Has a 2.5-game lead ever felt so small? Last night the Rays enjoyed a three-run Tim Beckham homer on their way to a 9-2 trouncing of the Astros, shrinking the Astros lead to 2.5 games over the Angels and three games over the Rangers. This is the same Tim Beckham who was the 1st overall pick in the 2008 draft and is playing in his 61st career MLB game, who hit his 6th homer and the first three-run homer of his career. No matter. This has been a frustrating two weeks.
Let's look at the stats since July 31, shall we?
Valbuena: .344/.432/.562 - .994 OPS
Correa: .250/.391/.536 - .927 OPS
Conger: .188/.316/.562 - .878 OPS
Rasmus: .239/.327/.543 - .870 OPS
Lowrie: .244/.314/.400 - .714 OPS
Marwin: .269/.321/.346 - .667 OPS
Altuve: .310/.347/.310 - .657 OPS
Gattis: .170/.241/.377 - .618 OPS
Castro: .175/.214/.400 - .614 OPS
Tucker: .190/.227/.357 - .584 OPS
Carter: .143/.321/.190 - .511 OPS
Gomez: .188/212/266 - .478 OPS
Marisnick: .111/.111/.222 - .333 OPS
What we see is Valbuena and Correa and a pile of crap. 145 of 530 Plate Appearances - 27.4% - are going to players with a sub-.600 OPS in the last two weeks. 337 out of 530 - 63.6% - of PAs are going to players who, over the last two weeks, aren't doing much. Altuve hasn't had an extra-base hit since July 28.
And it's Tucker, Gomez, Marisnick - three outfielders - making up the bulk of those plate appearances. Of course this is precipitated by George Springer's absence. Rasmus has shown a lot of pop - his August numbers belied by the two-homer game on Sunday - in the last two weeks. But this isn't the Carlos Gomez anyone expected. A .478 OPS? Adam Everett laughs and says to get in the cage at a .478 OPS. His offensive rating (FanGraphs edition) shows a -2.4 this month, and his 39 wRC+ is 161st out of 178 qualified batters in August.
And yet somehow Jake Marisnick gets playing time, also, necessitated by just needing a body in the outfield. That triple that Marisnick hit on Sunday that allowed him to score the game-winning run? His first hit of the month. Yes, he's a fantastic defensive outfielder. But there are 376 players who have at least 10 plate appearances this month, and Marisnick's -24 (yes, minus 24) wRC+ is 366th. Since the end of May Marisnick is hitting .167/.193/.289 with a 25 wRC+, creating a quarter of the runs at the plate as someone with a league-average bat. That's unfathomable. But it's necessary at this point in time.
Watching Gomez and Marisnick the last two weeks, one could be forgiven by thinking "Holy crap, instead of trading Brett Phillips, they could have just called him up and watched him put up a .550 OPS - it would have been an improvement."
To put this...this...I don't know what, it feels weird to be panicking about a three-game lead...all on Gomez and Marisnick doesn't do it justice, either. It just feels like there's one straight up goat every game.
Scott Kazmir's 6ER last night tied a season-high. In his first three starts with the Astros, Kazmir threw 20.1IP, 12H/1ER, 13K:6BB, 1HR. In his last two starts, he's thrown 11IP, 16H/8ER, 9K:5BB, 3HR. Almost half of the balls put in play last night found a way to drop. And that's been the story of the second half - a story which has nothing to do with pitching (maybe a little Luke Gregerson).
Were the Chronicle to run another Tombstone graphic, they could put "RIP 2015 Astros - BABIP'd to death." Yet this - let's not call it a spiral - is a month of missed opportunities, and maybe it's dumb luck, maybe it's just dumb. The Astros' .257 BABIP in August is 5th-lowest in baseball. Scalding baseballs right at defenders, balls tracked down at the warning track. Nineteen one-run losses this season, four of those in the past 12 games. Last night's 9-2 loss was the worst loss since an 8-1 June 18 loss against Seattle. The Astros are now 6-9 in August, and prior to last night the Astros had lost those other eight games by a total of 14 runs.
Still, FanGraphs gives the Astros a 66.6% chance of winning the division, an 81.8% chance of making the postseason. Basically, FanGraphs takes the roster, remaining schedule, recent form, and simulates the season 10,000 times every day - that's how they generate the Playoff Odds. So even after the Astros' recent string of results, the simulation shows they win the division 6,666 times out of 10,000 and make the postseason 8180 times out of 10,000.
You can look at the above and think, "Good Chris Truby the Astros have to get it together," or you can think, "Okay, Springer is on his way back and Outfield Matt Dominguez will be pushed out, and the Astros still have a 2.5-game lead."
There are 43 games left and we are living and dying with each game. All we as fans wanted was for the Astros to play interesting baseball, a reason to look forward more to 7:10pm that night and not next June's draft. By God, we are getting our wish.