Every-Thing Sports

Why I still believe in the Astros' chances

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

The year 2020 is the gift that keeps on giving. As if the shortened season due to the pandemic along with the sign-stealing scandal hanging over their heads wasn't enough, the Astros are now dealing with the fact that ace pitcher Justin Verlander may be out for the season. This is par for the course. My kids have alerts set up to get any breaking sports news, so they will typically be up to date on what's going on. From time to time, they'll break news to me when I'm busy. As I was in the middle of cooking the meals they requested, my daughter broke the news to me. I didn't believe her at first, so I asked my son to verify. He was busy with the dogs and couldn't get to his phone. I stopped, washed my hands, grabbed my phone and yelled.

I didn't want to believe it was true. It sunk in and felt like an anchor on my chest. My head hung low as I finished cooking. I couldn't even enjoy my food. All I could think about was their chances of winning a revenge title were out the window. Then it hit me. It hit hard. I raised my head up, looked off in the distance, thought for a sec, smiled, and knew there was still a good chance. So what made me change course? Here's what crossed my mind:

The pre-Verlander Astros

Prior to acquiring Verlander mere minutes ahead of the trade deadline in 2017, the Astros were still considered a World Series contender. They were 80-53, had an 11.5 game lead in the AL West, a 3.5 game lead in the AL overall, had the most runs scored in MLB, and the third best run differential rate in MLB. The bats were winning them games, not the pitching staff. This lineup has to support the team if they hope to remain title contenders. They'll need to win more 7-5 games than 4-1 games. Could this lead to Dusty Baker and crew changing their analytic approach? Possibly. It will also lead to...

More pressure on the pitching staff

Next man up never meant more than it does now when it comes to the Astros' pitching staff. Baker has been known to use, or even overuse, his bullpen. Being down last year's AL Cy Young winner is a serious blow. This adds pressure to the starters and the bullpen. Every starter moves up a spot in the rotation. Zack Greinke (older vet) and Lance McCullers Jr (coming off Tommy John surgery) will be relied on to carry the bulk of the load. Meanwhile, guys like Jose Urquidy, Josh James and others will have to step up and take on bigger roles. The bullpen will need to provide the starters steady backup when they either can't go any longer, or get into a jam. Forrest Whitley was left off the 30-man roster, but expect that to change if some of the aforementioned guys don't pan out and/or Whitley seems ready to contribute.

Something to prove

When the Astros were punished for the sign-stealing scandal, everybody and their momma had something to say. After the pandemic shut down sports, the blowback went away for a while. As the season was being discussed on how to return, things ramped back up. People actually said they were upset the Astros wouldn't get booed. All the while, this team took it in stride and prepped for their return. Given their start, the Verlander injury, the talent on this roster, and an us versus the world mentality, I can see them using this as motivation to stick it to everyone. Nobody wants them to win outside of Houston, and they know it. What better way to make all the haters sick?

There's something about saying "I told you so" with your actions as opposed to verbally announcing it. It's a feeling you can't replicate. It makes you want to DX crotch chop whoever doubted or hated on you. People who operate on a different level than others can use that hate as fuel in their tanks on the road to success. You can't tell me Alex Bregman won't see this as extra motivation. He's the kind of guy that will not only use it himself, but use it to fire up his teammates as well. Pro athletes are wired different. Lots of them play for the love of the game. They thrive off the challenge of being the best and beating the best to prove it. What better circumstances do the 2020 Astros have in order to do just that? I haven't given up hope on what this team can accomplish this season and neither should you.

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Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

With the disappointing loss in extra innings late the night before, the Astros returned to RingCentral Coliseum on Saturday afternoon to try and even the series against the A's, who now owned a 3.5 game lead in the AL West over Houston. Here is a quick rundown of the middle game of the series:

Final Score: A's 3, Astros 1.

Record: 6-8, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Frankie Montas (2-1, 1.57 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Framber Valdez (0-2, 2.04 ERA).

Valdez does his job

Framber Valdez ran into stress early on Saturday, facing trouble in the bottom of the first inning. It started with a leadoff solo home run, putting Oakland up 1-0 before they would record an out. He later allowed back-to-back one-out singles to rack up his pitch count in the frame but would limit the damage to the single run.

He was able to re-focus and settle in during the following innings, getting quick, scoreless innings in the next four. In the bottom of the sixth, a leadoff groundball that likely should have been the first out was instead a single that would come back to bite Houston. That runner stole second and advanced to third on a bad throw, then scored on an RBI-groundout, doubling Oakland's lead to 2-0. Valdez would go one more inning, giving Houston precisely what they needed by helping give their exhausted bullpen a break. His final line: 7.0 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 9 K, 1 HR.

Houston's offense unable to get anything going

Unfortunately for Houston, Frankie Montas was even more efficient on the other side. Houston was only able to notch two hits against him over seven innings while Montas only had to throw 86 pitches over that span. Oakland would go to their bullpen in the top of the eighth, with the Astros getting just a single in the inning.

Nivaldo Rodriguez would take over for Valdez in the bottom of the eighth and allowed a solo home run to make it 3-0 before completing the inning. Houston would get a leadoff double by Kyle Tucker to start the top of the ninth, and he would come around to score on an RBI-single by Alex Bregman. That's as close as Houston would get, though, as Oakland would finish off the win to secure the series and extend Houston's losing streak to four games.

Up Next: The final game of this series and Houston's nine-game road trip will be on Sunday at 3:10 PM Central. Jesus Luzardo (0-0, 2.31 ERA) will make a start for the A's while Cristian Javier (1-0, 1.42 ERA) will look to continue his success in 2020 for the Astros.

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