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Astros bats frozen in burning California

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Greinke surrenders two homers and five runs in five innings

MLB: Houston Astros at Los Angeles Dodgers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The matchup favored the Astros going in, but they didn’t win. Where have we heard that before? Zack Greinke, who was 28-5 at Dodger Stadium over three stellar seasons in an L.A. uniform, got the ball for Houston on Sunday night as his team went for a desperately needed two-game sweep. Although he has struggled pitching against his former team as a member of the Diamondbacks, one would think Greinke would feel comfortable on the mound at Chavez Ravine, especially with the opposition forced into a bullpen day. But these are solely assumptions and predictions, and that is why they play the game. Greinke was solid through four innings before faltering, while the Dodgers rolled out a spring-training esque eight hurlers, all who were effective as the home team cruised to an 8-1 victory. With the loss, Houston finishes the 11-game road trip with a record of 2-9 and trails AL West leader Oakland by 6.5 games with 13 contests left in the regular season.

After Dodgers “opener” Brusdar Graterol worked a scoreless first inning in the first major league start of his young career, A.J. Pollock burned his former Arizona teammate with a solo shot in the bottom half to put L.A. in front 1-0. Other than the solo homer, Greinke cruised through the first four frames, allowing just two additional baserunners.

No matter who the hosts rolled out to the mound on Sunday, the Astros lineup was punchless. Victor Gonzalez worked the longest amount for the Dodgers (two innings), but all Houston could muster off him was a two-out double in the third by Alex Bregman, He moved to third on a wild pitch but Michael Brantley grounded out to end the frame.

The Dodgers deep lineup caused major problems for Greinke in the fifth. Kike Hernandez came through with a two-run single before MVP candidate Mookie Betts smashed a two-run homer, making it 5-0 and all but ending Houston’s hopes of winning both games in the brief set.

One offensive highlight for the Astros was George Springer, who launched his fifth home run in nine career games at Dodger Stadium leading off the sixth. He of course hit three in L.A. during the 2017 World Series and then led off a game with a long ball off Walker Buehler in 2018.

Martin Maldonado singled with one out in the seventh and Abraham Toro was hit by a pitch, but Alex Wood retired the final two batters of the inning, ending Houston’s best chance to climb back into it.

A bright spot for the Astros was Cristian Javier, who turned in a stellar relief outing. He fanned five of the seven batters he faced in two scoreless innings. Things didn’t go as well for Cy Sneed, who entered with two outs in the eighth and surrendered a three-run homer to Chris Taylor, his second blast in as many games.

As a reminder, the top two teams in every division make the postseason in this very unusual year. With it basically a foregone conclusion that the A’s will win the division, the goal for the Astros is to finish in second place for a top-six seed in the American League. Houston is just 1.5 games clear of third-place Seattle heading into the final stretch.

If the world doesn’t shut down again in the next year, these two bitter rivals will again meet up in 2021 for a pair of two-game series, at Minute Maid Park in May and back at Dodger Stadium in early August.

The Astros are fortunate not to have finished 0-11 on this California trip. The two wins required late-inning comebacks while trailing by four runs each time, in the second game of last Tuesday’s doubleheader in Oakland and Saturday’s thriller in L.A.

The team will recuperate and take Monday off before beginning a stretch of six games at home - three each against Texas and Arizona. Each opponent is well out of playoff contention and in last place in their respective divisions. Jose Urquidy (0-1. 3.72) will get the ball for Houston in Tuesday’s series opener against Kyle Cody (0-1, 0.93) who has gone a nice job starting and relieving since making his major league debut for the Rangers last month.