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Astros limp into All-Star break, drop series finale to Mariners 3-1

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Houston Astros Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Six runs in four games. One run in Sunday’s finale. Only five extra-base hits. Two of those runs were a pair of Martín Maldonado solo homers. Remove Saturday’s first-inning two-run outburst — insert sarcasm here — from Saturday’s game, the Astros’ offense in their last 17 innings has solely consisted of Maldonado. Just one barrel in the last two games. Not an optimal development, even against a quality pitching staff such as the Mariners. Thankfully, the Rangers also lost, and the AL West lead deficit remains at two games. Plenty of baseball left.

The pitching staff has had a decent bounce-back in the last two games of this series (four earned runs allowed) compared to the first two (15 earned runs allowed). Sunday’s starter, Brandon Bielak, threw relatively well, allowing two earned runs on four hits and two walks across five innings. He struck out five. His four-seam fastball was particularly effective, with seven whiffs. The only hit allowed against his four-seam was a fifth-inning single by J.P. Crawford. Whether it was ultimately a mirage or a step forward, it was a positive outing, especially for a pitch with lackluster results for Bielak this season (.381 batting average, .810 slugging percentage on the season entering Sunday against right-handed hitters).

The bullpen — Rafael Montero, Bryan Abreu, and Phil Maton — was also effective, keeping the Mariners scoreless in the final four frames. Montero threw two scoreless innings, with only one earned run allowed in his last seven innings. The veteran right-hander could be the key to how the bullpen fares in the unofficial second half of the season, as the workloads for Abreu, Maton, and Ryan Pressly continue to mount. For as much blame as the pitching staff deserves for their letdown earlier in the series, they did enough to keep the Astros in this game.

The Astros are limping into the All-Star break. The club is banking on Jose Altuve and Yordan Alvarez returning within the next couple of weeks, with the former likely to return soon and the latter hopefully by the end of this month. Dana Brown has been vocal about acquiring another bat, preferably a left-handed one by the trade deadline. Another starting pitcher would be nice as well, especially if Houston intends to closely monitor Hunter Brown’s workload. The bullpen is also feeling the effects of overuse, especially as Dusty Baker has had little choice considering the injuries and ineffectiveness that have plagued the staff.

As I briefly mentioned earlier, there is plenty of baseball left this season. If the Astros can regain some health and possibly add another player or two of consequence at the deadline, it isn’t difficult to foresee another strong second-half run. It also isn’t hard to see how it can all fall apart, but I’ll blissfully ignore that possibility for at least another couple of days. It is about time for a break.