Astros Begin to Gain Momentum

Correa-Altuve

Photo: Gary Coronado, Staff

After a slow start to the 2016 season, the Houston Astros have finally picked up some momentum. On Wednesday night, the Astros collected back to back victories for the first time this season as they beat the Minnesota Twins in the rubber game of the series by a score of 16-4, improving their season record to 10-18. In what was only their second series victory of the season, the Astros are beginning to show signs that they are ready for a hot month of May.

Led by their All-Star second baseman, Jose Altuve, the Astros dominated Wednesday night in what was an onslaught from the start. After a six pitch, 1-2-3 inning to start the game by Mike Fiers, Altuve started the bottom of the first with a shot to right field on a 1-2 count. It was his fifth leadoff home run of the year, raising his team leading home run total to eight. Altuve finished the game going 3 for 5, with 3 RBI and a triple short of the cycle, raising his batting average 14 points to .306. Altuve’s 1.036 OPS is good for second in the American League. He also leads the AL in doubles and stolen bases. Look for Altuve to continue to carry the Astros’ offense and potentially make an appearance in this year’s AL MVP race.

Not to be outdone was Carlos Correa, who hit an opposite field home run in the bottom of the fourth inning, giving the Astros a 9-4 lead. It should be noted, however, that Altuve’s homer to right was 7 feet further. Who doesn’t enjoy a little friendly competition? After hitting three home runs in the first two games of the season, Correa finally hit his fourth of the year and seems to have finally broken out of his slump. Correa matched Altuve’s line of 3 hits in 5 at-bats and also missed the cycle by a triple, raising his batting average 18 points to .276. With a .388 OBP, Correa is still having good at-bats and Wednesday night just may be the start of a hot summer for the young star.

Perhaps the best performance of the night was that of Jason Castro, who hit his second home run in as many nights, drove in four runs, and nearly hit another home run in the one at-bat he didn’t get a hit. Castro is arguably the hottest hitter in baseball right now, and it’s not just luck. In three games vs. Minnesota, Castro went 5 for 9, walking three times and driving in five runs, raising his batting average from .151 to .210. While Castro’s average is still an eyesore, his .347 OBP shows his productivity at the catcher position is going to be valuable for the team going forward.

Aside from the offense, the pitching staff is also showing signs that April is a thing of the past. Since he was removed from the starting rotation, Scott Feldman has been dominant for the bullpen. In two outings, Feldman hasn’t given up a hit or a walk while striking out four batters over 5.0 innings.  Meanwhile, bullpen anchors Will Harris and Luke Gregerson, posting ERA’s of 0.71 and 1.64 respectively and neither of which have given up a home run, continue to be lights out for the Astros when needed. Ken Giles is joining in too, having pitched two solid outings in the Minnesota series while striking out two batters over 1.1 innings. Giles did not surrender a hit or a walk in either game, a promising sign seeing as he’s given up at least a hit in his first eight outings for his new club.

The Astros, 3-1 in the month of May, will look to build on their momentum starting Thursday night when the red hot Seattle Mariners visit Minute Maid Park for the first of a four-game series. The Mariners, who beat the Astros two out of three just over a week ago in Seattle, come into Houston leading the AL West with a 16-11 record and winners of three straight. Robinson Cano had a huge series against the division foe, going 5 for 12 with one walk, stroking two home runs, and collecting a whopping ten RBI. The Astros will catch a break, however, in that the one pitcher they won’t face is Felix Hernandez, who again is having a great season with a 2.21 ERA. Even without King Felix, the four-game series is sure to be an exciting one with the Astros trying to close the gap between last and first place in the AL West.

 

-R.A. Tackey (@reed_t12)

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