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Astros Offense still Scuffling, JV Struggles in Ugly loss to Rangers, 6-4

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Astros look for first series win of 2019 tomorrow

MLB: Houston Astros at Texas Rangers Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

In what might be considered an offensive explosion these days, the Astros scored four runs in the first six innings against the Texas Rangers Tuesday night. That’s more than the Astros have scored in the last three games combined and their most since the first game of the season. On a night with Justin Verlander on the mound, four runs should be considered a bounty to be rewarded with a victory. Not tonight, and it’s because the offense still wasn’t good enough.

The Astros entered the game 3-29 (.103 BA) and had 6 RBI with runners in scoring position, both of which were tied for worst in MLB. The Astros had 12 baserunners through the first four innings Tuesday night against the Rangers, but only put two runs on the board to that point. The Astros had multiple baserunners in each of the first six innings but have still failed to record multiple run-scoring hits in the same inning through six games. The Astros started the game 0-10 with runners in scoring position. The Astros just can’t string any hits together and it’s becoming more than just a nuisance; it’s looking like a defining characteristic.

Starter Shelby Miller was making his Rangers’ debut, and just as we all thought in the early goings Monday night, it seemed the Astros would have their way. George Springer got the action started again for the Astros by ripping a leadoff single. Alex Bregman was hit by a pitch with one out but were it not for a well-executed double steal, the Astros may not have scored in the first inning at all. Springer and Bregman tripled the Astros stolen base numbers on the short season before an RBI groundout by Michael Brantley gave the team a 1-0 lead, but they could have had more.

Carlos Correa walked with two outs but Nomar Mazara made a nice play to catch a blooper by Yuli Gurriel for the third out. Three baserunners and only 1 run.

It looked like the Astros might give the lead right back after Verlander permitted a leadoff double to Shin-Soo Choo. Verlander was able to keep the ball on the infield for the next two batters before a spectacular play by Correa, who returned the favor and robbed Mazara of a run-scoring hit to end the inning.

A leadoff hit by Josh Reddick and a seeing-eye single from Tony Kemp put runners at first and third with one out in the second inning for the Astros. Springer came through with a sacrifice fly for his team-leading 5th RBI of season to give the Astros a 2-0 advantage.

Altuve stole a base and the Astros had three steals through the second inning. They entered Tuesday with only one stolen base all season and had been caught stealing five times. Bregman drew a walk to reach base in his fifth consecutive plate appearance and loaded the bases for Michael Brantley. Brantley hit a screamer, but it was right at Choo. Another missed opportunity.

Then, the unexpected happened. Verlander struggled with location and gave up a full-count bomb to Asdrubal Cabrera to tie the game, 2-2, and still no outs. Something was off with Verlander in his 35-pitch second inning, but he was able to escape without any further damage.

Bregman reached base in his sixth consecutive plate with a one-out single to rightfield in the fourth inning but he was too aggressive rounding first and was thrown out as Springer advanced to third. Bregman’s TOOTBLAN really let the Rangers off the hook. Brantley followed with a two-out walk and Miller was relieved by Jesse Chavez. Miller—who grew up near Houston rooting for the Astros—allowed 12 baserunners and recorded only 11 outs. Yet, Miller somehow left the game allowing only 2 runs, equal to his Cy Young-runner up counterpart at the time of his departure.

Brantley stole the Astros fourth base of the night, but Correa didn’t swing once against Chavez—a guy with a 54.00 ERA who had allowed 5 hits, 4 ER, 2 BB, and 0 K in 0.2 innings—and the Astros stranded their eighth and ninth runners of the night. Ugh. It was only the fourth inning.

The Astros played smallball in the fifth to retake the lead. Gurriel and Reddick both reached to start the inning and an RBI groundout by Kemp gave the Astros a 3-2 lead with just one out. Thanks to a great play by Rougned Odor, the Astros failed to collect another hit in the inning and couldn’t tack on.

A leadoff triple by Choo started the bottom half of the fifth for the Rangers. Verlander then hit Odor with a slow breaking ball on the next pitch to bring up Elvis Andrus, who tied it up with two-strike single to right. Mazara gave the Rangers their first lead with another two-strike single and runners were at first and third and nobody out. Verlander blew two leads, allowed 4 runs, 6 hits, walked 3 batters, and hit another in his 4+ innings. After a 12-pitch first inning, Verlander threw a total of 94 pitches and couldn’t get a single out in the fifth.

Will Harris came on in relief and got a wild double play (3-5-2-6-1) then a strikeout of Cabrera to get the Astros out of the inning and keep them within striking distance.

Bregman’s consecutive plate appearances reaching bases climbed to seven when he slapped a double into the rightfield corner to start the sixth inning. After Brantley flew out to center—and the Astros fell to 0-10 with RISP on the night—it looked like another opportunity would be lost. But Correa smacked a double to the gap in right to tie the game, 4-4.

Reddick started the seventh inning with his third hit of the night, and he reached base four times in total, but a Robinson Chirinos double play killed the inning. It marked the first time in the game the Astros failed to record multiple baserunners in an inning.

Framber Valdez made his 2019 Astros debut and showed his many sides. Valdez broke off a nasty curve to strike out the first batter he faced, coaxed a weak grounder, and allowed a 4-pitch walk to the 9-hole hitter before striking out Choo with a dipping 90mph fastball on a full count.

The second inning of work for Valdez wasn’t quite as effective, however. A leadoff bunt single followed by an opposite-field double from Elvis Andrus put runners at second and third with nobody out. Mazara popped out to left before Joey Gallo contributed what proved to be a game-winning, two-run single.

Bregman’s consecutive on-base streak was snapped in the eighth when he hit into the Astros second double play in as many innings, effectively ending the game. Conversely, Altuve is still ice cold. He went 1-5 Tuesday night and never made anything resembling solid contact (none of his plate appearances resulted in a batted ball leaving the infield). He’s got to get going for the Astros to sustain rallies and score runs.

Yes, pitching let the Astros down Tuesday night. The Astros had two leads and Verlander, their ace, failed to hold each of them—but he’s not the reason Houston’s nine-game winning streak at Globe Life Park ended. In fact, it was the first time all season the Astros allowed more than four runs in a game. The Astros offense needed to do more against a club with pitching as inept as the Rangers, who were ranked 29th in ERA and WHIP coming into the game. If the Astros can’t expose the Rangers’ terrible pitching (a staff that allowed 28 runs in its first three games of the season), fans have to be asking when will the Astros offense awaken?