Houston's bullpen struggles again

Astros daily report presented by APG&E: 3 hits from the 5-3 loss

Astros daily report presented by APG&E: 3 hits from the 5-3 loss
Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

After a humiliating loss on Tuesday to even the series with Oakland and leave their magic number stagnant, Houston was back in action Wednesday night trying to get back in the win column. Here is a recap of the third of four games in this series with the A's:

Final Score: A's 5, Astros 3.

Record: 95-52, first in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Brett Anderson (12-9, 4.07 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Josh James (5-1, 5.20 ERA).

1) Urquidy fills in with a great start

With Miley lasting just one out the night before with the bullpen filling the other 26, and Wednesday already slated to be a bullpen day, Houston looked to Jose Urquidy to cover as many innings as possible. He met the call in a significant way, tossing a great game to keep his team in position to win.

Urquidy was sharp and efficient, only allowing one hit and one walk over his five innings of work while recording double-digit strikeouts. Although the one hit was a game-tying solo home run in the fourth inning, it was still a terrific start. His final line: 5 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 10 K, 1 HR.

2) Oakland pulls ahead in the sixth

Urquidy would leave in line for the win after his offense gave him a 2-1 lead. The first run came by way of a dinger by George Springer, a solo shot in the bottom of the third to put Houston ahead 1-0 at the time. After Oakland tied the game 1-1 in the top half of the fourth, Houston regained the lead in the bottom half with Yordan Alvarez reaching on an infield single then scoring on an RBI-double by Aledmys Diaz, making it a 2-1 Astros advantage.

Josh James took over for Urquidy to start the sixth inning, but like many of Houston's pitchers the day before would struggle with Oakland's batters. He allowed three runs without recording an out before Houston would move on to another pitcher. Joe Smith would get out of the inning, but not without allowing a fourth run to extend Oakland's lead to 5-2.

3) Houston gets one run back, but come up short

Houston got one of those runs back in the bottom of the sixth on a two-out solo home run by Martin Maldonado, trimming the lead to two runs at 5-3. Hector Rondon was the next reliever out for Houston and was able to work around a one-out walk to toss a scoreless frame.

Will Harris pitched the top of the eighth and although he battled against a double and a walk, was able to keep Oakland from extending their lead. With the Astros unable to score in the seventh or eighth, the sent Bryan Abreu to the mount in the ninth to try and keep it a two-run game and give them a chance to walk it off in the bottom half.

Abreu looked great, getting a couple of strikeouts in a 1-2-3 inning. Houston would come up empty in the bottom half, dropping the game and giving Oakland a 2-1 advantage in the four-game series.

Up Next: The final game in this series will be Thursday night with another 7:10 PM start. The Astros will look to Justin Verlander (18-5, 2.52 ERA) for another gem to split the series with a win, while Oakland will send Homer Bailey (12-8, 4.87 ERA) to the mound.

The Astros daily report is presented by APG&E.

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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.

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