Let's discuss some important quarter point Astros observations

Yordan Alvarez has beaten the cover off the ball. Composite photo by Brandon Strange.

With 43 games in the books, the Astros are now into the beginning of the second quarter of the 162 game season. At 25-18, they're a half game out of first place in the AL West with one more game in this series to play against their division rivals. They're also up a half game in the AL Wildcard race.

Mind you, they've achieved this level of success while their best pitcher, Justin Verlander, is recovering from Tommy John surgery. Their best hitter, Jose Altuve, hasn't been their best hitter this season. One of the pitchers counted on to be in the rotation, Framber Valdez, hasn't pitched so far in the regular season due to injury. Another pitcher signed to fill in the rotation, Jake Odorizzi, has been less than stellar and has missed time because of injury. Myles Straw has been abysmal from the plate. Not to mention the catcher position, Martin Maldonado and Jason Castro, have contributed next to nothing from an offensive standpoint.

The top five to six guys in the lineup have carried this team offensively. Meanwhile, Zack Greinke, Cristian Javier, Jose Urquidy, and others have carried the team as far as the pitching staff is concerned. This team constantly figures out a way to work around whatever shortcomings they may face. Yordan Alvarez has beaten the cover off the ball so far, but he's only drawn five walks this season. The bullpen has looked shaky at times while the starting rotation either hasn't been allowed to go deeper into games, or they've been pulled early do to reasons only Dusty Baker and the higher ups can explain.

I say all that to say this: this team is in a good spot despite their early rough start. Baseball has an unusually long season and it's still early. Teams will have stretches in which they will either play great or poorly. It's truly about how they play in the stretches in between. ESPN Houston's Patrick Creighton laid it out perfectly on his show, Late Hits. He explained that the best teams will have no more than four stretches per year in which they play lights out baseball.

Relax Astro fans. This team is in good shape. The A's aren't a team that's talented enough to run away with the division. The Rangers, Angels, and Mariners aren't good enough to catch anyone from behind in this division. Toronto has enough young talent to present a problem in the Wildcard race. Tampa and Cleveland are competitive enough that you don't want to let them hang around. The Yankees aren't as good as many thought they'd be so far, but have the talent to close their 1.5 game deficit in their division race. These teams are good enough to overtake the Astros at any point they put it together. If I were the Astros, I'd get my bleep together sooner rather than later so I could build some distance between these teams in the AL Wildcard race, and/or build a lead in the AL West race. The season is long enough to where they can put together a run to do such a thing, but they have to start now. The longer they wait, the smaller their margin of error gets. This is a team that can't afford a small margin of error given how inconsistent they've been. I'd rather see them build a lead and maintain it, instead of hanging in there all season because they aren't built for coming from behind.

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Luis Garcia played his part in a pitcher's duel with Carlos Rodon on Friday night. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

With an impressive offensive onslaught to overpower Chicago in game one of this series, the Astros entered this second of four games hoping to keep their momentum going. After an impressive pitcher's duel left the game tied late into the game, Houston would edge out the win with a big walk-off in the ninth.

Final Score: Astros 2, White Sox 1

Astros' Record: 41-28, second in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Ryan Pressly (4-1)

Losing Pitcher: Garrett Crochet (2-3)

Garcia matches Rodon in a pitcher's duel

Both starting pitchers were very effective, save one inning, in their respective seven innings of work. For Luis Garcia, he had his struggles in the top of the first to start the game, allowing a one-out double and single to put runners on second and third, setting up an RBI single to give Chicago an early 1-0 lead.

He limited the damage to that one run, both in that inning and the rest of his night, as he would follow that with six straight scoreless frames. Once he found his groove in the fourth, he would retire 12 of 13 batters he faced over that span to get through seven one-run innings. His final line: 7.0 IP, 7 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 8 K, 96 P.

For Houston, it took until one out into the fifth inning to get a hit and their first baserunner against Carlos Rodon. That sparked an opportunity to grab a lead, as they would go on to load the bases still with one out but would get just one run out of it with a two-out RBI walk by Martin Maldonado to tie the game up 1-1.

Astros walk it off in the ninth

Ryne Stanek was first out of Houston's bullpen in the top of the eighth, erasing a one-out walk for a scoreless inning to keep things gridlocked. Still in a stalemate in the top of the ninth, the Astros opted to bring in closer Ryan Pressly to try and keep it tied to set up a potential walk-off. He was perfect, striking out Chicago 1-2-3 to send it to the home half.

In the bottom of the ninth, Yuli Gurriel got the winning run on base by hitting a one-out single. That brought Yordan Alvarez to the plate, who got the walk-off hit, roping a ball into the right-field corner deep enough for Gurriel to hustle from first to home to win it for Houston, 2-1.

Up Next: Now having won five in a row, the Astros will try to lock up this series in game three of four on Saturday at 6:15 PM Central. Lance Lynn (7-2, 1.51 ERA) will try to get a win for the White Sox, while Framber Valdez (3-0, 1.42 ERA) will look to continue his 2021 success for Houston.

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