At this juncture of the season, I can’t help but wonder if Hunter Brown is pitching himself out of the starting rotation. I mean, the last time he threw more than five innings in a start was nearly one month ago against the Orioles and he allowed five earned runs in six innings. While I had doubts that he would start in the postseason if the Astros qualified for October, Brown felt destined for a more prominent role than last year. Following Friday’s start against the Padres, I’m not even sure of that.
There is little question that Brown has been struggling in recent months. Compared to his first 75 1⁄3 innings this season (3.35 ERA, 3.29 FIP), the rookie’s production has taken a noticeable hit in his last 61 2⁄3 innings (5.98 ERA, 4.77 FIP) before Friday’s start against the Padres. Home runs, for example, have become an issue. It was a fair question before this start how much longer could the Astros justify utilizing Brown as a starter in light of the diminished returns? The innings workload, with Brown setting a new career-high in a single season, is part of that concern. I dare say that following his start against San Diego along with a -1.1 MPH drop in average four-seam velocity, it might be time to move Brown to the bullpen...for now.
On a day when both the Mariners and Rangers lost, Friday’s defeat to the Padres feels like another missed opportunity in a season full of them. Thanks to Brown’s poor start, the Astros found themselves behind the figurative eight-ball nearly from the start, with their early 1-0 lead turning into a 6-1 deficit by the bottom of the sixth inning. To be fair, Brown did suffer from some soft contact in the four-run second inning that turned into batted-ball misfortune.
José Abreu’s RBI double did provide a glimmer of hope that the lineup could help turn it around. Alas, Jose Urquidy’s performance in relief quickly dashed that fleeting sense of optimism, with San Diego scoring five more runs in the seventh and eighth innings combined. In short, that is the story of this game with slight moments of hope followed by a sudden decline.
Following their 39-run explosion in this week’s dominant three-game sweep of the Rangers in Arlington, the Astros’ lineup fell back down to earth in a noticeable manner. Honestly, it was somewhat expected, as no lineup can maintain that sort of pace for long. Credit to Blake Snell. A dud of a game at the plate was bound to happen. That said, the most disappointing development is the fact that the Astros are now 35-35 at Minute Maid Park, losing 10 of their last 12 games at home. To be fair to the lineup, it was mostly due to other factors. But the club is still in the middle of a fierce division race with the Mariners holding the tiebreaker. If these home woes aren’t figured out soon, well, you get the picture.