Losing three games in a row is no catastrophe. It happens to the best of teams. And quite often.
But like this?
Two straight walk-off losses and a blown lead in the top of the seventh (last inning). Three straight bullpen failures. Three straight starting pitching failures. All the cavalry to the rescue just off IL fell off their horses.
And regression rears her ugly head.
When the Astros let Gerrit Cole go to free agency, and especially after Justin Verlander went down to injury, it became imperative for the Astros’ success to find replacements in the starting rotation. Great hope was placed in the return of Lance McCullers from Tommy John surgery.
Friday McCullers started without recording a single out, allowing three runs. It seemed like the only strike he could throw was one meatball right down the middle to Mike Trout which found it’s way into outer space. McCullers’ ERA is almost 6.00 for the season, and little time remains for him to find his groove, whatever groove he may have ever had.
In a stretch of the season when you have to play seven games in five days, and 13 in 12 days, seven against first place teams and all on the road, McCullers just put the entire bullpen in jeopardy right from the get go.
One of the early hopes for rotational relief was surprising rookie Brandon Bielak. He started the season with three wins and an ERA around 2.00. However, in his previous two starts before yesterday, he got bombed. Could he bounce back?
No. Yesterday in Game 1 he got bombed again, allowing four runs in 3.2 innings, again stressing the bullpen. Regression. The Bielak experiment may be over for now, except, as bad as he is, there may be no one around who’s better. He’s leading McCullers into the + 6.00 ERA club.
But...But...World Series hero Jose Urquidy is back from IL, riding his silver stallion to the mound in Game 2 yesterday to rescue the beleaguered staff. Although still a rookie, he seems like a grizzled veteran compared to most of the rest of the current Astros staff.
That staff, in desperate need of a quality start, again had a starting pitching fail. Maybe it wasn’t too bad for a first game back, but still Urquidy could only go 3.2 innings, allowing two runs and seven baserunners.
But as bad as the starting pitching was, the bullpen was even worse.
Now I wouldn’t blame the bullpen for the loss in Game 1 of the series. They only allowed four runs in 10.1 innings, the killer being the 11th inning single to Shohei Ohtani by Blake Raley to give the Angles their walk-off. Andre Scrubb was in that mix as well, somehow getting through 2.1 scoreless despite allowing three walks. How much longer can he maintain a 0.57 ERA while allowing more than one walk per inning?
But the Game 2 loss was all on the bullpen. They allowed six runs in 2,1 innings. Another veteran fresh back from IL here to save the day, Chris Devenski, did all too familiar Devenski things, allowing two runs in 1.1 inning in relief of Bielak.
Rookie Cy Sneed was no better behind him, allowing a run in .2 innings. However, perhaps the biggest disappointment was Bake Taylor, whose surprising emergence this season seemed to have solid foundations. Usually possessed of superior command, Taylor came in and walked two of the only three batters he faced.
This led to the appearance of another of the surprising 2020 rookies, Enoli Paredes. He promptly allowed a run scoring double to Justin Upton, and then the walk-off two run single to Jo Adell.
This after the Astros offense had come from behind in the top of the seventh with three runs, in part on the strength of a Martin Maldonado broken-bat, two-run single.
The Angels walked off Game 1 of this series in extra innings after Kyle Tucker tied the game with a double, and won Games 2 and 3 with come-from-behind runs in the last inning of each game. How de-moralizing.
In Game three yet another back-from-IL cavalry-to-the-rescue failed to produce. In relief of the struggling Urquidy, Brad Peacock allowed two earned runs in 1.1 innings. Still, he gave a 6-4 lead to another fresh rookie, Humberto Castellanos. Castellanos struck out the side in the sixth inning, looking unhittable. But in the seventh inning he allowed a three run homer to Anthony Rendon, giving the Angels a one run lead that they would hold in the bottom of the inning for the win.
So the Astros finish the series in Anaheim today before playing five games in four days in Oakland against the first place A’s. They desperately need a strong and long outing from today’s starter, Framber Valdez, otherwise they face the rested A’s (they had a Covid break) with an exhausted bullpen and uncertain rotation. These last three games could just be the beginning of road trip that sees the Astros’ record drop below .500. The Dodgers in LA follow the A’s.
Regression. What a bitch. The Stros have been depending on veteran-like performances from rookies and now the rooks are coming down to Earth. Blake Taylor walks the tying runs in Game 2, Paredes gets rocked for the loss. The rookie Castellanos is lights-out in inning six of Game 3, and gives up the game-losing homer in the seventh. Brandon Bielak is just in way over his head right now.
So what’s left in the pitching staff? Zack Greinke. Thank the Lord for small miracles. Framber Valdez, whose history also suggests regression. Ryan Pressly seems to be rounding back into form. The other proven veterans on the staff, Brad Peacock and Chris Devenski, are coming back from injury and may not have time to re-establish their form before the season ends.
But there’s good news.
George Springer in getting hot at last. Alex Bregman will return soon. And Kyle Tucker continues to scorch.
The Astros scored a lot of runs in these three losses. If they want to make the playoffs it looks like the offense will have to continue to do so.
The series finale is this afternoon at 3:10 CDT. Hopefully Framber Valdez can staunch the bleeding.