Houston ends three-game skid

Astros outscore Angels to take opener of four-game series

Astros Carlos Correa
Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Astros Carlos Correa

After the disappointing sweep in San Diego to end their short road-trip with three straight losses, the Astros were back at home in Minute Maid Park against the last-place Angels to try and right the ship. Here is how the series opener unfolded:

Final Score: Astros 11, Angels 4.

Record: 16-13, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Framber Valdez (3-2, 2.35 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Patrick Sandoval (0-4, 6.75 ERA).

Astros outscore Angels early

After a scoreless first inning on both sides, Houston would get on the board first in the bottom of the second. The first run came on a solo home run by Kyle Tucker to leadoff the inning before later an RBI-single by Josh Reddick would double the lead to 2-0.

The Angels took advantage of some sloppy baseball by the Astros in the top of the third. They scored a run to cut the lead in half by working a leadoff walk, moving the runner over on a fielder's choice, and then stealing third on a defensive miscue before getting an RBI-single to make it 2-1.

Houston responded right away, though, in the bottom of the inning. They would put together a three-run inning on an RBI-double by Michael Brantley, an RBI-single by Josh Reddick, and another scoring on an error, making it a 5-1 Astros advantage. The Angels would get one of those back in the top of the next inning, hitting a two-out solo home run off Frambre Valdez to make it 5-2.

Valdez finishes seven in line for the win

Los Angeles was able to put up two more runs against Valdez in the fifth, getting back-to-back two-out RBI-doubles to make it a one-run game at 5-4. Framber finished that inning, then returned to retire the next six batters in order over the sixth and seventh, including four more strikeouts to bring his total to eleven on the night, his last an inning-ending strikeout looking of Mike Trout. His final line: 7.0 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 11 K, 1 HR, 113 pitches.

Houston was able to put up more runs on the Angels' bullpen in the bottom of the sixth. They worked two walks and a hit-by-pitch to load the bases, setting up a two-out bases-clearing double by Carlos Correa, followed by an RBI-double by Kyle Tucker to push the lead to 9-4.

Houston ends their three-game skid

In the bottom of the seventh, Michael Brantley led off with a double and then moved to third on a groundout. Martin Maldonado reached on a two-out walk, then Myles Straw, who entered to pinch-run for Springer earlier, would bring both in on a two-RBI double to make it a seven-run lead at 11-4.

With Valdez's night done after seven, Cionel Perez took over on the mound in the top of the eighth and retired the Angels in order for a 1-2-3 frame. He returned for the top of the ninth to finish off the game and did so to end Houston's three-game skid and take the first of four against Los Angeles.

Up Next: With tropical storm and expected hurricane Laura threatening the southeast-Texas area, the MLB decided to expedite this four-game series, moving Thursday's game to a part of a new double-header Tuesday. The first game will start at 3:05 PM Central with Jose Suarez (0-1, 33.75 ERA) working as a potential opener for a bullpen game for the Angles against Cristian Javier (2-1, 3.55 ERA) for the Astros. The second game will immediately follow with Julio Teheran (0-2, 10.38 ERA) on the mound for the Angels and a TBD starter for Houston.

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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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