The Runner Sports

The Loss Weekend: Astros Drop 3 Within 24 Hours, Lose AL Best Lead

From this day forward, the Houston Astros may look at a Bay Area map, and see the city just east of San Francisco reading, “Chokeland,” after games of Friday and Saturday, September 8 & 9.

The American League Western Division cellar dwellers, Oakland A’s, battered the visiting Astros, 9-8 Friday, and 11-1 and 11-4 Saturday in a doubleheader prompted by a rescheduled April 16 game.

Of equal devastation to Houston was the loss of the best record in the American League to the streaking Cleveland Indians, as their 17-game winning streak pulled them even with the ‘Stros at 86-56, after their 4-2 doubling up of Baltimore, Saturday. This, of course, impacts home-field advantage in the playoffs. This is the first time the Astros haven’t had sole possession of the AL’s best record since May 10.

Houston gave up 22 runs in the two games Saturday, including 17 from their bullpen. “That’s a lot of runs in one day over two games,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said after the doubleheader debacle. “Not our norm, to give that up.”

While declaring the loss of the effectiveness of the Houston bullpen might be a stretch to assert, most of the relievers called on Friday and Saturday did nothing to add nuance to the word “intimidating.”

In fact, things got so bad in Saturday’s opener –the eventual 11-1 drubbing– that Hinch brought in 3rd baseman J.D. Davis for his second relief pitching stint of the year. He struck out two Oakland batters, both swinging, in the 8th inning. With a current batting average of .235 and a .788 OPS in 51 ABs, Davis might want to consider a career change for 2018. His 3 strikeouts in 1.2 IP and .167 BA-against makes a solid case for a move to the bullpen. Seriously.

The Astros’ starters for the three games performed anywhere from very well to serviceable. Brad Peacock, starting Saturday’s nightcap, hurled 5 innings and gave up 2 earned runs with 9 strikeouts, giving up 5 hits and walking no one.

Charlie Morton began the day with 5 innings of 6-hit ball, also yielding 2 earned runs, with 3 walks and 8 Ks.

Collin McHugh‘s Friday stint became abbreviated after a torn fingernail on his pitching hand forced his removal, but he gave up 3 ER in his 3 innings. Half of the 4 hits he allowed were home runs. Six relievers mopped up, but Luke Gregerson and Ken Giles both “earned” blown saves for their part in giving up a 7-3 lead, allowing the A’s to rally to a 9-8 win.

Dallas Keuchel (12-4, 3.03 ERA) took the mound Sunday afternoon for Houston, and drew the loss, as the A’s walloped the Astros again, 10-2. In 5.2 innings, Keuchel gave up 6 hits, 4 walks, and 4 earned runs, striking out four.

Again, the bullpen underachieved, with Francis Martes, Tony Sipp, Gregerson, and Will Harris combining to yield 6 earned runs.

In the 4-game weekend sweep by the last place A’s, the Astros had a helium-lifted 11.25 ERA as a pitching staff, with 25 walks in 32 innings. The bullpen’s results? 12.2 IP, 30 hits, 29 earned runs, and 17 walks. Abysmal, atrocious, and abominable are words that come to mind. And, that’s just the “A”s.

The Astros were outscored, in the four game sweep, 41-15.

The Bigger Picture

Saturday, the Astros’ TV broadcast network ran an online poll with the question, “If and when the Astros clinch the AL West, where would you like it to be?” The “if” got my attention with an accompanying giggle, as if winning the West wasn’t a foregone conclusion. By the way, voting ran somewhere along the lines of about 55% at home, 43% on the road, and a handful asserting, “Who cares, just win it.”

Questions, too, have emerged about the importance of Houston ending the regular season with the AL’s best record, thus clinching home field advantage for the postseason. Everyone in H-Town, of course, would like their team to enjoy home field advantage, but Plan B wouldn’t be hideous to contemplate, either. Houston’s road record is 45-25; their home record is 41-31. Similarly, Cleveland has an impressive 48-27 road record, with a 38-29 home record, coming into games of Sunday.

Job 1

The Astros need to right the bullpen ship, and quickly, while also trying to erase the “if” condition regarding winning the West. Mostly AL West teams await Houston throughout September, with no games against Cleveland.

While the Astros’ excellent road record suggests a subliminal complacency about winning the league’s best record, Hinch and the gang need to make that overall job #1.

Houston, the city and her fans, deserve nothing less.

Brad Kyle

Brad Kyle

Brad Ramone with (L-R) Dee Dee, Johnny, and Joey Ramone, backstage at Houston's Liberty Hall, July, 1977.

Johnny, the Ramones' influential guitarist, who passed away in 2004 at 55, was an avid baseball and New York Yankees fan since childhood. He even once ranked baseball above rock'n'roll in a personal Top 10 List!

Like Johnny, my love for rock is only equaled by my love for baseball and my hometown Houston Astros, present and past!

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Brad Kyle