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 O'BRIEN'S COACHING

Not my job: Texans no match for the Ravens

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

The Texans fell to the Ravens 33-16 in a game they had a shot at winning. Most of you reading this will probably think I'm crazy for saying that. I assure you, I meant what I said. One of the reasons they didn't was because Bill O'Brien made a few questionable decisions that cost this team.

The first was the 4th & 1 decision. Deciding to go for it was bad enough. They were down 3-0 near the end of the first quarter with the ball on their own 34-yard line. This is not a situation that calls for a gamble or statement play. The play call itself was okay I guess: a play action bootleg with two short options. It was read and played perfectly by the Ravens defense. Deshaun Watson had nowhere to go with the ball and had to throw it at Darren Fells' back before getting sacked. That led to a quick Ravens touchdown and an early 10-0 deficit. I seriously think he has PTSD after that playoff loss to the Chiefs when it comes to fourth down calls. Bumbling Bill strikes again!

When they got the ball back, they scored a touchdown thanks to more play action passes and pre-snap motion. It was as if Bumbling Bill realized his offensive line was outmatched by the front seven they're opposing. Sure Watson is mobile and looks like a magician escaping sacks, but misdirection helps throw the defense off and keeps Watson from breaking into 177,000,000 pieces. Oh, and the quick reads were a good idea as well. Too bad Bumbling Bill went away from that and opted for longer developing routes. Or will he blame it on Timid Tim Kelly? Or was Waiting Watson holding onto the ball too long? I blame all three.

Also, can we stop starting drives with the predictable run, run, pass combo please? First down should be play action rollout with Watson having the ability to choose to run if it's there. More run/pass/option plays need to be called as well. Incorporate more things that we saw when Watson was on his way to winning rookie of the year before his knee was sacrificed for the Astros.

Credit where it's due: the end of the first half to get a field goal with a minute and change left was good to see. Typically, these situations tend to make Bumbling Bill come out. I liked the quick slant to Cobb with no timeouts. They were able to spike the ball and get the field goal up.

The game was still within reach at 23-13 in the beginning of the fourth quarter. On a 4th & 1, they gave up a 30 yard touchdown run on a direct snap to Mark Ingram. I saw gaps on both sides of the defensive line pre-snap. Sure enough, Ingram got a lead block from the Ravens human plough of a fullback and that effectively put the nail in the coffin at 30-13. I know the tendency is to quarterback sneak or run up the middle, but don't leave gaps along the defensive line trying to stack the middle. First time defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver will take the L on this one.

Overall, I'll give O'Brien and his coaching staff a C- this game. Mistakes were made that could've cost them a legit shot at winning, but the Keke Coutee fumble return for a touchdown wasn't their fault. The play calling menu was brought to us this week by Craft Pita via the "What's Eric Eating" podcast. Tune in next week for another "Not my job!"

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