“We’re very close to beating that team”, former Angels manager Joe Maddon said in April regarding the Houston Astros.
Nearly 3 months later, the tables have turned in a drastic way.
The Angels, trying to build up from square one after entering the series 10-20 in their last 30 games, came into Houston and got completely run out of town. The Astros completed a statement sweep this weekend, removing any and all doubt that they are the class of their division. They won the series opener 8-1 on Friday, following that up with a 9-1 shellacking the next afternoon, and topping it all off with an especially satisfying 4-2 walk-off win in the finale. The Angels slid to 4th place and 14.5 games back of the division lead, a far cry from where they were in the opening month of the season. They used to be neck-and-neck with Houston at the top of the division not too long ago, and now they’re completely out of their radar.
Houston’s lineup was an almost constant threat to the Angels’ pitching this series, plating 21 runs across the 3 games. They hit .314 as a team with 10 home runs, while Angels pitchers limped to a 9.94 starters’ ERA. What’s particularly impressive is the production they got from everywhere in the batting order.
Martin Maldonado came through with a surprising multi-homer performance in game 2, while Jake Meyers drove in a couple of runs in bases-loaded situation less than a day after going deep in the series opener. Chas McCormick had a home run in each of the first 2 games as well, and if he and Meyers keep hitting at this rate, the organization will be faced with tough decisions when Michael Brantley returns from injury.
He had been slightly underwhelming after being moved up to the top of the order, but Sunday was Jeremy Pena’s day. He homered twice, getting the Astros on the board in the 4th inning against Angels starter Jose Suarez, as well as a game-ending 2-run shot in the 9th off of Ryan Tepera. The walk-off was poetic justice in motion, considering the accusations Tepera leveled against the team regarding their cheating scandal back in 2021. Pena had 2 singles on top of his 2 home runs to add to his already impressive case for AL Rookie of the Year.
In additional news, Yordan Alvarez was activated and put back into the lineup as a DH for games 2 and 3 of this series. He went a combined 1-8 with a double and 2 strikeouts, which is to be expected after suffering a scary-looking head injury as he did. The rest of the lineup picked him up and then some; Alvarez’s performance this series should be of no worry to Astros fans whatsoever.
Pitching and Defense
The Astros’ rotation is getting tougher to beat every day. Cristian Javier, Jose Urquidy, and Framber Valdez were the starting pitchers in this series, and they pitched to a collective 1.89 ERA while striking out a whopping 35 batters across the 3 games. Javier continued his torrid stretch on the mound, following up 7 no-hit innings in the Bronx with a stellar 7-inning, 14-strikeout, 1-hit performance in the series opener; a solo home run by Shohei Ohtani was all that the Angels could muster against him.
Urquidy also looked encouraging on the mound, allowing just a single run on 2 hits on Saturday. He threw a career-high 104 pitches and struck out Mike Trout 3 times, carving up the Angels’ lineup with his 4-pitch mix. He threw his curveball 15 times in the outing and it didn’t get put in play once. The fact that this statline might be the worst of the Astros’ starters this weekend says a lot, as Framber Valdez turned in 13 strikeouts of his own across 6 innings on Sunday. He walked 5 and had to deal with runners on base in every inning except the 5th, but only surrendered 2 runs in the end.
The bullpen was completely spotless, pitching 8 scoreless frames. Enoli Paredes pitched 2 innings, and the Astros also got a scoreless inning each out of Bryan Abreu, Phil Maton, Seth Martinez, Hector Neris, Rafael Montero, and Ryan Pressly. Ryne Stanek, who has an ERA on the season of 0.69 and a 20-inning scoreless streak, was not needed at all in this series. Neris, Montero, and Pressly came in after Valdez on Sunday to help give the Astros a franchise record 20 strikeouts in a 9-inning game.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Astros made 2 errors this series: a fielding error on Yuli Gurriel, and a throwing error on Jeremy Pena. Kyle Tucker recorded an outfield assist from right field in game 3, but perhaps the most impressive defensive play of the series came from catcher Martin Maldonado, who showed incredible baseball IQ to stay backing up first base after Taylor Ward singled, and tagged him out when he stepped off the bag.
Maldonado’s BaseballReference page is an eyesore to say the least, but plays like these make it clear as to why he’s still so revered by his pitching staff, his coaches, and the front office.
The Astros sent a loud message to the rest of the league with this sweep. They were a nightmare for the Angels’ rotation each game, and their pitching staff was racking up strikeouts at a record pace. They showed yet again that they have the talent to go up against anyone in baseball, and they now have even more good momentum going into the final 2 weeks before the All-Star break, sitting at 51-27.
They will take on the Royals next for a 4-game series at home. Kansas City boasts the 2nd-worst record in the American League, and the Astros took 2 out of 3 against them on the road at the beginning of June. These all project to be winnable games for Houston, and their objective of widening their already-massive lead in the AL West remains the same. As per TheScore, Jake Odorizzi is expected to make his return from injury on the mound tomorrow afternoon, meaning a roster move will have to be made, which could affect the rotation for the rest of the series.