Astros lose an ugly series opener to the Angels

Astros daily report presented by APG&E: 3 hits from the 9-6 loss

Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

After consecutive wins to work a series split in the four games with the Rangers over the weekend, the Astros had a tough pitching predicament in front of them for both Monday and Tuesday night's game with no real starter for either game. Here is a recap of the first of four games in Anaheim:

Final Score: Angels 9, Astros 6.

Record: 59-36, first in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Justin Anderson (3-0, 4.05 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Framber Valdez (3-6, 5.58 ERA).

1) Strong open for Houston

As mentioned, the Astros had no true starter lined up for Monday night's game, causing them to elect to use an opener in Josh James. James filled the role well, getting a 1-2-3 first inning including a strikeout. Wrapped around his solid bottom of the first was Houston's attempt to give Framber Valdez, the extended pitcher of the night, a lead with which to work.

The Astros took advantage of Angels starter Griffin Canning's struggle with the strike zone in the first inning, getting four straight two-out walks to take a 1-0 lead. They extended that to 3-0 in the top of the second, scoring on a wild pitch and an RBI-single by Alex Bregman.

2) Same story for Valdez, different day

Even with the benefit of an opener, Framber Valdez simply could not break through from his recent pitching struggles. He would start his night with a scoreless second inning, but things would get progressively worse from there.

The Angels scored seven unanswered runs over the next three innings, getting a solo home run in the bottom of the third, scoring two more on a couple of hits in the fourth, then working three walks and scoring four runs on one hit and couple of sacrifices in the bottom of the fifth.

That made it a 7-3 game, erasing what was once a 3-0 Houston lead. Houston would not test their luck with Valdez any further, shutting him down after that inning. His final line: 4 IP, 6 H, 7 R, 4 ER, 4 BB, 4 K, 1 HR.

3) Unable to make the comeback

In the top of the sixth, the Astros were able to finally respond to all of Los Angeles' runs, getting a leadoff walk from Myles Straw to set up a two-run dinger from George Springer, trimming the lead to 7-5. With Valdez struggling mightily, Houston made the call to their bullpen earlier than they would have liked, bringing in Joe Smith for the bottom of the sixth.

Smith was able to work around a one-out double, getting a scoreless inning to keep the game at 7-5 going into the seventh. With Houston unable to convert another scoring opportunity in the top of the seventh, Collin McHugh took over on the mound in the bottom half of the inning, but he would be unable to get a clean inning, allowing two more runs to put the lead back at four runs.

George Springer continued doing his part, getting his second home run in as many at-bats to lead off the eighth inning, making it 9-6. Houston tasked McHugh with one more inning to try and conserve as much of their bullpen as possible, and he was able to deliver with a 1-2-3 bottom of the eighth.

Houston would go scoreless in the top of the ninth, ending the all-around ugly game and starting the series with a loss.

Up Next: The next game in this series will be another west-coast start at 9:07 PM on Tuesday. The Angels are expected to start Andrew Heaney (1-3, 5.18 ERA) while the Astros have not decided who they will send out first in what will likely be a bullpen day.

The Astros daily report is presented by APG&E.

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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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