Houston loses to Cleveland

Astros give up finale to Indians as Houston's bullpen falters

Astros' Lance McCullers Jr.
Lance McCullers Jr. had a rough end to his night in Wednesday's game against the Indians. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Lance McCullers Jr. had a rough end to his night in Wednesday's game against the Indians.

With wins in the first two games of this series, and having swept all four in Cleveland earlier in the year, the Astros entered Wednesday trying to finish off the season-series sweep over the Indians. They would come up short, however, as Houston's bullpen would not hold up, allowing Cleveland to salvage a game.

Final Score: Indians 5, Astros 4

Astros' Record: 58-39, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Bryan Shaw (3-3)

Losing Pitcher: Austin Pruitt (0-1)

McCullers Jr. battles, but ends up on the hook

Lance McCullers Jr. had an up-and-down night, posting two solid innings to start the game before giving up a game-tying RBI-double in the third where he allowed two hits, a walk, and used 34 pitches. He rebounded with a 1-2-3 fourth, erased runners on second and third with one out in the top of the fifth, but in the sixth would not record an out after loading the bases on two singles and a walk, ending his night. Bryan Abreu came in from the bullpen and, after striking out the first two batters, allowed a bases-clearing double to charge three runs to McCullers Jr. That finalized his line: 5.0 IP, 6 H, 4 ER, 2 BB, 8 K, 0 HR, 100 P.

Houston ties it back up

To that point, the Astros had brought in two runs, both on solo homers. The first was a game-tying solo shot by Jose Altuve, his third over the last two games, in the bottom of the fourth. Kyle Tucker then gave Houston a lead in the bottom of the fifth, blasting a solo shot to go ahead 2-1.

Then, down 4-2 in the bottom of the sixth, Martin Maldonado led off with a double, then scored on an RBI double by Jose Altuve, cutting the lead to one run and leaving Altuve on second as the tying run. After a sacrifice groundout by Michael Brantley to move Altuve to third, Yuli Gurriel would get him home, tying the game with an RBI single to make it 4-4 heading to the seventh.

Astros drop the finale

Austin Pruitt was Houston's next reliever, coming in to take over in the top of the seventh. He allowed a one-out go-ahead solo homer to Cleveland, then faced and retired one more batter to hit the minimum of three before Dusty Baker moved on to Blake Taylor, who finished the frame on one pitch.

After the Astros stranded the tying runner in the bottom of the seventh, Ryne Stanek was next out of the bullpen in the top of the eighth and kept it a one-run game, erasing a one-out walk. Still 5-4 in the top of the ninth, Ryan Pressly came on and continued his recent success by posting a scoreless inning. It would be to no avail, though, as the Astros would come up empty in the home half, allowing Cleveland to salvage a game in both this series and the season series.

Up Next: The Astros will have Thursday off before continuing this homestand by welcoming the Rangers into town for a three-game set starting Friday at 7:10 PM Central. In the opener, Kolby Allard (2-7, 4.06 ERA) for Texas is expected to face Jake Odorizzi (3-5, 4.09 ERA) for Houston.

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Will the Astros ever give Joey Loperfido a chance to fix the black hole at first base? Composite Getty Image.

So how long do you suppose the Astros will cling to the ludicrous notion that Jose Abreu will return to being a sustainably decent hitter (much less a good hitter)? The All-Star break? The trade deadline July 30? The day the Astros are eliminated from the playoff race? End of the season? End of his contract at the end of next season? Maybe they sign him to a two-year extension?

Since rejoining the team Abreu has played in 13 games, starting 12 of them. He has seven hits in 42 at bats for a .167 batting average. That’s only not horrible in comparison to the sub-pathetic .099 mark Abreu had when hiatus time arrived. Since returning, Abreu has walked once. If you remember or are familiar with Susan Powter you know what comes next. STOP THE INSANITY!

Kyle Tucker’s absence obviously punches a big hole in the Astros’ lineup. Still, that regularly running out Jeremy Pena in the cleanup or fifth spot in the lineup doesn’t seem completely ridiculous, is ridiculous! Pena has been abysmal for the last month. May 11 he put up his fourth consecutive multi-hit game. In 29 games since, Pena has added one more homer with an anemic on-base percentage of .238. Not batting average, OBP. Yuck. All teams solicit All-Star votes for non-worthy guys. Pena plays in the same league as Gunnar Henderson, Bobby Witt Jr., Corey Seager, and Anthony Volpe. Hyping Pena for the All-Star game is plain ol’ silly.

Jon Singleton ever slotting in the lineup fourth or fifth, sigh. He of one homer and 28 strikeouts in his last 79 at bats. It’s just a sad state of affairs that no one below Pena or Singleton in the lineup should obviously be higher in the lineup. Mauricio Dubon, Victor Caratini, Trey Cabbage are all bottom third of the lineup if in the lineup type guys. Chas McCormick seemingly losing almost all of his hitting ability has hurt. Yainer Diaz stinking for much more of the season to date than he’s been good has hurt.

The refusal to try Joey Loperfido at first base is somewhere from perplexing to stupid. Look, Loperfido is not an elite prospect. His poor contact skills may doom him from becoming a quality regular. But find out! He struck out a bunch in his first taste but also hit .333. The low upside of the Abreu-Singleton combo is obvious. Evidently to just about all but Astros’ decision makers. Going with Trey Cabbage over Loperfido in the outfield also underwhelms.

Chasing down the Mariners?

It could all still turn for the better, but the Astros are at increasing risk of fading to oblivion behind Seattle in the American League West race. They deserve to be 31-38. They have a losing record at home, they have a losing record on the road. They have a losing record in day games, they have a losing record in night games. They are 7-14 in games against left-handed starting pitchers, they are 24-24 (hey, .500, yippee!) vs. right-handed starters. It would take a serious collapse to fall entirely out of the Wild Card race before the trade deadline, but the Astros are flirting with danger there too. They have to leapfrog several teams to get to the third Wild Card position, currently held by the Minnesota Twins. This doesn’t seem to be a good weekend to gain ground on them. Not that A.J. Hinch’s Detroit Tigers visiting Minute Maid Park this weekend are anything special, though in Friday night’s series opener the Astros face the arguably best starting pitcher in the big leagues this season (Tarik Skubal). But the Twins have four games at home against the lowly Oakland A’s.

If Minnesota is not to overtake Kansas City and Cleveland to win the AL Central, you know Carlos Correa would love to make the playoffs at his ex-team’s expense. Wednesday Correa banged out the first five-hit game of his career. It’s pretty amazing that Jose Altuve has never had a five-hit game given how great a hitter he’s been and the relatively few walks he’s drawn. Sunday in Anaheim, Altuve racked up his 39th four-hit game. Remember, last September, Altuve hit five home runs over seven innings that overlapped two games against the Texas Rangers.

George Springer is the lone Astro ever to rack up six hits in a game, doing so at Oakland in 2018. So far this month, Springer is six for 40. Springer has two seasons left after this one on the six-year 150 million dollar contract he signed with Toronto. At 34 years old he is playing as if washed up. 2023 was the worst season of Springer’s career and he has fallen off a cliff from there thus far in 2024. Springer is batting .198 with his OPS at a sickly .582.

There is only one player in the modern era (1900 forward) of Major League Baseball to amass seven hits in a nine-inning game. In 1975 Rennie Stennett went seven for seven at Wrigley Field in a Pittsburgh Pirates 22-0 obliteration of the Chicago Cubs. The “Bleacher Bums” must have had fun that day.

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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