Astros Week: Diaz Returns, Brown Dazzles and Yordan is Back

Justin Verlander will be back this week.
Justin Verlander will be back this week. Photo by Jack Gorman
The Astros have finally managed to break out of their offensive slump. That may be the level of competition — the Angles and Tigers aren't exactly world beaters – but it is notable given the struggles of recent weeks. Pitching remains the strength of a ballclub that has plenty of firepower up and down the lineup. And the pitching just gets better with the addition of rookie Hunter Brown and the return of Justin Verlander.

The team leads the majors in ERA out of the bullpen and is second in the AL in ERA from the starting rotation. If they manage to increase their offensive output and FINALLY get a quality run from several of their starters, this is going to be a VERY difficult team to beat.

Justin Verlander and Aledmys Diaz return.

Aledmys Diaz returned on Tuesday from a groin injury that sidelined him for three weeks. In his return, he went 2-4 from the plate in the DH role. Diaz is a critical component as someone who can play multiple positions and has been swinging the bat well throughout the season. It can help mitigate the struggles in center field and give Yordan Alvarez time off from playing in left.

Verlander is expected to make his return this week from his calf injury. He appears to be fully recovered and his return makes the starting rotation even more deadly. Framber Valdez tied the record for most consecutive quality starts on Monday and it appears the one-two punch of Verlander and Valdez will be difficult to beat in the postseason.

Hunter Brown continues to dazzle.

Rookie Hunter Brown has dominated the minors, but his September call up has been everything the Astros could have hoped for. He followed up a six-inning shutout in his first game with a two-run, six-inning affair in his home town of Detroit on Tuesday night. On Tuesday, he showed better command of an upper 90s fastball that he grooved in his first start, but survived because of anemic hitting.

Brown is going to complicate the pitching rotation in the playoffs. He did come out of the bullpen a bit in the minors as preparation for the major league roster, but as a starter, he has been nothing short of brilliant.

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Yordan Alvarez has been great at the plate and in the outfield.
Photo by Jack Gorman
Yordan Alvarez is back.

My broadcast partner, Geoff Blum, said on a recent podcast that he had seen progress from Alvarez in recent days and that he was poised for a resurgence. He was not wrong. Alvarez has two home runs in three games and went 2-4 on Tuesday with a home run, a double and three runs scored. Alvarez, who has struggled with hand pain the last couple months looks more comfortable at the plate and is playing a quality left field position as well with six putouts, all on throws from the outfield.

If Alvarez can get his groove back and Alex Bregman and Kyle Tucker can continue to hit at a brisk pace, this is going to be a very dangerous offense.

Is Yuli Gurriel turning a corner?

Speaking of dangerous offensive numbers, Gurriel has, for the first time this year, put together a series of very good at bats. He was 2-4 with two RBIs on Tuesday including a home run, his first since July 1. Granted, it only cleared the fence by a small margin, but in Comiskey Park, that is a decent long ball.

Gurriel, the reigning AL batting champ, has not been great this season slashing .242/.292/.363/.655. But, in the three games prior to Tuesday, he has gone .429/.429/.500/.929. Gurriel hitting for better numbers is a huge plus for an Astros team that has needed production outside of Jose Altuve, Bregman, Tucker and Alvarez all season long.

Jeff Balke covers the Astros weekly for the Houston Press and co-hosts the Bleav in Astros podcast with former third baseman and current Astros broadcaster Geoff Blum. Follow him on Twitter.
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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