Undeniable reasons Houston Astros season hangs in balance over this critical stretch

STONE COLD 'STROS

Undeniable reasons Houston Astros season hangs in balance over this critical stretch
The stakes are high! Composite Getty Image.

The Houston Astros secured a much-needed series win over the Tigers behind a classic Justin Verlander performance on Sunday. It was nice to see Verlander bounce back after his worst performance of the season against the Yankees in his previous start.

JV received some unjust criticism after getting shelled by the Yankees, with many fans claiming he's over the hill and has been terrible this season. Which is completely false, as the only game Verlander surrendered more than two runs was in that one start in New York. Outside that one bump in the road, he's given his team a chance to win in every one of his starts.

Speaking of pitching, this week we arrive at the quarter point of the season and the Astros' team ERA (4.96) is the third-worst in baseball, behind only the Rockies and Marlins. As opposed to Houston's offense, that is becoming a strength for the club, posting the best team batting average in MLB.

So pitching continues to be the main issue, along with their inability to hit with runners in scoring position.

However, clutch hitting appears to be moving in the right direction, with the team scoring runs late to give the bullpen a larger margin for error against the Detroit over the weekend.

The time is now

The Astros next fourteen out of seventeen games are against a divisional opponent, so if there was ever a time to make up some ground in the division, this is it. The Astros face the A's, Brewers, Angels, and Mariners in the coming days, and the club is 6.5 games behind division leading Seattle.

The season could ultimately come down to this stretch of games, and now would be the perfect time for Yordan Alvarez and Alex Bregman's bats to heat up. Yordan is really struggling with runners in scoring position and Bregman is struggling to hit, period.

Bregman is in Jose Abreu territory, currently sporting the 5th lowest OPS in MLB (.534), and the 4th lowest slugging percentage (.264). Moving him down in the batting order certainly looks like the right move, as he has one double in his last 24 games, and just two extra base hits in that span.

Who leaves the rotation when Jose Urquidy returns?

Don't miss the video above as we examine arguably the most important stretch of the Astros season to date, how Houston will set up their pitching rotation moving forward, and much more!

Catch Stone Cold 'Stros (an Astros podcast) with Charlie Pallilo, Brandon Strange, and Josh Jordan every Monday on SportsMapHouston's YouTube channel! We'll continue to drop more episodes throughout the week.

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Astros take the series! Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images.

Ronel Blanco held Oakland in check for seven innings in his return from a suspension and Kyle Tucker hit a two-run homer to lead the Houston Astros to a 5-2 victory over the Athletics on Sunday.

Jose Altuve added a two-run single in front of an announced crowd of 10,927 to help the Astros win the series and improve to 18-4 against the A's over the past two seasons.

Blanco (5-0) looked sharp in his return from a 10-game suspension for having a foreign substance in his glove during a start against Oakland in Houston last week.

He struck out five of his first eight batters and allowed only four hits, including a solo homer by Max Schuemann, before turning the game over to the bullpen. Houston improved to 8-1 in games started this season by Blanco, who has allowed only 33 hits in 54 1/3 innings.

Shea Langeliers added a solo homer in the ninth for Oakland against Josh Hader.

Oakland starter Aaron Brooks (0-2) pitched around trouble in the first three innings, inducing double-play grounders in the first and second and then striking out Alex Bregman top leave the bases loaded in the third.

Brooks appeared to be on his way to working out of the fourth allowing only one run before a pair of errors by Schuemann at shortstop led to a big inning for Houston.

Schuemann bobbled a two-out grounder by Mauricio Dubon for an error and then threw it wildly to second base for his second error on the play, allowing runners to advance to second and third.

Altuve followed with a two-run single and Tucker then hit his 18th home run to give the Astros a 5-0 lead.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Astros: 1B José Abreu, who accepted a minor league assignment after a sluggish start to the season, is set to rejoin the the team on Monday in Seattle after going 0 for 7 with a walk in two rehab games with Sugar Land.

Athletics: RHP Ross Stripling was set to see a doctor Sunday to determine the severity of his strained right elbow.

UP NEXT

Astros: LHP Framber Valdez (3-2, 4.32) is set to start the opener of a four-game series at Seattle on Monday.

Athletics: Oakland is off for Memorial Day and will begin a three-game series at Tampa Bay on Tuesday with RHP Mitch Spence (3-2, 4.09) expected to start the opener.

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