Astros pitchers struck out 17 Brewers today during the regulation nine innings. And yet, despite another display of starting pitching dominance, the Stros required three more Ks in the tenth inning by reliever Josh James to put the game away.
Fourteen of those strikeouts were by the number two in the Astros’ one-two starting pitching punch, Gerrit Cole. In six innings Cole allowed only one run, three hits and two walks. Two of those hits were infield hits in the fifth inning, and despite a walk and a balk to go with those hits, Cole managed to get two strikeouts to prevent any Brewers runs.
The only run the Brewers could muster against Cole was a solo home run by Yasmani Grandal in the first inning. When Cole left the game the Astros were ahead 2-1, thanks to an Alex Bregman RBI single in third inning off Brewers starter Adrian Houser, and a solo home run by Yordan Alvarez in the sixth, his 22nd.
Twenty-two home runs ties Alvarez for the most home runs by an Astros rookie with Carlos Correa, who did it in 2015.
One of the big concerns for the Astros as they approach the playoffs is the state of the bullpen. Today’s performance was a good news, bad news kind of event, or maybe a glass half-full, glass half-empty deal.
The half-full, good news part of this story was the superb work Hector Rondon and Will Harris did in the seventh and eighth innings respectively to hold down Gerrit Cole’s prospective win. Hector Rondon has always been a streaky kind of reliever. Maybe he is finally finding his mojo at just the right time of the year. We can hope.
The bad news, half-empty part of the story was the continued struggles of closer Roberto Osuna, who blew the lead by surrendering this smash home run to Christian Yellich, sending the game into extra innings.
George Springer though may be inclined to thank Osuna, because leading off the tenth inning, King George answered Yellich thus:
It was Springer’s 30th homer.
Which left the game once again in the hands of a depleted and generally rather shaky bullpen. A new pitcher would have another opportunity to get the save that Osuna blew, James; Josh James, King James. We haven’t seen James in about a month. He has been recuperating from a sore arm.
James has generally never been a high leverage pitcher. Oh, he can throw 100 miles per hour sometimes, but he’s always been a little erratic. In his first appearance back from IL, James seemed a strange choice as the man to save the victory.
But with veterans like Collin McHugh, Brad Peacock, and Ryan Pressly on lL as well, Manager Hinch may have had little other choice.
James immediately confirmed our worst fears, walking the first batter on four pitches, none of which were close. After a visit from the wizard, pitching coach Brent Strom, James settled down to get Trent Grisham to strike out. Then James reverted, walking Yasmani Grandal, and putting the winning run on base with maybe the best hitter in baseball coming up to the plate, yep, Christian Yellich. James was up to the challenge, getting Yellich to strike out on a high slider that was generously called a strike.
And then James put away Hernan Perez on three pitches, striking out the side, and saving the win that rightfully belonged to Gerrit Cole, but was assigned to Roberto Osuna.
Yellich had a home run today, but he also struck out three times. On the other hand, Alex Bregman was 4 for 5, with a double, his 32nd, matching his team-leading number of home runs for the year. His batting average is getting dangerously close to the .300 mark, now sitting at .295, after flirting with .260 for much of the year.
Both yesterday and today, the Astros pulled out victories with dramatic final inning home runs, saving superb pitching performances by the starters. But it might be nice to save the heroics and just get a few clutch hits earlier in the game. For the two games the Astros were 2 for 20 with runners in scoring position.
Tomorrow Zack Greinke (14-4, 2.99 ERA) faces Jordan Lyles (9-8, 4.55) ERA.
Game time 6:40 CDT
Box score and videos HERE