Lance McCullers Jr. tossed a quality start Sunday. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Having worked their way back to .500 on the season by taking the first three games of this four-game series against Los Angeles, the Astros hoped to keep their momentum alive to make it a series sweep and improve to a winning record. The Angels would get some late runs to avoid the sweep, though, and flip-flopping positions in the division as the Astros fall back to a losing record and to fourth in the division:
Final Score: Angels 4, Astros 2
Astros' Record: 10-11, fourth in the AL West
Winning Pitcher: Chris Rodriguez (1-0)
Losing Pitcher: Luis Garcia (0-2)
McCullers Jr. works around a tough fifth to get a quality start
Pitching on extended rest due to missing his last start with vaccine-related illness, Lance McCullers Jr. had a good outing despite one tough inning. After a 22-pitch first, he would settle in to retire ten in a row to start the fifth inning at 55 pitches and no runs allowed.
He lost momentum in the fifth, though, starting by hitting Albert Pujols with a pitch before loading the bases on a single and a walk. That would set up a bad-luck two-out two-RBI single that bounced up the first-base line and bounced up off the bag and out of the reach of Yuli Gurriel to extend the inning and give the Angels a 2-0 lead. Still, McCullers Jr. would finish that inning before returning for a scoreless sixth, completing a quality start: 6.0 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 106 P.
Gurriel ties it in the seventh
Houston, who exploded for sixteen runs on Saturday, did not repeat that success against Dylan Bundy on Sunday through the first six innings. Over that span, they managed just two hits while getting just two runners to second base. Yuli Gurriel would finally get to Bundy, taking advantage of a hit-by-pitch to Yordan Alvarez in the at-bat prior by launching a two-run homer to tie the game and chase Bundy out of the game.
Angels pull ahead late to avoid the sweep
Luis Garcia was first out of Houston's bullpen and erased a one-out double to get through a scoreless top of the seventh. In the eighth, he would give up a 440-foot go-ahead solo homer to Shohei Ohtani, putting the Angels back in front 3-2. He would go two more outs while hitting a batter before Brooks Raley would enter to get the third out.
After a 1-2-3 inning at the plate in the bottom of the eighth, Raley remained in the game in the top of the ninth to try and keep it a one-run game. Instead, a double then RBI single with one out would extend Los Angeles' lead to 4-2 before he would finish the inning. Houston would come up empty in the bottom of the ninth, coming a game short of the sweep and falling back to fourth place in the division and one game below .500.
Up Next: The second half of this eight-game homestand will start Monday night as the Astros welcome in the Mariners for a four-game series at 7:10 PM Central. Jose Urquidy (0-2, 5.14 ERA) will kick off the series for Houston, while Justus Sheffield (1-1, 4.86 ERA) will be on the mound for Seattle.
Ronald Acuña Jr. and Corbin Carroll just got a little more dangerous. Same for Bobby Witt Jr., Elly De La Cruz and the rest of baseball's fastest players.
Major League Baseball wants umpires to crack down on obstruction, and the commissioner's office outlined plans during a call with managers this week. MLB staff also will meet managers in person during spring training to go over enforcement.
The increased emphasis is only on the bases and not at home plate. The focus is on infielders who drop a knee or leg down in front of a bag while receiving a throw, acting as a deterrence for aggressive baserunning and creating an increased risk of injuries.
“I think with everything, they’re trying to make the game a little safer to avoid some unnecessary injuries," Phillies shortstop Trea Turner said Friday at the team's facility in Florida. “The intentions are always good. It comes down to how it affects the players and the games. I’m sure there will be plays where one team doesn’t like it or one team does.”
With more position players arriving at spring training every day, the topic likely will come up more and more as teams ramp up for the season.
“We'll touch on that. We'll show them some video of what’s good and what’s not,” Texas Rangers manager Bruce Bochy said. “You know, it’s going to be a little adjustment.”
Making obstruction a point of emphasis fits in with an ongoing effort by MLB to create more action. Obstruction calls are not reviewable, which could lead to some disgruntled players and managers as enforcement is stepped up, but it also means it won't create long replay deliberations.
A package of rule changes last season — including pitch clocks, bigger bases and limits on defensive shifts and pickoff attempts — had a dramatic effect. There were 3,503 stolen bases in the regular season, up from 2,486 in 2022 and the most since 1987.
MLB changed a different baserunning rule this offseason, widening the runner’s lane approaching first base to include a portion of fair territory. MLB also shortened the pitch clock with runners on base by two seconds to 18 and further reducing mound visits in an effort to speed games.
“Last year, you know, a lot of our preparation was around like, especially just the unknown of the clock and making sure like we’re really buttoned up on that," New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. "These guys are so used to it in so many ways that sometimes I even forget.”
Increased enforcement could lead to more action on the basepaths. But a significant element of MLB's motivation is injury prevention.
Top players have hurt hands or wrists on headfirst slides into bases blocked by a fielder. White Sox slugger Luis Robert Jr. sprained his left wrist when he slid into Jonathan Schoop's lower left leg on a steal attempt during an August 2022 game against Detroit.
“It’s been happening for a while. It’s been getting out of control," Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “I know some of the players complained about it the last two years.”
While acknowledging his reputation as a significant offender, Phillies second baseman Bryson Stott didn't sound too worried about his play.
“We like to fight for outs at second base,” he said. "It’s never on purpose, blocking the base. For me, or someone covering second to the shortstop side, it’s a natural move for your knee to go down to reach the ball. It’s never intentional. I guess we’ll figure out how to maneuver around that.”