ASTROS REPORT

No Altuve, no Correa, big problems: Astros go 1-4 in worst week of the season

Tony Kemp has been a bright spot for the struggling Astros. Bob Levey/Getty Images

On paper, this week's schedule looked to set the Astros up for a dominant week. Instead, Houston found themselves on the wrong side of the domination. Here's what happened:

Tuesday, July 24th: 66-36 Astros (Gerrit Cole) vs. 53-46 Rockies (Tyler Anderson)

After a weather delay, it looked like the Astros were going to break Tuesday night's game open right off the bat after a no-out two-run homer by Alex Bregman gave Houston a quick 2-0 lead. Tyler Anderson rebounded though and locked in to keep the Astros from inflicting any more damage over his seven and one-third innings. For Houston, Gerrit Cole looked dominant, notching nine strikeouts over his first six scoreless innings of work. He got dinged in the seventh, though, giving up back-to-back doubles to start the inning to get the Rockies on the board and make it 2-1 before tying the game on an RBI single and ending Cole's night. Both bullpens finished the regular nine innings without letting the other team get the go-ahead run, but that changed in the tenth. In the top of the tenth, Josh Reddick hit a leadoff single then advanced to third after Charlie Blackmon mistimed the bounce and let the ball get all the way behind him to the wall. Reddick then scored on a go-ahead RBI single by Tony Kemp, which opened the door for Houston to pour things on. Kyle Tucker came through in quite possibly the highlight of his early career, getting a two-RBI triple to extend the lead to 5-2, followed by George Springer launching a two-run homer to keep his post-All-Star hot streak going. Yuli Gurriel capped off the offensive explosion with an RBI single, making it a six-run inning and giving Houston an 8-2 lead which Brad Peacock held on to as he wrapped up the game in the bottom of the tenth.
Final Score (10 innings): Astros 8, Rockies 2

Wednesday, July 25th: 67-36 Astros (Charlie Morton) vs. 53-47 Rockies (Jon Gray)

Colorado struck first on Wednesday night, getting a homer off of Charlie Morton in the bottom of the second to take a 1-0 lead. The Astros would get on the board in the fourth, getting an RBI double to the wall by Jose Altuve to score Alex Bregman. Unfortunately, the RBI would come at a high cost, as Altuve would leave the game with knee soreness and end up on the 10-Day DL. Marwin Gonzalez gave Houston their first lead of the night with an RBI groundout to make it 2-1. After the early run, Morton was able to settle in and finish with a solid line, completing six innings with just one run on four hits while striking out five. In the seventh, the Rockies would get the best of Houston's bullpen after Joe Smith and Tony Sipp combined to get one out while allowing a single and walk. Collin McHugh was out next, and after a single to load the bases got an out on a spectacular catch by J.D. Davis who tracked a foul ball into the dugout. Unfortunately, the time it took Davis to recover and basically get pushed out of the dugout by his teammates allowed the runner from third to tag, tying the game at 2-2. McHugh was able to limit the damage and end the inning and stayed in the game for the eighth and the ninth to try and force extras. Charlie Blackman had other plans, taking McHugh long in the bottom of the ninth for the walk-off win to split the two-game series. 
Final Score: Astros 2, Rockies 3

Friday, July 27th: 42-62 Rangers (Yovani Gallardo) vs. 67-37 Astros (Dallas Keuchel)

After the day off on Thursday, the Astros were set to host the final three games against the Rangers starting on Friday night. Dallas Keuchel was looking to finish his hot July with another strong performance, but instead gave up a few runs and with no run support behind him got tagged with a loss. In the second, Keuchel allowed a leadoff double which would score after a single and RBI groundout, then allowed a two-run homer in the fifth. Keuchel didn't have a terrible night but found himself in several extended at-bats which put him over 100 pitches after just five innings, leaving with a 3-0 deficit after five. With no run support, that 3-0 lead would put him in line for the loss. The Rangers blew the game open against Houston's bullpen, getting two runs off Brad Peacock in the sixth, one off of Cionel Perez in the eighth, then two off of Chris Devenski and three off of Tony Sipp, all charged to Chris Devenski resulting in 5 earned runs for him, in the ninth, bringing their total to 11 on the night. Evan Gattis hit a solo homer in the seventh, and newly acquired Martin Maldonado hit a pinch-hit sac fly in the ninth, but those two runs would be futile in the loss.
Final Score: Rangers 11, Astros 2

Saturday, July 28th: 43-62 Rangers (Ariel Jurado) vs. 67-38 Astros (Justin Verlander)

Saturday's game was much more competitive early, with Ariel Jurado of the Rangers matching up well against Justin Verlander in just his second major league start. The Rangers took an early lead on a solo home run in the second inning, but Houston answered back with a solo homer of their own by George Springer in the fourth, tying the game 1-1. Roughned Odor would also get a home run off of Justin Verlander, but it came via an untraditional inside-the-park homer after George Springer couldn't get to the wall in time to catch a ball hit hard to center field, which ricocheted all the way back to left field, giving Odor time to run all the way around, and give Texas a 2-1 lead. Like Keuchel the night before, Verlander found himself in several long at-bats, ending his night after just five innings while allowing those two runs, a rough night by his standards. Ryan Pressly, traded to the Astros from the Twins the night prior, made his Houston debut in the sixth and allowed a solo homer to his first batter, Roughned Odor, giving the Rangers a 3-1 lead and continuing Odor's big night. Pressly was able to get the next three batters out in order. The score remained 3-1 until the top of the ninth, where the Rangers once again got the better of Houston's bullpen, putting up four runs on Hector Rondon on an RBI groundout and three-run homer. Alex Bregman tried to get a rally going with a two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth, trimming the lead to 7-3, but no such rally would take place, locking up the series win for Texas and giving Houston their third straight loss.
Final Score: Rangers 7, Astros 3

Sunday, July 29th: 44-62 Rangers (Mike Minor) vs. 67-39 Astros (Lance McCullers Jr.)

On Sunday afternoon, Martin Maldonado had his first game behind the plate for the Astros to catch Lance McCullers Jr. The pair worked great early, with McCullers getting through the first four innings with just one hit and seven strikeouts. During that span, Tyler White gave Houston a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second on a solo home run. A wild pitch strikeout seemingly broke the rhythm of McCullers in the fifth, allowing a single and double after to tie the game, though Lance did well to keep the damage limited to just that one run. Roughned Odor, after his 5-for-5 night on Saturday, led off the sixth with a double against McCullers, then would score on a comebacker that deflected off of McCullers into center field, giving Texas a 2-1 lead and the momentum. They'd go on to score two more runs and end McCullers' day with just one out in the sixth after dominating through the first five. After Joe Smith finished off the top of the sixth, Tony Kemp led off the bottom of the inning with a single up the middle, giving Houston just their third hit of the day, the other two by Tyler White including his homer. That sparked some offense, with George Springer hitting a double next before Alex Bregman hit a sac fly to score Kemp and make it 4-2, though Springer would get left stranded to end the inning. Houston would threaten again in the seventh, getting runners on second and third with no outs to start the inning, but would be unable to convert leaving the score at 4-2. That score held to the bottom of the ninth, where after working two walks Tony Kemp delivered a two-out RBI to make it a 4-3 game but Houston would fall a run short and get swept for the first time in 2018.
Final Score: Rangers 4, Astros 3

Summary

It was a bad week all around for the Astros, resulting in a horrible 1-4 record, and putting them 4-6 in their last ten after the four straight losses. Off the field, not only did Correa's return continue to get pushed back, but now Altuve has landed on the DL. It was clear in the weekend series with the Rangers that this team is just not the same with both of them out. It wasn't just the offense that struggled either, the fielding this week had moments of atrocity that even made players playing positions they aren't used to look foolish. The good news is Altuve and Correa should both be back in the lineup in the coming week or two with Altuve only being on the 10-day DL and Correa gearing up for a rehab assignment, and hopefully, they come back to a team that's still in first place. After being on the rise in recent weeks, the bullpen took a step or two back this week, though the Ryan Pressly acquisition could potentially help with that. The other acquisition this week, Martin Maldonado can also be a big boost for the team, and it looked like he was a good fit behind the plate on Sunday. The Astros have a big week coming up, it will take some guys stepping up to make sure they are setting themselves up well for a strong playoff push. With the offense struggling most of this week, it will be interesting to see if the Astros try to push for another bat before the trade deadline on Tuesday, or if they stand pat and hope for things to turn back around. 

MVP of the Week - Tony Kemp

No one had a week deserving of being broken down into stats and praise for their performance in those five games alone, so I'd like to take the opportunity to talk about Tony Kemp. The word that comes to mind anytime I see Kemp playing is HUSTLE. Kemp has been playing great baseball this year for Houston, despite not being an every-day starter. Kemp has been right around a .300 hitter all year, usually coming through with a hit in a big situation to flip the order over and spark the offense, like we saw on Sunday against the Rangers in the loss. He's also a stud on defense, making several highlight-reel catches in the outfield this year thanks to his speed. The Astros are lucky to have him at their disposal because he could easily be in the starting lineup day in and day out for other teams in the MLB. 

This Week

  • Mon-Wed: (67-40) Astros @ (62-43) Mariners
  • Fri-Sun: (67-40) Astros @ (59-47) Dodgers

The Astros will have to turn things around in a hurry if they want to make sure the race in the AL West doesn't get tighter. That'll be top of mind to start the week with Houston playing the second-place Mariners for three games in Seattle. The Mariners are currently four games back from Houston for the AL West lead. Houston will get a day off on Thursday before three more games on the road in a World Series rematch against the Dodgers this weekend in Los Angeles. The Dodgers, similar to the Astros, are trying to hold on to a division lead as they currently sit just a half-game ahead of the Diamondbacks in the NL West. The Astros will have to get some big performances from their supporting cast this week to come away with a productive result out of these six games. 

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Houston goes up 1-0 in the series

Altuve, Correa help lift Astros to ALCS Game 1 win over Red Sox

Carlos Correa's go-ahead homer in the seventh inning of ALCS Game 1 helped lift the Astros to a 1-0 series lead. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Despite one rough loss to the White Sox in the ALDS, the Astros looked like the dominant team they are capable of being, taking that series 3-1 to advance and taking ownership of home-field advantage in the ALCS against the Red Sox, who upset the Rays. In Game 1, despite trailing for the middle portions of the game, Houston would get more highlight moments from the faces of the franchise to start the series with a win.

Final Score: Astros 5, Red Sox 4

ALCS Series (Best of Seven): Houston leads 1-0

Winning Pitcher: Ryne Stanek

Losing Pitcher: Hansel Robles

Houston strikes first, but Boston sends Valdez to an early exit

Both starting pitchers worked in and out of trouble in the early goings of ALCS Game 1, starting with Framber Valdez in the top of the first. After erasing a leadoff single by inducing a double play, he went on to load the bases on a single and two walks but would strand all three runners to keep Boston off the board. The Astros jumped in front in the bottom half, with Jose Altuve working a leadoff walk, moving to second on a one-out single by Alex Bregman, advancing to third on a wild pitch, then ultimately scoring on a sac fly by Yordan Alvarez to put Houston ahead 1-0 after one frame.

They had a chance to extend their lead in the bottom of the second, taking advantage of a shaky inning by Chris Sale, who loaded the bases with one out as Houston would get two singles and a hit-by-pitch. That flipped the order over to the top, but a great diving catch by former Astro Kiké Hernández would end the inning. Hernández led off the top of the third against Valdez, and he would tie things up with a solo homer.

Things went downhill from there for Valdez and the Astros, as a one-out walk followed by a single gave the Red Sox the go-ahead run in scoring position. On a groundball that likely should have been a double play to end the inning, it would get through Altuve's legs, scoring a run and keeping the inning alive for Boston. They took advantage, getting an RBI double to extend their new lead to 3-1. Valdez would get one more out before Dusty Baker would give him the early hook, bringing in Yimi Garcia, who finished the frame.

A battle of the bullpens, Altuve ties it up

Like Valdez, Sale would also not make it through three innings, getting two outs while putting two on base before Boston would start their bullpen's night as well. Both sets of relievers settled the game down, with the Red Sox stranding two of Houston's runners in the third as well as the fifth, maintaining their two-run lead. After Garcia finished the third, Cristian Javier entered to eat up a couple of innings, and he would do just that by getting through two frames with just one hit, four strikeouts, and no runs.

Next, Phil Maton took over in the top of the sixth and erased a leadoff walk to keep things in striking distance for the home team. In the bottom of the sixth, Houston put another runner on base, getting a one-out single by Chas McCormick. Two batters later, with two outs, Jose Altuve provided yet another career postseason highlight, tying the game 3-3 with a two-run home to re-energize the Minute Maid Park crowd.

Astros take ALCS Game 1

Now a brand new ballgame in the top of the seventh, Brooks Raley came in to face three batters, getting two strikeouts while allowing a single before Dusty Baker would move on to Ryne Stanek, who would get the third out. With two outs in the bottom of the seventh, Carlos Correa continued his march to a monster off-season contract, putting Houston back on top with a solo homer, making it 4-3.

Houston kept the script after Stanek with the new lead in hand, going to Kendall Graveman as the setup man in the top of the eighth. Despite a two-out single, he would get out of the inning with the lead intact, putting Houston three outs away from the victory. After a walk, single, and hit by pitch to start the bottom of the eighth with the bases loaded, Altuve would drive in his third run of the game, getting a sac fly to extend the lead to two runs at 5-3.

That insurance run proved pivotal, as closer Ryan Pressly was met with a leadoff solo home run by Hernandez, his second of the night for Boston, to make it 5-4. Pressly refocused and was able to get the next three batters in order, though, wrapping up the win to start Houston off with a 1-0 series lead and putting them three wins away from advancing to the World Series.

Up Next: The two teams will have a moderately quick turnaround, with ALCS Game 2 scheduled to start at 3:20 PM Central on Saturday ahead of NLCS Game 1 between the Dodgers and Braves getting the night slot. The pitching matchup is expected to be Nathan Eovaldi for Boston, who is 1-0 with a 2.61 ERA in his two starts this postseason, going opposite Luis Garcia, who had a rough outing in the ALDS for Houston, giving up five runs without completing three innings in Chicago.

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