I admit it. I was a little excited about the prospect of Monday’s series opener against the Cubs. Even bad teams get hot sometimes, and with a brutal season winding down the Astros are running out of opportunities. But, as usual, my excitement turned to disappointment as the Astros repeated a painfully familiar refrain.
In many ways, this game fell into a pattern that mirrored the Astros season. Houston squandered a two-on, one-out opportunity in the first inning against Cubs starter Chris Volstad- reminiscent of the way they wasted back-to-back homers on opening day by throwing away the game late.
Both Volstad and Astros starter Dallas Keuchel (mostly Keuchel) were pitching as though they were being paid by the hour. This game was clearly going to take a while. Keuchel was in no hurry on the mound, but when he drew a walk to lead off the third inning Keuchel’s demeanor quickly changed. Determined to work his way around the bases and tie the game, Keuchel tagged up and advanced to second on Jimmy Paredes‘ fly ball to deep center. Fernando Martinez then hit a chopper to third and Keuchel advanced another 90 feet, safely executing his second head-first slide of the inning. Now he was creating some excitement! Brett Wallace grounded out on a nice play by Darwin Barney as Keuchel sprinted toward the plate in vain. Finally, some exciting baseball but the Astros couldn’t tie it up- just like they couldn’t get to .500 after playing their best baseball of the year in April and early May.
Keuchel returned to the mound for the fourth inning with his arm bloodied from his base-running adventures. It reminded me of the Astros trip to Colorado in late May when they were beaten to a bloody pulp by the Rockies.
Keuchel would make it through the inning with no further damage thanks to some defensive help from J.D. Martinez and Jason Castro. On the Cubs’ third hit of the inning Martinez threw out Welington Castillo at the plate. Castro had to go up the line a bit and make a nice sweep tag to end Chicago’s scoring threat.
The Astros were able to generate some more excitement in the bottom of the fourth when Justin Maxwell led off with a triple to Tal’s Hill. It’s always fun to watch opposing outfielders stumble around on the hill and next year we probably won’t get the pleasure. Jason Castro smacked a base-hit to rightfield on the very next pitch to tie the game 1-1. Castro would advance to second on a wild pitch but was stranded when Tyler Greene and Brandon Laird struck out. It kind of reminded me of how the Astros came up empty in countless extra-inning opportunities this season.
Jimmy Paredes showed off his skills in the fifth inning with a nifty double-play pivot in the top half and a leadoff triple down the rightfield line in the bottom. Paredes is filling in for injured second-sacker Jose Altuve who showed off his skills back in July as the Astros representative at the All-Star game. Unfortunately, as has often been the case this year, the Astros stranded Paredes at third and were unable to take the lead.
Fernando Rodriguez came out of the bullpen to start the sixth inning and plunked the first batter he saw. It was deja vu all over again as Rodriguez was unable to get out of the inning before allowing the go-ahead run on a wild pitch. Ultimately, F-Rod would be charged with his tenth loss of the season.
The Astros offense failed to get on track in the late innings just as the team has failed to make any noise over the second half of the season. Three hours and fifty minutes after it started the Cubs claimed a 5-1 victory to move eleven games ahead of Houston in the standings. It was a long drawn-out game and it’s been a long and tedious season for Astros fans. Unfortunately, it isn’t over yet.