Let's debate the 3 most surprising bright spots for the Astros

Yuli Gurriel has turned back the clock. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images.

The Astros are hovering around the .500 mark after a really hot start. Some of the usual suspects are producing and helping the team get back on track. Zack Greinke is the ace of the staff so far. In five games started, he has a 2-1 record, 22 strikeouts, a 2.76 ERA, and has pitched 32.2 innings in those five starts. While he hasn't played in as many games to get as many at bats, Jose Altuve has returned to form with a .347 batting average so far this season. Manager Dusty Baker has been toying with the lineup. Altuve has been moved around, but has still found a way to become one of the better hitters in the game again.

Those guys are expected to produce and help this team bounce back from a down year in a pandemic-shortened season. Sure they made the ALCS, but they were under .500 when the season ended and barely made the playoffs. They went on a nice run, but eventually flamed out. So who are the guys that are responsible for their uptick in production lately?

One guy that comes to mind via recency bias is Kent Emmanuel. Jake Odorizzi left his last start with what was described as forearm tightness after pitching only 1/3 of an inning. Emmanuel came in and threw 8 2/3 innings against the division rival Angels holding them to two runs as the bats woke up and pummeled the opposing pitching staff for 16 runs. Emmanuel is a 28-year-old rookie who toiled in the minors until now. He got his shot and made the most of it. I'm looking forward to seeing if this was a one off performance, or a sign of things to come. I'm sure Brent Strom will be able to get the most out of him.

A few years ago, Yuli Gurriel was considered one of this team's best hitters. After last season, and getting a year older at age 36 now soon to be 37, no one really expected "La Pina" to be leading the team in batting average, RBI, on base percentage, hits, walks and tied for second in homers. If aged like wine were an Astro, it would be Yuli. I've been pleasantly surprised at how disciplined he's been at the plate this year. He used to be a free swinger that was good with making contact. Now he seems to be keyed in on the strike zone and what pitches he can/can't swing on. This has translated to him being at his career best so far this year.

Cristian Javier is another guy I've been surprised by. He's 2-0 in three starts with a 1.32 ERA and averaging a healthy 13.2 strikeouts per nine innings. Javier is 24 years old and has good stuff. He needs to improve his stamina and pitch selection so he lasts longer in games. He's only averaging 4-5 innings per start so far. It could be Dusty holding off on him since it's early in the season, or it could be that Javier is still developing. Either way, I see this kid as being a potential long term member of the starting staff.

Ultimately, Yuli has been the most surprising to me. I thought he was showing signs of being washed up last year and would show more decline this season. He's not only proved those thoughts wrong, but he's managed to be the team's best offensive threat. If he keeps this up, he's definitely giving me Julio Franco vibes. Mind you, Franco played at the major league level until he was 49! Will Yuli be able to do the same? I doubt it. But he's managed to have a resurgence this year that has helped this team stay competitive and I'm all for it.

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Zack Greinke earned his 10th win of the season in Sunday's finale agains the Rangers. Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

With the first two wins of the series under their belt, the Astros entered Sunday looking to take care of business before heading on the road. Despite the Rangers taking the first lead of the day, the Astros responded on offense and defense to erase the deficit to get the victory.

Final Score: Astros 3, Rangers 1

Astros' Record: 61-39, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Zack Greinke (10-3)

Losing Pitcher: Dennis Santana (0-1)

Greinke, with some help, notches a quality start

Zack Greinke was doing well in the early goings of Sunday's finale. Despite allowing back-to-back singles to start the game, he stranded both runners to finish the top of the first. He followed that by erasing two more runners in the second, starting a stretch of eight straight batters which he would retire to make it through one out in the top of the fifth without allowing a run.

Texas finally added a blemish to his day at that point, getting a solo homer to grab their first lead in weeks. Greinke rebounded from it, sitting down the next two batters to finish the frame, then posted a 1-2-3 sixth. He returned for the top of the seventh, but would end his day with a struggle, loading the bases with no outs on a single, hit batter, and walk. That prompted Dusty Baker to bring in Cristian Javier, who saved Greinke's stat line by getting a strikeout and double play to keep the Rangers from scoring. Greinke's line: 6.0 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 1 HR, 86 P.

Houston grabs the lead

Houston's starter would leave in line for the win, thanks to the work of Cristian Javier, but also some timely offense in the two innings prior. With not much going for them in the first four innings, the Astros tried to take advantage of Chas McCormick being on base in the bottom of the fifth, sending him for a potential hit and run with Abraham Toro swinging.

That turned into two runs, with McCormick able to slow his run as Toro would launch a two-run go-ahead homer to erase the Rangers lead quickly. They extended the lead to two runs in the next inning, with Yordan Alvarez working a walk and then later scoring on an RBI single by Kyle Tucker, making it 3-1.

Astros finish the sweep

After cleaning up the inherited mess in the top of the seventh, Javier remained on the mound in the top of the eighth and made it through a 1-2-3 inning to give him six outs against five batters. With it still a two-run game in the top of the ninth, Ryan Pressly entered for the save opportunity. He notched it, sitting down the Rangers 1-2-3 to finish the sweep, handing Texas their twelfth straight loss.

Up Next: The Astros will head out west for an eight-game road trip starting with a three-game set with the Mariners kicking off at 9:10 PM Central on Monday. In the opener, Luis Garcia (7-5, 2.86 ERA) for Houston is slated to go opposite Darren McCaughan (0-0, 1.80 ERA), who will make his second career appearance and first start for Seattle.

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