KAZ’S KORNER

 

 

 

The Houston Astros have been on top of the major league baseball world for the last two seasons, winning the American League West Division handily with more than 100 victories, making the postseason playoffs and even winning the World Series and doing it without any major injuries.

So many franchises have had their seasons turned upside down by season-ending injuries to their best players and finished the season much lower in the standings than predicted on the preseason polls.

But the Astros just kept rolling along with one of baseball’s best pitching staffs, defensive and offensive teams that were near the top of the MLB, especially with home runs.

It looked like that all came to a screeching halt this month as slugging leadoff batter George Springer didn’t return from the disabled list when he was slow to rehabilitate.

The Astros’ best hitter Jose Altuve’s slight hamstring injury turned out to be more serious than first thought and ace reliever Collin McHugh went down with right elbow discomfort for more than a month.

Houston then nearly depleted their AAA affiliate Round Rock of its best players who were inserted into the Astros’ starting lineup.

The result was a franchise-tying seven-game losing streak where the Astros were swept by the lowly Reds in Cincinnati and had three straight weak offensive performances against New York at Yankee Stadium that gave the Pinstripers an eight-game winning streak.

It looked like Houston would break their streak Saturday night before a national television audience, leading 5-4 in the bottom of the seventh inning and bringing on almost hitless reliever Ryan Pressly, who went 32 games without giving up an earned run since last August earlier this season.

The Yankees reached Pressly for three runs—which are more than he gave up all season—and went on the win 7-5. The Astros loaded the bases in the ninth inning, but Tyler White hit a long fly to right field for the final out which may have foreshadowed things to come on Sunday.

Instead of taking it easy Sunday and regrouping on Monday’s off-day, the Astros came out like Gangbusters with Altuve ripping the third pitch of the game over the left field wall and then stretching a single into a two-bagger in the third inning and scoring on a single by hot-hitting Michael Brantley, doubling Houston’s 1-0 lead.

In the meantime, ace starter Justin Verlander mowed down the hard-hitting Yankees. Tyler White, who had only one extra base hit in 43 at-bats, came up with the bases loaded and ripped a grand slam home run over the right field fence, increasing the lead to 6-0. 

Slugging rookie Yordan Alvarez ripped a towering home run to right—his seventh in 13 games– to knock out starting pitcher Y.A. Happ. Yuli Gurriel greeted reliever Luis Cessa with a solo homer which upped the score to 9-0, giving the Astros four homers for the game.

Verlander, who had only given up three soft singles, made one bad pitch in his outing when DJ LeMahieu hit an opposite-field three-run homer in the bottom of the fifth inning. Houston rapped out 14 hits and won 9-4 as Verlander notched his 10th win of the season against three losses.

LeMahieu’s blast off Verlander marked the franchise-record 26th straight game with a home run, breaking the record of 25 set during Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak in 1941. The Texas Rangers hold the major league record of 27 set in 2002.

The Astros, who were leading the AL West by double digits before the slump, remained 6½ games ahead of the second place Texas Rangers going into last night’s game against the hapless Pittsburgh Pirates at Minute Maid Park. The team was hopeful Springer and McHugh would be activated for the game.

KWICKIES…Former Astros’ ace southpaw and Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel made his 2019 debut with the NL East Division leading Atlanta Braves last week but lost a hard-luck decision to the Washington Nationals 4-3. Keuchel held out until after June 2 when his new team didn’t have to give the Astros a No. 1 draft pick as compensation. His agent Scott Boras came to terms on a one-year $13 million deal on June 7, allowing Keuchel to join a contender while building value toward next winter’s free agency, when he hopefully will get the multi-year contract he was seeking this year.

The University of Connecticut is waiting for a formal invitation to rejoin the Big East Conference and leaving the American Athletic Conference, according to the Boston-based Digital Sports Base. The bone of contention is that the Big East does not offer football which UConn will not abandon. UConn will have to find another conference for just football. The AAC exit fee is $10 million and member schools are required to give 27 months notice. The fee would have to be negotiated if UConn leaves earlier than September 2022.

Chez Reavie, not exactly your household golf name, took a six-shot lead into Sunday’s final round of the PGA Tour Travelers Championship and won his first tournament in 11 years by four strokes over Keegan Bradley and Zack Sucher to capture the $1,296,000 winner’s share. Reavie last won the 2008 Canadian Open.

JUST BETWEEN US…The College World Series began this week with the No. 2 national seed Vanderbilt (57-11) meeting the Michigan Wolverines (49-20) in the best-of-three series that began Monday night in Omaha. The Commodores should be favored but Michigan is more familiar with TD Ameritrade Field, playing its ninth game in 34 days on that diamond. I like Vanderbilt to be crowned the National Champion after two games.