As if to underscore the loss of offense in the Astros lineup, Houston suffered through frustrating losses of 3-2 and 2-1 in their first two contests against the Red Sox this week. On Wednesday, the new bats appeared and the Spacemen capped off a 6-1 finale.
Mancini: Opening act
(c) Associated Press
The public had been teased with thoughts of Josh Bell and Willson Contreras, maybe beyond hope the idea of adding Juan Soto or Shohei Ohtani. So it's easy to understand some disappointment in who General Manager James Click eventually added to the Astros roster but maybe a better way to look at this is to see what the Astros didn't give up.
1B/OF Trey Mancini was acquired from Baltimore in a three-team trade that sent outfielder Jose Siri to Tampa Bay and prospects to the Orioles. Mancini, is a career .270 hitter with 20-HR power who is a solid pull hitter to left where he is expected to shower the Crawford Boxes with home runs, as he did in his first start as an Astro on Wednesday. He is expected to see time in the outfield while Michael Brantley is out with a shoulder injury as well as insurance at first base should Yuli Gurriel slump again.
Catcher Christian Vazquez comes over from Boston and is expected to split time behind the plate with Martin Maldonado. A career .261 hitter with a .699 OPS, Vazquez has World Series experience (2018) and can handle everyday work. He cost the Astros just two low-minors prospects to get from the Red Sox.
Both men are beloved by their respective fan bases in Baltimore and Boston. They are expected to be free agents after the season and it would be unsurprising if both re-sign with their original teams. Keep in mind, though, that Maldonado, Gurriel and Brantley all have expiring contracts too so I would expect Click to make an offer to both players.
The third in the trio of Astros acquisitions is lefthander Will Smith from the Braves. He was their closer last year as Atlanta beat Houston in the World Series but the 33-year-old Georgian has struggled this season. The Astros will try to fix his delivery and expect to use him as a lefty specialist in the bullpen. In his Houston debut, Smith gave up a homer to Xavier Bogaerts in his one inning of work. To get him, the Astros dealt veteran starting pitcher Jake Odorizzi who drew the short straw in the Houston rotation.
It was known that the Astros had a surplus of quality starters and would be using that as trade bait. Had the Astros brought in a player like Bell or Contreras, you can bet one of the younger pitchers would be the cost. Many figured it would be Jose Urquidy. Instead, Odorizzi was the one sent packing and Urquidy appeared to be celebrating as he no-hit Boston for the first five innings Wednesday on his way to his 10th victory. In short, the Astros added three quality rentals for the playoff run without giving up a young pitcher or a top prospect.
Besides Urquidy's great start and Mancini's home run, Jose Altuve had a four-hit afternoon in the win to bring his batting average back up to .280. Kyle Tucker had two hits and might be climbing out of his tailspin. Alex Bregman welcomed a new child into the world and then celebrated Wednesday with two hits and a sacrifice fly.
Luis Garcia (three runs in seven innings pitched) and Cristian Javier (two runs in six innings) threw well enough to win but fell victim to better Boston pitching on Monday and Tuesday. Javier has been on a month-long losing streak with a 5.11 ERA in his last five starts (0-4) despite a .217 batting average against.
The 68-38 Spacemen hit the road for a weekend series in Cleveland beginning Thursday. Justin Verlander (14-3, 1.81 ERA) gets the nod in the series opener against Zach Plesac (2-9, 4.33). Framber Valdez (9-4, 2.80) matches up against Kirk McCarty (2-2, 6.05) in a battle of lefties on Friday. Both weeknight games are slated to begin at 6:10 p.m. Central.
Garcia (8-7, 3.81) toes the rubber against Cal Quantrill (7-5, 4.08) in the Saturday 5:10 p.m. Central contest then Javier (6-7, 3.24) will pitch the Sunday morning 11:05 a.m. Central finale against Triston McKenzie (7-8, 3.38). The 54-50 GuarIndians enter Thursday play one game behind Minnesota in the AL Central race and one game ahead of the Chicago White Sox. Houston leads Seattle by 11 games in the AL West and are two games back of the Yankees for the best record in the league.
Finally, let us at Astros Daily join the millions expressing our sadness at the passing of Dodgers broadcasting legend Vin Scully this week. Scully was a polished pro who seemed never at a loss for words yet never in a hurry to let the words overtake the moment on the field. As the national voice of the NBC Game of the Week as well as golf and NFL coverage on CBS, Scully probably saw more airports and stadiums than anyone in history yet his voice always carried a joy of just spending a summer day at the ballpark with a hot dog and a soda. Anyone who wishes to be a play-by-play announcer, should listen to the "gold standard" as often as they can. This was how it was done.
- Bob Hulsey