How the Hector Neris incident has much bigger Astros implications

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With the season on the line, the Houston Astros went into Seattle and took two out of three from the Mariners. Dusty Baker and the 'Stros control their own destiny with three games remaining against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Wednesday's finale was giving off playoff vibes for sure, and it was touch and go for a while, with Framber Valdez pitching only 4 innings before Baker went to his bullpen.

The big news story from the game occurred in the 6th inning when Hector Neris talked some smack to Julio Rodriguez after striking out him out to end the inning.

Benches cleared, and after the game, Mariners third baseman Eduardo Suarez alleged that Neris used a homophobic slur in Spanish aimed at Rodriguez. Rodriguez left the stadium before the media was allowed in the locker room after the game.

Whether that's true or not is up for debate, Neris said he's friends with Rodriguez and said basically told him he won that matchup. Either way, the altercation seemed to give the Astros a jolt heading into the next inning.

With one out, Alex Bregman got things going with a hit to right field that Teoscar Hernandez misplayed, allowing Bregman to get to third. The Astros tacked on three runs in the inning, finally manufacturing offense to give Houston some cushion.

After that the bullpen shut the door and the club came away with the win.

Editor's note: Hector Neris released a statement Thursday denying the use of a homophobic slur:

Astros implications moving forward

Which makes us question, was this altercation the spark the team needed to go on another deep playoff run?

Plus, we have to mention Michael Brantley returning to action and recording 4 hits on Wednesday night. Could he be a key weapon moving forward for Dusty and company?

Be sure to watch the video above for the full conversation.

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The All-Star break came at the right time for Houston. Composite Getty Image.

The All-Star break is officially here, and the Astros sit just one game behind the first place-Mariners in the AL West. Houston had an opportunity to gain another game on Seattle, but were unable to win one of the final two games against the Rangers over the weekend.

But considering the 'Stros abysmal start to the season, being just one game out of the division lead feels like a win. Not that long ago, fans were calling for Joe Espada's head, with some wishing the Astros would bring Dusty Baker out of retirement. And let's not forget about the Jose Abreu saga, that now feels like a fever dream.

As we know, baseball is a long season. At some point talent would win out, and here they are with sights on winning the division and heading back to the postseason.

Certainly, Houston's star players deserve credit for digging the team out of an enormous hole. But getting back in playoff contention was a team effort. Jake Meyers has excelled in his role in center field, justifying the team's decision to give him a chance to be the team's starter.

And while Jeremy Pena hasn't turned into a power-hitting perennial All-Star, he has shown a lot of improvement after a lackluster 2023. The fact that his on base percentage is higher than Alex Bregman's should not be ignored.

Also, let's not forget that the Astros got on this roll without help from the injured slugger, Kyle Tucker. When Tucker does return to the lineup, you have to wonder what that will mean for the slumping Chas McCormick. He could be the odd man out with Joey Loperfido's emergence and Pedro Leon putting up big numbers in Sugar Land.

Finally, we have to talk about the pitching. Lance McCullers Jr. and Luis Garcia have hit some snags in recovery. It's now looking like Garcia might be back in August, and it's hard to believe McCullers will be back this season since he's been shutdown from throwing. Add Justin Verlander's injury to that mix, and you have some real concerns for the pitching staff.

Ronel Blanco has been terrific, but he's showing signs of fatigue, with his velo down a couple ticks in recent starts. It's hard to believe the Astros can get to the finish line without trading for another starting pitcher.

Big series looming

When the Astros return to action on Friday, they square off with the Mariners. Which means a series win over Seattle would put the 'Stros in first place in the division.

Be sure to watch the video above as we examine the importance of the upcoming series with the Mariners, if the club should be concerned with the surging Rangers, and much more!

Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and Charlie Pallilo discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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