Houston's offensive struggles continue

Disastrous first inning leaves Astros in 2-0 ALCS deficit

Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

After an offensive struggle to start the series where they'd muster just one run in a 2-1 Game 1 loss, the Astros made the quick turnaround to start Game 2 on Monday afternoon. If they could manage a win, it would even the series and turn the ALCS into a best-of-five.

They would be unable to even it up, though, losing after another disappointing and frustrating performance in Monday's Game 2. Tampa Bay goes up 2-0 in the series while the Astros are left desperate for a change of momentum to get back in the series. A quick recap of the game:

Final Score: Rays 4, Astros 2.

Series: TB leads 2-0.

Winning Pitcher: Charlie Morton.

Losing Pitcher: Lance McCullers Jr.

Disastrous first inning for Houston

Houston started Game 2 offensively much as they performed in Game 1, doing enough to get into position to score, but coming away empty. George Springer started the game with a single, then moved to third on a one-out single by Michael Brantley, but a tough-luck lineout by Alex Bregman straight at the shortstop and a strikeout by Kyle Tucker would leave both runners where they stood.

Things took an even further downward turn in the bottom of the inning when a two-out single gave Tampa Bay their first baserunner followed by a groundball that should have ended the frame. Instead, a throwing error by Jose Altuve to Yuli Gurriel, who couldn't pick it, extended the inning. That manifested itself immediately as a costly mistake, as Manuel Margot would score both runners and himself on a three-run home run to center.

McCullers Jr. deals, but can only get one run of support

With their gifted 3-0 lead, the Rays got what they needed from Charlie Morton. Despite allowing five hits, he would hold the Astros scoreless as they would continue to strand runners and lack the consistency to string together hits for runs. They would, however, raise Morton's pitch count enough to end his day at five innings. That set up four innings needed by Tampa Bay's bullpen, starting with Peter Fairbanks, who was welcomed by a one-out solo home run by Carlos Correa in the top of the sixth to get Houston on the board.

That was the first run of support for Lance McCullers Jr, who, aside from the bad pitch that resulted in the three-run homer in the first, was spinning a gem for most of the game. McCullers Jr. allowed a single with no outs in the third inning and then retired the next fourteen straight, nine coming on impressive strikeouts. That streak ended with two outs in the bottom of the seventh, when Mike Zunino would make it a three-run game again with a solo shot. McCullers Jr.'s final line: 7.0 IP, 4 H, 4 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 11 K, 2 HR, 100 P.

Rays go up 2-0 in the series as Houston's rally comes up short

Andre Scrubb would come out of the bullpen to take over for McCullers Jr. in the bottom of the eighth. He recorded a 1-2-3 inning, sending the game to the ninth to give the Astros one last chance to make a comeback. Houston would start a rally, loading the bases with no outs on three-straight singles by the bottom of their order. That brought George Springer to the plate, who would ground into a double play. That brought in a run, but that's as close as the Astros would come, dropping the game 4-2 and falling into a 2-0 deficit in the ALCS.

Up Next: ALCS Game 3 will be a night game, with first pitch scheduled for 7:40 PM Central from Petco Park in San Diego. The Astros have landed on Jose Urquidy to take the mound, while the Rays have not yet named their starter.

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Rockets get another much-needed win. Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets went on a redemption tour by beating the Detroit Pistons and Dallas Mavericks. But the most pivotal win was against the Mavericks as the Rockets finally showed their true potential. John Wall finally made his return from his injury hiatus and played with a lot of energy. DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Gordon combined for 61 points. It was great to see Stephan Silas crack a smile as he was able to beat his former team.

The Rockets clearly missed Wall during his eight-game absense. This season, the Rockets are a .500 team with Wall on the court. Wall is the Rockets' floor general that leads, constructs, and also pushes his teammates to become better.

Wall only played 21 minutes in the 133-108 win over the Mavericks but still had eight assists. Even though Wall only had 7 points, his presence was still felt by finding his teammates for open looks beyond the perimeter. Wall made sure Cousins and Gordon got a plethora of touches. He called multiple actions, so they got open looks from three, which was mainly Gordon. Gordon and Cousins' struggles have been similar but with Wall on the court, they were successful against the Mavericks. According to NBA Stats, Wall posted a 111 offensive rating with the starters versus the Mavericks, which included Gordon and Cousins.

"He's the engine to this team. He gets everybody going. He makes the game easy," Cousins told a reporter after the game. "The pressure that he constantly puts on the defense is a tough thing to deal with."

Gordon has struggled all season long with three-point shooting and relied on his slashing abilities. Saturday night, Gordon made six three pointers against the Mavericks, which was 66 percent from beyond the perimeter. Gordon increased his three-point percentage from 31 percent to 34.5 percent after Saturday night's game. Gordon's 33 points came from being able to attack the entire Mavericks' defense. Willy Cauley-Stein didn't stand a chance against Gordon as he was burned multiple times. Gordon's been a lifesaver for the Rockets in the last two games, and hopefully he maintains his play.

Cousins played fantastic against the Mavericks scoring 28 points and grabbing 17 rebounds. This is Cousins' first double-double with the Rockets this season. Cousins became the vintage player from the New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings. It was extremely fun watching Cousins push the ball up the court and aggressively snatch rebounds. Boogie shot 50 percent from behind the arc by making four three-pointers. He was dominant inside the paint as Cousins went 7/8 from the restricted area versus the Mavericks. This was the game Cousins needed after having a poor performance against the Pistons Friday night.

"It was really, really good. He did it all. He's a physical presence on both ends of the floor," as Silas said on Cousins' performance.

David Nwaba and Mason Jones were big factors off the Rockets' bench by having a combined total of 34 points together. Nwaba has been great in transition for the Rockets the entire season. Keep in mind that Nwaba is returning from an Achilles injury he suffered with his former team, the Brooklyn Nets. Nwaba has became a great defender, slasher, and is averaging a career-high nine points per game with the Rockets. He finished with 18 points on Saturday night versus the Mavericks.

Mason Jones has become a fan favorite of the Rockets because of his confidence. Silas is loving the usage of Jones off the bench but wants to find more minutes for him. Jones had a breakout performance versus the San Antonio Spurs with 24 points off 66 percent shooting from the field. He continues to get better with his reads from the point guard position. Jones' knowledge of running the offense has helped his efficiency on the court. He is never afraid to take clutch shots in pivotal moments of the game.

"To have a young kid who can come in and not be afraid of the moment, that's big. That's a tough position to be in as an undrafted rookie. I trust him. It's a good problem to have," Silas mentioned after the game. "He's showing me he's ready. He's a confident kid, and he should be. That's why he's good. He's not afraid of the moment, at all. He can get us organized, run plays, and score the basketball."

Hopefully, the Rockets can sustain their level of play when Victor Oladipo returns against the Washington Wizards, Tuesday. It will be interesting to watch Oladipo and Wall play in the same backcourt.

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