The Astros exited tonights game having still not won a game in the second one-third of the season. They lost by a score of 4-2, turned the rotation over having gone 0-5 the last time through, and had their lead in the AL West shrink to two games over the Miracle Rangers and 4 games over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. While this is starting to get frustrating, especially all of the frikking blown opportunities with a dose of bad luck thrown in, I choose to look at the glass as being half full. In the last decade, a 6-game losing streak in June would have sent the Astros from mildly irrelevant in the standings to very irrelevant in the standings - the fact that we are talking about a 6-game losing streak and they still have a lead in their division is nothing short of awesome.
But this unidimensional offence is beginning to get annoying. They have a bunch of guys that can mash it out of the park, but the contact issues are real, and they are really irritating. The contact hitters on the team are either slumping (Altuve) or injured (Lowrie), and the major problems with guys like Gattis, Carter, Valbeuna, Rasmus and Springer revolve primarily around a lack of contact. Carlos Correa may be part of the solution to that, but when bit-players like Marisnick and González are not contributing, the offence looks pretty shaky in a hurry.
But tonight, it was more around crap luck. The Astros hit balls hard most of the night. As a team, they strung together solid at-bats. The White Sox got the clutch hits of the night, and that was a enough to doom the Astros to another loss.
I am going to muck with the format tonight, and change things around a little. Feel free to provide feedback in the comments, but I wonder whether this will flow better.
Early: (innings 1-3)
Both starters found themselves in a spot of bother early, but neither yielded. Carlos Rodon retired the first two hitters in the first before allowing two on due to a Gattis single the other way and a Preston Tucker walk. Chris Carter followed, and on a 2-1 count, he scalded one to LF. If the ball had been 3 yards toward the CF gap, or 6 yards toward the line, it would probably have scored two, but Melky Cabrera made a nice catch and the side was retired.
In the second, the Astros went in order. In the third, a Springer one-out double was scalded to the gap in CF, but he was stranded at third with an Altuve strikeout and a Gattis hard grounder to second base. Again, a little either way, and the run scores.
Keuchel set the White Sox down in order in the first and third frames, but he did a bit of a Houdini in the second. The White Sox loaded the bases with no outs on three singles, but Keuchel coaxed Beckham into a fly out, struck out Tyler Flowers, and enticed Bonifacio into a ground out. None of the runners scored.
The game was tied 0-0, entering the....
Middle: (innings 4-6)
The Astros continued to work Rodon over in the fourth. Preston Tucker singled to CF, then Chris Carter was hit by a 3-0 pitch, putting two on with no outs. Rodon was starting to seriously struggle with his command at this point. Carlos Correa scalded an 0-2 pitch - it was a hard line-drive that third baseman Gordon Beckham caught on the dive. Charitably, one could say that Beckham was perfectly placed. Hank Conger then walked to load the bases with one out - Conger had a bunch of good at-bats in this game, and he looks to be the better offensively of the catchers for the Astros right now. But Luis Valbuena struck out swinging in a mighty at-bat - he also put a bunch of good swings on and hung in there for 9 pitches, before Handsome Jake grounded out to short for the third out.
Rodon set down the side in order in the fifth, and Correa hit a clean single to left field with two outs in the sixth. He stole second, Conger put together a good at-bat, but was unable to drive him in when he fouled out to first.
Keuchel struck out two in the fourth, setting the side down in order. In the fifth, Tyler Flowers walked after being down 1-2 in the count. The sixth is where Keuchel got unstuck. Alexi Ramírez grounded a swimging bunt down the 3B line (the pitch after hitting Conger in the head), and Keuchel was unable to make the play. It was close, but he was safe. Three pitches later, Jose Abreu drove a low fastball that was under the strike zone but caught the middle-third of the plate out to the RF-CF power alley. It didn't clear the fence by much, but the end result was a two-run shot the other way, on an unlikely pitch.
Late: (innings 7-9)
Chicago called for the 'pen to start the seventh with Rodon at 116 pitches. Zach Putnum set the side down in order, but not before Luis Valbuena lined it hard into RF, down the throat of the fielder. Colby Rasmus tried to lay down a 2-strike bunt, but it didn't get far enough from the plate, and Flowers was able to gun Rasmus down at first. In the eighth, the side went in order.
Keuchel pitched the seventh, and aside from a two-out infield single, the inning was uneventful. He left the game at 109 pitches, after allowing 7 hits and two walks in seven frames, striking out five. Two earned runs were added to his yearly ledger.
Chad Qualls "relieved" to start the eighth - he has struggled with a bunch of rough outings recently, and that continued today: he allowed four straight batter to reach, on a single-single-walk-double sequence, and two runs scored. Qualls can't seem to throw strikes at the moment - either the ball sinks out of the strike zone, or it flattens out when he elevates it and the batters hit it hard.
Anyhow, he left with runners on second and third and the score 4-0, and Josh Fields came on. Fields walked Gordon Beckham, then bounced back to strike out Tyler Flowers after a mammoth 9-pitch battle, Bonifacio on a 2-2 count, and Adam Eaton on a comparatively svelte four pitches.
In the ninth, the Astros made some noise, bringing the tying run to the plate, and hitting two balls deep into the outfield. Another night, the game would have been tied. Carter led off with a "double" - he popped it up behind where a conventional second-baseman would be, but Bonifacio was shifted toward the left side, and he had a long run to track it down. He overran it, and García - running in from RF - was unable to cover for him. Carter busted it into second on a close play, which gave him a prime viewing seat for Carlos Correa's first ML home run. Zach Duke tried to bust him inside with a fastball, and Correa helped the ball 12 rows back into the LF bleachers. The gap was closed to 4-2.
Conger followed with another solid AB, singling to right against David Robertson, who was summoned to relieve Duke. Luis Valbeuna then put a charge into one, but he flew out to the warning track in the gap - he just got under it, as he sometimes does, and the ball was not hit quite far enough to get out. Rasmus went down swinging, then George Springer lined out to RF. Springer thought twice that he had walked - the second time flipping the bat toward the dugout, and after the game ended, he had some choice words for Larry Vanover. Vanover was the guy who tried to screw Carlos Correa out of his first ML hit yesterday. Springer's actions were inappropriate, but I doubt that any external penalties will be levied toward him. The worst thing was that both pitches were call-able, and the second pitch (when he flipped the bat) was definitely a strike, weakening Springer's argument somewhat.
Anyhow, the whole game was hugely frustrating for the Astros, who strung together bunch of tough at-bats against a really good pitcher. Another day, Rodon would have been down by a bunch of runs, and exited after the fourth or fifth frame. Offensively, Carlos Correa (2-4, HR, SB), Preston Tucker and Hank Conger (both 1-3, BB) were on base twice. George Springer (1-5), Evan Gattis (1-4) and Chris Carter (1-3) had the remaining three hits.
Keuchel's tough sixth frame was the turning point. I won't relive it here - scroll up and read for yourselves if interested.
Man of the Match:
Hard to go past Carlos Correa for this one, so I won't. Correa had a good night - no need for any stellar defensive play, but he looks the real thing at the plate. A definite hat-tip to Hank Conger for his solid AB's, and Josh Fields for inheriting Chad Qualls' mess and preventing the baserunners from moving up.
Goat of the Game:
Chad Qualls. He has looked flat for periods of time this year. His ERA sits at 5.31. He should be mop-up at this point of the season until he straightens things out.
Happy Vince Velasquez Day!!
Vincent Velasquez (0-0, 0.00) versus Jose Quintana (2-6, 4.28)
8 Eastern, 7 Central.
The Astros have Thursday off before welcoming the Mariners into MMP for a three-game set.