Houston falls to beatable Arizona

Astros fall to D-backs in second-straight extra-inning game to even series

Astros' Jose Altuve
Houston's inexplicable struggles against struggling teams continued on Saturday night. Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Houston's inexplicable struggles against struggling teams continued on Saturday night.

After needing extra innings to beat the struggling Diamondbacks, the Astros hoped to rebound with a much more convincing win over Arizona on Saturday to secure the series win. Instead, Arizona would get the best of Houston in extras, tying the three-game set at one game apiece

Final Score (10 innings):
Diamondbacks 6, Astros 4

Astros' Record: 87-61, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: J.B. Wendelken (3-2)

Losing Pitcher: Yimi Garcia (3-9)

Houston strikes first, Arizona responds against McCullers Jr.

After a quick top of the first by their starter, Lance McCullers Jr., the Astros jumped out to an early lead off the bat of Yordan Alvarez, who capitalized on a one-out walk by crushing a 453-foot two-run homer to straightaway center, putting Houston ahead 2-0. McCullers dealt with some traffic in the second, allowing a one-out double and two-out walk, but erased both to maintain the lead.

After a 1-2-3 third, things unraveled for him in the fourth, allowing a leadoff double that would result in a run on an error, then gave up the lead with an RBI double and RBI single in back-to-back at-bats to give Arizona a 3-2 advantage. He finished that frame, erased a leadoff double in the fifth, and then made it through the sixth with some defensive help. His final line: 6.0 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 8 K, 111 P.

Game stays tied as the teams go to extras for second straight night

Houston got McCullers Jr. off the hook in the bottom of the sixth, getting a single and double to start the frame to set up a sac fly by Carlos Correa, making it 3-3. Phil Maton was Houston's first reliever in the top of the seventh, and he would face three batters, getting two outs and allowing a walk before Brooks Raley came in to finish the inning.

Despite back-to-back singles to start the bottom of the seventh for Houston, they would come away empty-handed as the game remained gridlocked. Ryne Stanek was next out of the bullpen, and he sat down Arizona 1-2-3 before Houston suffered the same fate in the bottom half. For the second night in a row, Houston's closer came in to try and keep things tied in the top of the ninth. Ryan Pressly did it again, but so did Arizona in the bottom of the ninth, making it back-to-back nights with extra innings.

Astros fall in extras as Arizona evens the series

Yimi Garcia had the top of the tenth for Houston, but after allowing the free runner to score on a one-out single, he would give up a two-run homer to make it a 6-3 lead for Arizona before finishing the inning. Houston made it a two-run game with a pinch-hit RBI single by Jason Castro in the bottom of the inning but would not come any closer as the Diamondbacks would even the series.

Up Next: The finale of this three-game series will be a normal 1:10 PM Central start on Sunday. It'll be the battle of the Zac(k)s, as Zac Gallen (2-10, 4.44 ERA) will be on the mound for Arizona and Zack Greinke (11-6, 3.94 ERA) will pitch for the Houston.

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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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