The best team in baseball slid further into a funk this week, as the depleted Astros roster dropped two of three games to the Texas Rangers at Minute Maid Park. Houston is enduring its first real skid of 2017, having won just four of its last ten contests. Of course, that’s what losing four starting pitchers to the disabled list will do to a club.
The Rangers rolled into town on Monday night to face Joe Musgrove, himself fresh off a stint on the DL. Musgrove acquitted himself well, tossing 4 2/3 innings of two-run ball on a strict, 75-pitch limit. But he was no match for Rangers sensation Yu Darvish, who held the Astros to a lone run on just one hit through seven dominant innings. Rangers reliever Jeremy Jeffress was just as stingy, as he closed out the game with two scoreless frames of his own to nail down an easy 6-1 win.
Tuesday’s game got off to a better start, with the Astros clinging to a 2-0 lead entering the fifth inning. Brad Peacock flashed dominant stuff on the mound, racking up ten strikeouts and allowing just one earned run. But all those whiffs elevated Peacock’s pitch count, and he was removed from the game after using 96 pitches to navigate 4 2/3 innings. His colleagues in the Astros bullpen promptly allowed three Rangers to cross home plate and Houston fell, 4-2.
Reeling after consecutive losses, Astros manager AJ Hinch opted to change his strategy for Wednesday’s matchup. Much-hyped prospect Francis Martes, who was recalled from AAA Fresno to help Houston’s beleaguered bullpen, was called upon to start the game. Another well-regarded prospect, outfielder Derek Fisher, would start in left field for his major league debut. The kids delivered. Martes flashed his top-prospect stuff, fanning seven Rangers and allowing one run across five excellent innings. Meanwhile, Fisher keyed a pivotal rally in the ‘Stros’ nine-run sixth. He lined an 0-1 fastball into the left field seats to lead off the frame, and added an RBI single after the Astros batted around. Fisher finished 2-3 with two walks as his parents looked on, and the Astros took game three by a final score of 13-2.
Youthful excitement aside, Houston pitchers have to be grateful for their scheduled day off today. The Astros bullpen tossed 12 2/3 innings over the three-game set, nearly matching the 14 1/3 covered by the starting rotation.
A resurgent Mike Fiers will look to buck that trend when he takes on Drew Pomeranz and the Red Sox on Friday night. Fiers is coming off a solid 7 1/3 inning start – results he’d no doubt love to replicate against Boston. First pitch is scheduled for 7:10 Central.
McCullers Stokes Astros-Rangers Rivalry
Lance McCullers Jr may be on the disabled list, but that doesn’t mean that the fiery hurler has lost his competitive edge. After Texas manager Jeff Bannister took to FM radio to claim that the name of his team indicated a state-wide preference for the Rangers, McCullers clapped back on Twitter. “It’s because nobody knows what Arlington is,” McCullers wrote, adding the hashtag #Htownproud. Also worth noting: Houston could have been known as the “Texas Astros,” had the club so desired. The Astros franchise predates the Rangers by nine seasons.
‘Stros Enroll Top College Talent
Help is on the way! The MLB draft wrapped up on Wednesday, and the Astros spent 35 of their 42 selections on advanced college players who they hope could move quickly through the minor leagues. The baseball blogosphere is already abuzz with speculation that first-round selection JB Bukauskas, a stocky pitcher with a powerful right arm, could slot into an overworked big league bullpen as early as this September before continuing his development as a starting pitcher next year.
Socks And The Sox
A pair of socks ranks pretty low on the list most wished-for gifts. But what if those socks came with tickets to a ballgame? All of a sudden, things are looking up. The first 10,000 fans through the Minute Maid Park gates on Father’s Day will receive a special pair of Astros socks. Why not take dad out to the ballgame? But you’d better act now – seats are going fast.