Houston Astros: Riding That Gravy Train Home

Houston Astros starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel has a shot at a 15 win season. Photo Courtesy: Darryl Briggs
Houston Astros starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel has a shot at a 15 win season. Photo Courtesy: Darryl Briggs

By Will Martin

Note how active certain teams were on the day of the Trade Deadline last Thursday (Oakland, Boston, Detroit) to help ensure their chances at post-season success.

Never mind the scenarios with some of the players being a rental or about to get locked into a long term deal.

Other teams chose to stand pat and do very little. Content with what they have and curious to see what potential gems lie within the farm for a more productive tomorrow.

That being said the Houston Astros began what would be their longest homestand of the season beginning with the Miami Marlins July 25.

Florida swept by Texas by a combined 13-5 count as Houston fell into a five game skid prior to the arrival of first place Oakland.

One month ago there was a scenario where the Astros were one out away from completing a three game sweep of the Detroit Tigers save for an Ian Kinsler homer off of reliever Jerome Williams.

The week of July 28th-30th Oakland by all counts should have been swept in Houston. Except for a 6-run 9th inning where the A’s batters decided to rough up Chad Qualls for the 7-4 win after trailing 4-1, denying a victory to starter Scott Feldman who had one of the best games of his season. Seven innings with one run on five hits.

Can it be said that Oakland has made life tough for Feldman?

“That lineup over there was giving me a tough time my whole career, pretty much,” Feldman said. “Even when they weren’t that good of a team. I was happy that I threw the ball better and as far as what happened at the end there, Quallsie’s been great all year. I think that everybody has games like that.”

“Any time you lose games in the eighth, ninth inning, those are tough games to lose,” Skipper Bo Porter said. “But I tell you, I’m proud of these guys. They played hard, we were in position to win the ballgame and just were not able to close it out.”

The news was better in the other two games with the first place Green and Gold team. It only took two months but Brett Oberholtzer was finally rewarded for his hard work on July 28th with a four homer party by Chris Carter, Jason Castro, Mark Krauss, and Matt Dominguez in a 7-3 victory.

Dallas Keuchel improved his record to 10-7 with a complete game four hitter July 30th in an 8-1 victory. His lone boo-boo was a tater toss to Josh Donaldson. A six run first inning (highlighted by a Robbie Grossman 2-run blast) off Jason Hammel was more than enough support to allow Keuchel to get his fourth complete game of the season mere hours after a disastrous 9th inning collapse with Oakland.

For Dallas to lay claim to ten of Houston’s first 44 wins of 2014 that indeed speaks volumes.

“It was special just based on the fact that they have the best record in baseball,” Keuchel said. “They do a lot of things well. They don’t do a lot of things subpar. To get a complete game against them and get a win is something special in its own right.”

Toronto came into town the day of the trade deadline. Not content to be completely idle Houston pulled the trigger on a six player trade. Gone to Miami are RHP Jarred Cosart, IF Kike Hernandez, and OF Austin Wates in exchange for OF Jake Marisnick, IF Colin Moran, RHP Francis Martes, and a 2015 Competitive Balance Round A pick.

The first of a four game set against one of the few teams Houston has a winning record against (9-7) it was the Blue Jays who would make Houston relievers wince after placing Jake Buchanan into a spot start.

“You just have to roll with the punches,” said Buchanan, who went a solid five inning and had a lead, “They told me right at 3 o’clock. We were out for stretching, and I came back in and tried to lock it in and get ready to start.”

Four Blue Jays homers would prove to be the difference in a 6-5 Jays win, their sixth straight in 2014. A 5-3 Astros lead was given to the bullpen for the last two innings. Nolan Reimold homered in the 5th inning off Buchanan. Reimold went deep on the first offering from Chad Qualls in the 9th to erase a 5-5 tie.

Marc Krauss summed up the overall team effort on this night. A team somewhat bugabooed by injury to players like Dexter Fowler, George Springer, and Marwin Gonzalez.

“It’s tough,” Krauss said. “Jake battled and got through five and did a good job of mixing his pitches and giving us a chance. We got ahead early and couldn’t hold on and couldn’t get a couple of big hits at the end of the game to really stretch the lead even more. That’s frustrating, but that’s baseball.”

“It’s tough, but at the same time, we knew the shortage of our roster going into the game,” Porter said. “That’s part of it. We were able to get the ball to the guys we were able to get the ball to, but we were not able to get it done.”

Any special advice given to the team during this rough stretch?

“These guys have been faced with a lot of adversity, but at the same time, when the game starts, you strap it up and you battle with the people in the battle with you,” Porter said. “There’s nothing you can do with anybody who’s not here. That’s my mind-set, and I think our guys have the same mind-set.”

Heading into the weekend and the month of August starter Collin McHugh was trying to get his first win in over two months. He allowed only 1-run on five hits a la Scott Feldman earlier in the week. It would not be enough as journeyman ballplayer Gregorio Petit would strike an 8th inning homer off reliever Aaron Loup for a 3-1 Astros lead and eventual final score.

The lone drawback to this game. Petit’s wife couldn’t make the game due a severe headache. Toiling in the minors for half a decade since being drafted back in 2002, a bittersweet moment after a week in the big leagues?

“I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time,” Petit said. “I’ve been battling a lot and showing my game a lot, and waiting for an opportunity. I’m just going to keep enjoying this and keep living this dream, and I don’t want to wake up. And I won’t.”

Leave it to hard luck hurler Collin McHugh to offer some great words of encouragement about Petit.

“Petit is one of my good friends and to see him be able to come through like that late in the game, big game like this, it was awesome,” McHugh said. “It was fun to watch. He deserves all the credit. He’s been working hard for all these years and to see him get a shot is fun.”

And after three poor outings in which seven runs were allowed Chad Qualls came out in the 9th to complete a save by the bullpen. One that threw two and two thirds scoreless innings to start August.

Coming into play August 2nd Houston’s record stood at 45-65. Win 45 in 2013 didn’t happen until September 1. A win Saturday night and the record improved to 46-65. A number not reached until September 4 in 2013.

What transpired last night was, in my estimation a statement game. Perhaps a truly complete game if there is such a thing. The night was cool, the roof at Minute Maid was open on an August night for the first time since August 6 2004 and…Brett Oberholtzer was on the mound.

He was dealing!

Seven innings tossed after a shaky start, only two runs while scattering six hits improving his record to 4-7. Remember when someone here stated you would see a new man on the mound once included back into the starting rotation?

Take away the hard luck 0-6 start. In his last eight starts Oberholtzer has gone 4-1 with an ERA at 3.08. Houston was enjoyed a 6-2 mark in those games.

A two hit night for Jose Altuve. He also rattled R.A. Dickey with an errant pickoff throw, scoring from first after the relay to third was also bobbled.

Chris Carter had a three night including his 22nd homer of the season. His nine homers since July 1 the most in all of baseball. Jason Castro smacked a two run blast in the 8th inning of Brett Cecil to put the game away 8-2. Even Jon Singleton got himself an inside-the-park-homer after an out call at home plate was challenged.

Robbie Grossman flashed some epic leather robbing Juan Francisco of a two run home run in the eighth. LJ Hoes in the 9th inning channeled his inner Derek Jeter as he dove into the stands to snag a foul popup for an out.

Coming into Sunday’s game Houston now enjoys an 11-8 advantage over the Jays, 7-2 at Minute Maid Park. Even after a horrendous start with the Marlins this homestand to have a chance at a .500 run for ten games tells me one thing about team Porter in 2014.

Even when the bullpen has been shaky, there is no quit!

August 3 will mark the 20th start of the year for Scott Feldman (4-8). If anyone is due for a little karmic reversal it’s this ex-Ranger! Feldman will go up against Marcus Stroman (7-2).

If it seems like homers happen more with the Jays and Astros they do rank first and third in the AL 134-123. Baltimore sits second with 130.

When the Astros hit three homers in a game this year they are 12-1! Houston was first in the AL with 32 July jacks.

Now with a two and a half game cushion out of the cellar and with the Rangers doing casting calls for 2015 look for Houston to try to play .500 ball, maybe a little better to get to the 70-75 win mark. It is highly unlikely that we see a 15 game skid this time around to end September.

Dallas Keuchel getting to 15 wins, maybe 16 is very likely. Brett Oberholtzer can reach 10-12 in a second half that will garner some attention in the larger markets. Oh yes, keep an eye on this new call-up from Oklahoma City with the 99 mph heater. 22 year old Michael Foltynewicz who at 6′ 4″ 220 lbs has the look of a potential closer or devastating set-up man in the 8th innings of games.

Houston gets a day off Monday before hitting the City Of Brotherly Love for three games. The Astros then return home to play three with the Texas Rangers.

August 2 will be a date to remember. A date and a game that illustrates how tough the Astros will be to beat when the pitching is on, Jose Altuve gets on base and three batters go deep.

Jose Altuve continues his assault on a new hit record for the team, leading the AL with 154 hits,  a batting average at .339 and 43 stolen bases. In his last 15 games Jose has reached base in 14 of those games hitting .363 (24 for 66). Altuve has a chance to become the first Astro to win a batting title.

Flying under the radar and still improving.

Upcoming Schedule
8/5   @Phillies      6:05 p.m.
8/6   @Phillies      6:05 p.m.
8/7   @Phillies      6:05 p.m.
8/8   vs Rangers   7:10 p.m.
8/9   vs Rangers   6:10 p.m.
8/10 vs Rangers   1:10 p.m.