February 3, 2023

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Taking stock of Astros' 5-4 trip to open '22

4 min read
Houston heading home, looking for offense to break out in near future
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SEATTLE — Prior to Sunday’s game at T-Mobile Park, Astros manager Dusty Baker spoke about his desire to win the series finale against the Mariners, making the case that a 6-3 road trip would feel much better on the long flight home than a 5-4 trip.

Alas, the Mariners topped the Astros, 7-2, on Sunday afternoon to take two of three games from the defending American League champions. But Houston’s season-opening swing through Anaheim, Phoenix and Seattle wasn’t a lost cause.

The Astros, most of whom haven’t been home since prior to the start of Spring Training, will head to Houston for their home opener Monday against the Angels. Perhaps a return to Minute Maid Park, where Houston went 51-30 in the regular season last year, will get its slow-starting offense cooking.

“We wanted more, but we’ve got what we’ve got,” Baker said. “It seems like it’s been a road trip since the start of Spring Training, but we’re going to go home and regroup.”

Here’s a look back at the nine-game road trip.

What went right?
The Astros pitched pretty well overall, despite giving up 11 runs on Friday in Seattle and starter José Urquidy getting tagged for six earned runs in four innings Sunday in his second start. Houston’s pitching staff posted a 3.22 ERA, including a 3.07 mark from its starters and a 3.41 mark from its bullpen. Those are better numbers than the staff posted last year.

The biggest bright spot on the mound was ace Justin Verlander dealing eight scoreless innings with eight strikeouts and no walks Saturday against the Mariners in his second start coming off Tommy John surgery. If there were any doubts Verlander couldn’t still pitch at an elite level, that took care of that.

Lefty Framber Valdez was terrific on Opening Day (6 2/3 scoreless innings vs. the Angels), but he walked five batters in three innings Wednesday at Arizona. Valdez and Verlander accounted for the only two quality starts on the trip.

Meanwhile, rookie shortstop Jeremy Peña, who took over for Carlos Correa, started in each of the first eight games and was terrific. He had the three hardest-hit balls in Saturday’s game in Seattle and heads to Houston with a .345 average, a .996 OPS and three three-hit games under his belt. He also has three defensive runs saved and looks like he belongs.

What went wrong?
As a whole, the Astros’ offense was abysmal. They slashed .208/.289/.372, averaging 3.4 runs per game. They scored 31 total runs, and eight of those came in one inning in the second game of the year in Anaheim. Houston is hitting .191 with runners in scoring position.

“Obviously, we would all love to get off to a fast start, but it’s a long season and that’s why you play 162 games,” third baseman Alex Bregman said. “I’m confident this team will be very, very, very good offensively this year. A lot of us are notorious slow starters. Give it time.”

Bregman is hitting .233, including 1-for-16 in his past five games, while Yuli Gurriel (4-for-24), Jose Altuve (5-for-32 with 10 strikeouts) and Kyle Tucker (4-for-33) have also each gotten off to slow starts.

“We’ve got some big bats that aren’t big right now that are going to be big, because these guys can hit,” Baker said. “I’m not worried about that.”

The starting pitching — other than Verlander and Valdez — has been inconsistent, but the starters figure to begin working deeper into games as the month progresses and they build up their pitch counts after a shortened spring.

What’s next?
Finally, the Astros will play before their home fans at Minute Maid Park when they face the Angels on Monday. Houston and Oakland are the only teams to not have played a game at home yet. The Astros were originally scheduled to start the season at home, but the lockout forced a rescheduling of their first six games.

“It’s going to be nice to sleep in our beds,” Bregman said.

The Astros will be presented with their 2021 AL championship rings prior to Monday’s game and the pennant will be unveiled. That should set the stage for an intriguing series in which they’ll face Shohei Ohtani for the second time in Wednesday’s finale.

Yordan Alvarez, who hasn’t played in a week because of an illness, could return to the lineup Monday after working out with the Astros the previous two days.

The Blue Jays come to town this upcoming weekend, which means George Springer could play his first games in Minute Maid Park as an opposing player. Springer — the 2017 World Series MVP who signed with Toronto following the 2020 season — was injured when the Blue Jays came to Houston last year.

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