AL West Dominates July Schedule
Astros Resume In Arlington Thursday

Bouton: 50 years ago
(c) Houston Astros
With the All-Star Game in the rear-view mirror, the Houston Astros can begin to focus on the two key objectives of the next two months - winning the American League West and having everyone ready for a playoff run that hopefully doesn't quit until the World Series.

Entering Thursday's series opener with a 57-33 record and a 7-1/2 game lead in the division over Oakland, the Astros can fatten up on their AL West counterparts for the next two weeks. Houston is 26-7 (.788) against division foes this year. That trend continued last weekend when they took 2-of-3 against the Angels at home, including a wild 11-10 comeback walk-off win on Sunday.

The "second half" starts at the Broilpark with four against the Rangers. The lawmen from Arlington actually won four of the first six meetings but now Houston owns a 6-4 lead in the Silver Boot Series. Framber Valdez (3-4) is expected to be activated for the 7:05 pm Central opener where he will square off with Lance Lynn (11-4). Someone will need to be sent down when Valdez is recalled and the best guess would be Jose Urquidy who had two shaky starts in Valdez' rotation spot before the Break.

Unused All-Star Gerrit Cole (9-5) will challenge Jesse Chavez (3-4) in Friday's 7:05 pm Central duel. Wade Miley (7-4) takes on Mike Minor (8-4) in a battle of southpaws for Saturday night's 7:05 pm Central contest before All-Star Justin Verlander (10-4) closes the series against Ariel Jurado (5-4) in the 2:05 pm Central finale.

After that will be four nights in quaking Anaheim before returning home for a six-game homestand against the Rangers and Athletics.

The Astros are hoping to get back SS Carlos Correa, infielder Aledmys Diaz and pitcher Joe Smith by the end of the month. Pitcher Brad Peacock is also eligible to come off the injured list.

1B/DH A.J. Reed was claimed off waivers by the Chicago White Sox and has been activated by the parent club. His release was caused by the call-up of Urquidy before the Break.

Jake Marisnick may miss time if Major League Baseball decides to suspend him for his eighth-inning collision Sunday with Anaheim catcher Jonathan Lucroy. It did not appear intentional but it did appear to violate the new rules about running over catchers who are chasing down errant throws. He might potentially appeal then wind up sitting out the series in Anaheim next week.

Rumors continue about the Astros shopping for starting rotation help. Depending on who you believe, there is interest in Noah Syndergaard, Marcus Stroman and Matthew Boyd.

Verlander, for his part, started a wildfire with his comments about juiced baseballs. Justin, who has given up an unusual number of long balls this year, had his theory refuted by Commission Rob Manfred but, then, what else did you expect the Commish to say?

Finally, condolences are in order to the friends and family of former Astro pitcher Jim Bouton who passed away at age 80. The author of "Ball Four", baseball's first tell-all book back in the early 70s, later resurfaced as a knuckleball pitcher in Atlanta and a sportscaster in New York City. Bouton was a 24-year-old All-Star with the Yankees in 1963 but, by 1965, his arm was shot and there weren't surgical cures back then.

"Ball Four" was an inside-the-locker diary of life as a big leaguer and it spared no punches with a sport that expected hero worship from the media. He was traded to the Astros in mid-season of 1969, the year he decided to write his diary so there were several stories about the Houston club although the majority focus was on his time with the expansion Seattle Pilots. Hated by some, admired by others, Bouton seemed like someone ill-at-ease with the whole celebrity culture of sports athletes and tried to humanize them in his own way.

- Bob Hulsey