Both Cole and Houston's offense struggle in loss

Astros daily report presented by APG&E: 3 hits from the 9-4 loss

Astros daily report presented by APG&E: 3 hits from the 9-4 loss
Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

With Justin Verlander providing quite the show the night before, the Astros were back at it on Wednesday night with Gerrit Cole on the mound. Here is a quick recap of the third game of the four-game series with Chicago:

Final Score: White Sox 9, Astros 4

Record: 33-17, first in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Ivan Nova (3-4, 6.96 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Gerrit Cole (4-5, 4.11 ERA).

1) Cole hits 100 strikeouts in rough outing

Gerrit Cole was not nearly as dominant on Wednesday night as in recent starts, allowing solo home runs in the second and fourth innings to put Chicago up 2-0. He was able to strike out six over those four innings, then got number seven on the night in the fifth to get to triple digits on the season.

Despite the offense backing him up to give him a 3-2 lead, Cole would struggle in the sixth as the White Sox roared back, loading the bases while scoring two runs on four consecutive hits to lead off the inning. That would be the end of Cole's night, and Josh James, despite getting two big outs to keep Chicago from scoring to that point, would allow a grand slam to blow the game open at 8-3 and give Cole 6 earned runs on the night.

2) One strong inning not enough

Houston's bats were able to take a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the fourth after Alex Bregman put them on the board with a one-out solo home run then going on to get their second and third runs on RBIs from Carlos Correa and Aledmys Diaz.

Houston would start a rally that would come up just short in the ninth, loading the bases and getting a sac fly to make it 9-4, but would get stopped there. They'd be unable to counter-act four double plays and even a triple play in the up-and-down offensive night.

3) Brady Rodgers returns 

After taking Collin McHugh's spot on the roster with McHugh going on the injured list, Rodgers made his first appearance for Houston since 2016 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. After getting a strikeout against his first batter, he was met with a monstrous solo home run which put Chicago up 9-3. He'd go on to retire the next two batters in order to complete the eighth. He'd then return to the mound for the ninth, getting a 1-2-3 inning to cap off his decent return.

Up Next: The Astros and White Sox will wrap up this series tomorrow night with the final game starting at 7:10 PM. Corbin Martin (1-0, 3.86 ERA) will make the third start of his career for Houston and go up against Lucas Giolito (5-1, 3.35 ERA) for Chicago.

The Astros daily report is presented by APG&E.

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

ESPN Houston 97.5 FM
Will Jose Abreu receive the same treatment as Martin Maldonado? Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images.

Coming off a soul crushing extra-innings loss on Monday night, the Astros now sit 7.5 games behind the Mariners in the AL West.

And despite Rafael Montero coming in and coughing up a 3-1 lead, he's not the one taking the majority of the blame for the loss. That blame is being directed at first baseman Jose Abreu and manager Joe Espada. Also, senior advisor to ownership and baseball operations Jeff Bagwell if you read our comment section.

Abreu went 0-4 in the loss, and had a big strikeout against Giants closer Camilo Doval in the ninth inning with two runners on base.

Espada was asked after the game why he didn't pinch hit for Abreu. Espada told The Athletic, “I have confidence in Abreu there, getting a good at-bat against Doval.” Espada also said he had a short bench and that impacted the decision.

As disappointing as the loss to the Giants was, fans are more upset about the reality of the 2024 season. This club finds all kinds of ways to lose. And the Astros aren't giving themselves their best chance to win with Abreu in the lineup regularly.

It's my belief, the longer the Astros give Abreu to prove he's a startable player, the less likely it is that Espada will be back in 2025.

So how long will this experiment go on? Some believe if Abreu hasn't turned things around by the end of June, the club will move on from him. Let's explore that option for a moment. If they keep running Abreu out there for the rest of the month, will the season even be salvageable by the time they make the switch?

To be fair, Jon Singleton's numbers have fallen off a cliff (2-23) since the return of Abreu. So it's not like Singleton is giving Espada a reason to play him. Which says a lot considering Abreu has one game with multiple hits since returning to the team.

Here's another option, they play Abreu for the rest of the season. This choice sounds terrifying, but would it really surprise anyone? This is the same team that insisted on playing Martin Maldonado over Yainer Diaz last season. And Maldy wasn't making Abreu money.

When the Astros had a better option on the roster, they still played Maldonado. One could argue Singleton is a better option than Abreu, but not by a big enough margin to justify eating Abreu's massive contract.

What really needs to happen is to play Joey Loperfido at first base and see what that looks like. Something the team has refused to do up to this point. Loperfido was playing first base every other day before being recalled to the big leagues. Since rejoining the Astros he has zero at-bats.

This is why I'm slowly starting to place more of the blame on Espada. Astros GM Dana Brown has said that Espada makes the lineups. Whether that's true or not, who knows, but Espada is going to be held accountable for the results.

At some point he has to realize, it's better to win or lose doing it your way. Dusty Baker, for better or worse, did it his way. He took heat for not playing Chas McCormick and Yainer Diaz enough, but he was willing to die on that hill.

And to that end, we have to point out that he's not the manager anymore, so going against the recommendations of the front office could be one of the reasons for that.

However, if the Astros keep playing like this, Espada will be looking for a new job regardless. He's a perfect scapegoat should the Astros decide to part ways with him.

If the fanbase sees that he's exploring every option (Loperfido, Mauricio Dubon, Diaz, Victor Caratini) on the roster at first base, and putting the best team on the field every night, they can at least accept that the team had a down year. It happens. But you have to try. If Loperfido's defense isn't up to snuff, like they believe, then you try something else.

Failing can be contagious

Let's put the fanbase aside for a moment. Have we already come to a point where this is hurting team morale? The Astros had some momentum going when they decided to bring back Abreu. One could argue he cost the team a win in his second game back because of his play at first base. We all remember that disaster of a series in Seattle, right?

When Abreu comes up to the plate, you expect for him to strikeout. That can rub off on a team, where they start to expect bad things to happen. Pitchers hang breaking balls, gold glove players like Dubon and Jeremy Pena make errors late in games. We're seeing all that stuff happen now.

The Maldy effect

So what happens next? Will the team handle Abreu like they did Maldy? Just keep playing him and ignore the results? Based on what we've seen, probably.

There are some differences in these two scenarios that make me think otherwise. The Astros were willing to ask Abreu to go work on his swing in Florida, knowing he could say no. And that was only after one month of abysmal hitting, in 2024 at least.

It seems Dana Brown knows there's a problem, but are they willing to do anything about it? Astros owner Jim Crane might be thinking the team made it to the ALCS with a bad Abreu last year, why make a change?

One reason would be, nobody is paying money to watch Abreu hit. They tolerate it so they can watch the rest of the team play. But if they keep putting this product on the field all summer, they're going to struggle to pack the ballpark. Especially when the temperature inside Minute Maid isn't much cooler than outside.

Maybe that will get Jim Crane's attention.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome