Sports

Astros Week: A Pair of Huge Sweeps and Verlander Hits 99 MPH

J.J. Matijevic celebrates his partial ownership of the New York Yankees franchise.
J.J. Matijevic celebrates his partial ownership of the New York Yankees franchise. Photo by Jack Gorman
It what could easily be argued was a stretch of the most difficult baseball on the schedule this year for the Astros, they just kept doing what they do: win.

Going back to June 23 when we argued that the next month or so could be tough for the 'Stros, they went 23-5. They won every series but two (one they tied the Yankees 2-2 and the other they lost to the A's 1-2) and went 4-0 against the Mets, 5-2 against the Yankees and, the latest, 3-0 against the Mariners.

It's been quite a month capped off by five straight wins against the aforementioned Yankees and Mariners. They swept both games of a doubleheader in Houston against New York and then flew into Seattle to take three from what previously was the hottest team in baseball. Let's discuss.

The Mariners "World Series"

Seattle appeared to be about as hyped up for a series as they have been in a while. They have not made the playoffs since 2001, the longest streak of any professional sports organization. Coming into the All-Star break, they had won 14 straight and were nine back of the Astros. Some fans were doing some pearl clutching over the Mariners, but clearly not this Astros team. Their dismantling of the M's was surgical and workmanlike at the same time. They took leads early and never relinquished them. Even Ryan Pressly came off the paternity list to close out game three. He now has 30 consecutive scoreless innings, an Astros record. Anyone predicting gloom and doom may now wish to reconsider.

The Astros own the Yankees this season.

And before we forget, the Astros have simply outgunned the Yankees this year, the best team in baseball record-wise. They have won the season series and are now just 1.5 games back as of writing this. Earlier this season, there was plenty of talk about what the Astros would do against the Yankees. How could they compete against their lineup and their pitching? I guess we found out.

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Justin Verlander has gas left to spare this season.
Photo by Jack Gorman
Justin Verlander has a LOT of gas left in the tank.

Verlander has said he wants to play until 45, but that's not what we mean here. In the second game of the Mariners series, the ace threw 101 pitches over seven innings of work. As is typical of Verlander, he seemed to get stronger as the game went along. That was evidenced by 97 on the radar gun on his last pitching, striking out one final M's player with the bases loaded. But just before that, he hit 99 mph. He has not hit 99 in his entire time in Houston. He's 39 and coming off two missed seasons thanks to Tommy John surgery. He became only the second player his age to throw that fast (former Astro Billy Wagner was the other). It is difficult to describe just how remarkable this guy continues to be and he is bringing the heat like he is 19 instead of 39.

Fans of other teams keep booing Jose Altuve at their own risk.

We understand the Astros hate. We embrace it. And we expect fans of other teams to boo Astros players as they have multiple seasons after the Astros were busted for sign stealing during their 2017 World Series year even if they occasionally jeer at players who weren't even with the 2017 team. We were even amused by the inflatable trash cans that occasionally were thrown onto the field. But, at this point, we are BEGGING opposing fans to yell and scream and hurl insults at Jose Altuve. Go crazy. Seriously. Because all he does when he hears that, apparently, is decide to crush your dreams. So, keep it up. It's helping!

Series Previews:

The Astros have three games with the A's in Oakland, the only team to actually win a series against Houston in the last month (thanks to some timely rest right before the All-Star break for a number of Astro players). The big series, however, is this weekend when the Mariners come to town for four games. This will be the last chance Seattle has to even attempt to get back into the division race. They will likely be at least 12 or 13 games back. Even a four-game sweep would keep them near a double-digit deficit in the division. So, they are going to go hard, as they should. And if their star rookie outfielder is back, it could even be a series.
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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke