Houston loses the middle game

Blue Jays ding Urquidy to even series with Astros

Astros' Jose Urquidy
Jose Urquidy didn't fare well on Saturday. Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images.

Jose Urquidy didn't fare well on Saturday.

With a hit parade in Friday's opener to start this three-game set on the right foot, the Astros looked to lock up the series victory in a similar fashion on Saturday afternoon. Instead, the Blue Jays reversed the roles and got after Jose Urquidy, while Houston's bats made little noise, resulting in an Astros loss to even the series.

Final Score: Blue Jays 6, Astros 2

Astros' Record: 32-26, second in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Ross Stripling (2-3)

Losing Pitcher: Jose Urquidy (4-3)

Toronto gets to Urquidy

After returning from the IL with a quality start in his last outing, giving him four in his previous five starts, Jose Urquidy did not get one on Saturday. He started with three scoreless innings, but things unraveled for him in the bottom of the fourth as back-to-back singles to start the frame turned into a one-out RBI single and then a three-run home run, giving Toronto a 4-1 lead at the time. Urquidy tried to rebound in the bottom of the fifth, but again, it would get tagged as a one-out single turned into a two-run homer by Vladmir Guerrero Jr., making it a 6-1 game. That would be the end of his afternoon, making his final line 4.1 IP, 9 H, 6 ER, 0 BB, 5 K, 2 HR, 74 P.

A crash landing for Houston's bats as Toronto evens the series

After putting up thirteen runs the night prior, things were not clicking as well for Houston. They had a chance to get on the board in the top of the third, with Myles Straw coming around from second on a hit by Jose Altuve, but would miss the call to slide, getting tagged out by a great throw to prevent the run. They threatened in the top of the fourth, loading the bases with two outs, but would get just one run out of it on an RBI walk by Straw.

They made little noise after that, until the top of the ninth when they would get runners on second and third with no outs. Straw would get a groundout to bring a run in, making it 6-2, but that's as close as they would come in the loss, setting up a rubber game in the finale to decide the series.

Up Next: The finale of this three-game set and the six-game season series between the Astros and Blue Jays will start at 12:07 PM Central on Sunday. Luis Garcia (4-3, 2.89 ERA) will try to replicate the success of his recent seven-inning start for Houston, while Steven Matz (6-2, 4.22 ERA) will be on the mound for Toronto.

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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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