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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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

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Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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