Jose Altuve belted a grand slam in a seven-run seventh inning on Sunday that paced Houston to a 12-4 win over the Rangers which salvaged a split in the four-game series that opened the post All-Star "second half". Justin Verlander notched his 11th victory and snapped his personal five-game streak of allowing at least one home run per appearance. Not counting the Midsummer Classic, Verlander has seen just three games all year where he wasn't plagued by the home run bug. No wonder the guy thinks the balls are juiced.
Altuve: Back on track
(c) Associated Press
Statistics do show that home runs are flying out of major league parks at an alarming rate compared to this time last year. But is that nature or nurture? Many ballclubs are stressing the long ball while also promoting power pitchers who are known more for "missing bats" than for throwing strikes.
But back to Altuve. Mighty Mouse has been slowly getting back his groove. The former AL MVP, whose season batting average had fallen to .246 as of June 29th, rapped four hits on Saturday and three more on Sunday to raise his average to .272. Becoming a sparkplug in the lineup again can only help the Houston attack.
The pitchers, on the whole, had a rough weekend at Global Warming Park. The Rangers tallied 24 runs in four games, including a 5-0 whitewash on Thursday by Lance Lynn and a comeback from four runs down to take a walk-off 9-8 win on Friday. A hard-fought 6-5 extra-inning victory on Saturday was keyed by Altuve's RBI double in the 11th before Houston took an early 5-2 lead Sunday and emerged triumphant by eight on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Yuli Gurriel continued hot on Sunday with three hits including his 16th homer of the season and eighth this month in nine games. His season batting average bounced back to .281 - the highest it has been since May 12th. George Springer, Michael Brantley and Alex Bregman had their moments this weekend, including Bregman shaking off a nasty bad hop to his chin after spending a day in observation.
Quietly, those pesky A's are continuing to keep the Astros from feeling comfortable with a 59-35 record (.628) by inching back within six games of the top. Like last year, it is hard to tell how Oakland is staying competitive, particularly when their best starting pitcher has been served with an 80-game PED suspension.
Houston is hurting for arms too, particularly after Brad Peacock's right shoulder felt sore after his last workout, turning back the timetable on his return. So sure were the Astros that Peacock would be ready that they sent down pitchers Jose Urquidy and Cy Sneed to AAA and, by rule, they can't be brought back up for ten days.
That leaves the Astros in the dubious hands of lefty Framber Valdez (3-5, but 0-3 with a 19.25 ERA in past three starts) who couldn't get out of the first inning on Thursday so they will bring him back on three days rest to open the next series Monday night against the grieving Angels. Anaheim will send out Griffin Canning (3-5) in the opener.
Tuesday's game is the real quandary. Do they bring back Gerrit Cole (9-5) on short rest, give a spot start to Josh James (4-0) or recall Rogelio Armenteros (0-0) from Round Rock? If they choose Cole, that might push ahead the starts for Wade Miley (7-4) and Verlander (11-4) for the rest of the four-game series.
The first three nights will have 9:07 pm Central start times while the Thursday finale will begin at 8:07 pm Central. After Canning, the Angels are expected to start lefty Andrew Heaney (1-3) and Felix Pena (7-2) during the series as their rotation regroups following the death of Tyler Skaggs.
Another option would be for the Astros make a trade for starting pitching, as practically everyone has on Houston's to-do list this month, but there does not appear to be any imminent moves from the front office on that topic. Boston was able to snare Andrew Cashner away from the Orioles after assuring him they would not uproot his pregnant wife.
There is better hope for a quick recovery from shortstops Carlos Correa (ribs) and Almedys Diaz (hamstring) who are both slated to begin rehab assignments in the minor leagues on Monday. Both have been out of action since May. The loss of both has forced the Astros to use third baseman Bregman and outfielder Myles Straw as interim shortstops along with minor leaguer Jack Mayfield who has already been shipped back to Round Rock due to an impotent bat.
With Altuve bouncing back and Correa on the mend, how long can it be before the Houston lineup, with the addition of dangerous Yordan Alvarez, will be back to full strength?
- Bob Hulsey