Terrific pitching, patient hitting have Astros on hot streak

Jake Odorizzi's turnaround has been one of the stories of Houston's success. Photo by Bob Levey / Getty Images.

Back on the first of May, the Astros lost to the Blue Jays 3-2 in Toronto, dropping the series two games to one and giving up the season series 4-2 in a potential postseason preview against a formidable AL foe. The win for the Blue Jays moved them up to 15-8 on the season, while Houston fell to .500 in 2022 at 11-11.

While it was certainly no time to panic, Houston's offense was having some real struggles, and they found themselves sitting third in the AL West behind the Mariners and the surging Angels. Things changed in a hurry, though, and now the Astros look like the Astros again.

Pitching has led the way

Houston didn't stay in third place in the division for long, as they took advantage of the opportunity to leapfrog the Mariners through a three-game sweep to start a seven-game homestand. The Astros outscored Seattle 14-2 in those games, with the two runs allowed coming in the finale after back-to-back shutouts to start the series.

The first of those came in a start by Jake Odorizzi, who has turned a complete 180 from the first three starts of the season by rattling off three quality starts in a row. In fact, after giving up nine earned runs in his first three games, he has allowed just one in his last three and has gone at least five innings in each to grab three-straight wins and has lowered his ERA from 9.00 to 3.38 in the process.

Odorizzi is just one of the great pitching stories going for Houston right now, as unlike in recent years when their bats have powered them to slugfest wins, it's been the Astros' pitching that has led the way for them to win lower-scoring, tighter games. While Houston saw the departure of Brent Strom in the offseason, which some may have thought would lead to a decline in some facets of Houston's pitching repertoire, so far in May, it's been the opposite. In fact, so far this month, Houston leads the entire league with a 1.13 ERA, .160 opponent batting average, and 0.75 WHIP.

Verlander continues to dominate

Speaking of terrific pitching, we can't go any further without commenting on how incredible Justin Verlander's return to the mound has been. Since his first game of the year, where despite a pitch limit was able to get through five one-run innings but was still tagged with a loss, he has gone at least six innings while getting four wins over his five last starts to improve to 4-1 on the year.

Although the run support for him has picked up, he hasn't needed a ton of it, which was evident in his most recent start against the Twins on May 10th. Going into the game with an already impressive 1.93 ERA, he cruised through the night against Minnesota, getting himself into the eighth carrying a no-hitter bid. Although he would allow a hit to break that bid up, it was, and is still, evident that there are no limitations on Verlander's dominance post-Tommy John surgery.

As Altuve goes, the offense goes

While there have certainly been some key offensive moments in the last eight games, they have averaged 4.13 runs per game, which, while not eye-popping, has been enough to back up the terrific pitching we've seen. One key part of the lineup, though, has been Jose Altuve. He went to the IL after injuring his hamstring in the April 18th game against the Angels, where he finished the day with a .167 average: much too low for his standards.

Since returning to the lineup and resuming his leadoff responsibilities, he has gone 10-for-32 with three home runs, increasing his average to .258 to help Houston reach their eight-game winning streak. Altuve also has six walks in those games, one way the Astros have created scoring opportunities for themselves as they lead the league with a 12.7% walk rate.

The winning streak will come to an end at some point for the Astros, but it's pretty safe to say that this version of the team, the one that finds a way to put together win after win, is more likely to be the one that we see in the remaining 132 games this season.

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The Texans host the Steelers at NRG this Sunday. Composite Getty Image.

What: Texans vs. Steelers

When: 10/1 12pm CST kickoff

Where: Houston, TX NRG Stadium

TV/Radio: KHOU-TV, KILT-Radio

Betting Lines: Steelers -2.5 (-120), O/U 42 (-110) *As of this writing

The Watt Brother Bowl takes place on Sunday. I'm calling it that because the Texans are honoring their all-time great J.J. while they're playing his younger brother and current hell raising edge rusher for the Steelers T.J. The Steelers have won four of the last five matchups vs. the Texans by an average score of 28-17. The biggest difference is that the Steelers have a second year starter at quarterback in Kenny Pickett, and the Texans have a rookie in C.J. Stroud. When you look at the two quarterbacks, both organizations have full faith in each guy. Both teams have tried to build a defense to help their young signal callers. Both are still trying to surround their franchise guys with weapons.

When the Steelers have the ball: Here's a game where Will Anderson Jr can make headway as a proven EDGE. Stacking consistent performances together and helping your team win games by making winning plays. It helps that Pickett has tiny hands. This was a knock on him during draft season last year. Hand size for a quarterback impacts grip. That can not only impact accuracy, but it could make it easier to strip the ball from him.

While he doesn't have the weapons to torch this defense, Pickett does hand the ball off to Najee Harris who's more than capable. Averaging only 67 yards rushing as a team can't be taken lightly. Denzel Perryman is expected to miss the game Sunday, so hopefully that won't help jumpstart the Steelers' run game. The Texans defense will have to key in on the run, given that they average giving up 117 a game on the ground. Those aforementioned weapons may not be scary, but the injuries to the defensive backs has hurt. Tavierre Thomas is expected to miss the game recovering from hand surgery. Jimmie Ward coming back last week showed what happens when they have a top safety back there, especially when the pass rush is turning up. Hopefully, the Texans can capitalize again this week, with safety Jalen Pitre expected to return to action.

When the Texans have the ball: Good luck stopping Tank Dell and Stroud! These guys have already established themselves as a formidable duo three games into their careers. A great way to get that connection going is to pound the rock. The Steelers are giving up over 150 yards on the ground per game so far this season. That's also a good way to keep T.J. at bay while J.J. watches. With Laremy Tunsil and Josh Jones both expected to miss the game, here are the offensive line starters: Austin Deculus, Kendrick Green, Jarrett Patterson, Shaq Mason, and George Fant.

Making the younger Watt brother slow down a bit instead of going balls to the wall after Stroud because a run could be coming will help the pass game tremendously. Stroud will have to continue to make quick decisions, but even quicker this game. I wouldn't be surprised to see his first pick of his career here, given the pressure he's most likely to be under. Especially when your offensive line starters were mostly all backups to begin this season.

Outcome: I failed to place a money line bet on the Texans last week because the game started and the live bet wasn't as profitable. I wanted to take a chance on them given their recent record against the Jags. Looking at their last five vs. the Steelers, one would say why make that bet this week? It's because I believe in Stroud more than I believe in Pickett. While T.J. Watt is a different kind of monster, Will Anderson Jr is on his way to becoming something special. Texans win/cover, and hit the over, but barely: Texans 24, Steelers 20.

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