So far, so good.
Alvarez: Hotter than a Cuban beach
(c) Associated Press
Yordan Alvarez and the rest of the Houston bats swept the first leg of the New York, New York gauntlet, downing the Mets twice at Minute Maid Park. Alvarez abused our expansion twins on Tuesday in an 8-2 victory. He smashed a two-run homer off Trevor Williams in the third and later scored on the three-run triple by Kyle Tucker in the fifth which blew open the win for Jose Urquidy. Jose Altuve and Jose Siri also went deep.
Then Alvarez had an encore on Wednesday afternoon, blasting a pair of 400-foot drives in a 5-3 sweeper. Yordan leads the team in batting average (.315), home runs (21) and RBIs (51). The lanky Cuban has batted .443 this month (27-of-61) with seven homers and 23 RBIs. Alex Bregman also took losing pitcher Carlos Carrasco deep during a four-run first inning.
Luis Garcia tossed five innings to get the win, evening his record at 5-5. Ryne Stanek, Hector Neris, Rafael Montero and Ryan Pressly threw a scoreless inning each of relief to finish up.
Next comes the big showdown - four games in the Bronx against the Yankees who own the best record in baseball. The 43-25 Astros have the second-best record in the American League and a double-digit lead in the AL West.
Lefty Framber Valdez (7-3, 2.78 ERA) will pitch the Thursday opener against former Pirate Jameson Taillon (8-1, 2.70) in what could be a great pitching duel. Justin Verlander (8-3, 2.30), coming off his shortest outing of the season, challenges Luis Severino (4-1, 3.27) on Friday. Both games start at 6:05 p.m. Central time.
Cristian Javier (4-3, 3.07) has the task of dueling ex-Astro Gerrit Cole (6-1, 3.14) on Saturday at 12:05 p.m. Central then Urquidy (6-3, 4.68) matches up against lefthander Nestor Cortes (6-3, 2.31) Sunday in the 12:35 p.m. Central finale.
Playing four times in such an intimidating park, it would seem that splitting the series would be a big step for the Astros. Winning it would send a message that Houston, despite their flaws, are someone that should concern the Bombers.
The Spacemen stay in town for an off-day Monday before visiting the Mets again for two more games. The end of the gauntlet comes June 30th with a home date against the Yankees that was squeezed in to make up for one of the games missed due to the lockout.
Two injured players, outfielders Jake Meyers and Taylor Jones, have exhausted their rehab time after playing in AAA Sugar Land. The ballclub will need to decide whether to activate either one or send them back to the minors. Neither hit above .200 in their rehab period and will likely be optioned down U.S. 59.
Shortstop Jeremy Pena recently took some swings and fielded grounders. He could return from the Injured List some time during the New York gauntlet but exactly when is unknown. It does not appear that Aledmys Diaz (shoulder) has been moved to the Injured List although he has not played in the past three games.
Pitchers Jake Odorizzi and Lance McCullers continue to make strides in their rehabs although a return probably won't happen this week. Likewise, lefthanded relievers Blake Taylor and Parker Mushinski don't appear to be returning soon, a situation the Yankees may try to exploit during the series.
Watch for the boo birds and cat-callers to be out in force this weekend trying to get under the skins of Astros players, just as they did to Myles Straw and the Guardians earlier this year in an ugly display. It should be noted that Marwin Gonzalez, one of those 2017 Astros they're self-righteously booing, now plays for the Yanks. Given that and their Apple watch escapade where they were punished with a fine, they have no grounds to act so outraged. But they will anyway.
- Bob Hulsey