Stunned Halos Lead Houston To Break

Gurriel: Muy caliente!
(c) Associated Press
The Angels of Anaheim received devastating news on Monday when they learned that starting pitcher Tyler Skaggs had passed away in his hotel room prior to the start of their series with the Rangers. On the field, they have focused and won their series in Arlington but who knows their mental state as they arrive in Houston for the final three games prior to the All-Star Break.

The 55-32 Houston Astros, who a week ago were in danger of watching their lead in the AL West slip away from them, rebounded with five straight wins over Seattle and Colorado to push their advantage back up to a comfortable eight games. Now they expect to coast into the Break, secure in the knowledge of their 31-13 record at home coupled with their 24-6 record in the division.

But it is wise to always be wary of a team fueled by pain and adrenaline. The Angels are baseball's most tragic team, having suffered through the deaths of Luis Valbuena, Nick Adenhart, Donnie Moore, Lyman Bostock, Mike Miley and Chico Ruiz during their 60 years as a franchise. Sure, the Astros have had more than their share of misfortune over the years but nobody seems as cursed as the team with the halos on their caps. It's one thing to feel sympathy for a team but, inside the foul lines, their games still count as much as any on the schedule. Both teams will need to focus on the task at hand rather than allowing emotions to take over.

All-Stars Justin Verlander (10-3) and Gerrit Cole (8-5) will pitch the Friday 7:10 pm Central and Saturday 6:15 pm Central contests respectively from Minute Maid. Newest Astro Jose (Hernandez) Urquidy is penciled in for the Sunday 1:10 pm Central finale. As of this writing, the Angels have not released who their starting pitchers will be for the series.

Not that it matters much since the Angels have used 15 different starting pitchers this year and Skaggs was the most consistent of them. Expect Brad Ausmus' charges to shuttle arms in and out as they look to regroup.

All-Star second baseman Tommy La Stella broke his leg and will miss two months so the Anaheim offense will revolve around Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Shohei Ohtani and Andrelton Simmons.

Meanwhile infielder Yuli Gurriel is as hot as a Texas summer lately. Since June 17th when the losing skid started, he's hit .368 in 14 games with six homers and a 1.182 OPS. He's raised his season average 20 points. In the last five wins, he's had the game-winning hit in three of them and bashed two homers in another one.

Alex Bregman has stepped it up too. In the streak where Houston has won seven of their last nine, Bregman has hit .303 with a 1.036 OPS. He will enter the All-Star Break as the team leader in homers and RBIs.

Jose Altuve has returned to form, batting .316 since coming back from the Injured List while George Springer has hit .303 since his return.

Wade Miley did an excellent job at the combustible Coors Field on Wednesday while Urquidy had a rougher time in his big league debut. There was enough talent there to give him an extra start Sunday to prove his mettle. While Houston looks to find something more dependable for the fourth and fifth spots in their rotation, GM Jeff Luhnow should have time next week to go over potential trade options to shore up the rotation and possibly get help for the bullpen and the backup catcher spot.

Finally, congratulations to Gerrit Cole and Yordan Alvarez for taking monthly honors for June - Cole as AL Pitcher of the Month and Alvarez as the AL Rookie of the Month.

- Bob Hulsey