As Jeremy Pena's second homer of the day settled beyond the center field fence at Minute Maid Park on Sunday, the Astros completed a statement series against the Angels. There would be no letdown after winning 7-of-9 against the New York teams. With wins of 8-1, 9-1 and 4-2, Houston appears capable of blowing the AL West field completely out of the water by the August 2nd trade deadline.
Pena: Cools off after hot Sunday
(c) Associated Press
How dominant were the Astros against Anaheim? The Spacemen had more home runs in the weekend series (10) than the Halos had hits (7). The Angels struck out a ridiculous 48 times, including 20 on Sunday which set a franchise high for Houston (the previous record was 18). If you're an Angels fan, this might be as bad as the expansion years of the 1960s, except there was a reason the Angels were awful back then.
This is the same club the media goes gaga for every spring. If MVP Awards were pennants, Anaheim would be worthy of such praise. Yet, somehow, the Angels have surrounded Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig (I mean Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout) with disaster after disaster. This year, they roared to a 24-13 start through mid-May before submerging on a 14-game losing streak from which they've never recovered.
Entering the 4th of July holiday, the Angels are 37-44 and mired in fourth place in the division. The somewhat slow-starting Astros, by contrast, are 51-27 and ahead of their division by a Yankee-like 13-1/2 games.
They'll take a six-game winning streak into a four-game home set against the 29-48 Kansas City Royals beginning Monday. Even some of the support players are getting into the act. Martin Maldonado had two homers on Saturday. Chas McCormick homered twice during the weekend. Yuli Gurriel and Kyle Tucker went deep as well.
Yet it has been starting pitching that has stolen the spotlight. Cristian Javier followed up his no-hit outing in the Bronx with one hit allowed over seven innings on Friday and a career-high 14 strikeouts. Jose Urquidy was next with two hits surrendered over six innings while fanning eight then Framber Valdez gave up three hits in six innings while striking out 13.
Houston is first in the league in ERA (2.89) and hits allowed (531), while second in runs allowed (253), WHIP (1.093) and ERA+ (131). That's a lot of dealing.
Jake Odorizzi (3-2, 3.13 ERA) is expected to start Monday after missing more than a month with an ankle injury. Jonathan Heasley (1-4, 5.20) will start for Kansas City in the 3:10 p.m. Central holiday opener. I presume there will be fireworks afterwards.
Luis Garcia (6-5, 3.54) challenges former Astro Zack Greinke (2-4, 4.38) on Tuesday night while Javier (6-3, 2.58) toes the rubber against Brad Keller (3-9, 4.24) on Wednesday. Both of those games begin at 7:10 p.m. Central. Then Justin Verlander (10-3, 2.03) takes the Thursday 1:10 p.m. finale against lefty Kris Bubic (1-5, 7.06).
With Odorizzi's, return, the Astros might go back to a modified six-man rotation for the rest of the month - modified because Verlander likes to pitch every fifth day. The Astros are playing 28 games in July with a three-game All-Star Break and an off-day Monday July 11th as their only days off this month. Other than these four games against the Royals and a make-up twinbill against the Yankees on July 21st, the Spacemen will see a rotation of the Angels, Mariners and A's until August. Yum.
Yordan Alvarez returned from his collision with Pena on Friday. The slugger had a cut inside his mouth and quite a headache from the impact. Catcher Jason Castro was placed on the 10-day Injured List with a knee issue leading to the call-up of top prospect Korey Lee who did not reach in his first two big league at-bats.
Lefty reliever Parker Mushinski threw live batting practice this weekend and could be ready to return soon. Presently, the Astros have no lefties in their bullpen although few have noticed the way the starting pitching has dominated. Meanwhile, fellow lefty Blake Taylor was transfered to the 60-day Injured List with left elbow soreness.
Happy Independence Day, everyone! Enjoy it while you still can.
- Bob Hulsey