What's standing between Astros and a three-peat, no one saw coming

STONE COLD 'STROS

If the Astros are able to finish the deal and win the division for the third straight year, one of the biggest questions about the postseason is which pitchers deserve to be starters.

While Dusty Baker loves his veteran players, the numbers don't lie. JP France has earned his spot in the playoff rotation behind Framber Valdez and Justin Verlander.

The sample size is just too large with Cristian Javier and Hunter Brown at this point. They haven't consistently pitched well in several months. And while one of these guys will likely be one of the team's starters in the postseason, they can't pitch in front of France based on performance.

Plus, with the Astros lead in the division down to 1 game, Dusty needs to put his best offense in the lineup when Brown and Javier are pitching, so the team has a chance to win the game. Both pitchers are lucky to get through 4 innings while only giving up 4 runs at this point.

Let's look at the numbers. Javier has an ERA of 6.21 over his last 7 games, and Brown has given up a WHOPPING 24 earned runs in his last 30 innings. Yes, you read that correctly.

We have all accepted that Martin Maldonado is going to catch Framber and Verlander, but Yainer Diaz and the Astros “Death Lineup” must be employed when Javier and Brown start.

Otherwise, the team is not being given its best chance to win. And we don't want to hear from Dusty about how Maldy can get Hunter Brown straightened out by calling the pitches. How did that work out in his last start? He gave up 6 runs in 4.2 innings and lost to the Padres.

And after two losses to the A's with Framber and JV on the mound, the team's margin for error is almost nonexistent at this point. Winning the division for the third consecutive season now appears to be in jeopardy.

The team has to approach these games knowing they're going to have to score more than 5 runs to win with Javier and Brown on the mound.

Be sure to watch the video above as we break it all down.

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Raners defeat the Astros, 4-2. Composite Getty Image.

Josh Smith homered twice with four RBIs to lead the Texas Rangers to a 4-2 win over the Houston Astros on Sunday.

Smith had a two-run shot in the first and added another one with two outs in the eighth to push the lead to 4-1. It’s the first multi-homer game of the 26-year-old’s career.

The Rangers won the last two games of the series after dropping Friday’s opener 6-3. They also got a 2-1 victory Saturday thanks to Nathaniel Lowe’s RBI single in the 10th inning.

Jake Meyers cut the lead to 1 with a solo home run in the third but the Astros went 0 for 9 with runners in scoring position to fall to 50-46 entering the All-Star break.

Texas starter Max Scherzer allowed four hits and a run with six strikeouts in four-plus innings in his fifth start of the season.

Jon Singleton walked before a single by Jeremy Peña with no outs in the ninth. There was one out in the inning when Singleton scored on a groundout by Joey Loperfido to cut the lead to 4-2. Trey Cabbage grounded out to end it and give Kirby Yates his 16th save.

Ronel Blanco (9-4) permitted two hits and two runs with five strikeouts in six innings. He settled down after his tough first inning and retired the last 12 batters he faced.

Marcus Semien singled to start the game but was out at second when Corey Seager grounded into a foreceout. Smith gave the Rangers an early lead with his towering shot to the second deck to make it 2-0.

Meyers opened Houston’s third with a shot to the seats in left field to cut the lead to 2-1. Jose Altuve singled with two outs and stole second base but Scherzer struck out Alex Bregman for the third out.

The Astros had a shot to tie it or take the lead in the fifth. Peña and Meyers both singled before Loperfido walked to load the bases with no outs in the inning and chase Scherzer. Josh Sborz (2-0) took over and escaped the jam by striking out Mauricio Dubón before retiring Altuve on a pop up and Bregman on a groundout to end the inning.

Seager walked with two outs in the eighth before Smith connected again to give him 10 home runs this season.

Altuve reached on a fielding error by Smith with one out in the eighth before Bregman singled off José Leclerc. Jacob Latz took over and struck out Yordan Alvarez before Yainer Diaz grounded out to leave Houston emptyhanded again.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Rangers: 3B Josh Jung (fractured right wrist) swung 15 times off a tee using a regular bat Sunday. Manager Bruce Bochy said he would continue increasing his activity during the break as he nears a rehabilitation assignment.

Astros: RHP Justin Verlander (neck discomfort) threw a bullpen session of 25 pitches Sunday. Manager Joe Espada said he looked “really good” and would throw another bullpen session during the break.

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