By Will Martin
One week has now elapsed since the firing of Bo Porter. Even with Tom Lawless in the interim position to finish out September, the Houston Astros continue to play spoiler in the A.L. West having just concluded a week where they took four of five games.
In the midst of a nine game road stretch the Astros have won 7 of 9, 12 of 19, and since July 6th are playing at a clip of .500 or better (28-27) as they finish out 2014 with 27 of 31 games against playoff/wild card eligible teams.
With their 4-3 win on Sunday it also means there will be no 100 loss season for the first time since 2010.
Houston now prepares for the Seattle Mariners in the Emerald City. With 143 games in and 19 to go Houston sits at 63-80. In 2013 the Astros were toiling at 47-95 in the cellar. That spot has been avoided since July 9 in 2014.
The Astros got to enjoy a 4-3 win on September 7 with a 9th inning payback of their own after blowing a 3-1 on Saturday to lose in the 9th by the same score. Houston did it with walks and a sacrifice fly. Since the Bo Porter firing Houston had a 6-1 week and are playing flawlessly.
“We’re playing relaxed right now and that’s a great thing to see,” Astros starter Dallas Keuchel said. “Some of these young guys are out proving themselves and having some quality at-bats against some tough relievers over there, and any time you get that it’s a breath of fresh air.”
Josh Fields got the 9th inning save while Oakland has the current lead over Houston for the season series 11-8. Not quite as a good as 15-4 one year earlier.
“I was trying to attack,” Fields said. “It’s been a few days since I pitched, about three or four days. After seeing the ninth inning a couple of the A’s guys had, that’s what I was trying to think about in the ‘pen, trying to make sure I’m throwing strikes and not trying to get too fine.”
How odes it feel to see the marked improvement for the team compared to one year ago?
“It means a whole lot,” Fields said. “They’ve had our number for most of the year and they played well against us, and we know when we come and play this team, it’s going to be some tough games. That team, they can hit the ball and pitch well, and to be able to get two out of three against a team like that, a team that has played so well against us all season, is pretty big for us.”
LJ Hoes got the winning run to push Houston’s record to 63-80.
Have you noticed the level of improvement for three teams in particular in 2014? Three teams who I predicted back in April to keep an eye on? Start with the Astros, a 16 game improvement from 2013. That’s second best in the American League and the Major Leagues. Second only to the the Angels who are now sitting at 20 games better than 2013. Third on that list? How about those Seattle Mariners at 13 (78-64).
This is a trend that I believe will continue. The AL West will be the class of Major League Baseball for good, solid baseball.
Two players who continue to shine via the hammer and the speed are Jose Altuve and Chris Carter. Since July 1 Carter leads the Majors in HRs (23) RBIs (55), SLG (.660), and OPS (1.016).
Jose Altuve went 1 for 4 in the finale at Oakland to extend his hitting streak to 14 games. Robbie Grossman had a 14 game streak of his own in 2013. Prior to that you must go back to 2011 when Hunter Pence went 23 straight games with a hit May 19th-June 13th of said year.
Currently at 198 hits back on September 2 the Halos came in for a two game set, both won by the Astros. Jose Altuve had himself a 4-hit performance including a home run in an 8-3 victory. It marked the first time in a decade an Astros player enjoyed back to back four hit games.
Nothing to it, right Jose?
“It’s not easy to hit the ball,” Altuve said. “Sometimes you hit it right at people, sometimes not. We’ve got to take advantage of the good moments we’ve been through and try to keep swinging the bat, keep playing defense, keep throwing the ball and try to finish the season strong.
You’ve heard me say it all year. Now I’ll let some of Jose’s teammates lay the plaudits on the starting second basemen.
“There’s no secret, the man can hit,” outfielder Dexter Fowler said. “He might be the smallest guy, but he plays like he’s 6-foot-10.”
“He’s the best player ever right now,” pitcher Brad Peacock said. “He’s unbelievable to watch.”
“He’s amazing,” Lawless said. “He can just barrel up the baseball.”
“Best. Player. Ever.” outfielder George Springer stated.
CJ Wilson got lit up on Tuesday and even he was amazed at the way Altuve does his thing.
“Dude’s just completely on fire right now,” Wilson said. “I threw a changeup off the plate and away, and he hooks it. What are you going to do? You usually figure guys like Carter are the ones that hook the ball, not guys like Altuve. He just did whatever he wanted today.”
Is there a way to get Altuve out?
“You throw pitches off the plate away and hope he flies it to right field,” Wilson said. “And then he hits it over the fence. I threw a pitch off the plate away, and he pulled it for a homer. I’m not trying to give him a bunch of stuff to hit. I’m not throwing fastballs down the middle. He hit it anyway. He just hits everything.”
At 198 hits, barring any injuries chances are really good that Jose Altuve wins the batting title, leads in hits, stolen bases, multiple hit games, and of course his fielding prowess.
31 more hits and Craig Biggio gets surpassed for most hits in a season. No Astro has ever won the batting title in their 54 year history.
Brad Peacock finally got to enjoy a win for the first time since July 8 in the 8-3 victory.
“I felt great from the bullpen all the way to the game,” Peacock said. “I went over the scouting report before the game and had a good game plan coming in and stuck with it, and Jason called a great game for me. I felt good all night.”
September 3 Chris Carter went yard twice to allow Collin McHugh to win for the fourth time in five starts with a 4-1 win. The 34th and 35th blasts by Carter are the most since Lance Berkman blasted 45 in 2006. Improving to 8-9 on the season while possessing a 4-0 mark since August 1 with an ERA at 1.79. His 2.89 era also a testament to the hard work he has been putting in at the starter spot.
“Being able to make pitches when you need them, that was really important for me tonight,” McHugh said. “They’ve got some boppers in their lineup, guys who can go out and get it and hit the ball out of the park. You’ve got to try to make good pitches and try and execute as well as you possibly can. I had a good fastball tonight when I needed it. At times it was inconsistent, but when it needed to show up, it was there.”
Houston then proceeded to play three games against Oakland while taking two of three with the score 4-3 prevalent all weekend long.
Now for Dallas Keuchel to get off the schneid. Not since July 30 has Keuchel seen the W.
“I’ll stay stuck on 10 wins for the rest of the year if we win,” said Keuchel. 0-2 with a 3.14 era in his last seven starts, and 1-0 with a 2.01 era in four meetings with the Moneyball Green team.
The Astros comtinue to add to their season of gravy. Gravy indeed can spoil. Let’s see well this team plays spoiler against the rest of the A.L. in 2014.
9/8 @Mariners 9:10 pm
9/9 @Mariners 9:10 pm
9/10 @Mariners 9:10 pm
9/12 @Angels 9:05 pm
9/13 @Angels 8:05 pm
9/14 @Angels 2:35 pm