Correa Keys Split With Halos
5-1 Road Trip Puts Astros In First

Correa: We're Number One
(c) Associated Press
Carlos Correa has officially begun his "You're Gonna Miss Me Tour", swatting the game-winning homer in the ninth inning Tuesday to defeat the Anaheim Angels, 4-2, and cap a road trip where the offense shined and won five of six to claim first place in the AL West. Correa, a pending free agent who broke off contract extension talks with the Astros once the season began, is motivated to show the front office what they will lose when he hits the market this winter.

What a contrast this California journey has been to last year's when trips out west were the death knell in a 29-31 regular season. Houston was 4-16 in the state of California before reviving in the postseason. They won more games on California soil in one week this year than they did the whole (albeit shortened) regular season of 2020.

Although the booing, screaming, trash can hurling Calis were on their worst behavior, cheered on by a bloodthirsty media, the Astros know the best way to answer the hysteria is to keep winning. As former Oiler coach Bum Phillips once retorted, the Astros have the ultimate mic-dropper, "We get to go home to Texas".

Indeed they have. The next six games are at half-full Minute Maid Park with the first three against the winless Oakland A's followed by three against the Detroit Tigers where the Spacemen hope to match their early road success.

You'll be forgiven if you think you've entered a time warp during the first homestand. Due to the empty arena from last year's COVID protocols (wonder what they did with all those cardboard fans?), the Astros held off recognizing their myriad 2019 accomplishments that fell one disappointing game short of a World's Championship. Among the milestones recognized will be the 2019 American League Championship, the Rookie of the Year Award won by Yordan Alvarez and the Cy Young Award claimed by Justin Verlander, who probably wishes he was back in 2019 again instead of rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. I guess there is a sense of unfinished business in the air.

The bats have certainly been smoking coming out of the gate. The team batting average is .295 and the team OPS is a robust .893. Over a full season, that would get you a lot of wins. The run differential on the trip was 45-18.

Oddly consistent was Kyle Tucker who took the early team lead in home runs (3) and RBIs (9) despite batting just .192. Tucker has contributed an RBI in all six games so far. Alex Bregman (.429 BA/1.240 OPS), Yuli Gurriel (.409/1.127), Alvarez (.308/.883) and Jose Altuve (.320/.774) also sizzled.

Aside from Zack Greinke (1.38 ERA in 13 innings), the starting pitchers need to last longer but it is not unusual this early in the season to still need stretching. The bullpen has held up their end except for Brooks Raley (9.00 ERA in three games) and Joe Smith whose four runs allowed Monday led to the team's only loss.

After Wednesday's travel day, the Astros open their first homestand Thursday night with Cristian Javier (0-0, 4.91 ERA) dueling Cole Irvin (0-1, 8.31 ERA). On Friday, Lance McCullers (1-0, 1.80) squares off with Sean Manaea (0-1, 9.64) while Saturday's afternoon tilt features Jose Urquidy (0-0, 4.15) pitching against Frankie Montas (0-1, 23.63). Curiously, there's no Sunday game.

Expect starting pitcher Jake Odorizzi to come off the Injured List and make his first start as an Astro sometime during the Tigers series. Michael Brantley was cleared to return after he had been hit by a pitch and will be ready to return for the homestand opener.

As for the week's big controversy regarding moving this year's All-Star Game from Atlanta to Denver, all I'll say is that Major League Baseball (MLB) should stick to sports, not politics, and that Governor Abbott should have shut up and thrown the first pitch at the Rangers' home opener. Both looked petty and foolish for their actions. MLB is not in a position right now to be alienating half their fan base. Just ask the NBA about that.

If Houston gets through the homestand with the same winning percentage as their recent road trip, expect them to remain atop the American League West and sporting one of the best records in the majors.

- Bob Hulsey