By Will Martin
Going into the All-Star break the Houston Astros were ahead of schedule when compared to the 2013 team that would not get win number 40 until the middle of August.
The wins were few as Bo Porters team suffered through the indignity of seeing visiting teams (in the playoff chase) win fifteen straight times on Houston soil in a 51-111 season. Their inaugural in the A.L.
Coming out of the All-Star break Houston now gets a dose of what the Texas Rangers have had an overabundance of: The injury bug.
To wit: Reliever Josh Zeid has been placed on the 15 day disabled list (DL for short) for what is being termed a left foot bilateral sesamoiditis (His landing foot). As painful as that sounds mid-August is a probable return date.
George Springer joined the 15 day DL with a right quad strain on July 20th. He might be able to go after the current ten game homestand. The longest of the Astros season with the Marlins, Athletics, and Blue Jays coming in for a visit.
Alex Presley as of July 8 has a strained right oblique and could be active again before the month ends.
Dexter Fowler has a right intercostal strain. Ruled out until mid-August.
Hurler Matt Albers has been battling tendinitis in his right shoulder and is currently on the 60 day DL. His return tentatively set for middle August.
Pitcher Jose Cisnero underwent Tommy John surgery May 28 and won’t be back until 2015 at the earliest.
Set to return any day now is Jesse Crain. You’ll recall he had biceps surgery in October of 2013 and he looks to be just about ready to get back on the mound and throw.
The start to the second half of the season has not been as fruitful as the finish to the first half. Two one run losses in the Windy City for an 11 run 17 hit attack on July 20 accounted for their lone win against the White Sox 11-7.
It was onto Oakland for a three game set. The series opener went 12 innings July 22 before Houston got a 3-2 victory over the Athletics when L.J. Hoes went yard off reliever Fernando Abad.
“I didn’t think it was going to be a homer,” admitted Hoes. “I thought it was going to be a double to be honest, with the way the ball carries here and it being night time. I thought it was going to hit off the wall.”
This game marked the first of 20 straight games Oakland would play against teams with a record below .500.
“We want to get to where those guys are at right now,” L.J. Hoes said. “They’ve been to the playoffs the last two years, won the division the last two years. That’s what we want to work to do. We want to build something around here where we can start winning division titles and going to the playoffs and stuff like that. We know we have to compete with those guys and beat those guys.”
The homer was also hit after L.J.’s mom (who also had a birthday that day) told her son to go out and hit a homer. His fourth in 89 games. The win also marked the third straight against an Oakland team that has dominated the Astros with a 25-8 record.
It also marked another fine effort/no decision for hard luck lefty Brett Oberholtzer.
“Oberholtzer did a great job — seven strong innings against a really good Oakland lineup,” Astros manager Bo Porter said. “Our bullpen, obviously, did a tremendous job of keeping it right there. All those guys just passed the baton from one guy to the next and Qualls did a good job of closing it out.”
Chris Carter had the other two ribbies with a single.
The A’s returned to normal form with two subsequent home wins by a combined 22-8 before Houston returned home on the 25th for their current ten game home stand. Beginning with the Miami Marlins.
Minute Maid Park was treated to a pitchers duel as Dallas Keuchel and Brad Hand traded zeroes until a knuckling drive by Jarrod Saltalamacchia was misjudged by center fielder Enrique Hernandez in the seventh which accounted for the only runs in a 2-0 defeat to Miami before 23,132 home fans.
Dallas Keuchel looks to regaining the form he had right before going through a rough stretch in June despite the loss.
“I think I’ve been pitching well, it’s just the results haven’t been there,” Keuchel said. “You go through stretches like that as a pitcher. Even position guys do the same thing. The mental aspect of this game is tough, and like I said before, the tough survive, and I’m right there.”
Jarred Cosart (9-7) took the mound on July 26 and immediately fell into trouble when facing Giancarlo Stanton with the bases loaded. A first double cleared the bases en route to a four run second inning and a deficit Houston could not overcome despite 12 hits.
One of them was a two-run homer from Jason Castro in the first inning. Other opportunities were stopped by Miami and starter Tom Koehler.
“We had some opportunities there and had the right guys up there,” manager Bo Porter said. “We hit one line drive off the pitcher’s back or shoulder and the shortstop catches the ball. It’s just one of those things. We had some opportunities and we could not get the big hit.”
Chris Carter continues to lead all A.L. batters in homers this month with seven and slugging percentage at .721. One swing ahead of both Mike Trout and Carlos Santana with six.
Second sacker Jose Altuve continues to chase and rewrite history. His three hits on the 26th place him right at 145 through 104 games. Currently on pace to round out at 225 hits which would shatter the record set by Craig Biggio in 1999 (210) and also surpass what Derek Bell and Miguel Tejada did in 1998 and 2009 with 199 and 198 hits respectively.
Altuve also has a chance to make history as he on pace to get over 200 hits and 63 steals (currently at 41). Done by only two other leadoff men in major league history: Ty Cobb in 1911 (248 hits, 83 steals) and Willie Wilson 1980 (230 hits, 79 steals).
With their current record of 42-62 it wasn’t until August 23 last season that the Astros reached win number 42. Win 43 came on August 24.
Collin McHugh (4-8) comes off the DL with his start on July 27 in the finale with the Marlins. Now on the mend from a middle finger issue we’ll find out pretty quickly whether or not his return means a return to Oklahoma City for Brett Oberholtzer.
As for Brady Aiken and his #1 pick by the Astros. A subsequent physical determined there might be some elbow issues. The initial signing offer was lessened and the deadline to sign passed July 18 without a contract.
“We did reach out multiple times today,” Houston GM Jeff Luhnow said. “For whatever reason, the other side wasn’t responding. It was very fruitless negotiating against ourselves. We tried. We gave it our best shot to get a deal done with Brady, but it wasn’t to be.
“It’s disappointing. Our fans are disappointed, obviously. The second pick next year doesn’t feel as good as signing Brady Aiken would have been today. Still, it’s not a fatal blow to our plan. It’s a setback, no question, but we’re going to continue to invest in our pipeline and our strategy won’t change.”
“Certainly in the Draft — and I haven’t looked at the numbers in a while — but there’s a long way before these guys become Major League players,” Astros owner Jim Crane said. “They did sign a very high percentage of the guys we drafted. You’d like to get all of them. We’re certainly disappointed we didn’t get these two, but we’ll move on and keep working and deploy the money in other areas, international or free agents. We’ll continue to get better. We’re all disappointed we couldn’t get him signed.”
Just in time for the howling wolf of that month we call the Dog Days. Stay tuned Houston. This could get interesting.
7/28 vs A’s 7:10 p.m.
7/29 vs A’s 7:10 p.m.
7/30 vs A’s 1:10 p.m.
7/31 vs Blue Jays 7:10 p.m.
8/1 vs Blue Jays 7:10 p.m.
8/2 vs Blue Jays 6:10 p.m.
8/3 vs Blue Jays 1:10 p.m.