THE ASTROS REPORT

A game-by-game look at the week that was for the Astros: Team goes 3-3 with Yankees coming up

The Yankees come to town for the first time since last year's ALCS. Abbie Parr/Getty Images

The Astros had six games this week against AL West opponents looking to knock them from the top of the division standings. Here's how things turned out:

Monday, April 23rd: 14-8 Angels (Tyler Skaggs) vs. 16-7 Astros (Gerrit Cole) 

It was a quiet start to the week offensively for both the Angels and Astros on Monday night. Neither team scored a run in the first four innings, with Gerrit Cole actually holding the Angels without a hit altogether. That changed in the fifth after Cole allowed a single, followed by a walk, setting up an RBI single for Kole Calhoun to give the Angels a 1-0 lead. Cole would allow another run in the sixth after giving up a two-out single to Mike Trout, who stole second, advanced to third on a wild pitch, then scored on an RBI-double by Justin Upton, extending the Angels lead to 2-0. Despite the two runs allowed, Cole still looked strong and gave the Astros seven full innings with eight strikeouts. Unfortunately, it was Tyler Skaggs who had just a little bit better night to hold the Astros scoreless over seven innings of his own before Los Angeles' bullpen would wrap up the 2-0 shutout, the first time for Houston this year.
Final score: Angels 2, Astros 0

Tuesday, April 24th: 15-8 Angels (Shohei Ohtani) vs. 16-8 Astros (Charlie Morton)

The Astros faced international sensation Shohei Ohtani for the first time on Tuesday night, but both he and Charlie Morton would have forgettable starts. Morton's rough night started right off the bat with a solo home run by Mike Trout to put the Angels up 1-0 in the top of the first. The Angels would get another solo homer in the second then score two more runs after two walks and two infield singles in the third. It was a 4-1 game at that point with the Astros able to get a run back on an RBI single from Gonzalez in the second. Down 4-1, and after a leadoff single followed by a walk in the fifth, it was clear Morton did not have his usual command and was pulled in favor of Brad Peacock, putting an end to his worst start of the young season. Peacock did well, giving the Astros two scoreless, hitless innings during which Houston took a 5-4 lead after two-run home runs by Derek Fisher off of Ohtani in the fifth and Brian McCann off of Jose Alvarez in the sixth. Joe Smith was brought in for the seventh to hold the one-run lead but instead allowed four runs, including a three-run homer, to give the Angels the 8-5 advantage. Houston looked to be working a comeback with two runs of their own in the bottom of the inning, but would ultimately fall a run short to lose back-to-back games. 
Final score: Angels 8, Astros 7

Wednesday, April 25th: 16-8 Angels (Nick Tropeano) vs. 16-9 Astros (Justin Verlander)

Wednesday afternoon's game started out as a quiet pitcher's game with both team's going hitless until the fourth inning. The first hit turned out to be the biggest of the game, however, after Tropeano walked the bases loaded in the bottom of the fourth, setting up a bases-clearing triple for Alex Bregman to put the Astros up 3-0. Jose Altuve would tack on another run with his first homer of the year on a solo shot in the bottom of the sixth to make it 4-0. They were shutting out the Angels to that point due to another dominant start from Justin Verlander. Verlander allowed just one hit through the first six innings, though did fade a bit in the seventh, allowing a solo home run to Albert Pujols (because he always has to hit one in a series against the Astros) and an RBI double to make it a 4-2 game. The Angels would get no closer to that, however, thanks to an insurance run on a solo home run by Jake Marisnick and two hitless innings from Chris Devenski and Ken Giles to close out the win and avoid the sweep.
Final score: Angels 2, Astros 5

Friday, April 27th: 13-12 A's (Sean Manaea) vs. 17-9 Astros (Dallas Keuchel)

Dallas Keuchel looked dominant early in Friday night's game, holding the A's hitless through four innings with 10 of the 12 outs coming by strikeout or groundout. He headed into the fifth with a 1-0 lead after an RBI single from Correa in the bottom of the fourth, but the A's tied it right back up after a solo home run for the first hit of their night. Keuchel would be unable to shake that off, allowing five more runs over the sixth and seventh innings including two two-run home runs allowing Oakland to pull away 6-1. They were holding the Astros to one run thanks to Sean Manaea who after getting a no-hitter in his last start went seven strong innings against the Astros. Down five runs, Joe Smith was brought in, likely to try and rebound from his horrible inning on Tuesday, but instead allowed two more runs making it an 8-1 advantage for the A's which they would keep, getting the dominant win in the series opener.
Final score: A's 8, Astros 1

Saturday, April 28th: 14-12 A's (Daniel Mengden) vs. 17-10 Astros (Lance McCullers Jr.) 

The teams swapped roles in another blowout game on Saturday night. It started with a big first inning for the Astros who loaded the bases before getting RBI sac flies from Yuli Gurriel and Josh Reddick and an RBI double from Alex Bregman to get a quick 3-0 lead. They would go on to score in each of the next three innings, including an RBI single from Jose Altuve, sacrifice fly from Marwin Gonzalez, and two-run home run from Derek Fisher to extend their lead to 7-0. They didn't stop there: George Springer and Altuve hit back-to-back solo homers in the sixth, followed by another by Gonzalez in the seventh before Alex Bregman would work an RBI walk for the eleventh run to take an 11-0 lead in the eighth. The offense was firing on all cylinders Saturday night, but so was Lance McCullers. McCullers had one of his best starts of the year so far, going seven full innings while allowing just two hits and no runs while striking out seven on his way to his third straight win and fourth on the year. He was followed by Hector Rondon and Tony Sipp who kept the shutout alive to even the series at a game apiece. 
Final score: A's 0, Astros 11

Sunday, April 29th: 14-13 A's (Trevor Cahill) vs. 18-10 Astros (Gerrit Cole)

The A's avoided another shutout early in Sunday's game, getting an early 1-0 lead on an RBI double by Jonathan Lucroy off of Gerrit Cole in the top of the third. Houston answered right back and took a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the inning after an RBI single from George Springer then RBI bunt from Jose Altuve. Springer then extended the lead to 3-1 with a solo home run, his second in as many games. The momentum shifted back to Oakland, though, as they would trim the lead to one on an RBI single in the sixth then tie the game in the seventh after Will Harris was brought in with two outs and one of Cole's runners on second and allowed an RBI single to make it 3-3. The three earned runs and six and two-thirds inning start made it the shortest start with the most runs for Cole, who had gone exactly seven in all of his other starts this year. Cole did still strike out twelve, but after seeing his earned run come across to tie the game would not be a part of the decision. The A's had a horrible bottom of the seventh, committing three errors which the Astros paired with two walks, RBIs from Marisnick and Altuve, and an amazing first-to-home sprint by Brian McCann to go back up 6-3. Houston tacked on two more insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth on RBIs from Gonzalez McCann to take an 8-3 lead to the ninth, which despite Joe Smith allowing a solo home run, was enough to get the win and take the series 2-1. 
Final score: A's 4, Astros 8

Summary

The more I look back on this 3-3 week, the more that result tells me exactly what this team is starting to move towards: evening out. Don't get me wrong, I'm not talking about their record evening out, but instead the team's performance on a daily basis. The Astros losses this week were due to bad offense, starting pitching, bullpen work, or a combination of all three. On the flip side, the wins came as starting pitchers lasted deep into the game and kept the opponents within striking distance for the offense while giving the bullpen enough cushion to not have to be perfect. The wins this week looked a lot more like what this team is going to be going forward than the losses did, and the two-game winning streak to finish the week has me hopeful they may be setting themselves up to settle in and do what they did last year, winning two games for every one lost. The starters continue to be dominant despite Morton's fluke start on Monday and Keuchel getting roughed up towards the end of his start on Friday. The offense looks poised to stay up to their potential, and that's in large part to this week's MVP heating up...

MVP of the Week - Jose Altuve

Last year's AL MVP is my MVP for the Astros this week. Excluding the rare 0-for-5 game he had in Tuesday's loss, Altuve hit in every other game this week, including getting his first two home runs of the year. He looked a lot more like his usual self and comfortable at the plate, going 9 for 24 for a .375 average with 5 RBIs this week, and none of this even accounts for his usual strengths on defense. Now that he has that home run expectation off his back, look for him to be a nightly spark for this offense.

This Week

  • Mon-Thu: (18-9) Yankees @ 19-10 Astros
  • Fri-Sun: 19-10 Astros @ 19-8 Diamondbacks

The Astros close out their ten-game homestand this week with a four-game series against the surging Yankees for a 2017 ALCS rematch. The Yankees are red-hot right now; they are currently on a nine-game winning streak including a three-game sweep of the Angels in Los Angeles over the weekend. After the Yankees, the Astros head to Arizona this weekend for an interleague series with the Diamondbacks who are currently the best team in the NL sitting at 19-8. It could prove to be a tough week, but a rewarding one if they can outplay these two high-caliber teams and get a couple of series wins.

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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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