JOEL BLANK

Hey Astros fans, these guys are good!

Martin Maldonado (right) has been a solid role player. Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

This Astros team is not a flash in the pan. This team is not a one and done fluke. In fact, last year this team won and done was the talk of a franchise that couldn't win the big one. They don't play in a media hotbed like Los Angeles or New York, instead they played through those two cities on their way to bringing the title home to Houston. This season it's starting to feel like not only are they in the perfect position to do it again, but they look like a club that is ready to go on a run competing for several more over the next few years, instead of settling for just that one.

Even with George Springer dealing with a thumb injury that won't be right the rest of the year, Carlos Correa merely a shell of his normal self as he fights a back injury that has hindered him most of the second half of the season and Jose Altuve trying to mange the lingering affects of a late knee injury, this team continues to win. Sure they have star power and a great mix of veteran experience and rising young talent, but more than anything else, they have a great supporting cast that steps up big in the biggest of situations and makes sure the stars are never on an island looking for help that never shows up.

The Astros opened up the divisonal round of the playoffs and defense of their World Series title this weekend with a visit from the Cleveland Indians. The Tribe came in as a more than formidable opponent having won their division again with the help of 2 Cy Young candidates and a lineup full of All-Stars and a former league MVP. They have an outstanding manager and good depth on the bench. Most people thought this was the best match up of all the divisional series, a matchup sure to go the full five games, with the winner being the favorite to win the pennant regardless of regular season record.

What we have seen in the first two games is the "X Factor" for the Astros is alive and well and ready to show the world that even though the names may change, the results stay the same. The supporting cast for the Astros is extremely talented and as much as Springer and Justin Verlander and Alex Bregman and Gerrit Cole did to protect the home field and put the team up 2-0 in the series, the role players were heard from loud and clear. 

Last year the best backup singers in baseball had the likes of Brad Peacock emerging as arguably the best pitcher on the staff, Josh Reddick with an individual best .314 batting average and one of the top home hitters in all of baseball, Marwin Gonzalez having a career year statitically accrss the board at the plate and Chris Devinsky making the All-Star team as the most trusted reliever in AJ Hinch's bullpen. In the postseason it was Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers to the rescue in relief and Marwin and Bregman stepping up offensively to give the lineup key hits and big time at bats. This year it has been more of the same and although the faces or roles may have changed, the results remain the same. I realize it's only two games into what we all hope is a long playoff run, but the contributions of the   so called "other guys" have to get some love too and a bit of the credit to boot. Let's look at the "Usual Suspects" doing unusual things so far to help Houston:

Martin Maldonado - As valuable as Brian McCann was last year managing the pithing staff and adding key hits when needed, this year he needed knee surgery and Martin Maldonado was brought in to step in, step up and save the day. Nicknamed the "machete" for his ability to cut down runners trying to steal he has done that and so much more as he has lived up to billing as one of the best defensive catchers in the game. He has also earned the trust of the pithing staff and called great games for Verlander, Cole and company. He also supplied a key insurance run with a huge home run in Game 1 that helped cement the victory.

Tyler White - Evan Gattis was the DH for the historic run the Astros went on a year ago, providing leadership, experience, power and verstility as he was also the team's emergency catcher. This year the "caveman" has ben hot and cold and was eventually replaced by White as the big bat at the bottom of the lineup and a guy that can play both infield and outfield if called upon. Through 2 games against the Indians he is hitting .600 with a slugging percentge of .800, OBP of .750 and OPS of 1.550.

Marwin Gonzalez - As big as his home run in the 9th inning of Game 2 of last years' World Series was, not to mention his huge regular season a year ago where he set career marks across the board at the plate, this year was a dissappointing step back. He was still great defensively as a utility man extraordinaire, but at the plate he returned to the offensive output that has defined his career. The good news is, his postseason magic seems to be back where the team loves it to be as his .714 average leads the team and his huge double in Game 2 against the Tribe turned the tables, gave the team the lead and got the offense going after a sluggish start. 

Josh Reddick - A mirror image of Marwin a year ago he hit .314, which was the best year of his career, was incredible defensively and as mentioned, was the best bat in the American League at home a season ago. His playoffs unfortunately was the complete opposite as he went 5-for-49 in the ALCS and World Series. The hangover continued this year as his average fell 72 points and he presssed and struggled through a good portion of the summer. The fresh start of the playoffs have been just what Josh and the team has needed through the first two games as he had two big hits in Game 1, another in Game 2 as he is hitting .500 with 2 RBI. 

Yes, Springer and Bregman have been huge as they have lead the squad to two big victories, but with Carlos Correa still wallowing in a huge slump and  Altuve hitting a paltry .250 the other bats at the bottom of the order have stepped up big and helped build the impressive 2-0 advantage over the Indians. Of course this team will always rely on the "Core 4" to lead them, but if the team is to make a deep run as they attempt to repeat as World Series champs, it's a pretty good sign that the reserves have come to play and contribute in a very big way. For as good as the stars are on this team, it's the rest of the roster that gives so many baseball experts the opinion that this team is loaded and ready to be contenders for the foreseeable future. Let's hope that's the case as we all buckle up and prepare to enjoy the ride. 


 

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Houston is falling down the rankings

Tigers pound Odorizzi, Astros with homers as Houston drops fourth in a row

The Astros have not looked great in their last four games. Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

After watching their hot start of 6-1 cool down to a 6-4 record with three straight losses, the Astros returned to Minute Maid Park on Tuesday night, looking to do a better job at home against a beatable Tigers team.

Recent games' woes would continue, though, with Houston's pitching getting blasted by the opposing offense and their own bats primarily quiet.

Final Score: Tigers 8, Astros 2

Astros' Record: 6-5, tied for second in AL West

Winning Pitcher: Matthew Boyd (2-1)

Losing Pitcher: Jake Odorizzi (0-1)

Astros score first, then Tigers unload on Odorizzi

Houston looked to have something brewing in the bottom of the second, with three singles in the first four batters of the inning, the third an RBI-single by Myles Straw to put the Astros in front 1-0. However, Matthew Boyd would limit the damage, getting back-to-back strikeouts to end the threat.

After two easy innings for Jake Odorizzi in his regular-season debut for his new team, he would allow a game-tying solo homer to Akil Baddoo, his fourth of the year, in the top of the third. Detroit struck again in the top of the fourth, getting a leadoff double to set up a two-run go-ahead home run to jump ahead 3-1.

They didn't stop there, getting another two-run bomb later in the same inning; a frame that would take Odorizzi 31 pitches to get only one out before Houston would bring in Bryan Abreu to get the last two outs. Odorizzi's final line in his debut: 3.1 IP, 7 H, 5 ER, 3 HR, 0 BB, 4 K, 80 P.


Detroit continues home run parade, Houston loses fourth in a row

Abreu would hope to do what Luis Garcia did the night before, eat up as many innings as possible after a poor outing from Houston's starter. The Tigers would get yet another two-run homer, though, in the top of the fifth, extending their lead to 7-1, with all seven runs coming over a three-inning span. For good measure, they'd knock one more out with two outs in the top of the ninth, making it 8-1.

As far as Houston at the plate, other than their string of hits to bring in a run earlier in the second, they were getting nothing done against Boyd, who would go six and two-thirds innings. Detroit's bullpen would finish things off, despite an all-too-late sac fly by the Astros in the bottom of the ninth, with Houston dropping their fourth-straight game and continuing to lose ground in the division.

Up Next: The finale of this three-game set with Detroit will be an hour earlier on Wednesday, getting underway at 6:10 PM Central. Lance McCullers Jr. (1-0, 1.80 ERA) will try to maintain his perfect record and improve upon his two five-inning one-run starts for the Astros, going opposite of Michael Fulmer (0-0, 2.57 ERA) for the Tigers.

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