Hear me out: No more personal catchers. Revolutionary, right?
There wasn’t much to like about this game, at least from an Astros’ point of view. Framber Valdez couldn’t replicate his success against the Royals from his last start on September 17, when he held the opposing lineup to one run across seven innings. Instead, a passed ball from Martín Maldonado against the first hitter of the game (Maikel Garcia) set an ominous tone for his encore performance. Kansas City sure enough pounced and scored four first-inning runs in quick order. While Valdez would recover for a while, this misfortune would put Houston behind the eight ball early.
You might remember in that September 17 start how Valdez noticeably went changeup heavy (41%) followed by his cutter (25%). Considering this recent success, it was certainly plausible to follow a similar blueprint. Alas, he reverted to his bread-and-butter on Friday, the sinker and curveball combination. It was a curious choice, although it is possible that Valdez didn’t have much of a feel that day for his sinker and curveball. Friday’s start followed more of his usual pattern, for good and bad.
Once Valdez settled in for a while from the disastrous first inning, it looked like the Astros could gradually chip away at the lead. I mean, a 4-0 deficit against the Royals is normally not an insurmountable task. But with Cole Ragans on the mound, however, it was definitely a tougher task. At one point the lead was actually halved to 4-2. Valdez settled in for innings two through five. Seven of his ten strikeouts occurred in those innings. But then that sixth inning happened, with a hit-by-pitch followed by stolen base then another hit-by-pitch...you get the idea. Valdez would eventually allow three more runs, partially set up by an inexplicable decision to throw to third in an attempt to get the lead runner out on Logan Porter’s sac bunt. So, yeah, bases loaded with no outs. The left-hander would be chased from the game when two hitters later with the damage done.
Ultimately, that sixth inning proved the difference maker, with Chas McCormick’s three-run shot in the bottom of the eighth not enough to close the gap. The lineup also had its moments other than McCormick with Yordan Alvarez’s RBI double and José Abreu’s solo home run.
However, there were multiple innings when the Astros didn’t convert with runners on base. See Kyle Tucker’s leadoff triple in the fourth inning as an example. Or another instance, if you so desire. There were plenty to choose from in this game.
Following their 7-5 loss against the Royals and a Rangers win over the Mariners, the Astros now find themselves in second place in the AL West. With only eight games remaining, the pressure is ramping up. If Houston fails to win the AL West, or even qualify for the postseason, there will be plenty of blame. Not playing Yainer Díaz more regularly is one of those common complaints. Another will lie on how poorly the Astros played in September, with an 8-11 record thus far. Only time will tell if it gets any better by the end of the month.