JOHN GRANATO

This roller coaster Astros season still has many twists and turns to come

Dallas Keuchel had a rough start to the season, but look at him now. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

If you thought this was going to be a smooth ride this Astros season you couldn’t have been more wrong. What you thought you could count on has turned to mud and what you thought was an ugly duckling is really a beautiful swan. And it’s not over yet, There’s still a month left to this season. Who knows how it’ll end up but this is why you can never speak in absolutes at any point in a 162-game season.

This season started with unbelievable starting pitching, well, everyone but Dallas Keuchel. He got off to a miserable start. The rest of the rotation was straight fire. Remember when Justin Verlander was a lock to win the Cy Young? 16 starts in he was 9-2 with a 1.60 ERA and 15 of those 16 were quality starts. He led the league with 130 strikeouts.

Since then he’s had 12 starts with a 4-6 record and given up 34 runs for a 4.46 ERA. Only half of those have been quality starts but the most alarming part is the 18 home runs he’s given up over those 12 starts. You don’t hear nearly as much about the Cy Young these days but with Chris Sale’s injuries Verlander is definitely still in the hunt thanks to that fast start.

On the other end of that spectrum is Keuchel. At one point it looked like he was going to have a tough time making the postseason rotation. On June 10th he went 4 ⅓ and gave up 6 runs, 5 earned which ballooned his ERA to 4.45. He was 3-8 on the year on a team that was 17 games over .500. In a contract year it looked like this would be Dallas’ last season in Houston.

Something somewhere somehow changed after that start and he’s been the Astros best pitcher over the last two months. Since then he’s 7-2 with a 2.74 ERA. All but three of his 14 starts have been quality starts. He’s back to clearly being the Astros number two starter.

There was a time this season when J.D. Davis, Derek Fisher and Tyler White were prominent in this lineup. Two of those three have gone by the wayside while Tyler White has not only played his way into an everyday role, he’s become one of their best hitters. That’s not an understatement.

Early on I’d get tweets about White in the lineup, how pitiful it was and how he should go back to Fresno. I don’t get those anymore. While he has a smaller sample size than most of the the guys in the lineup, he’s been so good that if the playoffs started today you could make the argument that he should be the team’s cleanup hitter.

White leads the team in OPS and slugging. He’s second in on-base, batting average and home runs per at-bat. Only Gattis hits homers at a better rate but White destroys him in every other category which is why Gattis doesn’t see the field anymore. Remember when Gattis knocked in 30 runs in June in 98 at bats? He’s had about half that many at bats this month and at this rate probably even fewer in September.

Remember when Marwin was costing himself millions in a contract year? Not anymore. At the end of May he was floundering with a .612 OPS. This month it’s 1.049, second only to White who needed a ninth inning walk-off home run yesterday to pass him. Good stuff.

Remember when the bullpen was a mess and there was maybe one guy (Colin McHugh) you could count on? Not the case anymore. I know Osuna has his issues. He will blow some saves. You’ve got to live with that. But a 7th, 8th, 9th of Pressly, Rondon, Osuna or Pressly, Osuna, Rondon or McHugh, Pressly, Rondon or McCullers, Rondon, Osuna or Sipp, McHugh, Rondon or whatever combination A.J. chooses to use is actually not scary anymore. There will be hiccups - always are - but at least you don’t think that you have to use a starter in relief to get anyone out this postseason.

I know Carlos Correa looks bad right now. His average is below .250. He looks lost at the plate. He shouldn’t be hitting clean-up for anyone let alone one of the best teams in the majors, but let’s not jump off the Correa boat just yet. If there’s anything we’ve learned from this season it’s that you never know, you just never know.





 

 

 

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Keep an eye on Alex Bowman this weekend. Image via: Wiki Commons.

For the first time since July 1984, NASCAR returns to one of its most popular cities in Nashville, Tennessee for the inaugural Ally 400 at Nashville Super Speedway. This track is a 1 1/3rd mile concrete oval that was dormant for nearly ten years and was only used as a testing facility. So it came as a bit of a surprise last season when it was announced that this track would be getting a date. For a lot of drivers, this will be a brand new racetrack, but we will see practice and qualifying, so that will be a huge help for the newcomers that haven't raced here before. Back when the Xfinity and Trucks ran here, this track featured a lot of first time winners. Back in 2008, future NASCAR champion Brad Keselowski shocked the world by jumping in Dale Jr's car and capturing his first win here. There will be a lot of veterans like Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick who have plenty of experience at this track, but it will be tough to compare. It should be fun with everyone coming into this race with minimal knowledge.

Last week, Kyle Larson continued his hot streak by winning the All-Star Race. Overall, while Larson and his Hendrick teammates probably enjoyed the race, the feedback from crews and fans was less than positive. As I was walking through the garage area and talking to a few crew members, a lot of them were very critical of the 450 horsepower motor and the tall spoiler to try and keep the cars bunched up. When I asked one of the crew-members what he thought about the package he told me, "Oh it's awful. The track is terrible, the package makes it impossible to pass and it's super hot out here." On green flag runs, it was the same as it ever was as the lead car would pretty much take off and the only time there was really any "pack racing" it came after there were restarts. The whole race was well-intentioned and the fans showed up as it was nearly a capacity crowd, but the whole thing just didn't make any sense. From the start time being in the nearly 100 degree heat to the wacky full-field invert at the end of each stage. Let's hope that next season's All-Star Race is a lot more concise.

In Silly Season news this week, Truck Series regulars GMS racing announced that they would be fielding a full-time cup series team. The team is currently owned by Allegiant Airlines CEO Maurice Gallagher and his son, Spencer, who used to drive for them in the Xfinity Series. This move seemed to come from out of nowhere as there was never any indication that this was a move they were exploring anytime soon after they turned down the opportunity to purchase Furniture Row Racing in 2019. This is certainly a great sight for the sport as there will be more new teams on the track and with their close relationship with Chevy, it wouldn't be a surprise if they step in and help this team become competitive. The favorite to drive their car has to be 2020 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Sheldon Creed. He has easily been their best driver in trucks, and it would make the most sense for him to get the promotion.

This week at Nashville, the driver that I have winning is Alex Bowman. Now while this is a brand new racetrack and he has a grand total of zero starts here, this track suits his driving style perfectly. With the inclusion of this track, there are now four tracks with a concrete surface. Nashville, Bristol, Dover and Martinsville. At the three of the tracks they have run at, he has shown a lot of speed, including a victory at Dover this season and a top ten finish at Bristol. This is also a track where crew-chief Greg Ives said Bowman has gravitated towards during testing. In an interview with Sirius XM Ives was quoted as saying "we used to have a lot of fun testing there," so this is clearly a track that they both enjoy going to. Another big factor going into Sunday will be just how fast these Hendrick Motorsports cars are, they have finished 1-2 over the last four points races. He has watched his teammates Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott have immense success, and now this week I think he is due for a third win of the season. Look for the bright purple #48 Chevy to go to victory lane this week at Nashville.

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