Just like last year, the Astros could not push their season-best winning streak past 11 games. The franchise record is 12 wins in a row, set in 1999, 2004 and 2018. Cristian Javier, he of the ERA under 1.00 before the game, struggled out of the gate and was pinned with a 13-6 loss on Saturday night as the Washington Nationals took the middle game of the three-game weekend series.
Gurriel: Bat revives in DC
(c) USA Today
But all was right with the world the next day as Justin Verlander spun five more innings of shutout ball while the Astros blasted four home runs in an 8-0 Sunday whitewash to take the series.
Houston is technically tied for first in the AL West with the Anaheim Angels but the Spacemen lead by percentage points (.657 to .649), holding one less win but one less loss. The other three teams in the division are under .500 and have dug themselves a hole to climb out of. In the new playoff format, the Astros and Angels both seem likely to reach the postseason but the division crown will mean a much better position to play from.
The Astros rolled in on Friday with a 10-game winning streak in tow. Framber Valdez made it 11 in a 6-1 triumph as Jose Altuve, Yuli Gurriel and Yordan Alvarez went deep. In the Saturday debacle, Gurriel and Jose Siri both had three hits in a losing cause.
The lumber continued on Sunday as Altuve, Gurriel, Martin Maldonado and Chas McCormick took the tour. After Verlander checked out at 107 pitches, Rafael Montero, Ryne Stanek and Bryan Abreu completed the shutout.
Gurriel, who struggled through April, came alive in DC. "La Pina" was 8-12 (.667) this series with a pair of homers. Last year's batting champion still has just a .248 batting average, but it's hoped this explosion will lead to more days like the ones this weekend.
On Saturday, the Astros dealt minor league catcher Michael Papierski to San Francisco for utilityman Mauricio Dubon, a Californian who has played a significant time at shortstop and center field. The righty hitter owns a .234 batting average and a .623 OPS. Niko Goodrum, an infielder who hit just .116 with 23 strikeouts in 43 at bats, was optioned to AAA Sugar Land.
Rookie shortstop Jeremy Pena missed the whole series due to soreness in his right knee. He expects to return to the lineup any day. Altuve also missed Saturday's game with soreness in his leg although he homered in the other two contests.
The 23-12 Spacemen travel north to BAH-ston for their first battle with the Red Sox since their epic A.L.C.S. last October. The 13-21 Sawx have had a rough time early this season but they can still hit a ton. Jake Odorizzi (3-2, 3.38 ERA), who hasn't pitched in over a week, takes the hill for Houston in Monday's opener against righty Garrett Whitlock (1-1, 2.19).
Jose Urquidy (2-1, 4.40) matches up with veteran Nathan Eovaldi (1-1, 3.15) Tuesday night. Both Monday and Tuesday's contests are scheduled to begin at 6:10 p.m. Central. For Wednesday's finale, Luis Garcia (3-1, 2.94) takes on Nick Pivetta (1-4, 5.08) in a 5:10 p.m. Central tipoff.
With Friday's victory, Houston skipper Dusty Baker passed Leo Durocher in lifetime managerial wins, at 2009, which is 10th on the All-Time list. Baker's former Dodger manager Walter Alston is next on the list at 2040.
The rumor mill swirled when the Tigers recently visited Houston and their manager, A.J. Hinch, reconnected with several baseball people that knew him when he was the Houston skipper (2015-19). Should this be the 73-year-old Baker's last season with the Astros, would Hinch be open to coming back to the Astros despite his firing after the sign-stealing scandal? It's argued that Hinch left the Astros on generally good terms and since the Red Sox re-hired Alex Cora to manage despite his one-year suspension, the Astros could claim Hinch's return should be no different than Cora's return in Boston - should the situation present itself. Hinch managed three teams that won over 100 games and Houston's only World Champions.
Finally, congratulations (I guess) to the Reds for throwing a no-hitter against the Pittsburgh Pirates this weekend despite losing the game, 1-0. Because Cincy only had to pitch eight innings as the visiting team, it's not officially recognized as a no-hitter. The only nine-inning losing no-hitter also involved the Reds but it was at the expense of the Houston Colt .45s back in 1964. Back then, the new Houston franchise embraced almost anything for notoriety. Red fans, look at the bright side of this and know there will be better days ahead.
- Bob Hulsey