I don’t even know where to begin. First, this series against the Royals was an absolute embarrassment. Even more so than the first one, which I didn’t even think was possible. The Astros, for lack of a better term, have completely soiled the bed in September. An all-around faceplant. I think I am being nice, too, with that description.
There are multiple angles to approach the struggles of this season. I mean, the whole Yainer Díaz and Martín Maldonado situation is truly bizarre. Lineup construction is another issue. With that said, it is arguably the starting rotation that has become the Astros’ downfall, especially since August 1 (prior to September 23 games).
- Justin Verlander: 55 IP, 3.93 ERA, 4.33 FIP
- Framber Valdez: 68 IP, 3.57 ERA, 3.92 FIP
- Hunter Brown: 40 1/3 IP, 6.92 ERA, 5.12 FIP
- J.P. France: 39 2/3 IP, 6.13 ERA, 6.19 FIP
- Cristian Javier: 43 1/3 IP, 5.40 ERA, 5.73 FIP
The trio of Brown, France, and Javier, in particular, have pitched poorly for nearly seven weeks. While Verlander and Valdez have both had their own suboptimal starts, one could live with those overall results as indicated above if the rest of starters are even around league average. Unfortunately, we’ve seen the opposite in terms of results. It is a reason, if not perhaps the most important one, why Houston now find themselves barely clinging to the third Wild Card spot in the AL.
The finale against Kansas City was ultimately more of the same as we’ve witnessed in recent weeks, with Brown allowing six runs across only three innings. Most of the Royals’ damage occurred on home runs as Brown surrendered four in total. He’s now allowed 13 in his last 43 1⁄3 innings. In a season when many were expecting Brown to assume a prominent role in the rotation and he was well on track earlier this season. But his struggles in recent months brings the question whether the right-hander was worked too much considering how he has now set a new career-high in innings pitched. I can’t help but wonder if a similar plan to Javier’s usage back in 2021 would’ve been a more appropriate template to follow, although the Astros were already short on arms by May.
The lineup was actually fine at parts of this game until it wasn’t. Five runs with decent pitching probably best this version of the Royals, but it was for naught. It was nice to see José Abreu drive in a first inning run, but, again Brown faltered in a major way.
By the time Brown exited the game, the lineup was playing catch up all over again. Not a great position in a must-win situation. Regardless, though, the Astros had chances to take advantage, but they just didn’t. Sort of inexplicable at this point, especially with a postseason berth on the line.
If there was a silver lining to this game, it was the bullpen, who threw effectively for six innings. José Urquidy, Kendall Graveman, Héctor Neris, and Ryan Pressly held the Royals to three walks and no hits with no runs allowed. There was time for the lineup to make up the difference and the Astros did chip away at the lead.
However, as with their recent games, Houston fell a run short again. In a season quickly slipping away, and only a half-game lead over the Mariners for the final Wild Card spot, the pressure is on. This upcoming road series in Seattle will likely determine their ultimate fate. Let’s see what happens, for better or worse.