Yuli Gurriel added something new to his game, and his results are stunning

What a start for Yuli Gurriel. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images.

What a colossal thud of a week for the Astros. After a smashing success 5-1 road trip to open the season, the Astros stunk up Minute Maid Park with a 1-5 homestand leaving them the essence of early season mediocrity. Their record is 6-6 as they spend this weekend in Seattle for three games before two at Colorado before getting back home for a four game set with the Angels starting Thursday.

Getting too high in good times and too low in rough times is part of what being a fan is. In the bigger picture not too much should be made of the yin or yang of the season's first fortnight. However, it is simple truth that the Astros' roster simply isn't as good as it used to be. The margin for error is less. The upside (regular season) is still high but not in the realm of the 2017-19 juggernaut squads. In the short term, facing the next week plus without Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, and Yordan Alvarez because of COVID issues doesn't help.

The offense was mostly impotent during the homestand but the expectation certainly remains that the Astros' lineup will be well above average. If it mashes to potential the Astros have a pretty magnificent seven in Altuve, Bregman, Alvarez, Michael Brantley, Carlos Correa, Yuli Gurriel, and Kyle Tucker. Tucker has been the weakest of the seven out of the gate, yet it's Tucker who leads the Astros in homers (four) and runs batted in (11).

Gurriel has drawn 11 walks in the Astros first 12 games. This is stunning. Last season in 57 games played he drew 12. In his three full seasons covering 139, 136, and 144 games played Gurriel walked a paltry 22, 23, and 37 times. Add the 11 walks to Gurriel batting .429 thus far and his on base percentage is an obviously not remotely sustainable yet astounding .547. Conversely, a lack of plate discipline is clearly contributing to a meh start for Alvarez. Yordan has 49 plate appearances and drawn one walk. One.

Questions about the pitching staff are abundant. Not because the Detroit Tigers lit them both up this week (though it doesn't help…), but there is zero chance that Zack Greinke and Lance McCullers can even come close to being the one-two punch atop the rotation that Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole were in 2018 and 2019. Jake Odorizzi made an awful first Astro impression but if healthy he should be all right, though not close to ace material.

Turn back the clock

Carlos Rodon of the White Sox this week joined ex-Astro Joe Musgrove as no-hitter throwers already this season. The Astros considered Rodon out of North Carolina State for the number one overall pick in the 2014 draft. They instead went for high school pitcher Brady Aiken. The Astros handled contract negotiations smartly if less than fully honorably and wound up not signing Aiken who turned down a final Astro offer of five million dollars. The next spring Aiken blew out his arm and went 17th in the draft, Cleveland gave him about half the Astros' final offer. His arm is mush and Aiken is unlikely to ever pitch in a big league game. Meanwhile, as compensation for not signing the first pick in the draft the Astros were awarded the second pick in 2015. They selected Alex Bregman.

Playing the lottery

The Rockets have about wrapped up finishing with one of the worst three records in the NBA. Over their last 34 games they are 3-31! Productive bottom feeding to give themselves their best possible shot (only 52.1 percent) of retaining their lottery pick by having it land in the top four spots. Their record is four games worse than Orlando which is presently fourth worst. Even if the Magic loses every game the rest of the way, there's a good shot the Rockets don't win four more games the rest of the season. Doesn't matter worst, second worst, or third worst, their chances at winning the lottery will be 14 percent, 13.4 percent for the second pick, 12.7 percent for the third pick, 12 percent for the fourth pick. That leaves a 47.9 chance of disaster, the pick falling fifth or lower in which case the Rockets lose the pick to Oklahoma City.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. The Houston Dynamo starts its season Friday night. Oh, now called Houston Dynamo FC. Given their last several years, Houston Dynamo CO might be better. Cheapo Outfit.

2. The WNBA is of minute interest in Houston, the Comets last existed 13 years ago. Dallas has a team, and the Wings made UT center Charli Collier the first pick in the WNBA Draft Thursday night. Collier went to Barbers Hill High School in Mont Belvieu.

3. Best too sugary cereals: Bronze-Honey Nut Cheerios Silver-Raisin Bran Gold-Lucky Charms

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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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