Real or not? Astros' romp is bad news for rest of the AL

The Houston Astros beat the Oakland Athletics 11-4 in the first game of their crucial three-game series, breaking open a 5-4 game with six runs in the bottom of the eighth and stretching their lead over the A's to 2.5 games. Alex Bregman had a huge night, going 4-for-5 with a three-run shot off tough reliever Lou Trivino to slam the door:

That's six wins in a row for the Astros, and they're now 81-50. Through Game 131 last season they were ... 79-52. Wait, hasn't the storyline much of the season been that the bullpen has struggled and the offense has struggled and they aren't as good as last season? Really, the only thing that has changed is the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees have been terrific and the A's are breathing down the Astros' necks. The Astros are still arguably the best team in the majors. Consider:

• They lead the majors with a plus-221 run differential. That's better than the plus-196 total they put up in 2017.

George Springer, Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa were all back in Monday's lineup, marking the first time all three have started together since June 25. (Thanks to my friend Anna, the biggest Astros fan I know, for that note.) True, none of them has matched his production from 2017:

Springer: OPS down 123 points. Altuve: OPS down 89 points. Correa: OPS down 170 points

At this point, however, all that matters is what those three do moving forward. There's no reason they can't start producing like they did last season.

• They have a new secret weapon in Tyler White, who went 2-for-4 with a go-ahead single in the five-run third inning and his own three-run shot in the eighth. In his past 99 at-bats, he's hitting .283/.360/.606 with nine home runs. Whether White is at first base or DH, manager A.J. Hinch should continue to ride the hot hand.

• As Tim Keown documented in Monday's feature on ESPN, the Astros admittedly were down in the dumps recently, especially when the Seattle Mariners swept them in four games at home earlier in August. In that regard, maybe this challenge from the A's will be good for them. The Astros have survived the injuries and a tough division and are still on pace for 100 wins. As general manager Jeff Luhnow said during Monday's broadcast about winning the American League West, "Our guys are going to earn it by beating good teams."

• The bullpen will get another boost when Lance McCullers Jr. returns from the disabled list. As Hinch said, he'll pitch in relief when he comes back. Has the bullpen been clutch? No. It does, however, lead the majors with a 3.04 ERA. There's no reason the bullpen can't be a strength down the stretch and into October.

And I take this all back if the A's win the next two games!

Rodon silences the Yankees: The Yankees had a good week last week, cutting their deficit in the AL East from 10.5 games on Saturday to six games entering Monday's action, meaning they at least have the Red Sox back in their sights. The Yankees also have a seven-game homestand this week against the bad Chicago White Sox and the bad Detroit Tigers (though the Red Sox have six games against the Miami Marlins and White Sox), a golden opportunity to have a 6-1 week and maybe gain another game or two.

White Sox lefty Carlos Rodon, however, held the Yankees to two hits and two runs over seven innings, and the White Sox scored four runs off Masahiro Tanaka in the sixth and seventh innings to earn a 6-2 victory. It was a bit of an odd performance, as Rodon fanned just two batters. In 2018, that doesn't happen very often: It was just the 38th time a starter has gone at least seven innings and fanned two or fewer batters (even just a decade ago, in 2008, it happened 175 times).

Rodon has been very good the past two months, with a 1.84 ERA over nine starts and a .145 batting average allowed. The Yankees aren't the only team that has struggled to hit him. It's difficult to read this, as Rodon has just 49 strikeouts in 63⅔ innings over this stretch and a sub-.200 BABIP. On the other hand, when that slider is biting and diving, he's tough to hit. At the minimum, he's healthy, and along with Michael Kopech, Rodon could give the White Sox a fun one-two punch atop their rotation in 2019.

One of the two hits for the Yankees was Gleyber Torres' two-run homer, his 20th. He joins fellow rookie Miguel Andujar in the 20-homer club, and they are the first pair of rookie teammates to do that since Joey Votto and Jay Bruce with the Cincinnati Reds in 2008 and just the 10th set in MLB history (courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information).

FYI, that's 212 home runs for the Yankees in 131 games. They still lead the league in the category, even though Aaron Judge hasn't played since July 26, Gary Sanchez has just 14 home runs and Giancarlo Stanton is going to hit about 39 home runs, not 59. The Yankees are on pace for 262 homers on the season, so they have a chance to break the 1997 Mariners' record of 264, even though the big three have underperformed compared to preseason expectations.

Not that Yankees fans are happy to know that:

Morales' streak ends at seven: Toronto Blue Jays DH Kendrys Morales went 0-for-3 with a walk in a 7-0 loss to the Baltimore Orioles, falling one game short of tying Ken Griffey Jr., Don Mattingly and Dale Long with a home run in eight consecutive games. In a feel-good story for the Blue Jays, reliever Murphy Smith made his major league debut at age 31, after spending 10 seasons in the minors, and tossed 1⅓ scoreless innings. There have been 43 major leaguers with the last name of Murphy, but Murphy Smith is just the second with the first name of Murphy, joining Murphy Currie, who pitched six games for the Cardinals in 1916 (though Murphy was his middle name).

In other Blue Jays news, Josh Donaldson is expected to start a rehab assignment at Class-A Dunedin on Tuesday, his first game action since May 28. Reports over the weekend indicated that the Blue Jays are still hoping to trade Donaldson before the Aug. 31 deadline and that he cleaned out his locker at Rogers Centre (which could mean nothing or could mean that Donaldson isn't expecting to return to Toronto).

Would any contending teams be interested in Donaldson? The only risk would be picking up the final month of his $23 million salary, plus a marginal prospect or two. Would the Red Sox take him on? With Rafael Devers still on the DL, they've been playing Eduardo Nunez and Brock Holt at third base. The Yankees could always play him at third and move Andujar to DH (or just DH Donaldson). The Astros don't need a third baseman, but maybe they'd be interested in Donaldson as a DH. True, Donaldson didn't hit much in his 36 games before the calf injury, but he also was never really healthy. He hit .270/.385/.559 in 2017, and if he can return to that level, he'd be a huge stretch-run pickup. I think some team will take a bite.

The NL West is not all tied up: This is going to be the best division race in September, as it appears the Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies and Los Angeles Dodgers are going to go down to the wire. Please, may the baseball gods give us our first three-way tie for a division! The D-backs lost 2-0 to the Giants as Chris Stratton tossed eight scoreless innings, and the Rockies rode DJ LeMahieu's eighth-inning grand slam -- the first of his career -- to an apparent win over the Angels and first-place tie:

That slam gave the Rockies a 7-5 lead, but the Angels stormed back in the bottom of the inning against Adam Ottavino, who had a rare rocky (sorry) outing with three walks. Eric Young Jr.'s two-run flare off Seunghwan Oh put the Angels up 8-7, and Trevor Story's wild throw led to two more runs. Just for fun, since we haven't mentioned him in a while, Shohei Ohtani had three hits, including a base hit in the eighth-inning rally and his 15th home run off Jon Gray:

Yes, left-center is his sweet spot. Ohtani has hit 11 of his 15 home runs to center or left of center, which speaks to his remarkable raw power. Ohtani is hitting .277/.355/.550. And he has more talent on the mound.