HOUSTON -- Simply put, it was one of the most impressive stretches of pitching for the Astros in recent history, and the fact it came during a grueling stretch against the two teams with the best records in the American League and the National League is what made it so remarkable.
The Astros, who have opened up a season-high 11 1/2-game lead atop the AL West, finished a nine-game stretch against the two New York clubs with a 7-2 record -- they went 4-0 against the Mets and 3-2 against the Yankees. Houston (48-27) is the only team so far this year to have a winning record against the Bronx Bombers (56-21), who are on pace for 119 wins.
“Our pitching and bullpen have done a really good job,” Bregman said. ”Our catchers have done a really good job. They attack the strike zone and keep us on our toes on defense, and we’ve done a good job playing defense, as well.”
How good was Houston’s pitching during the nine-game stretch? The Astros posted a 2.21 ERA and a .162 batting average against in the nine games, which included a combined no-hitter of the Yanks on Saturday. But it was the starting pitching that set the tone. Houston starters had a 1.52 ERA and a .138 batting average against, allowing 28 hits and 10 earned runs (five homers) in 59 1/3 innings.
“They've done a good job of, for the most part, holding us down and … that's going to happen sometimes against good teams,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “We'll learn from all this and hopefully gain important information from facing their guys. We got to face all [five] starters. Hopefully, we make good use of the experience we get from facing them."
Astros starters had a nine-game stretch from May 2-11 in which they had a 1.01 ERA, but that came against the Mariners, Tigers and Twins. Pitching that well against the Mets and Yankees is another story. And it wasn’t an accident.
The Astros, beginning with their analytics department and veteran catchers Martín Maldonado and Jason Castro, put together a terrific game plan that their pitchers executed with near perfection. Houston never trailed at any point in the nine games, with the exception of the walk-off hits by Aaron Judge on June 23 and Sunday that accounted for the Astros’ only losses during the stretch.
“Maldy followed the game plan a few times and he improvised in need,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “Whenever you kind of shut their offense down, that’s one of the best offenses around. The pitching was outstanding. The bullpen was very good. The games we lost up there, we didn’t have a fresh bullpen like we had today.”
Prior to each game, the starting catcher gets a game plan from the analytics crew, and he goes over the game plan and scouting report with that day’s starter. The pitchers have bought into the game plans completely, and the trust they have in their catchers is apparent.
“I feel like I’ve been blessed that those guys really believe in me and the work I put in, and they can just focus on executing pitches,” Maldonado said.
The Astros pitched the Yankees aggressively to try to limit walks and make them beat them with their sticks. While losing, 7-6, on June 23 in New York when the Yankees scored four runs in the ninth inning, walks to Giancarlo Stanton and Gleyber Torres by Ryan Pressly preceded a game-tying three-run homer by Aaron Hicks.
“I think we did a pretty good job executing pitches, and the days we didn’t execute, we paid for it,” Maldonado said. “I feel like playing the Yankees, we’re more laser-focused, including position players and pitchers and including myself.”
Pressly closed out Thursday’s win with a 1-2-3 ninth and has retired all nine batters he’s faced since giving up a walk-off single to Judge a week ago, going 3-for-3 in save chances.
“They’ve got some dudes that can swing it really well over there,” he said. “It’s a well-prepared team. Every time you face them, you’ve got to come in and execute your pitches and believe in yourself and believe in Maldy and Castro behind the dish. This pitching staff, this series and this whole time in New York, has been unbelievable.”