The Big 'Orange Wagon': Astros' streak at 11
Houston's bats stay hot, pound out 18 hits in opener win in Detroit
DETROIT -- When he was playing for the Braves and the Dodgers in the mid-1970s, Dusty Baker got well acquainted with the Cincinnati Reds -- the star-studded team that won back-to-back World Series titles in 1975 and '76 and earned the moniker the Big Red Machine.
No one is ready to put the 2021 Astros in the same category as that legendary Reds club, but Baker’s team is playing so well, and is on such a roll offensively, that he suggested Houston should perhaps have a nickname of its own after it won its 11th consecutive game by pounding Detroit, 12-3, in Thursday night's series opener at Comerica Park.
“We’re not quite the Big Red Machine, but maybe we’re the Orange Wagon or something,” Baker said. “We’re approaching some historical numbers and figures as far as hitting is concerned. … Right now, they’re as good as it gets.”
The Astros (47-28), who are a Major League-best 20-4 since May 30, will try to match the franchise record of 12 consecutive wins Friday behind left-hander Framber Valdez, who’s won four straight starts. Houston has won 15 of its past 17 games.
“It’s definitely been a lot of fun,” said shortstop Carlos Correa, who’s slashing .410/.531/.769 during the winning streak. “Seeing everybody happy after every game, it’s what you want to see from your ballclub. Everybody is putting great at-bats together. We’re controlling the strike zone really well.”
The Astros earned their first win over former manager A.J. Hinch, whose Tigers swept them at Minute Maid Park in April. Houston scored only eight runs in three games in that series, but it matched that total by the fifth inning Thursday.
The Astros are averaging 7.1 runs per game over their past 24 contests and 8.5 runs per game during their winning streak. They’ve reached double-digit runs five times in the past 11 games, including three of the past four. Houston has bashed 35 hits over the past two games, and on Thursday, it went 18-for-45 (.400) against Detroit pitching, loading the bases in six of the nine innings.
"Obviously, you hit guys or they draw walks, and then all of a sudden you make an error or two and they're going to exploit it,” Hinch said. “They're one of the best offenses in the league. If you can avoid those miscues, you're going to have a lot better chance of keeping their run scoring down. We didn't do any of that tonight, and then they had the knockout punch with the big homer at the end."
Even without injured third baseman Alex Bregman and star second baseman Jose Altuve (day off), the Astros’ offense chugged along with an 18-hit attack behind Correa (3-for-4, three RBIs), first baseman Yuli Gurriel (3-for-5) and center fielder Myles Straw (4-for-6). Houston has scored 93 runs during its 11-game tear, capped Thursday by a ninth-inning grand slam from Yordan Alvarez.
“It’s amazing,” Astros catcher Martín Maldonado said. “It’s hard to describe, because we’re supporting each other and we believe in each other. Everybody is getting good at-bats and passing the baton to the next guy. That inning where Alvarez hit the grand slam, Yuli walked. We’re seeing the ball really good as a team and just believing in each other."
But Houston’s starting pitching has been every bit as impressive as its bats. Right-hander Luis Garcia (6-4) threw six innings, allowing two runs on seven hits and two walks while striking out five. He’s 6-1 with a 2.33 ERA over his past eight starts.
Astros starters have a 2.71 ERA and 16 quality starts in 24 games since May 30, and Houston’s defense has been terrific, too. Still, Baker isn't completely satisfied.
“We left  men on base, left the bases loaded three or four times,” Baker said. “That’s not clicking on all cylinders, especially because we had the bases loaded with one out a couple of times and didn’t get anybody in. … Plus, one of our main cylinders is out in Bregman. We get Bregman back and we keep doing what we’re doing, then we’ll be clicking on all cylinders.”