THE PALLILOG

3 reasons the Astros can stay red-hot after turning the corner

3 reasons the Astros can stay red-hot after turning the corner
They're back! Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.
Altuve's late homer helps lift Astros over Yankees in finale

Hell about froze over when the Chicago Cubs won the 2016 World Series, 108 years after their previous title. The Astros snapped their franchise-long championship drought of 55 years by winning it all the following year. Five years after the Cubs won it in ’16 they lost 91 games. Five years after the Astros won it in ’17, they won it again last fall. Now, the Cubs are likely heading for a third straight losing season. We’ll see where the Astros end up in 2023, but they are yet again a serious World Series contender. The Astros sweeping three from the Cubbies at Minute Maid Park this week should be the last time this season the Astros start a series facing the possibility of slipping below .500. Now at 24-19, the Astros are tucked just two games behind the Texas Rangers in the American League West. The Rangers play host to the National League West cellar-dwelling Colorado Rockies this weekend.

A's on the schedule and Jose Altuve returns?

The Astros’ good times should keep rolling as they now get the chance to slaughter the Oakland Athletics. Not that the Astros should need a boost vs. Oakland but it appears they will get one with Jose Altuve getting to start his season following recovery of his broken right thumb. You never know in one game or in a best-of-three (the Astros were fantastic last year and the A’s were trash, yet last July the A’s took five of six games from the Astros), but anything less than an Astros’ sweep will feel like a failure.

The A’s are an absurdly bad 10-35. If their .222 winning percentage plays out season-long, the A’s will finish with 36 wins and 126 losses. That would be the worst record for any Major League Baseball team since 1900. The Athletics’ franchise already owns the dubious distinction with the 1916 Philadelphia A’s setting the ineptitude standard at 36-117. Those are the A’s who moved to Kansas City in 1955, to Oakland in 1968, and now plan to move to Las Vegas within the next few years. It should be a great weekend for the Astros’ to boost their thus far disappointing offensive numbers. Oakland’s team earned run average this season is a “you must be kidding me” 7.13. And that’s an improvement from the 7.72 mark the Oakland staff had at the end of April! A’s starting pitchers entered May with a combined 0-15 record and 8.51 ERA. That sounds impossible.

As a total laughingstock, it’s incredible that Oakland has one guy in its lineup with better numbers than Yordan Alvarez has this season, and another with numbers better than any Astro other than Alvarez. 28-year-old journeyman Brent Rooker opened this season with a career batting average of .200 and a career OPS of .668. That’s a bad player. So far in 2023 Rooker is batting .295 with a whopping 1.013 OPS. Alvarez checks in with a .939 OPS. The devil might be collecting Rooker’s soul any week now.

Then there’s 27 year old first baseman Brent Noda who had never sniffed the big leagues until making the A’s this spring. Kyle Tucker has the Astros’ second best OPS at .798. Noda is batting just .215 but his OPS is .821 because he has drawn walks at an astounding rate. Noda has 107 at bats and 30 walks drawn. That’s the same number of walks that Jose Abreu, Mauricio Dubon, Jeremy Pena, and Jake Meyers have drawn combined with 589 at bats. The A’s claimed Noda off of waivers from the Dodgers in December and are paying him the Major League minimum salary of 720 thousand dollars. Abreu makes more than 720 thousand dollars per week with his 19 and a half million dollar seasonal take.

Much more reflective of the Athletics’ overall team are the atrocious numbers of former Astros Tony Kemp and Aledmys Diaz. By comparison they make Abreu's play look not so dismal, no small feat. The one-time popular “Hugs for Homers” guy (Kemp) is batting a paltry .169 with a .491 OPS. Diaz has been worse. Aledmys signed with Oakland for regular playing time and two years 14 million dollars. Unfortunately Diaz picked up with the A’s as if it was the 2022 postseason during which he didn’t hit worth half a darn. Diaz sits with a .165 batting average and .445 OPS. At least Diaz isn’t hurting Oakland’s playoff hopes. Diaz does get his World Series ring Friday night.

Bring on the lefties!

Whether Dusty Baker had a late night epiphany, someone got through to him, or other, it’s a good development that Dusty seems done with the doofy concept that he must have right-handed hitting Abreu in between lefties Alvarez and Kyle Tucker. Next, maybe he gets that it’s time to shift more starting catching duties from Martin Maldonado to Yainer Diaz to give Diaz a real chance to produce. Diaz is obviously the better hitter, he throws better, and for all of Maldonado’s behind the plate sagacity the Astros’ earned run average so far this season is lower with Diaz catching than with Maldy.

More Astros coverage? Yes, please!

Stone Cold ‘Stros is the weekly Astro-centric podcast I am part of alongside Brandon Strange and Josh Jordan. On our regular schedule it goes up at 3PM Monday on the SportsMapHouston YouTube channel, is available there for playback at any point, and also becomes available in podcast form at outlets galore. Such as:

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Astros defeat the Orioles, 5-1. Composite Getty Image.

Ronel Blanco pitched seven strong innings and Chas McCormick homered twice to lead the Houston Astros to a 5-1 win over the Baltimore Orioles on Saturday.

Yordan Alvarez added a two-run shot to help Houston extend its winning streak to four games.

Blanco (8-2), who threw seven hitless innings in his last start, allowed four hits and a run with three strikeouts for his third straight win.

Alvarez put the Astros on top with his 16th homer, which came off Corbin Burnes (8-3) in the third, and McCormick made it 4-1 in the fifth. McCormick got his fifth career multihomer game when he connected again in the eighth.

Burnes allowed five hits, including a season-high two homers and a season-most four runs in seven innings to snap his career-best streak of 10 consecutive quality starts. He was 5-0 in seven starts since a loss at Washington on May 7.

Jordan Westburg homered in the second for the Orioles, who set a franchise record with 21 straight games with a home run to surpass the 1998 squad's 20-game streak.

Baltimore had troubled stringing hits together Saturday after scoring 28 runs combined in the last two games. The top four batters in their order combined to go 1 for 13 against Blanco and Houston's bullpen.

Ryan Pressly threw a scoreless eighth before Josh Hader struck out two in a perfect ninth to end it.

Westburg connected off Blanco with one out in the second to put the Orioles up 1-0.

Yainer Diaz opened Houston’s second with a triple on a line drive to right field. The Astros tied it when he scored on a sacrifice fly by Mauricio Dubón with one out.

McCormick singled with no outs in the third and the shot to center field by Alvarez came with two outs to put Houston on top 3-1.

McCormick’s home run to the seats in left field extended the lead to 4-1 with one out in the fifth.

Cedric Mullins tripled off the wall in center with one out in the seventh. Colton Cowser hit a sharp line drive, but was robbed of a hit when shortstop Jeremy Peña made a leaping catch for the second out. Blanco then retired Ramón Urías to end the inning and leave Mullins stranded.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Astros: RHP Jake Bloss, who made his major league debut Friday night, was placed on the injured list with right shoulder discomfort.

ROSTER MOVES

Astros: RHP Nick Hernandez was optioned to Triple-A Sugar Land on Friday night. ... LHP Bryan King was selected to the MLB roster and RHP Luis Contreras was recalled from Sugar Land on Saturday. … RHP Alex Speas was designated for assignment.

UP NEXT

Houston LHP Framber Valdez (5-5, 3.91 ERA) opposes RHP Albert Suárez (3-1, 2.05) in the series finale Sunday.

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