The Houston Astros will see the New York Yankees again.
OK, you already knew that. The schedule points to a four-game set at Yankee Stadium at the end of the month to conclude their regular-season business. Any other matchup would have to take place in the postseason, where the stakes would be much higher than what turned out to be an Empire State of dominance this week at Minute Maid Park.
Speaking of the Juice Box, it has become sort of unfriendly confines for the offensively challenged home team to start the season. The six-game road trip they just started might come as a welcome relief because the Astros have had some uncharacteristic struggles at home, sitting at 10-9 with an anemic .227 batting average. Entering the Arizona series, the ’Stros were hitting .280 on the road.
“It’s not what we want” at home, shortstop Carlos Correa said. “We want to be successful for our fans.”
The goal is to figure out this two-week malaise that has befallen the juggernaut that remains the defending World Series champion. Houston will gladly take a lost regular-season home series to the Yankees as long as that pinch-me-to-make-sure-I’m-not-dreaming feeling is still dancing through the organization after that history-making World Series win last year.
The players aren’t living in the past because last year is last year, but they understand to a man that the expectations are even higher now that Houston is wearing a target on its back. Holding serve at home consistently and stealing a few series on the road is what separates good teams from great teams.
If anything, Houston simply caught the Bronx Bombers on a heater.
Well, several heaters if you want to count those three 100-mph lava lamps that New York closer Aroldis Chapman blew past reigning AL MVP Jose Altuve on Thursday, giving the Yankees a third win over the Astros in four days and their 12th win in 13 games. The Yankees are in a zone after that Game 7 loss to Houston in the 2017 ALCS, and while it’s too early to be crowning any team at this point, they sent an early message.
Was this an ALCS rematch preview? I sure hope so, but the Astros will have to fix their bullpen woes. On Thursday, manager A.J. Hinch went to right-hander Will Harris to start the ninth instead of closer Ken Giles, who had given up a three-run ninth-inning homer to Gary Sanchez the night before after Justin Verlander struck out 14 Yanks over eight innings of shutout ball.
Giles, who became internet roadkill after he was shown punching himself in the face as he left the mound, probably took the no-call as a punch to the gut.
“I chose Harris,” Hinch said when asked about the decision. “I thought he could get those guys out.”
He couldn’t. That’s how the game can treat you at times, even when you’re one of the favorites to win it all.
The good thing is, unlike in professional football, a bad few days at the office over an MLB week early in the season won’t kill your playoff hopes. The Astros have some work to do, particularly on offense, where one of the scariest lineups in the majors produced only seven runs in four games. Worse yet, Houston scored in only four of a possible 36 innings.
“It’s frustrating because we were behind so long in this series,” Hinch said. “We could have gotten a split. I don’t like talking about a split, but we should have won this game. When you don’t hit, it sucks the life out of your whole team for a bit.”
It’s May and the Astros aren’t about to crawl into the fetal position just because a little rain fell before the summer. The best teams figure things out, and while the fans were disappointed at the outcome of a series they had circled when the schedule was released, there is plenty of time to get things fixed.
“You talk about hangovers, but I don’t think it’s any setback we have to worry about,” said left fielder Josh Reddick. “We have a good team and a good staff. We’ll get back to basics and go from there.”
For results of the Astros’ game Friday night at Arizona, go to statesman.com.
Astros at Diamondbacks, 7 p.m., AT&T SportsNet, 97.5