It was a bleak ending to an otherwise terrific first half for the Astros, who dropped a 4-3 decision to Oakland on Sunday afternoon at Minute Maid Park to hit the All-Star break at 59-32. Astros manager Dusty Baker said the break comes at a good time for a team he says is tired and is clearly missing two key bats in All-Star slugger Yordan Alvarez (hand) and steady Michael Brantley (shoulder).
“It is disappointing, even though [the A’s] play a lot better on the road than they do at home,” Baker said. “It seems like whenever we had a miscue or any kind of thing, they took advantage of it. It was a tough one to lose. We wanted to enter this break on a positive [note], but now we don’t have much choice other than to regroup and get it back together when we start in the second [half].”
Baker, his entire coaching staff and three players -- Justin Verlander, Kyle Tucker and Framber Valdez -- boarded a charter flight to Los Angeles after the game to represent the AL in Tuesday’s All-Star Game (Jose Altuve and Alvarez opted not to attend for health reasons). It will be a quick turnaround out of the break for the Astros, who will play a makeup doubleheader against the Yankees on Thursday in Houston before heading to Seattle for what now looms as a big weekend series.
“We’re in first place with a good lead,” said starting pitcher Jake Odorizzi, who gave up three runs in 5 1/3 innings Sunday. “We’re all happy with what [the record] is, and I know I’m happy about it. It’s what our goal is, to win a division and we positioned ourselves well in the first half, especially with other teams in the division playing really well towards the end, too. The fact we maintained this type of a lead with the team below us having won  in a row, that’s pretty impressive to keep that gap.”
Despite going 6-5 against the Royals, Angels and A’s to end the first half, the Astros outperformed expectations in the season’s first 3 1/2 months. They went 21-15 against teams with a winning record, including a 7-2 stretch against the Yankees and Mets last month that served as a reminder they remain one of baseball’s elite teams.
“We had a good first half and are a good team,” outfielder Chas McCormick said. “We got a little tired at the end, but that’s what the All-Star break is for. Let’s keep it going into the second half. I thought we played really well as a team -- bullpen did great and pitchers did amazing. Hopefully, we can get Brantley and Alvarez back for the second half and hit it hard from there.”
The Astros hope to get Alvarez back on Thursday and will cross their fingers that Brantley will be back by the end of July, as well. There’s hope pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. can return to the rotation, but the Astros have solid starting pitching depth led by Verlander and Valdez.
“Hopefully, we get Alvarez back in the Yankees' series,” Baker said. “You can do without anybody for a period of time, but over time, you do miss the big bat of Yordan and you do miss the steady bat and play of Michael.”
As well as the Astros performed in the first half of the season, they won’t be content standing pat. Expect Houston to be active at the Aug. 2 Trade Deadline to bolster its chances of reaching the AL Championship Series for the sixth year in a row. The Astros are expected to be in the market for a backup catcher, a bullpen arm or two and a bat capable of playing in the outfield.
“Things will go our way after the break,” Baker said. “Like I said, I think the break came right on time for us. We’re a little spent after coming back from Anaheim [early Friday] and that late get-in. We start the second half tough, but it seems like the tougher the task, the better they respond.”
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