By CHRIS CAMPISE
Last Week’s Scoreboard:
|TUE June 27th||OAK 6||HOU 4||Manaea v. Fiers|
|WED June 28th||OAK 8||HOU 11||Hahn v. Paulino|
|THU June 29th||OAK 1||HOU 6||Gossett v. Peacock|
|FRI June 30th||NYY 13||HOU 4||Pineda v. McCullers|
|SAT July 1st||NYY 6||HOU 7||Montgomery v. Martes|
|SUN July 22n||NYY 1||HOU 8||Severino v. Fiers|
The Astros started the week and the homestand with a tough loss to the A’s. The game was tight early, with the A’s getting on the board first when Maxwell hit a RBI single to score Davis. The Astros threatened in the fifth by loading the bases with no outs but were only able to tie the game 1-1 thanks to Gattis grounding into a double play then McCann grounding out. Fiers was having another solid start, giving up only one run going into the sixth inning. In the sixth inning Fiers gave up a single, groundout, and another single to put runners on the corners with one out. Hinch came to pull Fiers and bring Hoyt out, but Fiers must have fought hard to stay in because Hinch let him stay in to try and get out of the jam. Fiers got a foul out on the next batter, then gave up a walk which prompted Hinch to make the move to the pen with the bases loaded and two outs, thinking a fresh arm could come in and get them out of the trouble. Hoyt came in from the bullpen and ruined the Astros night and Fiers’ stat line when he gave up a grand slam to Healy to give the A’s the 5-1 lead. The A’s added another run of Guduan in the top of the eighth off of Guduan to make it 6-1. The Astros looked to rally in the ninth, getting a three-run homer from Springer followed by singles from Altuve and Correa to bring the winning run to the plate, but Reddick pinch-hit for a foul out then McCann hit into a double play for his fifth groundout of the night to end the 6-4 A’s victory.
Wednesday’s game was an offensive slugfest with runs being scored in every inning except for the eighth and ninth. The Astros struck first with a leadoff home run by Springer, his franchise-leading ninth of the year. The scoring would go back and forth for most of the game with the teams combining for twenty-five hits including six home runs, two of which were by Khris Davis. Both starting pitchers didn’t last long, with Hahn for the A’s getting pulled in the third and Paulino for the Astros in the fifth. The Astros’ bullpen was the difference in the game, allowing just one run in their five innings of work, allowing the Astros to tack on some insurance runs in their 11-8 victory. The Astros got solid offense from most of the lineup, but Reddick led the way going three for four with three RBIs.
The afternoon game on Thursday was more one-sided in the Astros’ favor. Peacock had a good start, going five innings while giving up just one run on two hits which came in the fourth inning when he loaded the bases with no outs but was able to get out of it with only one run after getting a strikeout, groundout, and fly out. That would be the A’s only run as Devenski, Guduan, and Hoyt combined for four hitless innings. Correa led the way for the Astros, getting two-run homers in the fourth and sixth inning. Altuve and Reddick also had RBIs as the Astros cruised to the 6-1 win.
The Astros were on the wrong side of a blowout on Friday night to open the weekend series with the Yankees. Things looked hopeful early with the Astros leading 3-1 through five innings thanks to RBIs from Altuve, Beltran, and Gonzalez, but took a turn for the worst in the sixth. McCullers was having a relatively solid outing, through the first five innings he had allowed just one run on five hits, but like Fiers on Tuesday night, his stat line would get a lot worse thanks to the bullpen. McCullers left in the sixth with a 3-1 lead, runners on first and second, and one out, but Feliz came in and let the Yankees blow the game open by scoring McCullers’ two runners and then four of his own. If that wasn’t bad enough, Hoyt came in during the seventh after Guduan loaded the bases and gave up his second grand slam of the week. With the game firmly out of hand, the Astros threw Nori Aoki out in the ninth to pitch an inning to save the bullpen arms, and despite his 27.00 ERA, had a better relief appearance than others that night. The Yankees won 13-4.
Saturday night’s game was the most exciting game of the week and had an almost playoff-level tone to it. Martes started for the Astros and had much better command of the ball compared to his previous, two-inning start. He gave up just four hits, two of which came in the sixth inning before Hinch called in Harris to preserve the 2-0 lead the Astros had at the time thanks to a two-run homer from Gurriel in the bottom of the fifth. Harris imploded, though, giving up a walk, RBI single, and a grand slam before recording his one and only out. Gregerson came in to finish the sixth, but the Yankees had done their damage and taken a 5-2 lead. Correa answered back in the bottom of the inning with a solo home run to make it 5-3, but the Yankees responded with a solo homer of their own from Clint Frazier in his first MLB game. It stayed 6-3 going into the bottom of the eighth, where the Astros would have to get four runs against the stout arms of Betances and Chapman if they were going to win. With one out, Altuve walked, then stole second and third bases on consecutive pitches. Correa drove him in with a groundout to make it 6-4 with two outs. Gattis followed Correa with a solo home run to trim the lead to 6-5. Beltran walked, prompting Reddick to come out as a pinch runner, followed be a walk to Gonzalez. Hoping to keep the lead and get four outs from him, the Yankees brought in the high-velocity throwing Chapman. Yuli stepped up to the plate and battled 103 mph fastballs into a full count before hitting a beautiful grounder down the third base line which scored Reddick and Gonzalez to give the Astros the 7-6 lead. Giles came in for the ninth and faced Aaron Judge who pinch hit to start the inning. Giles got Judge as well as Frazier behind him to foul out before the Astros’ defense ended the game on a relay through from Reddick to Correa to Gurriel to catch Gardner taking too big of a turn past first after a single. The Astros won the thriller 7-6.
The Astros offense was clicking on Sunday and fueled an 8-1 victory to end the week. Fiers had an unusual start compared to his recent success, throwing 105 pitches just to get through four innings of work. It seemed like he got into a full count against every batter he faced. Nonetheless, he only allowed two hits and no runs in his four innings, though it set up a long bullpen day. Devenski pitched two dominating innings, followed by innings by Feliz and Hoyt, who managed to not give up a grand slam. The Yankees’ lone run came off of Tolliver in the ninth who was in with an 8-0 lead but was unable to record an out before being pulled in favor of Diaz who finished the game. The Astros won 8-1 with a RBI from Reddick, three RBIs from Correa, and two-run homers from Gonzalez and Gurriel.
The Astros did this week what they’ve done all year, won twice as many games as they lost, going 4-2. They won both series this week, which is largely due to the offense. The bullpen was a low point this week, giving up three grand slams and letting opposing teams put the Astros’ offense in too big of holes to dig out of. It’s not entirely the bullpen’s fault, starting pitching, in general, was decent, but too many times struggled late and set up the bullpen for stressful situations. Paulino received an 80-game suspension this week after testing positive for PEDs. Morton is making rehab starts, but who really knows what he will offer the team once he’s back in the rotation, or if he can stay healthy. McHugh struggled heavily in a rehab start this past weekend, begging the question: is he really going to offer anything better than what we are getting from guys like Peacock and Martes? Get out the broken record player, because this team needs a new, reliable starting arm, and maybe a reliever, to get them to the top of the mountain. Pitching remains this team’s one flaw.
MVP of the Week – Carlos Correa: I know I’ve said it before, but Correa is a spectacle to watch and will be for years to come. This week he batted .500 by going twelve for twenty-four with ten RBIs, three home runs, all while increasing his season average to .319 which is fifth best in the AL and adding to his team-leading 58 RBIs on the year which is tied for fourth-best in the AL. He’ll get to show off in the All-Star game next week, and no question does he deserve it. It might be his first All-Star nod, but it definitely won’t be his last.
This Week’s Schedule
- Tue-Wed: Astros (56-27) @ Braves (40-41)
- Thu-Sun: Astros (56-27) @ Blue Jays (37-44)
The Astros have two series left before the All-Star break, both on the road. They’ll play two games in Atlanta against the Braves where we’ll get to see if Peacock and McCullers can swing a bat, then travel north of the border to face the Blue Jays for four games. Both of these teams are under .500, so it’s completely realistic to expect the Astros to get things done against these teams and go into the break with 60 wins which would maintain or extend their current 14.5 game lead in the AL West.