Every-Thing Sports

Astros lose, but no need to panic

Astros lose, but no need to panic
photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

The Astros dropped Game 3 of the ALDS to the Rays by a score of 10-3. Former Astros pitcher Charlie Morton gave up a home run to Jose Altuve in the top of the first inning. He had to throw 52 pitches to get out of the first two innings. After that he settled down. Morton's settling coincided with Zack Greinke's unraveling.

He was about to cruise through the first two innings, then a three-run homer in the bottom of the second started the slide. He left the game with one out in the bottom of the fourth. Greinke gave up six earned runs on five hits with a walk and five strikeouts. Although he had only thrown 61 pitches, it was time for him to come out of the game. No use in allowing him to keep going despite a low pitch count because it just wasn't his day as the Rays had his number.

This was just a blip on the radar. Some may see this as a sign that the Greinke trade was a bad move. Others will suggest it shows the Astros can only rely on Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. Some will point out the bullpen gave up four runs themselves and can't be counted on either. Here's why I'm not worried:

Starting staff still a three-headed monster

Despite Greinke's poor showing, he still maintained a low pitch count. Five of the six runs he gave up were via homerun. Three of his 61 pitches happened to have been hit really hard and/or missed their location. There's not another team in the playoffs with a 1-2-3 punch like the Astros have. Some may have a good staff, but none compares.

Home cooking

The Astros won the right to have homefield advantage throughout the playoffs because of their 107-55 regular season record. They were 60-21 at home, and 47-34 on the road. Winning 58% of your road games means you'll drop a few here and there. As long as they're alive in the playoffs, they'll play more home games than road games. Couple that with setting up their starters to pitch those home games and crucial road games will give them a decided advantage.

The lineup

The lineup won't continue to slip up and not produce run support for the the pitching staff. Altuve doubled in the top of the third and was stranded there. The score at that time was 3-1 Rays. If Altuve gets knocked in and maybe a couple others get hits, it could've changed the outcome of the game. There's been a few times in which the lineup didn't support the pitching staff this season, but they were few and far in between. One should expect the same thing in the postseason.

I had a conversation with a couple good friends last weekend about the Astros postseason potential. One asked who'd we rather see them play in the ALDS and if we had a preference. I said "IDGAF who they play because they only need 11 more wins to win another ring!" With two of those 11 wins secured, let's look forward to number three, four, five, and so on. They're nine wins away from the ultimate prize. Let's not lose focus on the ask at hand simply because they dropped a game to an oppnent on the road in a place where they've had trouble. Game 4 is still on the road, but Verlander is pitching. I like their chances of advancing to the ALCS that game.

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The Astros need to turn things around in a hurry. Composite Getty Image.

The Astros have already been swept in four series this season. They were swept in four series all of last season. As Mexico City says bienvenidos to the Astros this weekend, there are certainly more than a few folks fretting that the Astros are already close to saying adios to playoff hopes. The Astros are not at the point of no return, though one can see it out there on the horizon. It wouldn’t take another month of their garbage level 7-19 performance for the season to be essentially down the drain.

If the Astros were in the American League East, they’d already be ten games out of second place. But they’re not! If in the AL Central they’d be eleven and a half games back of Cleveland. But they’re not! Dozens of teams have rebounded to win divisions from larger deficits much later in the season than the Astros face presently. The Seattle Mariners lead the thus far weak AL West at 13-12. The Astros being six and a half games in arrears of the M’s and six back of the Texas Rangers in late April is far from optimal but nowhere near devastating.

Multiple media outlets have noted how few teams historically have started a season in as stumblebum a fashion as the 2024 Astros and wound up making the playoffs. What every outlet I have seen noting that failed to include: this is just the third season since Major League Baseball added a third Wild Card to each league’s postseason field. So, while 7-19 out of the gate is indisputably awful, it is not the death knell to the extent it has been over generations of MLB.

The issue isn’t where the Astros sit in the standings, it’s that they have played atrocious baseball and aren’t providing reason for optimism that a stark turnaround is imminent. The starting rotation is the best hope. Justin Verlander has made two starts. Framber Valdez rejoins the rotation Sunday. Cristian Javier should be a week or so away. Obviously, Ronel Blanco isn’t going to continue pitching as well as he has through his first four starts. But if he is a good number four starter, that’s fine if the top three coming into the season pitch to reasonably hoped for form.

Hunter Brown simply is not a good big league pitcher. Maybe he someday fulfills his potential, but the data at this point are clear. What can Brown do for you? Not much. Spencer Arrighetti needs better command to be a good big league starter. J.P. France was a revelation over his first 17 starts last season, but since has looked like the guy who posted underwhelming numbers when in the minor leagues. If the Astros wind up with 50-plus starts from Brown/Arrighetti/France their goose will probably be cooked.

The only MLB teams with worse staff earned run averages than the Astros’ horrific 5.07 are the Chicago White Sox (Wait! They have Martin Maldonado!) and Colorado Rockies. At 3-22 the White Sox are on an early pace to post the worst record in the history of Major League Baseball. The Rockies never have a chance to post good pitching stats because of the mile high offensive freak show environment in Denver.

Way to go, Joe

Props to Joe Espada for his conviction in making what he believed to be the right call in pulling Verlander after four and a third innings Thursday at Wrigley Field. Verlander allowed no runs but had reached 95 pitches in just the second outing of the injury-delayed start to his season. Not easy for a rookie manager skippering what has been a Titanic journey thus far to pull a surefire Hall of Famer who was two outs away from qualifying for a win. Many were no doubt poised to destroy Espada had Rafael Montero given up the lead in the fifth. Verlander was angry at being pulled from any chance at his 259th career win. Understood, but the manager’s job is to make the decisions he thinks are in the ballclub’s overall best interest. That Montero and Bryan Abreu combined to blow the lead in the sixth is immaterial.

Then there's the offense…

Six runs total the last four games. Scored more than four runs in just one of the last nine games. Timely hitting largely non-existent.

At last check Alex Bregman still hawks that “Breggy Bomb” salsa. At the plate, he’s been mostly stuck in “Breggy Bum” mode, including zero bombs (home runs). 23 games played without a homer is Bregman’s longest drought since 2017 when he had separate 35 and 27 game stretches between dingers. Bregman has a history of slow first months of the season, but never anything as inept as he’s posted thus far. A litany of lazy fly balls, infield pops, and routine grounders add up to a .216 batting average and feeble .566 OPS. Reference point: Martin Maldonado’s worst OPS season with the Astros was .573. If Bregman was a young guy handed a starting job coming out of spring training, if a viable alternative were available, there’s a chance he’d be a Sugar Land Space Cowboy right now. Bregman’s track record makes it a decent bet that he winds up with decent numbers, but nothing special. Certainly nothing remotely worth the 10 years 300 million dollars or whatever Bregman and agent Scott Boras intend(ed) to seek on the free agent market this coming offseason. Two hits Thursday did get Bregman to the 1000 hit plateau for his career.

Despite arriving south of the border with his batting average at .346, even Jose Altuve has his warts. With runners in scoring position, Altuve has one hit this season. One. In 16 at bats. Small sample size, but it counts. That’s .063. Yordan Alvarez has been no great shakes either, five for 24 (.208) with RISP.

One wonders what would happen if the Astros got a hold of and “lost” Jose Abreu’s passport/visa this weekend in Mexico City and Abreu couldn’t get back into the U.S. after the two-game set with the Rockies.

Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via YouTube: stone cold stros - YouTube with the complete audio available via Apple Podcast, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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