You’ll have to go back to the Astros Dark Ages to find a seven game losing streak. Oh, it’s happened to great teams before, but it sure stings to be a player in the middle of it, or fan having to watch it.
Is it that the Astros don’t care? Have they been unlucky, or are the Yankees just better right now?
Let us dispense with the first right away. The Astros are fighting, the Yankees know it, and with a hit instead of a hard line out in the ninth I probably wouldn’t be writing this right now. If anything, they are trying too hard, a common problem for slumping teams, and a common Catch 22 situation. The tenser a player gets, the worse he does.
How about the Yankees being better. That cannot be easily dismissed. It is a relentless lineup. The two AL leaders in home runs are Yankees. One of them sat tonight. They have eleven healthy bodies right now who are hitting above league average, eight who are 113 wRC+ or above. That doesn’t include recovering Didi Gregorious, or still injured Joaquin Andujar, or Troy Tulowitski.
Their pitching staff is recovering from injury, but they can still close you out with their choice of left handed All Star relief awesomeness.
And the Astros hit the Yankees at their best. Their team wRC+ is 140 in the last seven days. Believe it or not, the Astros are not actually that bad during this time; 112, but well below their season average.
Which brings us to the luck factor. The Astros are 4 for 30 with runners in scoring position during this series. During the road trip they are 7 for 53. They have stranded 32 base runners in this series with the Yankees. I will assume that this is bad luck, but perhaps it is a function of #1 above, trying too hard. Who knows?
But no doubt, the Astros’ luck was terrible tonight. In the second inning, the Astros got men on first and second with two outs. Jake Marisnick hit a sharp ground ball that looked destined for the left field line, but Gio Urshela made a great play on the ball, and forced out the runner at third.
In the third, ditto that, only this time it was Yuli Guriel who grounded out sharply to Urshela with a runner on second for the force out at third.
These plays did not seem decisive at the time, because Wade Miley was mowing down the Yankees. In fact, he had a no-hitter through four innings and ended with seven strike outs. Then Urshela again struck, breaking, not just the no-hitter, but the shut out with a dink, patented, short right field Yankees stadium “home run” that gave the Yankees a two to nothing lead.
But like I said, the Astros were not lying down in this game, and in the sixth Josh Reddick answered with a two run homer of his own, his ninth in this his All Star nominated year.
But in the sixth inning, more bad karma beset the Astros. Clearly tiring, Miley walked the first two Yankees. OK, that’s on him. Then Luke Voit hit a dink to left field off the label of his bat for a cheap single to load the bases.
Remember those two plays at third by Gio Urshela that would have allowed the Astros at least two more runs if they weren’t made? With the bases loaded Giancarlo Stanton smashed one to third baseman Yuli Gurriel, but the ball skirted off his glove into shallow left field for a two run single. If he made that play I believe it would have been a third to home to first double play, or at least one out and no runs. Since Harris struck out the next two batter, a clean play at third would have preserved the tie at two each. As it was, the Yankees assumed a 4-2 lead.
And yet, in the seventh the Man-child, Yordan Alvarez, put the Astros on top, homering in Alex Bregman and Michael Brantley. It is his sixth home run in 11 games. His batting average now sits at .320, and his OPS is 1.222.
But this could have been, should have been, at least a four run inning. Jose Altuve led off with a line drive that replay seemed to indicate was trapped, not caught as the umpire had ruled. See for yourself.
The Astros were determined to win this game, and therefore AJ Hinch sent out his best weapon in the bullpen, Ryan Pressly. Who proceeded to give up a homer to the one light-hitting batter in the line up, back up catcher Austin Romine, his second of the year.
Then more bad karma came rolling down the hill. DJ LeMahieu hit a swinging bunt to shortstop Alex Bregman that he could not handle for an infield hit. Then Aaron Judge got on from catcher interference. With two outs and runners on second and third, Stanton again hit a sharp grounder that skirted Yuli Gurriel’s glove, again scoring two runs. And I repeat, remember the plays where hits and runs were robbed by the third baseman of the Yankees early in the game.
It was Pressly’s first loss of the season.
So the Astros are definitely reeling. They were clearly recipients of good luck in the early phase of this period of playing without the injured superstars. Now that luck has turned. They are playing a formidable, relentless Yankees team at the tip top of their game, while the Astros still await the return of their stars, or in the case of Altuve, the return to form.
Before the injuries, the Astros as a team were arguably hitting better than the 1927 Yankees. That was probably not going to last, but then again, Yordan Alvarez wasn’t in that lineup, and there’s still Kyle Tucker, who is showing every bit the readiness for the Major Leagues that Yordan has. But the injuries to key anchors of the lineup have certainly hurt, and not only because their replacements aren’t as good, but likely because their absence hurts the other members of the lineup still playing. When Springer and Correa and Diaz return we’ll recognize the old Astros, who will no doubt resume their own relentless march around the base paths.
I say, cheer up. The Astros will still win 100 games, get some help at the trade deadline, and be a force in the playoffs
In the meantime let’s try to laugh. Have you ever seen major leaguers play like this? A literal comedy of errors. Harmless as it turned out.
Tomorrow Justin Verlander tries to make the Yankees remember how he is their daddy. His opponent is former Astro from the Dark Ages JA Happ.
Game time 1:05 CDT.
Box score and videos here.