HOUSTON -- The Astros won another game Sunday afternoon, which doesn't qualify as news that will rattle many coffee cups. But sometimes, the way a team wins a couple of games -- that it somehow finds a way to win them -- says plenty about the team itself.Maybe that's the
HOUSTON -- The Astros won another game Sunday afternoon, which doesn't qualify as news that will rattle many coffee cups. But sometimes, the way a team wins a couple of games -- that it somehow finds a way to win them -- says plenty about the team itself.
Maybe that's the lesson of a weekend in which the Astros won two of three against the Padres, running their record to 8-2 before they headed to the Twin Cities for a three-game series beginning Monday.
"I think it's important to find ways to win games [that] maybe you're not supposed to win, or you're not in position to win, or something out of the ordinary," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "It's good for your morale."
Hinch's team's morale should be fine after getting a weird 1-0, 10-inning victory on Saturday, when the Padres were unable to catch an infield pop fly, allowing the winning run to score.
Compared to that one, Sunday's 4-1 victory was pretty normal. Backup catcher Max Stassi hit a three-run home run, and Charlie Morton and two relievers combined on a four-hitter.
Stassi's home run came in the bottom of the fifth inning and ended a stretch in which the Astros -- the team that led the Majors in runs last season -- had scored two runs in 23 innings. In the end, though, a win is a win is a win.
At the moment, it's mostly about the starting pitching, which has a 1.83 ERA, second-lowest in the Majors. The Astros lead MLB in innings and strikeouts, and are fifth with a 1.14 WHIP.
Morton, the No. 5 starter, hasn't allowed an earned run in two starts, and as Hinch said, "He has such elite stuff across the board that he can go to different pitches. Today it was the breaking ball. He's got a lot of weapons in his arsenal."
Hinch slotted newcomer Gerrit Cole into the fourth spot in the rotation, and here are his numbers after two starts: one earned run, 14 innings, 22 strikeouts.
"He's probably the best pitcher on the majority of Major League teams," Hinch said. "Obviously, he's pitched that way."
Such is the abundance of riches.
"I feel really fortunate to be part of this staff," Morton said. "I come to the park each day, and I look at the wall over here, just the pitching staff I'm on, and I feel very fortunate to be part of it."
That wall is where the lockers belonging to Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers and Cole are lined up. They've set the tone for a staff that has allowed three runs or fewer seven times already.
"If a guy has an off game -- and we've had a couple of off games -- the next guy has a chance to really reset things and set a tone back to where it's supposed to be," Hinch said.
Coming off last season, every person inside and outside the Astros' organization was curious about one thing, in particular: would the club still have the same aggressive approach after winning a World Series? Human nature being what it is, how can a bunch of guys have the same drive they had before accomplishing the single thing every Major Leaguer strives for?
No problem, say the Astros.
"We have guys who show up daily to compete, and it doesn't matter if it's a Spring Training game or Game 7," catcher Brian McCann said. "The mindset never changes. When you're playing a more important game, you're up for it, because we do that all year long."
Speaking of a deep pitching staff, the Astros are in such good shape that two quality starters, Collin McHugh and Brad Peacock, are working out of the bullpen.
Peacock has established himself as someone who can pitch early in games, in the middle of games or at the end. On Sunday, with closer Ken Giles having worked two straight days, Hinch summoned Peacock to get the final three outs for his first career regular-season save.
Peacock held onto the baseball he threw for the final out and said he would place it in the trophy case at home, right next to the one from his only other save. That was in Game 3 of the 2017 World Series.
"I just like being a team guy," Peacock said. "Whatever the team needs me to do, I'm willing to do. It's fun to be part of this. I was here in '13 and '14 (when the Astros had seasons of 51-111 and 70-93). Those were some rough years. This makes it so much better."
Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.