A four game losing streak wouldn’t ordinarily warrant an article here. That’s in a 162 game season. But in a 60 game season a three game losing streak is more like an 10 game losing streak in terms of impact. The Astros are currently two games under .500, four and a half games behind the A’s in the AL West, and just one game ahead of the Angels in second. (You need to make second to make the playoffs). Meanwhile, the A’s have won eight straight on the strength of shut -down pitching.
Each game in this four game slide has been de-moralizing in its own way. In the first loss, a 14-7 blowout in Phoenix, it seemed like the entire pitching staff had a meltdown, but most notably one of the mainstays, Lance McCullers. In a season when most of the veteran arms are out with injuries we need Lance to be effective.
The next two games were nail-biters in which the Astros lost in walk-off fashion. In Arizona the Astros took a ninth inning lead on a two run homer by Alex Bregman, only to have it wasted in the bottom of the ninth as the the Astros’ only closer, Ryan Pressly couldn’t retire a single batter on his way to the loss. His ERA after the game was 45.00.
Last night in Oakland it was another pitcher’s duel, with the game ending 1-1 after nine innings. It remained 1-1 into the thirteenth inning, when the Astros scored a run, but the A’s were able to walk it off against Cy Sneed, extending their winning streak, and also extending the Astros’ losing streak.
Today the Astros offense was held to one harmless run in the ninth inning.
The silver linings:
Brandon Bielak: In his first major league start Thursday the rookie pitched five scoreless innings, allowing only two hits. (but three walks and only one strikeout) One good game doesn’t a superstar make, but we need some rookies to step up, and maybe Bielak is ready to climb the ladder. His season ERA is 0.87, and he still leads the team in wins with two. Thursday’s game should have made that three.
Zack Greinke: His first start was terrible. He only went three innings and allowed three runs. In his second start he was great. Until he wasn’t, throwing five perfect innings, but then running out of gas and giving up three hits and two runs. His ERA after two games was 5.00. His diminished fastball velocity, averaging 87 mph in those two games was/is cause for concern.
But last night Zack scattered five hits and a walk to record six more scoreless innings. He even managed to pitch around a lead-off triple. When you take out the hiccup in the sixth inning in Phoenix he has 11 scoreless innings. His ERA is now 3.00. And yesterday his fastball velo ticked up a notch to 88.
So maybe ole Zack isn’t over-the-hill after all, but just needed a few games to find the groove.
Ryan Pressly: In his first two appearances Pressly faced nine batters and retired only two of them, striking out only one. The fear is that Pressly has not fully recovered from leg problems that caused him trouble last season or the arm troubles that delayed his entrance this season.
Last night he had a three up, three down inning in the ninth, showing that he is, at least, capable of being effective, and perhaps all he needs is some time to settle in, like so many other players in this weird season.
The rookies, again: Andre Scrubb came into a 1-1 tied game in the eighth and allowed only a walk. Enoli Paredes pitched in the 10th and 11th innings, each starting with runners on second, and allowed one hit and one walk, striking out five. Five. Humberto Castellanos contributed a scoreless 12th inning in only his second big league appearance.
These guys have no pedigree. But it seems they have ice running through their veins. I wonder if they would be so good with packed stadiums peering down on them.
I won’t mention Cy Sneed, ERA 7.50.
Framber Valdez: Framber Valdez’ made his second straight strong appearance, this time to the A’s on Saturday.)
So it hurts to run into a losing streak, especially in a short season. But there’s still lots of season left, and these five things are good omens for the future.