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Astros return from the All-Star break with a 7-5 win against the Angels

MLB: Houston Astros at Los Angeles Angels Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the second half of the season. Well, technically, we were already in the second half before the All-Star break by about ten games if you halved the schedule. My mind likes things to be balanced, so it always feels a bit off when this first game following the break is the unofficial start of the second half. Is it something to get too worked up about? Nope. Is it something that has become a pet peeve? More of an annoyance, if you will.

Regardless of when I think the term “second half” is appropriate to use, the Astros entered the break trailing the Rangers by two games in the AL West. Spoiler alert: The gap remains two games following Friday’s action. But the game itself was interesting.

First of all, we saw the offense show a bit of life again, which was encouraging. While the first few innings were relatively quiet from Houston’s bats, the lineup finally broke through against Shohei Ohtani by the fourth inning to tie it up, thanks to a pair of runs driven in by Corey Julks and Jeremy Peña.

The Astros would eventually grab the lead in the fifth as the heart of the lineup did some work. While J.P. France would let the Angels tie it up in the bottom half of the frame, Mauricio Dubón continued to provide a spark with a two-run double in the sixth inning and Houston never relinquished the lead for the remainder of the game. José Abreu, in particular, had a strong game at the plate, driving in a run on three hits and a walk.

On the pitching side, France wasn’t in top form as he only picked up seven whiffs on 46 swings, surrendering two earned runs although he did not issue a single walk. But the rookie right-hander did enough to keep Houston within striking distance. The bullpen, however, was more effective, allowing only one run, courtesy of Taylor Ward’s solo shot in the seventh inning off Héctor Neris. To his credit, however, Neris looked particularly nasty on the mound. On swings, he generated six whiffs. All three outs were strikeouts. The four swings against his splitter were whiffs. I mean, who doesn’t enjoy watching a strikeout like this one?

That is just nasty movement on this splitter. Even Ohtani, who had a 181 wRC+ entering Friday night, could only flail at it. A case in point here is that sometimes good pitching beats good hitting.

While Bryan Abreu would run into a bit of his own self-generated turbulence in the eighth, he and Ryan Pressly were able to close it out for the Astros' 51st win of the season. While there were instances when the Astros were relatively sloppy, they did well enough to return from the break with a victory. Let’s hope the winning ways to start the “second half” continue.