Keuchel returns to form as Astros cruise through a "get-right" week

Dallas Keuchel has had some issues this season, but he was money on Sunday. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Astros had two winnable matchups this week capable of putting the disappointing week prior behind them. Here's how things unfolded:

Monday, May 7th: 21-15 Astros (Dallas Keuchel) vs. 18-16 A's (Brett Anderson)

Houston got out to a hot start on offense Monday night, getting a two-out two-RBI single from Marwin Gonzalez in the top of the first to make it 2-0 but was quickly overshadowed quickly by a towering 462-foot three-run dinger by George Springer to give the Astros a quick 5-0 lead in the second. They continued to pour on the runs in the top of the fourth, getting six more runs on an error and RBIs from Max Stassi, Jose Altuve, and Alex Bregman along with a two-run homer by Gonzalez to give him four RBIs on the night and extend the lead to 11-0. Dallas Keuchel worked well with the lead, giving up just one hit through the first five innings before allowing the A's first run of the game in the sixth which at the time made it 11-1. Keuchel would go on to complete eight strong innings with just that one run, earning him his second win of the season. Houston wasn't done scoring on the night, adding a solo home run by Derek Fisher in the eighth along with a fifth RBI from Gonzalez to make it 13-1 then in the ninth added three more on an RBI-single from Yuli Gurriel and two-RBI double by Bregman. Oakland got one more garbage-time run off of Tony Sipp in the bottom of the ninth, but there was no coming back from the deficit the Astros' offense created. 
Final Score: Astros 16, A's 2

Tuesday, May 8th: 22-15 Astros (Lance McCullers Jr.) vs. 18-17 A's (Sean Manaea)

The A's were able to strike first Tuesday night, taking an early 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first after Lance McCullers walked Marcus Semien who advanced on two wild pitches and tagging on a fly ball to score. Alex Bregman answered right back for Houston, hitting an opposite-field solo homer to tie the game 1-1 in the top of the second. McCullers struggled with his command in the bottom of the third, giving up a single and two walks to load the bases before a sac fly gave the A's the lead back at 2-1 before a clutch double play ended the inning. In the top of the fifth, McCann was hit by a pitch then moved to third on a much-needed double by Jake Marisnick, setting both up to score on a two-RBI double from George Springer who continued his hot streak from the six-hit game the night before, giving the Astros a 3-2 edge. They added to their lead in the top of the sixth on an RBI-single from Marwin Gonzalez bringing his total RBIs to six between Monday and Tuesday's games and making it a 4-2 lead. In what seemed like a breath of fresh air, the 4-2 lead was actually maintained over four innings by solid relief work. Brad Peacock set the tone for the bullpen, looking dominant on the mound for two innings, followed by Chris Devenski who pitched the eighth, then Ken Giles made his first appearance in a week and got through the ninth for the save.
Final Score: Astros 4, A's 2

Wednesday, May 9th: 23-15 Astros (Gerrit Cole) vs. 18-18 A's (Daniel Mengden)

Wednesday afternoon's game started out quiet with both teams held scoreless through five innings. It was a pitcher's duel through that point, with Gerrit Cole giving up only two hits while Daniel Mengden allowed three. The A's struck first in the bottom of the sixth with an RBI-double from Jed Lowrie to give Oakland a 1-0 lead. Cole was definitely less dominant on Wednesdaythan his one-hit complete game in his last start, racking up a high pitch count and giving up that one run through just six innings of work. He'd end up with the win, though, with Max Stassi and Derek Fisher hitting back-to-back solo home runs in the top of the seventh to take a 2-1 lead. They extended that lead to 4-1 on a two-RBI double by Yuli Gurriel hit down the third base line in the top of the eighth. For the second consecutive game, the bullpen was tasked with a few innings of work, and they delivered with Joe Smith and Will Harris combining for two hitless innings setting up Ken Giles for the second save in as many games to complete the three-game sweep.

Friday, May 11th: 15-24 Rangers (Cole Hamels) vs. 24-15 Astros (Justin Verlander)

The series opener of the weekend series with the Rangers on Friday night was a great game for fans of a pitching duel, with Justin Verlander and Cole Hamels going toe-to-toe for most of the game. Verlander switched spots in the rotation with Charlie Morton to face the Rangers on Friday night and stay on his regular rest schedule. Hamels held the Astros without a hit until the fifth inning when he allowed a single by Evan Gattis which would go down as the only hit for Houston on the night after a great performance by Hamels and the Rangers bullpen. Verlander held his own on the mound for Houston, allowing just two hits through the first six innings, but would falter slightly in the top of the seventh. After a leadoff double, Verlander issued back-to-back walks to load the bases with no outs, ending his night and bringing in Chris Devenski to try and limit the damage. Devenski did well to limit the Rangers to only one run, but with Houston's ice cold night on offense, that one run was enough to take the game and start the three-game series up 1-0. In unfortunate news, George Springer took a pitch off of his elbow from Cole Hamels in the third inning which although he took his base, resulted in him missing the rest of the game and the rest of the series. 
Final Score: Rangers 1, Astros 0

Saturday, May 12th: 16-24 Rangers (Doug Fister) vs. 24-16 Astros (Charlie Morton)

The switch with Verlander didn't seem to phase Charlie Morton at all on Saturday night. Morton's worst mistake on the night came early, a solo home run he gave up to Ronald Guzman in the top of the third to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead, but it was his overall night that impressed. Morton threw seven strong innings, striking out a career-high 14 batters, and allowing just the one run to the Rangers. Unlike Verlander the night before, Morton had some run support allowing him to leave after his seven innings with a 3-1 lead thanks to a solo home run by Brian McCann and two RBIs from Evan Gattis, a single and a solo home run of his own. Carlos Correa extended the lead in the bottom of the eighth with a two-run home run before McCann notched his second RBI of the night on a single to make it a 6-1 game. The bullpen continued to look sharper than in previous weeks, this time with Will Harris and Collin McHugh finishing the last two innings without any hits or runs to secure the win.
Final Score: Rangers 1, Astros 6

Sunday, May 13th: 16-25 Rangers (Matt Moore) vs. 25-16 Astros (Dallas Keuchel)

Houston's offense paired with a second-straight great start for Dallas Keuchel gave all Astros moms something to cheer for in the rubber match on Mother's Day Sunday afternoon. Keuchel looked sharp and in command, getting 8 groundouts paired with 8 strikeouts over a strong seven innings en route to his third win on the season, continuing his turnaround of what was once a 1-5 record with 3.98 ERA to now a 3-5 record with 3.10 ERA. Houston got their scoring started in the bottom of the third on an RBI double by Yuli Gurriel to go up 1-0 before Evan Gattis made it back-to-back games with homers crushing a two-run blast to make it 3-0. Correa extended the lead to 5-0 with a two-run home run of his own in the bottom of the seventh before Derek Fisher made it 6-0 with a sac fly later in the inning. Hector Rondon was the first out of the bullpen for Houston and allowed a solo home run to give the Rangers their one run of the game before Tony Sipp got the final out of the inning, setting up Brad Peacock to finish off the 6-1 win and take the series 2-1. 
Final Score: Astros 6, Rangers 1

Summary: The Astros looked like themselves this week, winning against the two teams at the bottom of the AL West to finish with a 5-1 stretch, winning both series. Friday night's loss was another game where the bats looked a bit lost, but after scoring 16 on Monday and finishing the week with 36 runs despite Jose Altuve going hitless against the Rangers, it's hard to put too much worry into it. In addition to the bats having some get-right games against the A's and Rangers, so did the Astros bullpen; the bullpen accounted for 15 innings this week while only giving up two earned runs, one by Tony Sipp Monday night while up 15 runs, and the other by Hector Rondon on Sunday while up 6 runs. The starters continue to dominate, including Morton getting his career-high in strikeouts and Dallas Keuchel returning to form after being the weak link of the five starters to start the season. George Springer's injury Friday night was scary, but it appears he will avoid the DL and should be back in the lineup Monday night after a few days rest. This week's matchups are a lot tougher, but if these starters, offense, and bullpen perform like they did this past week, which is up to their potential, they can win a series against anyone and should win over 100 games again this year.

MVP of the Week - Dallas Keuchel

I'll be honest, I was worried about Keuchel as the season got going. He didn't look like himself; he was struggling with his command and not fooling anyone into getting those soft-contact ground balls he's known for. However, he looked good as ever this week, dominating in his two starts going a combined 15 innings with just one earned run, 12 strikeouts, and more telling to me, just 3 walks. With him looking sharp, this rotation truly is dangerous in every spot. 

This Week:

  • Mon-Wed: (26-16) Astros @ (24-16) Angels
  • Fri-Sun: (20-19) Indians @ (26-16) Astros

After the two "easy" series this past week, the Astros will have a much harder time going 5-1 this week. First, they'll meet the Angels in LA for a three-game set with first place in the AL West on the line since the Angels sit just one game behind Houston. Then, the Astros head back home to take on the Indians who currently lead the AL Central and are always a tough matchup.  

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The Astros have assigned left-handed reliever Matt Gage to minor league camp, which means Houston's pitching staff is likely to head into the season without a lefty in the bullpen.

Ronel Blanco and Seth Martinez are expected to be the last two pitchers in the Astros bullpen now that Gage isn't expected to fill a spot on the club. With the Astros playing so many games in the month of April, could we see Blanco or Martinez making some starts with Lance McCullers still on the shelf?

Plus, should the Astros check in on Yuli Gurriel for some depth considering his versatility and the loss of Jose Altuve for the first couple months of the season? Gurriel still hasn't been added to the Marlins 40-man roster, which means he can opt out of his deal on Saturday if nothing changes.

Based on how things played out for Carlos Correa, the guys aren't very confident the Astros would change their stance on Yuli. But you never know.

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