through that helped make this team a championship city again. He will, without a doubt go down as a hero in Houston sports. More importantly, to me at least, Morton will go down as a member of my favorite team of all time, the 2017 Astros.

Goodbye, my friend. Thanks for the memories that will last a life time.

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