Let's discuss some important quarter point Astros observations

Yordan Alvarez Astros
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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Braves beat Houston in extra innings, 5-4. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

Marcell Ozuna hit his major league-leading eighth homer and Orlando Arcia’s RBI single in the 10th inning lifted the Atlanta Braves to a 5-4 win over the Houston Astros on Wednesday.

It completes a three-game sweep of the struggling Astros and is Atlanta’s fourth straight victory.

The Braves scored two runs in the eighth inning to tie it at 4-4. Michael Harris II started the 10th as the automatic runner on second and there was one out in the inning when Seth Martinez (1-1) intentionally walked Matt Olson.

Ozuna lined out to right field to send Harris to third base. Arcia then singled on a ground ball to left field to score Harris and put the Braves on top.

Pinch-runner Jake Meyers was on second when Kyle Tucker walked with no outs in the 10th. Meyers moved to third on a fly out by Yainer Diaz but Jeremy Peña grounded into a double play to end it.

A.J. Minter (3-1) got the last two outs of the ninth for the win and Raisel Iglesias earned his fifth save.

Reigning NL MVP Ronald Acuña Jr. added his first homer of the season to help the Braves to the victory. Ozuna also leads the majors with 23 RBIs and he extended his hitting streak to 16 games, which ties his career best and is the longest active streak in the majors.

Yordan Alvarez and Mauricio Dubón both homered for the Astros, who fell to 6-14 and are last in the AL West.

There was one out in the first when Alvarez connected on his homer to the seats in left field to put Houston up 1-0.

Ozuna opened the second with his 432-foot shot to left field, which bounced off the wall and tied the game.

Acuña put the Braves up 2-1 when he sent the first pitch of the fifth inning to straightaway center field.

The Astros tied it on an RBI single by Alex Bregman in the fifth and Kyle Tucker’s RBI double came next to put the Astros up 3-2.

Dubón hit his first home run of the year off Jesse Chavez to start Houston’s sixth and push the lead to 4-2.

Harris singled to start the seventh before a ground-rule double by Austin Riley. Olson reached, and Harris scored on a fielding error by first baseman José Abreu when he couldn’t grab a routine ground ball.

There was one out in the inning when Riley scored on a sacrifice fly by Arcia to tie it at 4-all.

Houston starter J.P. France allowed four hits and two runs in five innings.

Max Fried gave up seven hits and three runs in five innings.


Braves: Atlanta is off Thursday before opening a series against Texas on Friday night with LHP Chris Sale (1-1, 4.58 ERA) on the mound.

Astros: Houston is also off Thursday before ace Justin Verlander will make his season debut Friday night against Washington. The three-time Cy Young Award winner opened the season on the injured list with inflammation in his right shoulder.

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