It is not a secret that you can expect the Astros to lose some games this season. Granted the national media did not let us lose sight of that fact prior to the season starting, but it is to be expected.
I said all along, its not specifically that the Astros are going to lose games that will make or break this season for me. The greater indication of progress, is how they lose. I know that really is setting the bar low, but if there is any time to do it, this season is that time. Progress is going to come slowly, but as long as I see progress, I will be happy.
Taken just on the surface, the Astros had two very frustrating losses Thursday and Friday night against the defending American League champion Tigers. Both outcomes were frustrating for different reasons.
Thursday night’s game was long. There were fourteen innings of baseball and it must be kept in mind that following the Astros is even harder now when the majority of you cannot watch them on TV. My only hardship was listening to the Tigers’ announcers for fourteen innings and having the game end at 1 am eastern time on a workday. While not ideal, especially considering that they did lose, I still have it easier than a lot of other Astros fans since I can watch each night.
Prior to giving up the deciding runs in the fourteenth inning, Dallas Keuchel turned in an excellent relief performance entering the game in the tenth inning. Granted the game never should have been in extra innings, but at least the Astros battled and gave you an interesting game to watch. It also didn’t hurt that Jordan Lyles hurled five good innings giving up only two runs in his first start of the season.
Last night, Bud Norris gave the Astros his best start of the season going seven innings and only giving up two runs. That is the type of performance we have been waiting for from Norris this season. We know he is capable, and he has done it in the past. Not as a knock on Lucas Harrell who has been one of the best Astros since 2012, but Norris is a pitcher the Astros need to step up.
I know there is a ton of chatter about trading Norris and building up his value to maximize the return, but I think he has more value to the Astros than he would to another team. That is especially true now.
Yes the Astros did fall behind 2-0 last night, but they were still in the game. Norris gave up one run in the second inning and another in the fourth. He then got the Astros into the seventh inning with a chance to win. That is all you can ask for from your starting pitcher. This was even more necessary after the nine innings the bullpen pitched the night before.
And wouldn’t you know it, in the bottom of the seventh inning the bats came alive. A few hits later (thanks also to an error by Omar Infante), Marwin Gonzalez, Robbie Grossman, and Jose Altuve drove in runs and the Astros had a 3-2 lead.
Hector Ambriz continued his recent success laying claim to the eighth inning and Travis Blackley once again had a successful outing to get the ball to closer Jose Veras. That is the outcome you want every night. Get the ball to your closer in the ninth inning with a lead. When that is happening on a consistent basis, things are good.
The problem though, is when the closer blows the save and you lose the game. That happened Friday night as Alex Avila hit a two run homer off Veras which was followed by old friend Jose Valverde closing the door for Detroit.
Last night was the second blown save for Veras so far in this young season. Although Veras certainly deserves some criticism, it must be remembered that some of the blame has to go to the Astros’ decision makers. Veras was never truly a closer prior to this season and is miscast. How many wins this ends up costing Houston this season remains to be seen, and it is certainly frustrating to Astros fans and I’m sure the players as well.
Coming off of a game like last night, you have to fight the urge to be frustrated. I’m not saying you have to be alright with losing, but just find the positives in the game and try to ignore the ending.