The list of reasons for the Astros to lose the finale of a two-game series with the Dodgers, which they won 5-2, was a lot longer than their list of reasons to expect a win.
- They had just played maybe their worst game of the season on Tuesday night in bowing to the Dodgers 9-2. Their offense looked anemic, their pitchers had doled out nine walks and a hit by pitch and they looked like they were the inferior team in every phase of the game.
- The Tuesday loss added to their three-game sweep at the hands of the Texas Rangers had the Astros on a downward trajectory and looking very beatable.
- The pitching matchup Wednesday greatly favored the Dodgers as LA sent out defending 2020 Cy Young winner and contending 2021 Cy Young candidate Trevor Bauer (5-2, 1.98 ERA entering the game) against rookie Luis Garcia (2-3, 3.38 ERA also entering the game). Garcia had been good while Bauer had been great so far this season.
- Two of the Astros best left-handed bats to send up against the right-handed Bauer were unable to play. Michael Brantley came out of the Ranger series with vague leg soreness, which will keep him out until at least Friday’s game. Yordan Alvarez, who has been badly slumping (for him), injured his wrist in his last at bat in Tuesday’s game and sat out Wednesday’s game.
- The Astros’ closer Ryan Pressly had a stiff neck and was not available for the game. This meant someone else would have to close if the opportunity arose. More on that later.
- Reliever Kent Emanuel, who has been effective, came out of the game on Tuesday with elbow discomfort and was not available to pitch.
- The team got the news that Lance McCullers Jr. , arguably their best starter to date, was headed to the IL. While it did not affect this game, it no doubt could have psychologically affected the team.
- The Dodgers were 30-18 with the second-best record in baseball and on a season-high 8 game winning streak. They also had a fairly vocal following in the supposedly unfriendly confines of Minute Maid Park.
But baseball is the game that goes the least according to plan and while Trevor Bauer pitched very well, Luis Garcia pitched better and the Astros’ bullpen, which has been the big question mark lately, outdueled the Dodgers’ pen with some thrills along the way.
So what did the Astros do to turn things around last night?
- Garcia pitched terrific, going 6 innings giving up 2 hits, 1 run, 1 walk and 7 Ks a bit better than Bauer, who gave up solo home runs to the first batter he faced, Jose Altuve, and the next to last batter he faced, Carlos Correa.
- Altuve’s blast to lead off the game set the Dodgers back on their heels a bit and gave Garcia some confidence to face the tough LA lineup. Correa’s liner into the Crawford Boxes was big in that it gave the Astros the lead, allowed Garcia to notch another win and came after an inexplicable failed steal attempt by Yuli Gurriel.
- The Astros jumped on reliever Nate Jones for the eventual winning runs with three in the 7th, highlighted by a 2 run line-drive homer by Aledmys Diaz.
- The Astros’ bullpen trio of Brooks Raley, Ryne Stanek and Bryan Abreu held the Dodgers to one solo home run in 3 innings of work, though Abreu showed how hard it can be to earn a first major league save. After getting the first two batters, including a terrific play by Altuve on a Will Smith grounder up the middle, Abreu starts channelling the bullpen of the last few games and walked two batters in a row. All fans flashbacked to the many times that Albert Pujols has disappointed the home town crowd in the past, but Abreu struck out Uncle Albert to preserve the victory.
Things don’t get any easier as the Astros face the San Diego Padres over the weekend. The 32-18 Padres have the best record in the majors and start off the series throwing two of their best pitchers in Dinelson Lamet (1-0, 1.64 ERA), who is still building up his pitch count after an IL stint and their 2021 ace Yu Darvish (5-1, 1.75 ERA) against the returning Framber Valdez and Jake Odorizzi. Sunday’s game features Zack Greinke against the dreaded TBD. Just like the Dodger series, it is a chance for the Astros to show how they stack up against the best teams in the majors.