ASTROS REPORT

Slumps, injuries, and plain bad luck surround Astros in disappointing week

Justin Verlander is struggling. Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

Houston had another set of games against weaker opponents this week with a full seven-game slate of winnable games. Unfortunately, it did not end with a good result. Here's why: 

Monday, June 25th: 36-41 Blue Jays (J.A. Happ) vs. 52-27 Astros (Justin Verlander)

The week started on Monday night with the beginning of a rough week for Justin Verlander. Verlander allowed two runs in the top of the first on two hits and a walk, giving Toronto an early 2-0 lead. Yuli Gurriel continued his hot streak to cut the lead in half in the bottom of the inning with an RBI single, then Alex Bregman tied the game with a solo homer in the bottom of the third, making it 2-2. Bregman struck again in the fourth, getting an RBI single to give Houston their first lead at 3-2. Unfortunately, Curtis Granderson for Toronto got the best of Verlander twice with solo homers in the fifth and seventh innings, ending Justin's night at six and two-third innings pitched with four earned runs and giving the Blue Jays a 4-3 lead. Toronto got another homer against Will Harris in the eighth, this time a two-run shot to extend their lead to 6-3, which held to the end despite a rally by Houston in the bottom of the ninth to get runners on second and third. In addition to losing the game, this would also be Carlos Correa's last game for a while as he would miss the next couple of games with back discomfort before landing on the DL.
Final Score: Blue Jays 6, Astros 3

Tuesday, June 26th: 37-41 Blue Jays (Ryan Borucki) vs. 52-28 Astros (Charlie Morton)

Charlie Morton had a terrific start on Tuesday night to help Houston bounce back from the loss the night before. Morton kept the Blue Jays without a hit through the first four innings and worked around four hits in innings five through seven to finish with a dominant seven innings pitched, four hits, zero runs, and thirteen strikeouts. That earned him the win as the Astros started the scoring in the fifth with a two-RBI single by Evan Gattis then tacked on five more in the eighth with a three-run home run by Jake Marisnick and a two-run homer by Alex Bregman. After Morton, Chris Devenski pitched a perfect eighth before Hector Rondon closed things out to complete the lopsided shutout win.
Final Score: Blue Jays 0, Astros 7

Wednesday, June 27th: 37-41 Blue Jays (Marco Estrada) vs. 53-28 Astros (Dallas Keuchel)

In stark contrast to Morton's brilliant start the night before, Wednesday afternoon saw a horrible beginning to a start by Dallas Keuchel. The Blue Jays avenged their shutout the night before by ambushing Keuchel with five runs on four hits in the top of the first, putting Houston in a huge hole. The Astros had a strong first inning of their own, quickly trimming the lead down to 5-3 with a two-RBI double from Evan Gattis and an RBI single by Josh Reddick. Gattis added to his crazy RBI total in June again with another RBI double in the fifth, making it just a one-run lead for  Toronto. To Kuechel's credit, he did lock in after the disastrous first inning getting through the next four innings with just one hit. He faltered again in the sixth, however, loading the bases before an error scored a run to make it 6-4. Marwin Gonzalez made it a one-run game yet again with a solo homer in the bottom of the eighth, giving the Astros a chance to tie or win the game in the ninth thanks to strong bullpen work from Brad Peacock, who came in to finish the sixth and pitched the seventh, Ken Giles in the eighth, and Will Harris in the ninth who kept the Blue Jays from adding any more runs. Tony Kemp led off the bottom of the ninth with a single to put the tying run on base, but instead of tying Alex Bregman played the hero with a two-run walk-off home run to complete the comeback to steal the series.
Final Score: Blue Jays 6, Astros 7

Thursday, June 28th: 54-28 Astros (Lance McCullers Jr.) vs. 39-40 Rays (Ryne Stanek)

Tampa Bay deployed their unique strategy of starting the game with a reliever on Thursday night, with Ryne Stanek taking the mound first before Ryan Yarbrough took over for extended innings. The strategy paid off early, but it was Jake Marisnick who scored the first (and only) run in the top of the fifth with a solo home run. That one run was enough, with Lance McCullers Jr. pitching a gem by going seven strong innings giving up just three hits, no runs, and striking out seven. He was followed by Chris Devenski in the eighth and Hector Rondon who got the save in the ninth as both offenses started the series off quiet in a one-run game.  
Final Score: Astros 1, Rays 0

Friday, June 29th: 55-28 Astros (Gerrit Cole) vs. 39-41 Rays (Wilmer Font)

Another pitcher's duel was brewing early on Friday night, with Gerrit Cole and Wilmer Font getting through the first three innings scoreless. Things took a wrong turn for Houston in the bottom of the fourth, though, with Cole giving up back-to-back singles to put runners on the corners with no outs before a sac fly gave Tampa a 1-0 lead. They added two more on an error by Marwin Gonzalez who made a bad throw to first which should've been the final out but instead gave the Rays a 3-0 lead. Alex Bregman got Houston on the board and trimmed the lead to one with a two-run homer in the top of the sixth to end Font's night, but that would be the end of the scoring as Tampa Bay's bullpen held Houston at bay to finish out the Astros' loss.
Final Score: Astros 2, Rays 3

Saturday, June 30th: 55-29 Astros (Justin Verlander) vs. 40-41 Rays (Ryne Stanek)

Much like Keuchel on Wednesday, things got bad in a hurry for Justin Verlander on Saturday. Verlander allowed five runs across the first and second innings to put Houston in another 5-0 hole. Verlander didn't allow any more damage after that, but it resulted in his shortest start to date with only five innings during which he allowed the five runs on nine hits. The Ray's sent Ryne Stanek out to start the game again before the true starter Vidal Nuno took over. Alex Bregman was once again the one to try and spark the offense with another two-run homer, making it a 5-2 game, but like the day before, Tampa's bullpen would outmatch the struggling offense of Houston to wrap up another loss for the Astros. 
Final Score: Astros 2, Rays 5

Sunday, July 1st: 55-30 Astros (Charlie Morton) vs. 41-41 Rays (Blake Snell)

Charlie Morton had his second strong start of the week to close things out on Sunday, getting through his first six innings with just four hits and no runs allowed to the Rays. Evan Gattis gave Houston a 1-0 lead with a solo home run in the top of the seventh, which looked like it may be enough to take to the end. Unfortunately, Morton would get tagged with two earned runs after he allowed two singles in the seventh which would come around to score off Chris Devenski who relieved Morton earlier in that inning. Brad Peacock allowed Tampa to extend their lead to 3-1 with a solo home run in the eighth before the Rays worked around another solo home run by Evan Gattis in the ninth to win the series and end Houston's week with a losing record.
Final Score: Astros 2, Rays 3

Summary: Despite Alex Bregman and Evan Gattis having strong weeks to cap off a great month of June for them, it was not enough to salvage this week which ended with a disappointing 3-4 record. Between Correa moving to the DL, George Springer and Marwin Gonzalez worsening their slumps, and a couple of weak starts from starters, this week was a bad stretch in an otherwise great season to this point. There were still some high points in the week with the bullpen continuing to perform well, and dominant starts from Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers. We've all learned not to panic too early with this team when they show signs of slowing down, so I'm not ringing any alarm bells just yet. Justin Verlander had two of his worst starts of the year which he will likely bounce back from this week with a start against the struggling White Sox. George Springer is definitely streaky, so him heating back up can turn a lot of things around offensively. Carlos Correa out of the lineup is definitely going to be a temporary pain, but better for him to get something like this corrected now than it biting him later in the season. This team is too good to have a setback last too long, so I'm willing to write this last week off as another bout of bad luck at Tropicana Field. 

MVP of the Week - Alex Bregman: 

Bregman may have arguably surpassed Evan Gattis to have the best month of June with his performance this week. He dominated at the plate, going 13 for 28 in the seven games this week for a .464 average. He hit five doubles, stole two bases, and scored seven runs, five of which came on his powerful five homers this week, the most notable being the walk-off blast to win the game on Wednesday. He has all the makings (if he can limit some errors on defense) to be a superstar very soon. This Week:

  • Tue-Wed: (55-31) Astros @ (38-47) Rangers
  • Thu-Sun: (29-54) White Sox @ (55-31) Astros

The Astros will have the day off Monday to travel to Arlington and hopefully hit the reset button on the series in Tampa Bay. They'll play a quick two-game series with the Rangers on Tuesday and Wednesday then head home for four games against the White Sox. These are two struggling teams, and teams that Houston has feasted on already this year, so it's a great opportunity to right the ship and put together a great week. If they can't win these two series, even with their current slumps and injuries, something will have to change.

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THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR: Quaker State 400 preview

Photo via: WikiCommons.

This week, the NASCAR cup series heads to Kentucky Motor Speedway for the Quaker State 400. Built in 2001, this track is a 1.5 mile tri-oval with a dog-leg on the front stretch. The most dangerous part of the track has to be turn three as the corner is flat compared to the other three corners that are banked. This has been a major point of contingency for these drivers as most of the cautions end up being there. Look for turn three to be a hot spot come Sunday. Last year, both the Busch brothers finished 1-2 in one of the most exciting finishes of the season so there will be a lot of hype for this race to live up to.

Last week at Indy, as we all expected the race was a crazy one. Over the course of the race's 160 laps, we saw many horrific accidents including a scary pit road accident involving Corey Lajoe, Ryan Blaney, Justin Allgier, Ryan Preece and others. The wreck started when everyone got stacked up entering the pits and the calamity was on from there. During the wreck Brennan Poole struck Rear Tire Changer Zach Price as he was trying to avoid the wrecking cars in front of him. After the incident fans and media alike all held their breath as they awaited news on his condition. But when the camera panned to him being loaded into the ambulance, there was a huge sigh of relief as he gave everyone a thumbs up signifying he was okay. Another scary moment was both Erik Jones and Alex Bowman's vicious crashes. Both cars had tire failures that sent their cars directly into the wall. Fortunately both drivers were okay but their days were over.

In the end, tire wear would end up claiming one more victim as it took out Denny Hamlin as well. With seven laps to go, the four-time winner this season was in prime position to get his fifth victory until his right front tire blew out, sending him hard into the turn 2 wall. This mishap handed the win to his main rival in the championship, Kevin Harvick, as he went on to claim his third Brickyard 400 victory and fourth win of the year. When it was all over, many questioned why there were so many tire failures and if new owner Roger Penske would make an effort to possibly widen the pit-road after the massive accident on Sunday.

Needless to say, there are a lot of questions on what will be different at Indy in 2021. When I talked to spotter Freddie Kraft on Tuesday, he gave a lot of good insights on both topics. When it came to the tire failures, he talked about how the increasing corner speeds at the racetrack has put a lot of pressure on these Goodyear tires which eventually led to them coming apart. As far as Pit-Road and what they can do to fix that, he talked about how it is difficult to make changes to a track that is so historical. Which makes sense, but he followed this up by saying that maybe it would be wise to give up a little history and move the wall over and make it wider. It will be interesting to see what NASCAR does in the coming months.

On Friday, Associated Press journalist Jenna Fryer revealed a bombshell announcement that 7-time champion and NASCAR's biggest name Jimmie Johnson, had tested positive for coronavirus. As everyone knows, the world is going through the worst pandemic it's ever faced in this lifetime. With the sport coming back and racing again, it was only a matter of time until one of the drivers came down with it. Unfortunately it had to be NASCAR's most recognizable driver. Thankfully, Jimmie made a full recovery and was cleared to return this weekend at Kentucky. This was a big scare for everyone in the NASCAR world, but I have to give a lot of credit to Johnson for being as forthright as he was about his diagnosis with everyone who he works with. It will be good to have Jimmie back on Sunday.

The driver that I have winning this weekend is Kyle Busch. While this season has been a disappointment for the defending champion, Kentucky would be a great place for him to turn it around. Ever since the cup series has started going there, Kyle has always been in contention to win. In fact, he won the first cup series race that was run at this track back in 2011. In his nine starts there, Kyle has finished outside the top ten only once and even then he finished 12th, back in 2016. Last season it appeared that Kyle was on his way to a third victory at this track, but he came up one spot short to his brother Kurt in a fantastic last lap duel. After a late race restart this weekend though, I see Kyle redeeming himself and capturing his first victory of 2020. Look for Kyle to get back on track come Sunday.


All stats and information used in this article are brought to you by the good folks at driveraverages.com and Racing-Reference.com, the best websites for all NASCAR stats.

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