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McCullers struggles, Astros bats go silent in Game 3 loss to Phillies

McCullers struggles, Astros bats go silent in Game 3 loss to Phillies
It was a long night for Lance McCullers. Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images.

When it rains, it pours. Boy did it pour. The Astros lost Game Three of the World Series 7-0 to the Phillies in Philadelphia. The game was supposed to be played on Halloween, but MLB decided to postpone the whole series by a day because of the rain. It must've been enough to throw off the Astros' momentum. The bats came out flat and stayed that way. Meanwhile, the pitching staff gave up a World Series record-tying five home runs in the blowout loss.

Bryce Harper got the action started with a two-run blast in the bottom of the first. Alec Bohm and Brandon Marsh hit solo shots in the bottom of the third. Kyle Schwarber hit a two-run shot in the bottom of the fifth followed by a solo blast from Rhys Hoskins. The Phillies seemed to be sitting on Astros' starter Lance McCullers Jr's pitches. Either they knew the breaking stuff was coming or sat on the fastball. They shelled one of the Astros' best pitchers to take a 2-1 lead in the series.

The bats struck out seven times total. Chas McCormick and David Hensley each struck out twice. However, they also had a hit a piece, and those were two of the five hits this team managed in the game. So, there's that.

Another World Series appearance, another NL East opponent, another series deficit. The Astros have been here before. They were down in 2017, then came back and beat the Dodgers. No one wants them to win. Most of the media is still bringing up the sign stealing scandal. Opposing fans are relentlessly showering Astros' fans with cheating this and cheating that. The conspiracy theories abound. Misinformation is still very pervasive. I wouldn't have it any other way.

This team is resilient. They've had their backs against the wall before. They know how to come out swinging. Literally and figuratively. I expect Game Four to be an Astros win and the series tied 2-2 heading into the pivotal Game Five. Justin Verlander will take the mound, get his first World Series win, and this thing heads back to Minute Maid Park for Game Six with the home team up 3-2.

From there, closing out the series in front of the home crowd will be a fitting cap to proving all the haters wrong. This is a great team and a great organization. Jim Crane needs to bring James Click back and continue to allow him to build this thing. If Click isn't back, I hope Crane finds someone else who'll be able to keep thing rolling. That said. Let's focus on winning Game Four and quieting that raucous Philly crowd.

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The Astros have their work cut out for them. Composite Getty Image.

Through 20 games, the Houston Astros have managed just six wins and are in last place in the AL West.

Their pitching staff trails only Colorado with a 5.24 ERA and big-money new closer Josh Hader has given up the same number of earned runs in 10 games as he did in 61 last year.

Despite this, these veteran Astros, who have reached the AL Championship Series seven consecutive times, have no doubt they’ll turn things around.

“If there’s a team that can do it, it’s this team,” shortstop Jeremy Peña said.

First-year manager Joe Espada, who was hired in January to replace the retired Dusty Baker, discussed his team’s early struggles.

“It’s not ideal,” he said. “It’s not what we expected, to come out of the shoot playing this type of baseball. But you know what, this is where we’re at and we’ve got to pick it up and play better. That’s just the bottom line.”

Many of Houston’s problems have stemmed from a poor performance by a rotation that has been decimated by injuries. Ace Justin Verlander and fellow starter José Urquidy haven’t pitched this season because of injuries and lefty Framber Valdez made just two starts before landing on the injured list with a sore elbow.

Ronel Blanco, who threw a no-hitter in his season debut April 1, has pitched well and is 2-0 with a 0.86 ERA in three starts this season. Cristian Javier is also off to a good start, going 2-0 with a 1.54 ERA in four starts, but the team has won just two games not started by those two pitchers.

However, Espada wouldn’t blame the rotation for Houston’s current position.

“It’s been a little bit of a roller coaster how we've played overall,” he said. “One day we get good starting pitching, some days we don’t. The middle relief has been better and sometimes it hasn’t been. So, we’ve just got to put it all together and then play more as a team. And once we start doing that, we’ll be in good shape.”

The good news for the Astros is that Verlander will make his season debut Friday night when they open a series at Washington and Valdez should return soon after him.

“Framber and Justin have been a great part of our success in the last few years,” second baseman Jose Altuve said. “So, it’s always good to have those two guys back helping the team. We trust them and I think it’s going to be good.”

Hader signed a five-year, $95 million contract this offseason to give the Astros a shutdown 7-8-9 combination at the back end of their bullpen with Bryan Abreu and Ryan Pressly. But the five-time All-Star is off to a bumpy start.

He allowed four runs in the ninth inning of a 6-1 loss to the Braves on Monday night and has yielded eight earned runs this season after giving up the same number in 56 1/3 innings for San Diego last year.

He was much better Wednesday when he struck out the side in the ninth before the Astros fell to Atlanta in 10 innings for their third straight loss.

Houston’s offense, led by Altuve, Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker, ranks third in the majors with a .268 batting average and is tied for third with 24 homers this season. But the Astros have struggled with runners in scoring position and often failed to get a big hit in close games.

While many of Houston’s hitters have thrived this season, one notable exception is first baseman José Abreu. The 37-year-old, who is in the second year of a three-year, $58.5 million contract, is hitting 0.78 with just one extra-base hit in 16 games, raising questions about why he remains in the lineup every day.

To make matters worse, his error on a routine ground ball in the eighth inning Wednesday helped the Braves tie the game before they won in extra innings.

Espada brushed off criticism of Abreu and said he knows the 2020 AL MVP can break out of his early slump.

“Because (of) history,” Espada said. “The back of his baseball card. He can do it.”

Though things haven’t gone well for the Astros so far, everyone insists there’s no panic in this team which won its second World Series in 2022.

Altuve added that he doesn’t have to say anything to his teammates during this tough time.

“I think they’ve played enough baseball to know how to control themselves and how to come back to the plan we have, which is winning games,” he said.

The clubhouse was quiet and somber Wednesday after the Astros suffered their third series sweep of the season and second at home. While not panicking about the slow start, this team, which has won at least 90 games in each of the last three seasons, is certainly not happy with its record.

“We need to do everything better,” third baseman Alex Bregman said. “I feel like we’re in a lot of games, but we just haven’t found a way to win them. And good teams find a way to win games. So we need to find a way to win games.”

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