By CHRIS CAMPISE
Last Week’s Scoreboard:
|MON June 5th||HOU 7||KC 3||Fiers v. Kennedy|
|TUE June 6th||HOU 7||KC 9||Paulino v. Junis|
|WED June 7th||HOU 5||KC 7||Diaz v. Vargas|
|THU June 8th||HOU 6||KC 1||McCullers v. Hammel|
|FRI June 9th||LAA 9||HOU 4||Shoemaker v. Peacock|
|SAT June 10th||LAA 1||HOU 3||Nolasco v. Fiers|
|SUN June 11th||LAA 12||HOU 6||Chavez v. Paulino|
The Astros started their week by extending their win streak to eleven in a 7-3 victory over the Royals. Fiers got a second decent start in a row, going five innings and giving up two runs on seven hits. Both of Fiers’ runs came in the fourth after a RBI double from Moss and a RBI bunt single from Escobar. The Royals only other run came when Bonifacio homered off of Hoyt in the seventh. Other than that home run, the bullpen combination of Guduan, Hoyt, Harris, and Feliz worked through four innings to finish out the win. On the offensive side, the Astros put runs up throughout the game. They got back-to-back RBI singles from Aoki and Springer in the second, a two-run home run from McCann in the fourth, then a three-run blast from Gurriel in the ninth to put things away.
The Astros were unable to match the franchise record twelfth straight win on Tuesday, thanks to the Royals doing a very good Astros impression. Things were looking really good for the Astros, too good even. Paulino pitched a decent start for a backup guy, going five and two-thirds and giving up three runs on eight hits. The three runs he gave up came from a Gordon home run in the third, a RBI double from Perez in the fourth, and a RBI single from Moustakas in the sixth. At the time the three runs didn’t seem like a big deal because at that point the Astros had put up seven runs thanks to RBIs from Altuve, Gurriel, Reddick, and a two-run home run from Beltran. A four-run lead proved to not be enough for the bullpen, though. Devenski did his part, he came in for the final out of the sixth then pitched the seventh all without giving up a hit. Guduan started the eighth before giving up back to back singles and was replaced with Hoyt, who gave up a single to the first batter he saw, Cuthbert, driving in a run to make it 7-4. He got a strikeout for the second out, but then walked Gordon to load the bases, ending his night. Giles came in, probably in hopes of getting the last out of the eighth then saving in the ninth, but bad Giles showed up. Before getting the final out of the eighth, Merrifield hit a bases-clearing double off Giles to tie the game. In the ninth with two outs, Perez singled, then Moustakas got the walk-off home run off of Giles to win the game 9-7 and end the Astros spectacular win streak.
As bad as the loss felt the night before, things got significantly worse on Wednesday when Keuchel was a last-minute scratch from the game. At the time everyone chalked it up to a stomach bug, but we later found out it was a reaggravation of his neck nerve issue. Diaz got the emergency start with hopes that he could get far enough into the game to not tax the whole bullpen, but it didn’t turn out that way. The Royals put up three runs on Diaz thanks to RBIs in the second from Cuthbert and Escobar followed by a home run from Cain in the third which ended Diaz’s short start. Things didn’t get better after that; Sipp relieved Diaz to end the third but then gave up two runs of his own in the fourth with RBIs from Escobar and Torres. Feliz was up after that and gave up two more runs on a two-RBI single from Cuthbert in the fifth. Gregerson came in and pitched the sixth and seventh, and Giles pitched the eighth, all with no runs. On the offensive side, the Astros did try to hang around. McCann got his second home run of the series with a solo shot in the second, then got a RBI single in the fourth. Marisnick got a two-RBI single in the eighth, followed by a run scored on a Royals’ error to make it a 7-5 game, but they were stopped there and got their second loss in a row.
With the Keuchel news, the Astros looked to McCullers to deliver a confidence boost on Thursday, and boy did he. McCullers dominated the Royals and had a no-hitter going into the seventh inning. The Royals got their first hit of the night off of a triple from Cain, followed by a single from Moustakas which scored the Royals’ one and only run of the game. It was one of McCullers’ best starts I’ve seen, and it came at the perfect time after the bullpen had been heavily used the prior two days. Unfortunately, he wasn’t given the win because the Astros were only able to put up one run before he left, which came on a balk by Hammel in the sixth to score Aoki from third. The Astros bats came alive in the ninth to break the 1-1 tie, starting with a two-run home run from Altuve followed by a sac-fly from McCann and a two-RBI single from Marisnick, putting them up 6-1, which was the final score thanks to good work from Harris and Devenski in the eighth and ninth innings.
After the series split with the Royals, the Astros headed home to start a three-game series against the AL West rival Angels on Friday. After the good starts Peacock had been having since coming out of the bullpen, Friday’s game was a move in the wrong direction. Peacock never seemed to have command of the ball, starting in the first inning when he loaded the bases then walked in a run. The Angels added two more runs off Peacock in the second with a two-RBI single from Calhoun, and another run in the third when former Astro Valbuena hit a RBI single. Peacock went on to finish the third inning, but that would be the end of his night. Hoyt pitched the fourth but gave up a run on Calhoun’s second RBI-single of the night. Francis Martes got a chance to make his major league debut starting in the fifth inning, but it was not the debut we all hoped it would be. Granted he was brought in to eat some innings to give some relief to the worn-out bullpen, he gave up four runs on four hits in his three and two-thirds inning debut, including a two-run home run to Maldonado. Sipp came in to finish the last inning and one-third, but the damage had been done. The final score ended up being 9-4, with the Astros getting RBIs from Aoki and Marisnick and a two-run homer from Bregman in the loss.
Saturday’s game went much better for the Astros. Fiers had his best start of the year, pitching into the eighth inning and giving up just one unearned run on two hits. More on Fiers later. McCann kept his hot week going by hitting a solo home run in the second to give the Astros the lead, then scored on a Gurriel sac-fly in the fifth. Correa added the third and final Astros run in the eighth with a RBI single. Devenski came in to finish the eighth inning for Fiers and Giles came in for the save in the ninth, closing out the Astros’ 3-1 win.
The Astros lost the series on Sunday when the Angels absolutely destroyed their pitching. Paulino learned first-hand why and Astros pitcher can’t give Albert Pujols a pitch to hit, giving up a solo home run to him in the first. The Angels added two more in the third, making it 3-0. The Astros roared back, making it 3-2 off of a two-run shot by Springer in the third, then put up four runs to take a 6-3 lead in the fourth thanks to a Gurriel homer and RBIs from Aoki, Reddick, and Altuve, all with two outs. The three-run lead didn’t last long thanks to Paulino walking the first two batters of the fifth before getting pulled in favor of Feliz. Feliz had an abysmal outing, allowing the Angels to score six runs and take a 9-6 lead in the fifth inning. Hoyt followed, giving up two runs of his own in the seventh, then Diaz was brought in to eat some innings and gave up the Angels’ twelfth run of the day, with the final ending up 12-6. It was a demoralizing way to end the week, though there was a high point: Norichika Aoki got his 2,000th career hit between his time in Japan and in the MLB, gaining him entry into Japan’s Golden Players Club, one of their halls of fame.
The Astros went 3-4 on the week, which after the eleven game win streak has a lot of fans panicking. It’s not the time to panic yet; they still hold a twelve game lead in the AL West, have a surging Lance McCullers, and it sounds like they have a grasp on Keuchel’s neck issue and think that after this stint on the DL he should be fine. The offense is still one of the best in the league and are getting output from top to bottom, and have great depth thanks to guys like Gonzalez who can start basically anywhere on the field.
But what about those 3-5 spots in the rotation? Yeah, that’s still an issue and probably will be until they grab someone in a trade deadline deal. The good news is Fiers appears to be figuring out how to pitch. Is he a good pitcher now? I’m not ready to answer that question just yet, but it’s hard to ignore that since his job was put on the line he has strung together three quality starts, with this most recent being the best. I’m at least willing to trust him in the rotation over guys like Paulino or Peacock. Hopefully, once they get the rotation back in order they can put Peacock back in the bullpen because the bullpen was the most concerning thing to me this week. Giles can’t start blowing games, and you can’t start overworking your usually-dependable guys like Harris, Gregerson, and Devenski. What that means is you need to be able to put guys like Feliz, Hoyt, and Sipp in the game down the stretch and be confident that they will keep games under control, and this week, those types of guys let the team down. Musgrove is going to be coming off the DL and get a start tonight and could start putting things back in the right order.
MVP of the Week – Brian McCann: Evan Gattis 2.0 had a great week this week, going 9 for 19 to bat .474 and racking up six RBIs, three home runs, and scoring eight times. This is the kind of guy you want to get hot towards the end of the year, and he’s great behind the plate as evidenced by the great starts from McCullers and Fiers this week. He’s proven to be a great addition to the team this year, plus he provides great puns during games like “McCann’t touch this!” and “He McCann’t stop scoring runs!”.
This Week’s Schedule
- Mon-Wed: Rangers (30-32) @ Astros (44-20)
- Fri-Sun: Red Sox (34-28) @ Astros (44-20)
Hopefully, despite the pitching woes, the Astros can continue to win ways against the Rangers as they come to town for the three-game set. They’ll get Musgrove back tonight, and needs to continue the progression he was on before he left. The Rangers are on a three-game winning streak, so the Astros desperately need to halt their momentum. After the Rangers, the Astros get a day off before the weekend series with the Red Sox, with Sunday’s game being in primetime for Sunday Night Baseball. What this team needs right now is some quality starts from pitchers so the bullpen can catch their breath, and the offense needs to avoid any slumps. Winning both of these series without Keuchel would be a huge confidence boost that they build on in the coming weeks to take them into the All-Star break.