Houston can't complete the sweep

Astros drop finale to Mariners after rough bullpen outing

Astros' Jose Alutve
Houston's offense couldn't outpace the bullpen struggles in Wednesday's finale against the Mariners. Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Houston's offense couldn't outpace the bullpen struggles in Wednesday's finale against the Mariners.

After the come-from-behind walk-off win in extras to lock up the series victory on Tuesday, the Astros sought a series sweep with a win on Wednesday afternoon to finish this series against Seattle. They would again come up short of a sweep, with their bullpen allowing late runs to put Seattle on top.

Final Score: Mariners 8, Astros 5

Astros' Record: 81-58, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Diego Castillo (3-5)

Losing Pitcher: Ryan Pressly (5-2)

Urquidy lasts only three frames

In this start, things did not go well for Jose Urquidy, beginning with a two-run first inning where he would load the bases with three one-out singles and then allowed a two-RBI double to Abraham Toro to put the Mariners in front 2-0. He would get through the next two innings without any more damage, but with his less-than-normal stuff and having already reached 70 pitches, Houston would move to their bullpen in the fourth. Urquidy's final line: 3.0 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 70 P.

Houston jumps in front

Urquidy would at least leave with his team in front, thanks to a three-run second by his offense. After a leadoff single by Yordan Alvarez, Kyle Tucker drove him in with a one-out RBI double to make it a one-run game. Two batters later, Marwin Gonzalez, who recently rejoined his old team, launched a go-ahead two-run homer to put the Astros in front 3-2.

The one-run score stayed that way until the bottom of the fifth, when Jose Altuve would add another run on a leadoff solo homer, making it 4-2. They had the chance for more that inning, loading the bases with two outs, but would strand all three runners. After Urquidy made his early exit, Christian Javier entered to eat up some innings, and he would, getting through the fourth, fifth, and pitched into the sixth. He would get one out while allowing two on base, one walk and one single, before being lifted in favor of Brooks Raley, who finished the frame and got the first batter out of the seventh.

Astros can't complete the sweep

After Raley, Yimi Garcia entered to try and finish the inning. Instead, he allowed a double and a single while getting one out, putting two on base as they moved on to Phil Maton. Maton would watch both inherited runners score, allowing a two-RBI double to tie the game 4-4. Still tied in the top of the eighth, Kendall Graveman came on and was able to post a scoreless inning, erasing a single and a walk during the inning.

Ryan Pressly entered to keep the stalemate going in the top of the ninth. He would get two strikeouts, but he allowed a single and a walk between them, setting up a go-ahead two-RBI single to blow the save. Blake Taylor entered to finish the inning, but not before allowing a two-run homer to make it an 8-4 game. Despite a leadoff solo homer by pinch-hitting Alex Bregman, the Astros come no closer, allowing the Mariners to avoid the sweep and salvage a game in the series.

Up Next: The Astros will have a day off on Thursday before continuing this homestand with the opener of a three-game series with the Angels Friday at 7:10 PM Central. Framber Valdez (9-5, 3.08 ERA) will be on the mound for Houston, while Los Angeles has not yet decided their starter.

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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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