It is now impossible to ignore the decline in the performance of Framber Valdez. In his four starts before tonight, Valdez had a 5.79 ERA, and his vaunted GB% was down to 39.4%. Tonight Valdez gave up six runs in only 3.2 innings. He surrendered eight hits, two home runs, two walks, with only one strikeout. The groundball specialist only had five groundouts, and out of 80 pitches, only got five swings and misses.
Nonetheless, the game got off to a promising start for the Astros in the first inning when Alex Bregman hit in Jeremy Pena and Kyle Tucker with a blast down the left-field line deep into the Crawford Boxes.
However, Rangers starter Andrew Heaney righted his ship thereafter, holding the Astros for the next four innings. The bullpen would hold the Astros scoreless until a meaningless two-run Yainer Diaz homer in the ninth.
Meanwhile, the Rangers figured out Valdez quickly. Following two flyouts to the warning track and a walk to Marcus Semien, Nathaniel Lowe took Valdez yard in the third inning to bring the Rangers to within a run at 3-2.
In the fourth inning, Framber’s wheels completely came off. After getting two outs, Valdez surrendered a single and a double. Both runners scored on a Leodys Taveras single, and a Marcus Semien home run made the score 6-3. Valdez was removed by Manager Dusty Baker after a ball four to Lowe that almost hit him.
Things didn’t get any better for Valdez’s replacement, Seth Martinez. In the fifth inning, Sam Huff homered with no one on base, and with two outs, a Robbie Grossman triple, two singles, and a walk produced two more runs.
And then Adolis Garcia crushed a Pujolsesque grand slam homer way over everything in left field to put the game into slaughter-rule territory at 13-3.
After the slam, both benches emptied when Semien made a big show of stepping on home plate, after which the Astros Catcher Martin Maldonado had a few words. Apparently, Semien’s actions were in response to an earlier hit by pitch which he and the Rangers believed was intentional retaliation for a hit by pitch against Yordan Alvarez.
Maldonado and Semien were later ejected, which to this observer seemed like an overreaction. But I’ll take that trade-off any day.
In the sixth inning, Yordan Alvarez doubled to lead off, his first hit since returning from IL. However, he was stranded at second.
Last week I wrote an article with a tongue-in-cheek title, “All Hail the Astros Two Best Starters, J.P. France and Brandon Bielak.” Well, in the case of France, sad to say, it’s really become true. In the two games with the Astros before yesterday, plus tonight’s game, the Rangers have scored 33 runs, mostly against Bielak, Valdez, and Cristian Javier. None of these pitchers made it to the fifth inning. Last night France held the Rangers to one unearned run in seven innings. After he left the game last night, the Rangers pounded Hector Neris and Ryan Pressly, although the team held on to win thanks to miraculous defense. France’s 2.34 ERA since June 1 tops MLB.
The Rangers scored 10 of their 13 runs with two outs and nobody on. Twelve of the 13 were scored after two outs.
This loss puts the Astros down two games in the AL West, and although a sweep would have been ideal, the Astros still picked up one game on the Rangers in this three-game series.
But life doesn’t get easier after this. The Astros host one of MLB’s best, the Tampa Bay Rays, on Friday, 7:10 CT. Let’s see if Cristian Javier can have the same success against the sluggers from Florida as he did in his last outing against the weaklings from Oakland.