Astros want home field for 'real baseball'

Houston has sights set on another 100-win season, best record in MLB

August 25th, 2019

HOUSTON -- The Astros have put themselves in a position where they simply have to play .500 baseball in their final 30 games of the season to win 100 games for the third season in a row -- a feat last accomplished by the Yankees from 2002-04.

With a comfortable lead in the American League West -- 9 1/2 games ahead of the A's after beating the Angels, 11-2, on Sunday afternoon to polish off a three-game sweep at Minute Maid Park -- the Astros are eyeing the best record in baseball and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

“At the end of the season, we’ll count how many wins we have and see where that takes us,” Astros manager AJ Hinch said.

Sunday’s win improved the Astros to 85-47 -- their best record in franchise history through 132 games -- and moved them one-half game ahead of the Yankees for best record in the AL. The Astros (49-16 at home) have won four in a row and seven of eight games, and have a favorable schedule remaining the rest of the season.

“It’s going to be a good race to the finish, and then real baseball starts,” Astros third baseman Alex Bregman said. “Looking forward to it.”

Earlier this month, Hinch said winning the division is the No. 1 goal, but acknowledged the importance of having the best record in baseball.

“We want the best record; we want home field,” Hinch said. “To be honest with you, we won the World Series on the road in Game 7 [in 2017]. It would have been nice to have that at home at Minute Maid, so we want the best record in baseball.”

Of the Astros’ 30 remaining games, only nine are against teams currently with a winning record, and that includes a three-game series against the Rays that begins Tuesday at Minute Maid Park. The Astros have lined up their pitching nicely for the Rays, who took three of four from Houston to start the season.

“They’re a playoff-caliber team and everybody’s pitching is kind of lined up,” Hinch said.

The Astros will start (15-5, 2.77 ERA), (15-5, 2.75 ERA) and (14-4, 2.83 ERA) in the same series for the first time this year. Rays pitcher Charlie Morton, who won both Game 7 of the ALCS and World Series for the Astros in 2017, will start Tuesday in his return to Houston.

“Charlie’s the man,” Bregman said. “It’s not going to be fun to face him because he’s good. He’s done some really special things on the mound this year, just how he did with us. I hope we win the game, and I hope Charlie continues to have a great year.”

Astros starters have gone 15-3 with a 3.21 ERA since Greinke joined the rotation at the start of August. Verlander and Cole are neck and neck in the AL Cy Young Award race, and even rookie lefty delivered a solid start for Houston on Sunday.

“I’m proud of him, how he took over the game,” Hinch said.

Valdez, who was called up from Triple-A Round Rock, overcame a shaky beginning to hold the Angels to one run and two hits while pitching around five walks and two hit batters in six innings. The Astros led 2-1 at the seventh-inning stretch before blowing the game open, scoring seven times in the eighth inning.

“Valdez will go through stretches where you think he’s having trouble with his command and trouble throwing strikes,” Angels manager Brad Ausmus said. “The tough part is when he starts throwing strikes, his stuff is good enough to get swings and misses. He’s got a good breaking ball and he can throw up to 95 [mph]. He went through a stretch where he was having trouble throwing strikes and we load the bases on him, but all of the sudden he’s more around the zone, and he can get a swing and miss. That’s kind of what happened.”

Even with Carlos Correa (back) on the injured list, Houston's offense flexed the kind of muscle that makes it a force to be reckoned with in October. (1-for-2) extended his hitting streak to 18 games, hit his career-high-tying 24th homer, Bregman (1-for-5) extended his on-base streak to 19 games and even struggling -- aka Mr. Irrelevant -- went 2-for-3 with three RBIs for his first multihit game since July 14.

“It was good to get in there and contribute today, and actually mean something,” Reddick said. “A lot of my at-bats haven’t meant anything lately because we are usually up 3-0 by the time I get up. That’s a good problem to have, but it doesn’t take away from me getting to be where I need to be every day.”