Nobody said this was going to be easy. The Houston Astros hit a roadblock this week, stumbling in their attempt to run away with the American League pennant. Crucially, it was one they’ve hit before: The defending AL Champs from Cleveland.
Cleveland swept the Astros over three nail-biting games at Minute Maid Park, silencing a Houston crowd that has grown unaccustomed to losing. It marked the first time the Astros lost consecutive games since a late-April trip to – that’s right – Cleveland.
For a team with lofty postseason aspirations, this is a problem that needs to be solved. Cleveland figures to be very much alive come October. If the ‘Stros are lucky enough to face them in the playoffs, they may want to make a few changes to their game plan. They’ll have plenty of time to strategize – the two clubs won’t meet again for the duration of the regular season.
One positive? Struggling Astros hurler Mike Fiers turned in a quality start in the second game of the series, lasting six innings and giving up one earned run while fanning three. Unfortunately for Fiers – and the Houston offense – Cleveland starter Mike Clevinger was even better. Clevinger spun seven shutout innings and racked up eight strikeouts against a Houston offense that has rarely looked so feeble.
The Astros will look to salvage their home stand when they welcome the Detroit Tigers for the first of a four-game tilt tomorrow night. They’ll take on the Baltimore Orioles over the weekend before heading north to do battle with the Minnesota Twins. All three opponents present a tough test – each is playing .500 ball or better.
Battery Needs Recharging
It was a rough weekend for the ‘Stros on the injury front. Ace lefty Dallas Keuchel was moved to the 10-day disabled list on Saturday after reporting discomfort in his neck following a truncated start in Miami. The next day, battery-mate Brian McCann landed on the seven-day concussion disabled list. Keuchel leads the starting staff with a glittering 1.84 ERA; McCann led the offense with 25 runs batted in at the time of his injury.
No Way, Jose
Mike Clevinger stifled the ‘Stros on Saturday, yielding just two hits in seven-plus innings. But he came close to an even more dominant showing. Entering the seventh, Clevinger had yet to allow a single hit. His flirtation with history ultimately fell short. Jose Altuve laced a rocket down the left-field line for a hard, clean single to lead off the frame, keeping Clevinger’s name out of the record books – at least for the time being.
Although it was a frustrating series, Houston fans would do well not to panic. Each of the Astros’ five losses to Cleveland this season have been decided by three runs or fewer, including their 3-5, 0-3, and 6-8 showings this weekend. A lucky bounce here or a small adjustment there could have created a much different story.