Houston is on a rough losing streak

Astros trounced by Kershaw and Dodgers in series opener

Astros' Jose Altuve
The Astros couldn't keep up with Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers Tuesday night. Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

The Astros couldn't keep up with Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers Tuesday night.

After a disappointing series in Arlington, where they were swept over three games, the Astros returned to a full-capacity Minute Maid Park to start a new homestand. First up was a two-game set with the Los Angeles Dodgers, who would get the better of Houston and Zack Greinke to take the opener.

Final Score: Dodgers 9, Astros 2

Astros' Record: 26-22, second in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Clayton Kershaw (7-3)

Losing Pitcher: Zack Greinke (4-2)

Greinke loses the exciting pitching battle with Kershaw

The game's first three innings lived up to the high expectation of a pitching matchup between Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw. Both starters retired the opposing lineup in order the first time, leaving all zeroes on the scoreboard after three innings. A leadoff walk to Mookie Betts by Greinke in the top of the fourth proved costly, as Justin Turner would follow with the first hit of the game, a two-run homer to put the Dodgers in front 2-0.

Houston would get their first knock in the bottom of the inning but would otherwise continue to struggle against Kershaw while bringing no runs across. Greinke rebounded from the two-run fourth with a 1-2-3 fifth but would then unravel in the sixth. After two outs, he would load the bases on a single and two walks, then giving up a two-RBI single to Chris Taylor, extending LA's lead to 4-0. He would finish that inning but go no further. His final line: 6.0 IP, 3 H, 4 ER, 3 BB, 5 K, 1 HR, 88 P.

Houston's bullpen struggles continue as Dodgers trounce the Astros

Joe Smith was the first reliever to take the mound and allowed a leadoff single, which would come around to score and make it a 5-0 game after another single and a wild pitch. Alex Bregman would finally get the Astros on the board and give Kershaw his first blemish of the day, launching a leadoff solo homer to start the bottom of the seventh.

After getting the last out of the seventh, Enoli Paredes continued on the mound in the top of the eighth, getting two outs while loading the bases on a single, a walk, and a hit batter, prompting a pitching change to bring in Kent Emanuel. Emanuel would face just one batter, allowing a four-pitch walk before his low velocity would prompt trainers out, ultimately removing him from the game. Andre Scrubb would enter quickly, but he too would struggle, issuing two more bases-loaded walks to make it 8-1 before getting the third out to end the suffering.

Scrubb returned to try and eat up the top of the ninth but would again struggle, loading the bases on two walks and a single before allowing another run to make it 9-1 before getting out of it. Houston would salvage a run in the bottom of the ninth on an error, but it would make no difference as the Astros would lose their fourth straight game.

Up Next: The second game of this quick two-game set will be slightly earlier on Wednesday, with a start time of 6:40 PM Central. Luis Garcia (2-3, 3.38 ERA) will start for the Astros, while Trevor Bauer (5-2, 1.98 ERA) will go for the Dodgers.

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Astros on the hunt. Composite Getty Image.

With the Astros' surge from 10 games out of first place to within two games of Seattle, catching and going past the Mariners has naturally become the top objective. It's no given to happen but it's right there. In the final series ahead of the All-Star break, while the Mariners are in the midst of four games with the lowly Angels, the last two World Series champions renew (un)pleasantries at Minute Maid Park.

The Astros enter the weekend five games ahead of the Rangers. They lead the season series with the reigning champs four wins to three. While the Astros can't quite finish off the Arlingtonians by sweeping them in this three game set, shoving them eight games back (even further back of Seattle and the current Wild Card teams) and clinching the tiebreaker would seem close to a death blow. Taking two out of three would be fine for the Astros. If the Rangers win the series, they are clearly still in the American League West and Wild Card races coming out of the All-Star break.

Last year the Rangers had the best offense in the AL. So far in 2024 they rank a mediocre eighth in runs per game. Nathaniel Lowe is the lone Ranger (get it?!?) regular playing as well as he did last season. Corey Seager has been fine but not at the MVP runner-up level of last year. Marcus Semien is notably down, as is 2023 ALCS Astros-obliterater Adolis Garcia. Stud 2023 rookie Josh Jung has been out with a broken wrist since ex-Astro Phil Maton hit him with a pitch in the fourth game of this season, though fill-in third baseman Josh Smith has been the Rangers' best player. 21-year-old late season phenom Evan Carter largely stunk the first two months this season and has been out since late May with a back injury. Repeating is hard, never harder than it is now. Hence no Major League Baseball has done it since the Yankees won three straight World Series 1998-2000.

Chasing down the Division at a crazy clip

From the abyss of their 7-19 start, the Astros sweep over the Marlins clinched a winning record at the break with them at 49-44. Heading into the Texas matchup the Astros have won at a .627 clip since they were 7-19. A full season of .627 ball wins 101 games. If the Astros win at a .627 rate the rest of the way they'll finish with 92 wins, almost certainly enough to secure a postseason slot and likely enough to win the West. Expecting .627 the rest of the way is ambitious.

With it fairly clear that Lance McCullers is highly unlikely to contribute anything after his latest recovery setback, and Luis Garcia a major question mark, what Justin Verlander has left in 2024 grows more important. With the way the Astros often dissemble or poorly forecast when discussing injuries, for all we know Verlander could be cooked. Inside three weeks to the trade deadline, General Manager Dana Brown can't be thinking a back end of the rotation comprised of Spencer Arrighetti and Jake Bloss should be good enough. The Astros have 66 games to play after the All-Star break, including separate stretches with games on 18 and 16 consecutive days.

All-Star MIAs

Viewership for Tuesday's All-Star game at Globe Life Field in Arlington will be pretty, pretty, pretty low in Houston. One, All-Star Game ratings are pitiful every year compared to where they used to be. Two, the Astros could be down to zero representatives at Tuesday's showcase. Kyle Tucker was rightfully named a reserve but had no shot at playing as he continues the loooong recovery from a bone bruise (or worse) suffered June 3. Being named an All-Star for a ninth time was enough for Jose Altuve. He opts out of spending unnecessary time in Texas Rangers territory citing a sore wrist. This despite Altuve playing four games in a row since sitting out the day after he was plunked and highly likely to play in all three games versus the Rangers this weekend. Yordan Alvarez exiting Wednesday's rout of the Marlins with hip discomfort and then missing Thursday's game seem clear reasons for him to skip, though he has indicated thus far he intends to take part. Yordan is the most essential lineup component to the Astros' hopes of making an eighth straight playoff appearance.

Ronel Blanco should have made the American League squad on performance, but pretty obviously his 10 game illegal substance use suspension was held against him. As it works out, Blanco will pitch Sunday in the last game before the break which would render him unavailable for the All-Star Game anyway. Blanco is eligible to pitch, but given the career high-shattering innings workload Blanco is headed for, no way the Astros want him on the mound Tuesday. Just last year the Astros kept Framber Valdez from pitching in the game.

While waiting, and waiting, and waiting on Tucker's return, the Astros have also been waiting on Chas McCormick to get back to something even faintly resembling the hitter he was last year. McCormick routinely looks lost at the plate. He has four hits (all singles) in his last 32 at bats with his season OPS pitiful at .572. During the break the Astros should seriously weigh sending McCormick to AAA Sugar Land and giving Pedro Leon a try in a job share with Joey Loperfido.

*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 The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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