Let’s remember, the Astros had a six game winning streak going into this game, and had won seven out of nine games in this home stand. It’s baseball, and even if you’re the better team, things don’t always go your way.
Here’s how things went awry today.
The Rays scored first with a run in the second. The Astros tied the score with a run in the bottom of the second. The Rays went back on top in the third, but the Astros evened it up in the bottom of the third. The Rays got two in the fourth and maintained a one run lead as the Astros only answered with one run in the bottom of the inning.
However, the Astros pitching held the Rays in the fifth, and with two runs in the bottom of the inning the Astros took a temporary five to four lead. The Rays tied the score in the sixth, but the Astros went back up with a run of their own.
The death blow in this game, as it turned out, was the seventh inning, when the Rays took batting practice against Chris Devenski, scoring three runs while he could get only one out. The Astros nibbled away thereafter, getting one run in the bottom of the seventh, making the score eight to seven Rays. The Rays would add one more run in the eighth, and the Astros would get back a run in the ninth with an Abraham Toro solo home run, the first of his career.
Down nine to eight, with one out in the bottom of the ninth on a 3-2 count, this happened to Josh Reddick:
Ninth inning, one-run game and this strike three call.— Sporting News MLB (@sn_mlb) August 29, 2019
Josh Reddick was not happy.pic.twitter.com/LdhPUEDDkh
No doubt the pitch was low, and of course, Reddick was ejected from the game.
We’ll never know if the Astros could have tied the score with a runner on first and one out with Springer, Altuve and Brantley to follow. We’ll never know, but seldom have I seen one ball/strike call that seemed so consequential.
The Astros scored in seven of the game’s nine innings. How often do teams lose under those circumstances?
But you can’t blame this loss on one umpire call. The Astros lost due to a combination of poor pitching, poor defense, and the old bugaboo all season, lack of hitting with runners in scoring position.
Let’s start with pitching. The Rays had 14 hits, two doubles and two home runs. Ji-Man Choi, Austin Meadows, but especially Travis d’Arnaud executed the killer blows today. Choi was 2-4 with two runs scored and two RBI, Meadows had a homer and a double with two runs scored and two RBI, and d’Arnaud was 3 for 5 with a homer and 4 RBI.
Here’s d’Arnaud’s damage.
Here’s Meadows’ shot.
Zack Greinke has sown some doubts as to whether he is really that third ace for the playoffs. Although his record of 4-0 and ERA of 2.45 with the Astros before today seems in line with expectations, a dive into the advanced stats is less reassuring; a WHIP of 1.32, an xFIP of 4.99 and a SIERA of 5.05.
The five earned runs, six hits and a walk he surrendered today will certainly ding his ERA, and probably not improve those advanced stat numbers when they are recalculated tomorrow.
But this game revealed another concern, the depth of the bullpen. With Brad Peacock, Ryan Pressly, and Josh James injured, Manager AJ Hinch had to rely on the B-team of relievers, with Roberto Osuna and Will Harris used to secure last night’s win. (and even Osuna allowed two runs in one inning last night)
Joe Smith, who came in for Greinke in the sixth, could not hold the inherited runner he received, and was credited with a blown save. Chris Devenski had a meltdown reminiscent of his performance last August and allowed four hits and three runs to the five batters he faced. He too was credited with a blown save as well as the loss.
The depletion is such that recent Round Rock promotee Cy Sneed was relied upon in the critical last two innings, and although he held the Rays in the ninth, he allowed what turned out to be the winning run in the eighth.
Some are wondering, why Devenski in the seventh inning with a one run lead instead of Collin McHugh?
What is clear, is that if the injured relievers don’t make it back and are effective in the playoffs, the Astros will be in trouble against likely opponents that hit way better than the Rays do.
Defense did not help the pitchers much either. Although the box score shows no errors, one costly lapse by Jose Altuve probably cost the Astros and Zack Greinke two runs. Playing on the shortstop side of second in the shift, Altuve got a routine grounder from swift center fielder Avasail Garcia. He seemed to have underestimated the speed of Garcia, and his somewhat lackadaisical throw allowed Garcia to beat out a hit. Two batters later d’Arnaud hit a two run homer with two outs.
Chris Devenski was similarly victimized by a fly ball to Yordan Alvarez who made a poor read of a fly ball that bounced in front of him and probably could have been caught.
And yes, once again, the Astros failed too often to hit with runners in scoring postion. Although eight runs on eight hits sounds efficient, the Rays walked ten Astros as well. The Stros left 11 runners on base, and were only 2 for 11 with runners in scoring position. The Astros left the bases loaded twice, and three of their runs were walked in by sloppy Tampa pitching.
Nonetheless, it was satisfying to see George Springer break out of his mini-home run slump with his 28th of the year in the year, a solo shot in the third inning.
Jose Altuve hit one off the Batter Eye in center field for his 25th homer of the season, a career high
And perhaps most gratifying of all, Abraham Toro got his first career homer, one which put the Astros to within one run in the bottom of the ninth right before Reddick’s ejection.
Tomorrow is another day. The AL West first place Astros go north to Toronto for a three game series. They are one game behind the Yankees for home field advantage in the playoffs.
Wade Miley takes the mound for the Astros against a former product of the Astros system, Trent Thornton.
Box score and videos HERE.