Honestly, I am not sure what to make of the Astros’ rotation moving forward, other than Justin Verlander and Framber Valdez. The trio of Cristian Javier, Hunter Brown, and J.P. France have all had their issues in recent weeks, with Javier and Brown, in particular, having a difficult time pitching more than five innings in a given start, if that. José Urquidy remains an option, but how confident do you feel about him right now?
Saturday’s start against the Padres demonstrated again how quickly it may fall apart for the Astros whenever their starter falters. Javier, who has a 6.52 ERA since June 9, failed to pitch past the fourth inning for the fourth time in his last seven starts. Only 12 outs compared to putting Houston into a 4-1 hole by the conclusion of that fourth inning. In a season when his release points are out of whack in addition to a lower velocity, I normally would suggest moving him into the bullpen for the time being. Something is amiss, even if an injury isn’t the root cause. Alas, if there was ever a time to miss Luis Garcia and Lance McCullers Jr., it is right now. With other starters struggling in general, the Astros may not have much of a choice other than sending Javier out there every fifth game and hoping for the best.
The story of the game, however, was more about how the Astros haven’t been able to win lately at home. A 2-10 record in their last 12 home games entering Saturday, with renewed attention on the recent lack of hitting. It has been a problem all season long but became particularly noticeable in recent weeks.
Home splits: .251/.325/.407, 78 HR, 312 R in 70 games
Road splits: .268/.339/.462, 118 HR, 419 R in 72 games
As Chandler Rome of The Athletic noted earlier this week, it is possible that struggles to score at Minute Maid Park possibly lie with the batter’s eye in center field. The numbers certainly paint a convincing picture. Players have noticed, too. At the very least, the argument holds some water.
The second of a three-game set against the Padres, however, was primarily won thanks to a lineup coming to life a bit. Thanks to a five-run outburst in the bottom half of the fifth inning, the Astros were able to turn the tide in this game and it all started atop of the lineup.
Ultimately, every hitter in the lineup had a hit with Yordan Alvarez and Michael Brantley leading the way with two each. It was a nice change of pace from the recent offensive performances at Minute Maid from the Astros.
The later innings were stressful in their own right as Kendall Graveman allowed a run in the top of the sixth and recorded only one out in addition to leaving the bases loaded. Thankfully, Héctor Neris — peripherals this season be damned — was nails by inducing two infield fly balls from Ha-seong Kim and Fernando Tatis Jr. to end the threat. In turn, Rafael Montero, Bryan Abreu, and Ryan Pressly closed the door on San Diego to finish this game. With the Mariners losing, the Astros now have a 1 1⁄2 game lead on their division rival for the AL West lead. As Seattle holds the tiebreaker over Houston, every gain in the standings helps.