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


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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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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