Astros: Five key takeaways from nail-biting Angels series

ANAHEIM, CA - AUGUST 02: Josh James #39 of the Houston Astros pitches in the first inning of the game against the Los Angeles Angels at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on August 2, 2020 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
ANAHEIM, CA - AUGUST 02: Josh James #39 of the Houston Astros pitches in the first inning of the game against the Los Angeles Angels at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on August 2, 2020 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images) /

Here are our five key takeaways from the Houston Astros series win against the Angels.

Boy am I glad that’s over. The Houston Astros had to fight and claw their way through their first road series of the season but managed to come away with two wins in three games against the Los Angeles Angels. Unfortunately, even though they emerged victorious, they’re left with plenty of battle scars.

The team endured further injuries to the pitching staff with the loss of closer Roberto Osuna, who’s been placed on the Injured List and will be out for an undetermined length of time. Veteran Chris Devenski is also on the IL, joining Joe Biagini, Austin Pruitt and Brad Peacock, while Joe Smith is presumably opting out of this season, at least for the time being.

Nonetheless, they persevered. The Astros took Friday’s opener in a 9-6 victory behind four RBIs from Kyle Tucker, though Lance McCullers Jr only completed four innings. The Angels took Saturday’s game 5-4 in 10 innings as Houston blew a one-run lead in the ninth after Osuna was removed. The Astros bounced back to win Sunday’s rubber match 6-5 in 11 innings thanks to fantastic efforts from Framber Valdez and Blake Taylor in relief.

The team will enjoy a much-needed day off as they head to Arizona to take on the Diamondbacks for three games, and our series preview will be up soon. For now, here are our five key takeaways from the Angels series.

James Struggling

In his second start of the season, Josh James again had difficulty throwing strikes, which both limited his effectiveness and prevented him from pitching deep into the game. On Sunday, he completed only three innings and walked six batters, allowing four runs on just one hit — a grand slam by Albert Pujols.

He threw only 46 percent of his pitches for strikes, which underscores how lopsided his numbers are. He’s walked 11 batters in six innings this season, putting up a 10.50 ERA and ghastly 2.50 WHIP. If James can’t start finding the strike zone, manager Dusty Baker could have to reconsider using him in the rotation.

Who’s The Closer?

That’s the question of the day, and there may not be an answer. Ryan Pressly would be the presumed first choice to take over for Osuna, but he evidently was not available on Sunday after dealing with a cut on his finger during his outing on Saturday. Blake Taylor, who got a huge final out in the bottom of the 10th, managed to hold off the Angels in the 11th on Sunday to seal the win.

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Until Pressly is ready to go, Baker may not operate with a traditional closer, but may instead just ride the hot hand. He did so with Valdez, bringing him back out for the 10th inning after he’d already thrown six scoreless frames. That decision didn’t work out, but considering he’s operating with such an inexperienced bullpen, it’s hard to fault the logic.

Valdez Steps Up

Speaking of Valdez, how good was he? With the Astros enjoying a day off on Thursday and again on Monday, Baker made his fifth starter available to pitch in relief, and boy did he ever. He gave the team 6.1 innings, allowing only an unearned run while striking out eight. It was a great display of this guy’s very high ceiling.

He started out pitching well in his start against the Dodgers last week before things came unraveled in the fifth inning, so he’s got the ability to be a quality member of the rotation. If he can avoid the big inning and keep things from getting away from him, he could end up being downright dangerous.

Bregman, Springer Heating Up; Altuve Still Cold

Coming into this Angels series, we noted how three of the team’s core players — George Springer, Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman — were struggling at the plate. Springer went 5-for-12 with four walks and six RBIs in the series, so his bat is waking up. Bregman hit safely in every game and homered on Sunday, so the hope is that he’s starting to shake off the rust as well.

The same cannot be said for Altuve. His batting average sits at a meager .158 after he went 2-for-15 with one walk in the series, including a disastrous 0-for-6 on Sunday. The good news is that he only had two career 0-for-6 games before this, and both of those came in seasons in which he would win the batting title. It’s not time to panic, but in a short season, there isn’t much time for slow starts.

Extra Innings Stink

The Astros have had the misfortune of playing three extra inning games in their last four, which can’t help what’s been a heavily depleted bullpen. It also doesn’t help the rookies (of which there are several) to start an inning with a runner already on second base. You’d rather give these guys a clean inning.

Next. Osuna injured as Devenski heads to IL. dark

I know the intent is to avoid the extra-inning marathons in this shortened season, but it just stinks. This isn’t Little League, but this rule sure makes it feel like that’s what Commissioner Rob Manfred is trying to turn it into. Let’s hope it dies a swift death once this ridiculous season is done.