As a blog, we probably spent a fair amount of time this season complaining about the lineup. I know I have, fair or not. Entering Sunday’s finale against the Padres, though, we got a taste of what is perhaps this club’s best offensive lineup this season.
Sure, we can quibble about the placement of Jeremy Peña and José Abreu. I think Dusty Baker’s reluctance to bat lefties Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker back-to-back is too conservative. I mean, that duo can hit against right-handers or southpaws as they’ve proven throughout their careers up to this point. But this lineup was legit in terms of offensive potential. Against a club like the Padres, who had the lowest ERA in the NL entering this series, it is probably wise to maximize that offensive potential.
Lo and behold, the lineup did its job and then some, scoring 12 runs. Concentrated between the third and sixth innings, the Astros didn’t let up on this San Diego staff. That sixth inning, in particular, was exciting to watch. There was a span of six consecutive plate appearances when the Astros drove in at least a run. Also, Kyle Tucker made some history by collecting two triples in the sixth. Yes, you read that right.
TWO TRIPLES IN THE SAME INNING.— Houston Astros (@astros) September 10, 2023
According to Elias, not only is Kyle Tucker is the first Astros player in history to triple twice in one inning, but it's the 11th time it's happened in MLB history, so about twice as rare as a perfect game.— Brian McTaggart (@brianmctaggart) September 10, 2023
However, the start of the game was a bit stressful, as J.P. France walked the bases loaded with one out. Considering the turn of events with the rotation this summer, it is easy to forecast that another pitcher implosion was incoming. France in that first inning wasn’t particularly sharp. One base hit changes the complexion of this game. Thankfully, he escaped with no runs allowed and pitched relatively well for the rest of his appearance, allowing a lone run courtesy of Matt Carpenter’s solo shot in the top of the sixth. Right now, that potential postseason rotation looks a lot like Justin Verlander, Framber Valdez, France, and an educated guess.
Thanks to the large lead, the Astros were able to preserve their better relievers with Parker Mushinski throwing a lone inning and Joel Kuhnel absorbing two innings. We also saw Baker empty his bench, with Grae Kessinger, Jake Meyers, Mauricio Dubón, and Jon Singleton all receiving at least one plate appearance. Not a bad way to conclude a Sunday at the ballpark. Not bad at all.
With Sunday’s win, the Astros saw their AL West lead grow to a season-high 2 1⁄2 games, with the Mariners losing to the Rays. The Rangers remain three games back as they won their game against the A’s, who travel to Houston for a three-game set starting Monday. With their next six games against Oakland followed by a quick road trip to Kansas City, the Astros have a prime opportunity to pad their division lead. In fact, nine of their next 12 games are against the A’s (3) and Royals (6), with a three-game series against the Orioles sandwiched in between. Perform well in these next 12 games, the Astros are possibly in the driver’s seat for good in the AL West. If not, then that second-to-last series of the season in Seattle may determine who comes away with the AL West title.