The Runner Sports

Astros Display Playoff Lineup And Bullpen Blueprint In 5th Straight Win

Having clinched the American League Western Division crown Sunday, September 17, the Houston Astros fielded a likely postseason lineup (at least against right-handed pitchers) in Tuesday’s 3-1 win over the Chicago White Sox.

The Astros have won eight in a row at home and are 34 games over .500, tying their best mark of the season. The winning streak started, you may recall, in Tampa Bay, as Houston was the home team, in a relocated series made necessary by Hurricane Harvey. Coincidentally enough, the Astros last won 8+ straight home games in Sept. 2008, a streak that was snapped in Milwaukee as the home team, in a relocated series due to Hurricane Ike.

The Astros’ fifth straight win also ended up giving anyone with a clipboard and a Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians, or New York Yankees all-access pass reason to take notes. Manager A.J. Hinch’s bullpen maneuvering ended up mirroring the likely relief pitching chess moves he’ll prefer when the playoffs begin October 5 (after three days off following the season-ending four-game series against the Sox in Boston).

Granted, the names may change to protect the ineffective, but generally, a starter going five innings (as Collin McHugh did Tuesday), and four relievers –each pitching one inning each– closing the game out cleanly the last four innings, is the textbook way many wins have looked this season for the Astros. And, if Hinch has his way, it’s how he’d like each playoff game to play out, matchup maven that he is.

McHugh needed 87 pitches to complete his five innings, just over 17 pitches an inning average. Needing 100 pitches (or thereabouts) just to get to the 5th inning has been a curious and troubling trend for Houston’s starting rotation this season.

McHugh (3-2), pitched for the first time since leaving his start at Oakland, September 8, after only three innings because of a fingernail injury. He held the White Sox to one run and five hits to improve to a personal 14-0 in September/October regular-season games since 2014.

Will Harris, Luke Gregerson, and Chris Devenski all earned holds, before yielding the mound to closer, Ken Giles, who picked up his 32nd save, tied for 4th-best in the league. These four yielded just one hit, and struck out nine in their four combined scoreless innings. The bullpen, which entered Tuesday with an MLB-worst 7.66 ERA in September, will be looked upon, come October, as a key part of any success the Astros may enjoy.

“I know I have a lot of faith and trust in these guys,” Hinch said following the win. “They’re going to be important down the stretch if we want to win as many games as we can in the regular season. I know they’re going to be very, very important in October, and we have a lot of options, and I think that the more that we can instill some confidence in these guys and get some regular work out of some of these guys, the better they’ll be.”

The First of Many Upcoming Awards for Altuve

Jose Altuve matched his career-high homer total of 24, Tuesday night, shortly after being awarded, in a pre-game ceremony, the 2017 Lou Gehrig Award, given annually to the player who best exemplifies the giving character of the legendary Yankee Iron Horse.

Super Springer in Another Bobblehead Moment

On his 28th birthday, George Springer scored the third run of the game in a spectacular way in the 8th inning, in a call-back to his cape-wearing, diving catch bobblehead game giveaway last Saturday.

At third base with one out, Altuve topped a grounder to White Sox third baseman, Yolmer Sanchez, who promptly threw Altuve out at first. On the throw, Springer broke for home, with Sox first baseman, Jose Abreu, throwing a strike to catcher, Kevan Smith, in hopes of nailing Springer.

The home plate umpire stood motionless after Springer apparently missed the plate, just as Smith, on first glance, must have missed tagging Springer. Smith, after screaming and pointing from Sox reliever, Danny Farquhar, lunged toward the standing Astro, and applied the tag, registering the short-lived out. After official review, it was shown that Springer just did touch the plate with his left middle fingertip, as Smith indeed missed the original sweep tag.

Video: Watch Springer’s fingertip score for the Astros’ third run vs. White Sox

No Rest For the Best in the West

Resting starters and rolling out the September call-ups the rest of the way? Not a chance. Houston (92-58) is still in a dogfight with Cleveland (94-57) for best record (and thus home-field advantage in the playoffs) in the AL, and with the Indians doubling up the Angels Tuesday, 6-3, the Tribe still holds a 1.5 game lead over the Astros.

Brad Kyle

Brad Kyle

Brad Ramone with (L-R) Dee Dee, Johnny, and Joey Ramone, backstage at Houston's Liberty Hall, July, 1977.

Johnny, the Ramones' influential guitarist, who passed away in 2004 at 55, was an avid baseball and New York Yankees fan since childhood. He even once ranked baseball above rock'n'roll in a personal Top 10 List!

Like Johnny, my love for rock is only equaled by my love for baseball and my hometown Houston Astros, present and past!

At TRS, you'll get full Astros coverage, minor league peeks, player profiles, interviews, MLB historical perspective, and maybe a little rock'n'roll!
Brad Kyle