Astros: Five key takeaways from difficult Arizona series

Ryan Pressly #55 of the Houston Astros walks to the dugout after being pulled during the eighth inning of a game against the Los Angeles Angels at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on August 01, 2020 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Ryan Pressly #55 of the Houston Astros walks to the dugout after being pulled during the eighth inning of a game against the Los Angeles Angels at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on August 01, 2020 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) /

Here are our five key takeaways from the Houston Astros’ disappointment in the desert.

Things were looking pretty good for the Houston Astros coming into their three-game series in Arizona. They’d taken two of three from the Angels and seemed like they were starting to round into form. But that all went away rather quickly.

Really, it was two innings that flushed it all down the drain. The fourth inning of Wednesday’s game saw Lance McCullers Jr completely unravel, while newly anointed closer Ryan Pressly followed suit in the ninth inning of Thursday’s loss. Arguably the two most important pitchers on this roster right now are both looking rather lost.

One positive is that the Houston bats seem to be working just fine. They scored eight runs in Tuesday’s 8-2 victory and scored another seven in the 14-7 loss on Wednesday. They fell a little short in scoring four on Thursday, but that still works out to more than six runs per game for the series. We’ll certainly take that.

Here are our five key takeaways from this series.

Who Can Close?

That’s the million dollar question right now after Pressly’s meltdown. He’s made only two appearances this season and hasn’t looked good in either. Manager Dusty Baker probably won’t yank him after one blown save, but he has to have a short leash in a 60-game season. One more bad outing would have to make Baker think twice about sending him out there to protect a lead.

But if Baker has to pull the plug, who does he go with? Rookie Blake Taylor has been their most effective reliever, but even he had a little difficulty on Thursday. Would it be time to bring up Fernando Rodney? At this point, it’s hard to say what Baker’s best option would be. He’s been dealt a difficult hand.

Big Bats Coming Around

George Springer, Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman are looking more like themselves again. Springer drove in five runs in the first two games of the series before hurting his wrist on Thursday. The good news is it’s not serious, so he may only miss a day or two. It’s about time this team dodged an injury bullet.

Altuve homered twice in the series and enjoyed a three-hit day on Thursday while Bregman hit safely in all three games and launched the go-ahead homer in the eighth inning in the series finale. Michael Brantley is back now, and once Yordan Alvarez returns, this lineup could be really scary.

Rookies Blossoming in Rotation

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Cristian Javier earned his first major league win on Tuesday, tossing six innings of one-run ball in his second major league start. After two starts and one relief appearance, he’s 1-0 with a 1.42 ERA. He looks like he’s in the rotation to stay.

Fellow rookie Brandon Bielak made his first career start on Thursday and was equally impressive, holding the Diamondbacks scoreless over five innings. Unfortunately the team’s bullpen kept him from earning the win, but it’s an incredibly promising first start. These two players are going to be fun to watch this season.

Time to Worry About McCullers?

What hasn’t been fun to watch are the last two outings by McCullers. His latest start on Wednesday saw him cruise through three perfect innings before getting completely shelled in the fourth. He would allow eight earned runs in the inning and see his season ERA balloon to 9.22 after three starts.

I suspect he may have been tipping his pitches given the sudden and drastic change in his results, but it’s nonetheless concerning. I wouldn’t say it’s time to worry yet, but we have to realize that he’s still just coming off Tommy John surgery and is bound to hit some serious bumps this season. The hope has to be that he can get things worked out and be in a good spot for next year.

Up and Down Season

This also illustrates an important and inescapable fact about this crazy season. The fact that the Astros have been without Justin Verlander, Roberto Osuna, Joe Smith, Brad Peacock, Jose Urquidy, Austin Pruitt and Yordan Alvarez is a lot to overcome. The losses on the pitching side probably render them nearly incapable of winning a World Series this year.

Add in the fact that McCullers is still trying to get in sync and the remaining pitchers didn’t have enough time to get ready in summer camp, and you have a recipe for a difficult season. We simply have to view this as an opportunity to get extended looks at a bevy of young players so this team can prepare itself for another playoff run in 2021.