Sports

Astros Week: Pitching Dominates in Tough Stretch

Jose Urquidy is one of five Astros starters who were lights out this week.
Photo by Jack Gorman
Jose Urquidy is one of five Astros starters who were lights out this week.
If someone said to you that after six games of a nine-game stretch against the two best teams in baseball, the Astros would be 4-2 and have held the Yankees scoreless for more than 16 innings, you would likely be beside yourself with joy. But, the fact that the team was on the verge of being 6-0 tempers the enthusiasm just a bit, particularly after losing the final game of a four-game set against the Yanks to a walk off home run in the 10th inning to Aaron Judge.

But, there was far more good news than bad over the past week and more good news on the horizon, so count your blessings. Here are our thoughts.

The starting pitching...whoa.

It's difficult to overstate just how good the starting pitching has been over the last week. Just take a look at the overall numbers over the last six games:

Jose Urquidy - 13 IP, 2 runs, 8 strikeouts
Luis Garcia - 5 IP, 3 runs, 5 strikeouts
Framber Valdez - 6 IP, 3 runs, 6 strikeouts
Justin Verlander - 7 IP, 1 run, 3 strikeouts
Christian Javier - 7 IP, 0 runs, 13 strikeouts

This includes the absolutely masterful performance by Javier as part of a three-pitcher no hitter (more on that below). On Sunday, Urquidy was absolutely spectacular himself going seven innings and giving up just one hit. Truth be told, the Astros starters were good enough to insure a win in every game, but they were playing the Yankees, one of the best teams in baseball.

In reality, this is the best pitching staff in the major leagues and we are still awaiting the return of Lance McCullers, Jr. (probably late July) and Jake Odorizzi, who could be back next week.

No-no, YES!

The Astros became the only team to drop two no hitters on the Yankees since the 1950s after their brilliant three-pitcher no-no on Saturday. Jose Urquidy was magnificent over seven innings, but Hector Neris and Ryan Pressly, who had just blown an awful save on Thursday in New York, locked down the final two innings after Urquidy maxed out his pitch count.

Interestingly, the last time the Astros no-hit the Yanks, it was also in New York and took a combined six pitchers to do it in 2003. Those pitchers included Roy Oswalt and Billy Wagner, a pair of Astro legends.

This was particularly significant coming against the team with the best record in the majors and a team the Astros are bound to see again in the postseason, perhaps even in the ALCS (again).

click to enlarge
Alex Bregman is turning his season around.
Photo by Jack Gorman
Players returning from injury.

Jake Meyers and Jeremy Peña both returned this week. Meyers is the bigger story because he has yet to play this season. Without question, the Astros are hoping Meyers can return and help shore up the bottom of the order, which has been just awful. Peñs missed a handful of games with an injury to his thumb but looked comfortable both at the plate and in the field on Sunday.

Jake Odorizzi appears to be next. He is completing a rehab stint at Sugar Land and could be ready to return next week. With the starting pitching so good, it does bring up the legitimate question of who goes to the bullpen. It's a good problem to have. And Lance McCullers, Jr. is apparently just a couple weeks away from a rehab stint of his own. He could be back by the end of July or the beginning of August.

Bregman and Gurriel show improvement.

Don't look now, but Alex Bregman and Yuli Gurriel — we won't even dig into the play of Jose Altuve, who absolutely owns the Yankees — are starting to hit again. Both Astros infielders had struggled mightily throughout much of the season, but they have slowly been moving in the right direction.

Bregman, Gurriel show real signs of returning to form. In the last six games, Bregman is slashing .400/.520/.750/1.270 with two homers and five RBIs. Gurriel continues to hit doubles and just looks more comfortable at the plate, particularly on Sunday. If the Astros can get them going again, they can hopefully begin to solve the problem of scoring runs because that remains an issue.

Series Previews:

There are three games remaining in this New York gauntlet with two in New York against the Mets and one in Houston against the Yankees. If the Astros can even emerge from this at 5-4, it would be a win, but 6-3 sounds a lot better. The Angels are in town with their two-man show of Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout for a three-game weekend series followed by the Royals. It will likely feel like practice games after all those games against the Mets and Yankees.