Stellar pitching leads Astros to 3 consecutive series wins

The Astros (15-13) finished the week with a 5-2 record. Composite image by Jack Brame.

After starting the season with a 7-10 record and getting swept by the Colorado Rockies, the Astros are starting to find their winning ways again.

The Astros started a four game series with the Mariners on Monday, April 26th which saw the return of Jose Altuve after testing positive for COVID-19.

During the stretch that Altuve was out, Houston manager Dusty Baker used a couple different options at the leadoff spot that included Myles Straw, Kyle Tucker and Carlos Correa.

Once Altuve returned to the lineup, he was able to contribute immediately by hitting a single and stealing his first base of the season.

"I was really happy to be back and a little nervous my first at-bat," he said. "But all in all I feel pretty good and I'm happy that we won this game."

Altuve finished the game with three hits and two RBI as the Astros beat the Mariners in the first game of the series 5-2.

Pitcher Jose Urquidy picked up his first win of the season as well.

The second game of the series was a showcase game for Cristian Javier as he threw 7 scoreless innings and gave up only two hits to help the Astros secure a 2-0 victory.

Relief pitchers Brooks Raley and Ryan Pressly both pitched scoreless innings to secure the 2-hit shutout.

Pressly earned saves on back-to-back nights to increase his save total to 3 this season thus far.

The two runs were scored on a Yordan Alvarez sacrifice fly and a Kyle Tucker RBI single.

The final two games of the series saw the aforementioned Alvarez head again to the injured list due to health and safety protocols. The second time in a month in which he was placed on the IL for this reason.

This forced Michael Brantley to take over as the designated hitter and Chas McCormick to start in left field.

Wednesday's game saw Astros' pitcher Zack Greinke leave after four innings as he gave up four runs on four hits. (His shortest outing of the season.)

The Astros were down 3-5 in the bottom of the 8th when Kyle Tucker and Yuli Gurriel got back-to-back singles.

Mariners first basemen Evan White committed an error which scored Kyle Tucker.

Aledmys Diaz singled to score Gurriel and tie the game later in the inning.

Jason Castro walked with the bases loaded to give the Astros a 6-5 lead and Jose Altuve got an insurance run as he hit a sacrifice fly to increase the Astros lead 7-5.

As previously mentioned, Houston closer Ryan Pressly pitched on back-to-back days, so Ryne Stanek came in for his first save opportunity of the year.

He pitched a perfect 9th on 12 pitches to earn his first save of the year.

Thursday's afternoon game was one to be forgotten as the Mariners won the final game of the series 1-0.

Luis Garcia (0-3) gave up only one run, but received his third consecutive loss in three straight starts.

The Astros then headed to the East Coast for their third road trip of the season.

Friday saw the start of a three-game series in St. Petersburg, Florida to set up a 2020 ALCS rematch with the Tampa Bay Rays.

Lance McCullers started the series off with a bang as he pitched seven shutout innings and struck out a personal season-high nine batters.

This is the second consecutive game McCullers has pitched more than five innings, and this start was his longest outing of the young season.

The Astros received a lot of run support as both Carlos Correa and Michael Brantley got four hits each, and Alex Bregman hit a two-run homer to help secure Houston's 9-2 victory.

Dusty Baker earned his 1,906th managerial victory Friday night, thus moving him past Casey Stengel for 12th place on the all-time win list for managers.

Saturday's game saw more of the same from the Astros, shutdown pitching with timely hitting.

Houston got off to a 3-0 lead and never looked back.

After going 0-5 the previous night, Jose Altuve doubled on the first pitch of the game to set the tone for that inning.

Alex Bregman hit an RBI single which scored Altuve, and Gurriel drove in two runs on a single later in the inning, therefore giving the Astros their three runs of the game.

Pitcher Jose Urquidy pitched his best game of the season as he threw seven shutout innings to earn his second win of the year on his 26th birthday.

Brooks Raley and Ryan Pressly closed out the game.

Raley pitched a perfect 8th inning, and Pressly earned his 4th save of the season.

Sunday's final game of the series saw Cristian Javier attempt to earn his fourth win of the season.

He pitched four shutout innings before giving up a three-run homer to Austin Meadows in the 5th which tied the game.

Javier left the game with a no decision, as the Rays went on to score two more runs to earn a 5-4 win over the Astros to avoid getting swept.

Yordan Alvarez hit his third home run of the season along with a double this game to keep his batting average over .300 for the season.

Even though Houston lost Sunday, they have now won three consecutive series in a row over the Angels, Mariners and Rays.

The Astros (15-13) finished the week with a 5-2 record and currently sit in third place in their division behind the Mariners and the Oakland A's.

UP NEXT: The Astros start a three-game series in the Bronx against the New York Yankees to finish off their road trip.

Zack Greinke (2-1) will start the series opening game Tuesday night against Domingo German (2-2) at 6:05 p.m. The Astros are also scheduled to face Gerrit Cole for the first time since he left the team to join the Yankees via free agency on Thursday at 12:05 p.m.

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The Astros are utilizing a 6-man rotation. Composite Getty Image.

The Astros should schedule an Old-Timers Game, if not annually maybe every other year. Only the Yankees have regularly played Old Timers Games and it’s a highlight in the Bronx every season. The Astros have plenty enough history to welcome back an ample number of guys to make for a fabulous event. Maybe they could tie it into their now annual Hall of Fame Weekend. Anyway, don’t you feel that if Jose Altuve took part in an Old Timers Game in 2050 he’d bang out a couple of hits, and then if the Astros played him in the regular game he’d line one more hit somehow, at age 60?

After missing the first 43 games of the season while recovering from his broken thumb, Altuve went 0 for four in his first game back, but has since been generally fantastic with his OPS through nine games played at 1.013. It won’t stay that high, but Altuve is a direly needed upgrade to the Astros’ offense which has been utterly mediocre. Offense is the reason the Astros continue to look up at the Texas Rangers in the American League West. The Rangers’ offense has been fantastic, outscoring the Astros by a whopping 100 runs through the first third of the season.

As the regular season entered its middle third this week, the Astros are in the middle of playing a game in 17 consecutive days. It’s their longest stretch of the season without an off day. They are inserting Ronel Blanco as a sixth starting pitcher in the rotation for a couple of turns. The point of mixing in a sixth starter isn’t that the Astros are teeming with guys who belong in a big league rotation. The 29-year-old Blanco is not a notable prospect. This is about lightening the load a little on two guys: Cristian Javier and Hunter Brown.

In becoming a rotation mainstay last season, Javier blew past his previous biggest season workload by nearly 50 innings. He’s on pace to go another 25 innings beyond that this year without even accounting for the playoffs. Hunter Brown last year set his professional high with 130 innings pitched encompassing work with the Space Cowboys and Astros. Brown is on pace for about 170 innings this regular season. That’s a significant jump, and of course the Astros are hoping for another postseason of multiple rounds. Javier, Brown, and Framber Valdez are the three most critical pitchers on the staff, and the Astros hope they remain healthily so for several more years.

Lance McCullers’s latest recovery setback makes his plight increasingly sad. Well, except for him on payday. The odds now lopsidedly favor McCullers never again pitching a near fully healthy and effective season. His only one to date was 2021 (until he broke down in the playoffs), the year before his five year 85 million dollar contract kicked in. McCullers pulls down 17 mil this year (And again next year. And in 2025. And 2026), exactly two and a half times what Framber Valdez makes. I reckon Framber’s representation is aware of this, as it is of the five year 63 million dollar deal the Astros struck with Cristian Javier. Framber is more than three years older than Javier, but has been better, and can hit free agency after the 2025 season, the same time Javier could have gone to market.

Timing isn’t everything but it darn sure can matter. The Astros’ two best relief pitchers through May were Hector Neris and Phil Maton. Neris enters June with a 1.19 earned run average, Maton even better with a teeny-weeny 0.68 ERA. Maton has been especially amazing, given that last year while not pitching very well he posted his career best ERA at 3.84. His 2022 ended ignominiously when after giving up a hit to his brother Nick in the regular season finale, Phil took the ding-a-ling of the week award by breaking his pitching hand punching his locker, sidelining him for the postseason. The Hurt Locker won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2010. Now Maton is up for Best Pitcher (per inning worked). Both Neris and Maton were James Click acquisitions. Both become free agents after this season.

Up next

Four games with the Angels at Minute Maid Park through the weekend mean the amazing Shohei Ohtani is in town. It’s “Sho-time” on the mound Friday night in a doozy of a pitching matchup with Framber, with Ohtani batting in at least three of the four games. In one player the Angels have a pitcher as good as Cristian Javier and a hitter better than Kyle Tucker. And the Angels will probably miss the playoffs again anyway. And then lose Ohtani in free agency. After the Angels series the Astros are on the road next week. They start with four games at Toronto against the Blue Jays’ very potent lineup, then it’s three at Cleveland vs. the Guardians whose offense has been pathetic so far this season.

Walk this way

Geek Astro factoid of the week: Jeremy Pena drew two walks in Tuesday’s win over the Twins. In his rookie season, Pena had only one two walk game, also in May, also against the Twins. Tuesday’s bases on balls finally got Pena into double digits for the season. He has just 11 walks drawn (largely explaining his weak .307 on-base percentage) vs. 50 strikeouts.

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Stone Cold ‘Stros is the weekly Astro-centric podcast I am part of alongside Brandon Strange and Josh Jordan. On our regular schedule it goes up at 3PM Monday on the SportsMapHouston YouTube channel, is available there for playback at any point, and also becomes available in podcast form at outlets galore. Such as:

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