Last Week’s Scoreboard:
|TUE Sep 12th||HOU 1||LAA 0||Verlander v. Richards|
|WED Sep 13th||HOU 1||LAA 9||Fiers v. Skaggs|
|THU Sep 14th||HOU 5||LAA 2||Peacock v. Nolasco|
|FRI Sep 15th||SEA 2||HOU 5||Paxton v. Morton|
|SAT Sep 16th||SEA 6||HOU 8||Ramirez v. Keuchel|
|SUN Sep 17th||SEA 1||HOU 7||Moore v. Verlander|
The Astros started the week by winning a pitcher’s duel in Anaheim 1-0 over the Angels on Tuesday. While it took the Angels five pitchers to get through the game, the Astros only had to use two, the first being Verlander who in his second start as an Astro was completely dominant. Verlander pitched eight innings during which he gave up just one hit and one walk while striking out nine, the last strikeout coming to end the eighth inning on his 112th pitch. The Astros one run which proved to be the difference-maker in the game was a RBI single from Gurriel in the second inning which gave them the 1-0 lead they held on to through the end. Giles pitched the ninth inning and needed just seven pitches to notch his 30th save.
We should probably just forget Wednesday’s game altogether as it was the one tarnishing part of the otherwise great week for the Astros. Fiers came in for the unscheduled start replacing Mccullers who was scratched with arm fatigue. Hopefully, it’s just a precautionary measure to help McCullers take his time and be focused and healthy for the playoffs. Instead of taking advantage of the opportunity to show the Astros’ coaching staff it was a mistake moving him to the bullpen, “bad Fiers” showed up and may have worked his way all the way off the playoff roster altogether. Fiers struggled mightily and only made it through three and two-thirds innings before being pulled. During that time Fiers allowed eight runs including two homers. The bullpen finished the game from there and actually did well considering they had to account for the remaining four and one-third innings, giving up just one run during that span. The Astros only run came in garbage time in the eighth inning on a Stassi sac fly, sending them to the 9-1 loss.
Things returned to normal on Wednesday as the Astros won 5-2 to take the series against the Angels. Peacock had yet another strong start, throwing six innings and giving up just one run on three hits, the run being a home run to former-Astro Valbuena. Peacock left with a 2-1 lead thanks to RBIs from Bregman and Gurriel in the second. The Astros extended their lead to 4-1 in the eighth on a two-RBI double from Gonzalez then added one more on a sac fly from McCann in the ninth. The Angels did get a run of their own in the bottom of the ninth when Pujols got his scheduled homer against the Astros, but they were unable to get any closer sending the Astros on to the win. The bullpen did well again in Wednesday’s game, with Liriano and Musgrove combining for an inning, Giles getting a rare eighth-inning appearance, and then Devenski coming in for the ninth.
The Astros won another 5-2 game on Friday, this time at home against the Mariners. The offense jumped out quick and put up three runs in the bottom of the first on RBIs from Altuve, Correa, and Gattis then extended the lead to 4-0 in the third on a RBI from Reddick. Morton was on the mound and had a great start, striking out seven during his six innings of work while giving up just one run on five hits. The Astros added another run in the bottom of the sixth on a RBI single from Maybin to make it 5-1, but the Mariners would answer back with a run of their own off of Harris in the seventh. Luckily, Harris was able to finish the inning and was followed by Liriano who actually pitched an entire inning in dominant fashion, followed by Giles 31st save of the year, sealing the 5-2 win and lowering the Astros magic number to 2.
The Astros lowered the magic number again on Saturday on the heels of a dominant start from Keuchel. He gave up just one run in his six innings of work which was a solo home run by Segura in the sixth inning but was otherwise in vintage form as he induced 12 ground ball outs. The offense provided him with great run support, including a huge four-run second inning with RBIs from Fisher, Reddick, and two by Springer. They added two more in the fifth with RBIs from Beltran and Bregman. Gregerson pitched a scoreless top of the seventh before Beltran added another run on a RBI double to extend the Astros lead to 7-1. Martes and Sipp tried their best to let the Mariners back into the game by letting them trim the lead to 7-5, but Musgrove came in and turned things around to end the threat. The Astros added one additional insurance run on a RBI single by Reddick in the bottom of the eighth before Musgrove came back out for the top of the ninth to finish the game. He did give up a solo homer, but limited things to that to get the save and lower the magic number to 1 with the 8-6 win.
With the chance to seal up the AL West with a win on Sunday, the Astros sent Verlander to the mound. Much like Keuchel the day prior, Verlander’s one blemish to an otherwise dominant start was a solo homer run by the Mariners, this time by Gamel in the third. Other than the solo shot, Verlander was excellent, going seven innings on 99 pitches giving up just three hits and striking out ten. The offense showed up big in the fifth and seventh innings putting up seven runs on homers from Fisher, Gonzalez, Springer, and Correa. Devenski pitched a perfect eighth and set up Giles to finish the 7-1 win which locked up the AL West and secured the first division title for the Astros since the 2001 season.
The Astros had a great week and finished with a 5-1 record, winning both series. After getting no help from the rest of the AL West to lock up the division sooner, the Astros took control of the division themselves like they have all year and locked up the division by stringing together strong wins. They have kept pace with the Indians as well, and are just 1.5 games back from them for the best record in the AL. Other than McCullers who hopefully will recover from his fatigue and be ready to go, the Astros look to be ramping up in the right way for the playoffs. They are getting good outings from their starters, and the bullpen other than a few bad innings here or there is looking relatively strong. The offense is as strong as ever, making the most important factors at this point for the Astros staying healthy and staying mentally focused. As I watched the team celebrate with the fans inside Minute Maid Park yesterday, I had that same feeling I had while breaking down the team before the season: this is going to be a special year. Now instead of feeling that way about the regular season, I’m having that same feeling about the playoffs. Anything can happen once the playoffs start, it’s a brand new season at that point, but getting into the dance is the first step, and the Astros have definitely earned their ticket.
MVP of the Week – Justin Verlander: Man, what a great start Verlander has had for the Astros so far. He’s won all three of his starts with the Astros so far, and specifically in the two games this week he gave up a combined one run on four hits during fifteen innings while striking out nineteen. It was fitting that he was on the mound for the Astros game on Sunday where they clinched the AL West thanks to his strong start. It shows that Verlander may indeed be that additional strong starter we asked for all season to make them more equipped for the playoffs. We’ve only got a few weeks to wait and find out.
This Week’s Schedule
- TUE-THU: White Sox (60-89) @ Astros (91-58)
- FRI-SUN: Angels (76-73) @ Astros (91-58)
The Astros will play their last regular-season home games this week with three against the AL-worst White Sox and then three against the AL Wild Card-contending Angels. Although the Astros have locked up the West, their work is not done. The Astros need to keep winning series to finish the year so that they not only keep their momentum up going into the playoffs but hopefully it will result in passing the Indians for the best record in the AL locking up home-field advantage in the playoffs. Another 5-1 week would go a long way before going on the road for the last seven games.