Royally Victorious!

The Astros pitching has improved and that's a good thing. Photo Courtesy: Rick Leal
The Astros pitching has improved and that’s a good thing. Photo Courtesy: Rick Leal

By Will Martin

There is something to be said about having no expectations put before you. You can fly under the radar. You can go about your business quietly, anonymously. You will probably get teased and mocked in the process. You will also grow and learn from the experience. This undoubtedly shall be the mantra for 2013 when speaking of the Houston Astros.

Cellar dwelling with no chance at doing anything special? Sure, you can go there. Not going to contend for anything but individual stats? Yeah, that’s true too. A perceived Triple A team playing in the big leagues? Say what you will. There’s still four months in the season remaining.

An eight game homestand began on May 20th with the Kansas City Royals. The crux of the Astros schedule has been A.L. West laden in the the early going so perhaps a change of division might do the team well.

Prior to meeting up with Oakland over the weekend the Astros have played .500 ball in the last week, actually winning four of seven. Six of those games decided by two runs or less. The Reid Ryan factor? Too soon to say.

Matt Dominguez had the hot bat while flashing the leather in the field as evidence in Monday Night’s 6-5 come-from behind win over the Royals. That came as somewhat of a relief for Dominguez.

“I was scuffling a little bit this last road trip [1-for-22], but I’m trying to figure some things out and be more consistent, and I’ve been able to get some big hits, and hopefully the average will be there by the end of the year,” Dominguez said. “The most important thing is to get the RBIs and the ‘W.'”

Dallas Keuchel was on the mound. As he got his first win of the season, the Astros are now 2-1 in his last three starts. This elicited a thought from skipper Bo Porter.

“Keuchel did a great job of attacking the zone and being very efficient with his pitches, and did a good job of pitching to both sides of the plate and using his offspeed stuff to induce ground-ball double plays,” manager Bo Porter said. “And the defense was tremendous tonight.”

The next night Bud Norris continued his mastery of pitching at home with six scoreless innings. Forced to leave due to back stiffness, the bullpen took over and Kansas City pounced for 6 runs in a 7-3 victory after Jimmy Paredes smacked a three run homer off starter Wade Davis.

For the record Bud Norris has the second best record at home for ERA since the start of 2012 at 1.78. Clayton Kershaw is at the top with 1.74. This year Norris’ home ERA is at 1.83 for six starts. Nor will you hear him mope about the relief pitching not supporting him either.

“They don’t need to hang their heads at all,” Norris said. “They know what they need to do and get back out there. They picked me up in Oakland [April 17], so I’m not worried about them. They’re all professionals. It’s just a tough one for us as a team, but we still have a chance to go out there and win the series tomorrow.”

Which is exactly what the Astros did. Against the tough James Shields Jordan Lyles went a solid 6 innings of allowing just 1 run while J.D. Martinez powered a 2 run home run-his 4th-in the 1st inning as Houston won the game, and the series 3-1.

Speaking of ERAs, the Houston Astros starting pitching in the week spoken of have a combined ERA of 2.21.

Closer Jose Veras was spot on with seven consecutive no-hit innings in seven appearances with six saves. In his last four appearances batters have hit a combined .091 (4 for 44). Their ERA in that span has been 1.26. A second sign of progress.

Then the weekend came with public enemy #1-The Oakland Athletics. A team who once upon a time played ball in Kansas City. 0-6 against the A’s in 2013 and 1-11 all time.

The holiday weekend was not kind as the Athletics would sweep Houston three straight. It should not have come to this. Friday night the starting pitching once again was good once Erik Bedard got past a 38 pitch 1st inning. Oakland has outscored Houston in the 1st inning 15-1. Bedard allowed only two despite five walks and hitting a batter.

A five run 5th with home runs by J.D. Martinez and Matt Dominguez staked the ‘Stros to a 5-2 lead. The lead remained at 5-3 going into the 9th and Jose Veras to close things out. For the first time since May 3rd against the Tigers, Veras got burned on the long ball to Houston native Chris Young. That and two walks as Oakland continued to haunt Houston winning 6-5 May 24th.

“You fall behind in counts, and you pay one day,” Veras said of the two walks. “That happened tonight. I fell behind the first two hitters and that cost us the game, not keeping control on those hitters.”

This took away from a solid night of relief from Wesley Wright and Paul Clemens before the 9th.

Saturday May 25th Lucas Harrell didn’t get out of the second inning and despite two homer games for both Jason Castro and Matt Domniguez (1st time since 7/25/05 with Lance Berkman and Craig Biggio) Houston fell 11-5 and again on Sunday to Bartolo Colon 6-2. In Saturday’s loss the A’s batted around in the second inning as a bunt by Seth Smith flustered Harrell before the floodgates arrived.

Dallas Keuchel got roughed up for six runs (four earned) in Sundays defeat despite a 4 hit day for Jason Castro. Castro went 10 for 12 in the series.

Oakland now a perfect 9-0 against the Houston Astros having outscored them 68-31. 53-30 after the first inning. The two teams don’t meet again until July 22nd.

Bartolo Colon a perfect 3-0 with 1.89 ERA against the Astros. His 40th birthday was on May 24th.

“Sometimes somebody is going to kick your butt and you’re going to kick their butt,” Astros pitcher Dallas Keuchel said. “They’ve got our number right now and we’ve got to do something about it. They’re a great team, but we can’t give them too much credit. We just have to play better.”

What could very easily have been a 4-2 homestand is reversed to 2-4 with Colorado in town for two starting Memorial Day. Both games start at 1:10 pm at Minute Maid Park.

14-36 record notwithstanding Houston has slugged ten home runs in the last seven games which is second in the majors right behind Baltimore with 16. A moral victory.

Some more moral victories:

The Astros lead the Majors in double plays turned with 64…offensively, they are seventh in the AL with 86 doubles as a club.

2B Jose Altuve ranks fourth in the Majors in batting among 2nd basemen with a .313 clip…he also leads all 2nd basemen in double plays (43) and is 4th in assists (133) and fielding pct. with a .995 clip (1 E in 217 TC).

With a 14-36 record after 50 games you look for every silver lining possible. Now let’s see how Houston does against the rest of the league with Oakland on hiatus for about 60 days.

Upcoming Schedule
5/27        Rockies   7:05 pm
5/28        Rockies   7:05 pm
5/29    @Rockies   7:40 pm
5/30    @Rockies   7:40 pm
5/31     @Angels     9:05 pm
6/1        @Angels     9:05 pm
6/2        @Angels     2:35 pm