By Will Martin
Home cooking. When it’s in effect the taste is great. With each success on a given day, every contribution by the kitchen is viable and welcomed.
Of late the kitchen of Minute Maid Park has been incredibly amenable for Bo Porter and the Astros.
They inch closer and closer to shattering their debut season of 2013 in terms of record and productivity.
Unlike one year ago when visiting teams took credit for the recipes offered and added some unwanted flavors that lacked the proper Texas kick.
Even with the August 10 loss to the Texas Rangers consider this:
The 2013 Astros were the punching bag for teams like the Texas Rangers as they would get their 4000th career win on Opening Day March 31st.
Eighteen more meetings in which Texas won seventeen of those games save for a home loss on July 6. Lucky was I to be at the two games Houston defeated Texas last year.
Many of you called me daft and crazy when stating it would not be a surprise if Houston somehow played leapfrog with the Rangers to get out of the cellar. That has now been the case since July 9 while the beaten up and battered Texas Rangers went from seven games back on June 17 to 27 games back August 9.
The Houston Astros have a two and a half game cushion on the 2014 cellar dwellars. At 49-68 after 117 games, a 12 game improvement over their 37-79 mark in 2013. Win number 49 did not arrive until September 10 and win #50 on September 11.
Saturday night Houston improved their season record over Texas to 8-3 with an 8-3 victory at Minute Maid Park. Scott Feldman (6-8 4.14) with another quality start. His seventh in his last nine appearances as he went a solid six plus innings in helping Houston take this series with the Rangers and a chance at winning eight in a row over their in-state rivals.
What made Saturday night’s win even sweeter was being able to do it on Yu Darvish. Remember how much his game, his control commanded Houston in 2013? To the point of a near perfect game on 4/2/13?
For the second straight appearance Houston successfully worked pitch counts and made Yu work hard to get outs. For that he was knocked out in the fifth inning after only four complete innings of work and a pitch count of 113.
“Although I struggled I was able to get through four innings and minimized the damage,” Darvish said. “But I gave up that initial hit in the fifth inning with no outs and they were able to get some more hits and the rest was history.”
To win big over your rival and to do so against their ace is music to the eyes and ears of skipper Bo Porter. How’s it feel to be 8-3 after a 2-17 mark in 2013?
“When you look at the way we played against them last year, a man to a man when we got ready to play them this year, that’s something that kind of ate at us because of the dominance they had against us last year,” Astros manager Bo Porter said. “At the same time, we’ve played good baseball and it’s all about timing when you play people. We’ve played some of our best baseball at the times we played them.”
The Astros in two starts have managed to finagle 12 runs and 19 hits on the #1 ace of the Rangers in 2014. A 4-run 5th inning highlighted by a 2-run double by Jon Singleton and rbi singles by Matt Dominguez and Marwin Gonzalez to build up a 6-0 lead.
It was only the second time in 2014 the Astros plated eight runs and won a game without going deep.
Friday night was a sign that Houston continues to battle, remain confident, and make something happen. Robbie Grossman with an eighth inning blast off the arm of lefty Neal Cotts to erase a 2-1 lead with a man on as Chad Qualls came in to close the door for a 4-3 win.
This despite ANOTHER quality start for Brett Oberholtzer resulting in a no decision. Two runs and six hits in seven innings of work as Obie had his 5th straight quality start and six out of seven since June 28th when Ian Kinsler and Jerome Williams allowed Brett a home win.
Last nine starts Oberholtzer has gone 4-1 in his last nine starts, could easily be 8-1 while Houston has gone 7-2 during that span. Bo Porter truly appreciative of the efforts Brett has provided after a rough go shuttling between Houston and Oklahoma City.
“This guy’s made right,” Porter said. “From a mentality standpoint, he’s confident, he trusts his stuff and I think that’s why he’s getting the results he wants… I love his makeup, I love his tenacity out there.”
And as for the turnaround with Texas and Oakland?
“The A’s and the Rangers, them two both, they’ve been beating up on us the last couple years,” said Brett Oberholtzer. “To turn the page a little bit and have some success against the Rangers, it means a lot to the guys in this clubhouse.”
Houston enters the Dog Days month on a roll winning six of 9, 8 of 13, and 14-14 since the break.
There was a scare on Friday when second baseman Jose Altuve had to leave the game with neck discomfort. His status remains day to day.
Chris Carter added his 25th homer of the season while connecting on Miles Mikolas Friday night. Houston unsuccessfully tried to sweep the Rangers August 10 and offset a road sweep in Philadelphia where the Phillies won a 2-1 marathon in 15 innings on August 5 and proceeded to play catchup on the sleep side after their return Thursday night. Brad Peacock was rocked on August 6 in a 10-3 defeat.
August 7 Houston had a chance to salvage a win with a 5-2 lead and a quality start by Collin McHugh. That lead was vanquished with one swing of the bat by Ryan Howard. A bases loaded Grand Salami that gave the Phillies a 6-5 win and three game sweep off the arm of Tony Sipp.
“I didn’t think it was going out,” said Sipp. “I knew it was high enough, but he just didn’t drive it the way his balls usually go. Obviously, he got it well enough. Off the bat, I thought it had a chance until the last minute.”
Did we mention that Ryan Howard had the walk-off single in the 15th inning two days earlier?
“I knew he was going to bury some sliders and I had to try to keep off those sliders,” Howard said. “I knew at bases loaded, he was going to give me something in. He was either going to get me in or get something over the plate. He’s got to give me a strike to hit.”
A case where this Sipp was tough to swallow.
Collin McHugh threw seven innings and only allowed 1-run on five hits while Chris Carter belted two goners. All of it for naught.
“That’s a pretty tough loss there,” Bo Porter said. “Obviously, they beat the best guys we had down there at the end of the day. Collin did a tremendous job by going seven innings, and offensively we got to their guy early and our bullpen wasn’t able to hold it together.”
It was on July 12, 2013 that I began to notice just how well starting pitching had begun to do for this Astros team. Come the day Houston’s relief can close out games with consistency and not ruin great starts by Feldman, Oberholtzer, McHugh, Keuchel, and Cosart then hello playoffs.
Until then you try to appreciate the 17 come from behind wins and minimize the seven blown leads after seven innings. The 13-21 record in one run games, 6-9 in two run games remain a sore spot.
Houston remains the youngest team in baseball at 26.6 years of age per player. They are ahead of last years pace. They are figuring out how to win, they have figured out Yu, Texas, Oakland, and the ability to play with confidence.
Dexter Fowler has partaken in some minor league ball as part of his rehab from an oblique injury Saturday in Oklahoma City.
George Springer continues rehabbing his strained left quad while playing for the Quad Cities. Springer has been out since July 20.
8/11 vs Twins 7:10 p.m.
8/12 vs Twins 7:10 p.m.
8/13 vs Twins 1:10 p.m.
8/14 @Red Sox 6:10 p.m.
8/15 @Red Sox 6:10 p.m.
8/16 @Red Sox 6:10 p.m.
8/17 @Red Sox 12:35 p.m.