You wouldn’t know it by their 8-2 record, but the Houston Astros took a few lumps on their latest road trip. After soaring to an eleven-game winning streak, the ‘Stros lost star pitcher Dallas Keuchel to the 10-day disabled list for the second time in as many months.
It was a crushing blow for a team coming off such a dominant stretch. One game prior to Keuchel’s injury, Houston was denied a record 12-game winning streak when the Kansas City Royals surged back from a 7-3 defecit. Rookie Reymin Guduan and sophomore James Hoyt combined to give up four runs in the eighth inning to tie the game. After the Astros failed to capitalize on a Yuli Gurriel single in the top of the ninth, they turned to closer Ken Giles to take the game into extra innings. The typically-steady Giles never found his footing, allowing two runs to score for a demoralizing 9-7 loss.
Keuchel was scratched from his scheduled start minutes before first pitch on Wednesday. Scrambling to cover his innings, manager AJ Hinch turned to Dayan Diaz and the bullpen. Diaz, who had been recalled from the AAA Fresno Grizzlies earlier that day, lasted 2 2/3 innings and yielded three earned runs in his emergency start. His overtaxed colleagues didn’t fare much better, as relief stalwarts Tony Sipp and Michael Feliz each allowed two earned runs. The deficit was too much for the Astros bats, and the team lost its second in a row despite a four-hit performance from Brian McCann.
The ‘Stros needed a strong showing from Lance McCullers Jr. on Thursday to escape Kansas City with a series split. The budding ace delivered, twirling seven dominant frames and saving the bullpen from additional stress. McCullers didn’t allow a hit until the seventh inning, and held the Royals to just one run while punching out eight. That gave the Houston offense plenty to work with. Although no player recorded multiple hits in the game, nine individual batters contributed a base knock to the team win. Jose Altuve’s ninth home run of the year, a majestic 430-foot blast to center field, punctuated a five-run ninth inning. Houston won by a final score of 6-1.
The Astros kick off a nine-game home stand tonight with a three-game set against the Los Angeles Angels. The Angels are in second place in the AL West, but they sit a distant 13 games behind the ‘Stros. Any Angels hopes for a big series in Houston took a hit when superstar Mike Trout tore a ligament in his thumb last week – the reigning MVP will miss the next five to seven weeks as he recovers.
Tonight is Star Wars Night at Minute Maid. Let’s hope the force is with Brad Peacock (3-0, 2.30 ERA) as he makes his fourth start of the year.
Four On The Floor
It’s not just Keuchel who has struggled with his health this season – a whopping four Astros starters are currently on the disabled list. In addition to Keuchel, the ‘Stros are without the services of Collin McHugh (elbow impingement), Joe Musgrove (shoulder discomfort), and Charlie Morton (lat strain).
Martes Makes It
Prior to Thursday’s game, Astros top pitching prospect Francis Martes was recalled from AAA Fresno to give the Houston bullpen a shot in the arm. Like fellow recent call-up David Paulino, Martes struggled in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League this season, pitching to an unsightly 5.29 ERA in eight starts and walking 7.8 batters per nine innings. Nonetheless, the 21-year-old righty is well-regarded by Major League evaluators – he checked in at #15 on the MLB.com list of 2017’s top 100 minor league prospects. Ailing pitcher Collin McHugh was transferred to the 60-day DL to make room on the roster for Martes’ debut.
Trade Winds Blowing?
The rash recent of pitching injuries may have GM Jeff Luhnow looking ahead to the July 31 trade deadline. Though Houston could benefit from increased production at first base (where Yuli Gurriel’s 100 wRC+ ranks third-last among qualified AL first basemen), Luhnow could feel pressure to add some depth to his depleted rotation. Top trade targets may include Jose Quintana of the White Sox, Gerrit Cole of the Pirates, Alex Cobb of the Rays, or Sonny Gray of the Athletics. The Astros’ well-stocked farm system boasts the prospect depth to swing a deal for any of those high-ceiling hurlers.