Astros: Five key takeaways from bounceback Giants series

HOUSTON, TEXAS - AUGUST 12: Zack Greinke #21 of the Houston Astros pitches in the first inning against the San Francisco Giants at Minute Maid Park on August 12, 2020 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TEXAS - AUGUST 12: Zack Greinke #21 of the Houston Astros pitches in the first inning against the San Francisco Giants at Minute Maid Park on August 12, 2020 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /

The Houston Astros grabbed a much-needed series win against the Giants.

After a dispiriting showing in Oakland, with the team’s takedown of the charging Ramon Laureano its only real highlight, the Houston Astros came home licking their wounds fresh off getting swept. Things looked in danger of slipping away, so they needed to bounce back at home against the Giants, and they certainly did.

Behind some excellent starting pitching, the Astros took two of three from San Francisco to improve to 8-10 on the season and remain a half game out of second place in the AL West. The offense looked alive again, although the bullpen still has some rather big holes, as that’s the only thing that kept the team from completing the sweep.

Lance McCullers, Jr led the way in the series opener on Monday, taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning. Brandon Bielak pitched well on Tuesday, but the bullpen blew a four-run lead and the Astros lost yet another extra-inning game. But Zack Greinke stepped up on Wednesday to lead the team to a win in the rubber match.

The Astros will enjoy a day off on Thursday before hosting the Mariners for three games. Unfortunately it will be the team’s last day off until Aug. 31, which is a stretch of 17 straight days with a game. In the meantime, here are our five key takeaways from this series.

Greinke the Undisputed Ace

In the absence of the injured Justin Verlander, Greinke is looking like the bona fide ace of this staff. He dropped his season ERA to 2.53 with Wednesday’s win and has had a brilliant run over his past three starts. He’s definitely been more consistent than anyone else in the rotation.

Beyond that, he’s quickly become one of my favorite Astros. He’s now taken to occasionally calling his own pitches, giving signs to the catcher or in some cases even speaking them aloud. He’s just a different kind of personality and is easy to like, and it helps that he continues to pitch effectively despite age and lost velocity.

Raley a Hidden Gem

GM James Click snagged lefthander Brooks Raley after he was designated for assignment by the Reds, and so far that move has paid off handsomely. He’s made two appearances and totaled two innings of scoreless pitching with a pair of strikeouts.

The 32-year-old journeyman spent the past five seasons pitching in Korea, but the Uvalde native and Texas A&M grad is back in his home state. Perhaps he’ll join rookie Blake Taylor to form a quality tandem of southpaws in this still-assembling Astros bullpen.

James, Sneed Slipping

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Injured hurlers Brad Peacock, Chris Devenski and Jose Urquidy are on the mend and could be returning fairly soon. That means a few pitchers could be on their way out, and right now it’s looking like Josh James and Cy Sneed are in danger of losing their roster spots.

James coughed up four runs in his relief outing on Monday after being credited with a blown save in the Oakland series. Sneed has been scored upon in four of his last five outings, three of which were in extra innings. With guys like Taylor, Andre Scrubb and Enoli Paredes pitching better, these two need to string some better outings together.

Resurgent Reddick

One thing that’s flying under the radar is the recent performance of Josh Reddick. He hit second in all three games of this series, going 4-for-10 with two walks, two doubles and two RBIs. He’s now third on the team in batting average, trailing only Carlos Correa and Michael Brantley.

This is something to keep an eye on, as Yordan Alvarez’s return appears imminent. With Kyle Tucker hitting only .209, manager Dusty Baker is going to have to figure out how to allocate playing time between Reddick and Tucker. If Reddick keeps hitting like this, he’ll force Baker’s hand.

Machete the Clutch

No one’s going to mistake Martin Maldonado for Johnny Bench at the plate, but of course that’s not why the team signed him. Still, even though he won’t win any batting titles, the hits he does get seem to be of the clutch variety.

He drove in five runs in this series, including hitting a big three-run homer on Wednesday. He’s only hitting .209 on the season but has 12 RBIs, which is one behind Alex Bregman for the team lead. He’s also been drawing walks at an impressive rate here in the early going. We’ll see how well he can keep this up, because it’s making quite a difference.