The losing streak should be a blip on the radar

Recent slump aside, things are looking up for the Astros

Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

While last week's seven-game losing streak was tough to endure, there are plenty of reasons to believe that it is not something the Astros will have to re-live the rest of this season. Not only is the team getting healthier, but the poor performance of last week was a complete abnormality and not the symptom of a failing team.

Sure, Houston does benefit from playing in one of the more winnable divisions, but even if they didn't, I wouldn't be hitting the panic button on Houston after last week's slump. Here are a few reasons why:

Altuve looks to be 100% 

One of the biggest takeaways from yesterday's game that ended Houston's losing streak was that Jose Altuve looked like himself. It started with him hitting the leadoff home run to start the game, showing that he's still got the power in his swing. Then, in his next at-bat, he could have settled for a single but instead was aggressive on the basepaths to leg out a double, showing that he isn't scared to run at full speed.

Another positive sign was that Altuve was able to string together four straight games with a hit by getting one in each game in New York, showing that he is seeing the ball well again. A dangerous, healthy Altuve could prove pivotal for the Astros, who will need that to keep the top of their order as one of the toughest for an opposing pitcher to face.

Springer is coming back, Correa to follow 

The Astros will get another key piece of their lineup back this week in George Springer. Springer has been out of Houston's lineup since May 24th when he suffered a hamstring strain. He began a rehab assignment in Corpus Christi this past weekend where he looked great, hitting a couple of home runs in his first game on his way to a .400 average over his three rehab games.

That will leave one last major piece of the batting order missing: Carlos Correa. Correa likely won't go on a rehab assignment or rejoin the team until after the All-Star break, but it shouldn't be too long before Houston has their entire lineup intact and back in action. He was flirting with a .300 average before being sidelined, currently with a .295 average including his eleven home runs so far in 2019. Getting him back in the lineup somewhere around Michael Brantley and Yordan Alvarez will further bolster this potent lineup.

Arguably even more importantly, Correa's return will provide a significant boost on defense. Having Carlos back at shortstop will allow Alex Bregman to move back to his normal position of third base, and move Yuli Gurriel back to first base. That alone will solve some of the defensive issues that have fallen on the Astros in recent games due to players having to move around and play some somewhat unfamiliar positions.

Better pitching to come 

Another proponent of last week's struggles was some poor pitching for Houston, something they haven't had to deal with that much in 2019. First, it's important to note that some of the pitching issues were not long-standing issues. Roberto Osuna's struggles that resulted in the loss in Cincinnati on Wednesday were anything from normal; it was only Osuna's third blown save and first loss of the season. He should be given the benefit of the doubt to get back on track as the closer the next time the Astros need him in a high-leverage save situation.

Another low point of the week was seeing Ryan Pressly allow the go-ahead runs to the Yankees on Saturday. That too was abnormal, as Pressly just recently ended one of the most impressive streaks of scoreless innings ever. The eighth and ninth innings for the Astros should go back to being locked down the next opportunity they get to test Pressly and Osuna.

Another benefit to the pitching staff will be the return of Collin McHugh. McHugh, like George Springer, is nearing the end of his rehab assignment with the Corpus Christi Hooks. While it's unclear where McHugh will fit in the pitching makeup for Houston upon his return, he should provide a lift overall as it will give the Astros another arm to get into the fold.

In addition to all of this, the Astros are still the beneficiaries of what should be considered one of the best 1-2 punches in an MLB rotation in Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole.

Let's not forget about Alvarez

That brings us to one of the best things that have resulted from recent injuries: Yordan Alvarez. Even when some of Houston's typically hot bats looked cold in this past week, Alvarez continued to show his potential, hitting more home runs and racking up more RBIs in his short twelve-game season so far.

Alvarez now has seven home runs in his twelve games to go along with 16 RBIs. He has been just as dominant at the major-league level as he was in the minors, and it creates a great problem for Houston once they have Springer and Correa back: how do they configure this lineup? No matter what order they end up in, it's no question that the rest of 2019 and in the playoffs, the Astros will be a tough task for any opposing pitcher.

So again, while the losing streak was a bleak spot on this season so far, there are just too many positives about this team to believe that there will be any stretch of games that go as poorly as those did again this year. The potential for this team has been, and remains, that of a potential World Series champion.

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Altuve's homer starting the scoring for Houston on Friday night. Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
After a solid showing to take the three of the four-game series in Arlington against the Rangers to start the week, the Astros returned home for three against the Diamondbacks in a weekend series. They would have a slow start to the opener but would ultimately come away victorious.

Final Score (10 innings): Astros 4, Diamondbacks 3

Astros' Record: 87-60, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Ryne Stanek (3-4)

Losing Pitcher: Tyler Clippard (1-1)

Bielak makes the impromptu start

With Luis Garcia having to move his start ahead by a day on Thursday instead of Friday with Framber Valdez's finger cut, Brandon Bielak made a start for Houston in the opener against Arizona. He didn't go as deep as he probably would have wanted and certainly ventured out of his comfort zone with traffic on the bases.

He loaded the bases in the top of the first, allowing a single and two walks, but was able to strand all three to keep it a scoreless game. He rebounded with a 1-2-3 second, but he dealt with a threat again in the third as back-to-back singles pressured him to start the inning. He would get back-to-back strikeouts, but that's as far as he would go as Houston moved on to Blake Taylor. Taylor got the final out of the third on one pitch, then erased a two-out double in the top of the fourth.

Altuve breaks up the no-no with a go-ahead homer

Brooks Raley took over in the top of the fifth, but in his three batters, he faced allowed a single while getting two outs before Cristian Javier took over to end the frame. Javier allowed the first run of the game in the top of the sixth, a leadoff solo homer to Kole Calhoun to put the Diamondbacks in front 1-0 before he finished the inning.

Madison Bumgarner didn't allow a single hit to the Astros through the first five and two-thirds innings. He allowed a one-out walk in the bottom of the sixth, which proved costly as Jose Altuve would get the first knock of the game for Houston, a two-run go-ahead homer. Phil Maton was the next reliever for the Astros in the top of the seventh, maintaining the new one-run lead by erasing a leadoff single.

Astros get the win in extras

The Diamondbacks tied it up in the top of the eighth against Kendall Graveman, getting a leadoff single followed by a walk, then later an RBI single to knot things up 2-2. Houston stranded a runner in the bottom of the eighth, then brought in Ryan Pressly, who tossed a 1-2-3 top of the ninth to keep the game tied.

Despite getting the winning run in scoring position with a leadoff ground-rule double by Jason Castro to start the bottom of the ninth, they would strand it as the game went to extras. Arizona scored their free runner in the top of the tenth, getting a sac fly to move it to third then going in front on an RBI single.

The Astros matched that and more in the bottom of the inning, moving their runner to third on a lineout to start the frame, followed by an intentional walk to Yordan Alvarez. Jake Meyers tied the game with an RBI single, then after another walk to load the bases, Chas McCormick was hit by a pitch to bring in the winning run, moving the Astros closer to clinching their playoff berth.

Up Next: The middle game of this three-game set will have a start time of 6:10 PM Central on Saturday. Tyler Gilbert (2-2, 3.15 ERA) is expected to make a start for Arizona, while Lance McCullers Jr. (12-4, 3.12 ERA) will be on the mound for Houston.

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