Astros: Five key takeaways from embarrassment in Seattle

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - SEPTEMBER 23: Alex Bregman #2 of the Houston Astros reacts after grounding out to third in the fourth inning against the Seattle Mariners at T-Mobile Park on September 23, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - SEPTEMBER 23: Alex Bregman #2 of the Houston Astros reacts after grounding out to third in the fourth inning against the Seattle Mariners at T-Mobile Park on September 23, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images) /

Here are our five key takeaways from the Houston Astros stinking in Seattle.

Sleepless in Seattle? More like Swingless in Seattle. With an opportunity to sew up a playoff spot, the Houston Astros went up against the Mariners and laid an egg on the field. Aside from one glorious inning, the team’s much-maligned offense continued to look helpless, leaving fans raiding their liquor cabinets after each game.

After losing two of three against the Mariners, the Astros now have just a 2.5-game lead over the Angels for second place in the AL West. They have four games remaining in Arlington against the basement-dwelling Rangers, while the Angels finish their season against the Dodgers and the Mariners take on Oakland. You’d think that gives Houston an advantage, and it probably should.

But judging by the way they played in this series, there’s no advantage this team can’t squander. Lance McCullers taking a no-hitter into the sixth inning turned into a five-run loss on Monday thanks to some bad defense and, of course, awful hitting. They couldn’t score anything on Wednesday until it was too late. Only a five-run outburst in the sixth inning on Tuesday kept them from getting swept.

All told, it was another awful showing from a team that simply doesn’t seem to want to be there. I’ve defended manager Dusty Baker on a lot of issues this year, but at some point the manager has to get this team to pull its collective head out of its hindquarters. I’d almost rather they just formally quit and be done with it. Still, here are our five key takeaways from this series.

Greinke’s Struggles

In his final regular season start, Zack Greinke didn’t exactly put an exclamation point on his year. He went only 4.2 innings, allowing three runs on eight hits and raising his season ERA to 4.03. Remember he actually had a 1.84 ERA after his start on Aug. 18.

Whatever the reason, Greinke simply hasn’t pitched particularly well in September. There have been some starts where he was one or two bad pitches away from a good outing, so to a certain degree he’s had some bad luck. But there has to be a sense of nervousness at the idea of him starting the first game of a playoff series.

Altuve’s Struggles

Jose Altuve went 2-for-3 with a walk in Monday’s game, looking for all the world like he might be finally turning it around at the plate. He then proceeded to go 1-for-10 in the next two games, including striking out with the tying and go-ahead runs on base to end Wednesday’s game.

That’s something of a microcosm of his entire season. He puts one or two good games together and then has another bad stretch where he looks lost at the plate. For his sake, I’m ready for the season to be over. He looks like he needs an offseason to rest and to reset mentally.

Valdez the Ace?

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In what could be his last regular season start, Framber Valdez was sharp again, allowing one run in seven innings with eight strikeouts. He would be in line to pitch the regular season finale if the Astros still haven’t clinched their postseason spot, though if they have clinched then they’ll likely save him for the Wild Card round.

Valdez has been nothing short of a revelation this year, owning a 3.57 ERA and a 5-3 record. He’s certainly earned himself a spot in the 2021 rotation regardless of whether the Astros will try to contend or take a pass and gear up for 2022. If you take away the one bad outing against the Angels when he was left in the game too long, his numbers look even better.

Bullpen Looks Better

Speaking of looking better, have you seen the bullpen lately? This group was stout against the Mariners. The only blemish was Brandon Bielak giving up two runs on Monday, but the game was already out of reach by then. Take that away and the unit tossed 5.2 scoreless innings in Seattle.

Enoli Paredes has been particularly good lately. Blake Taylor and Andre Scrubb are still working their magic. Even the heartburn-inducing Josh James has suddenly become reliable. If you would’ve told me a month ago that the bullpen would be a strength and the offense a liability, I wouldn’t have believed it.

Season Will Be Over Soon

One way or another, the Astros aren’t likely to be playing many more games. Even if they do sneak into the playoffs, I simply can’t see them defeating anyone. The way this offense is floundering every night is just disgraceful.

The Astros have the talent to heat up at the right time and make a deep run, but they don’t seem to have the desire. The hitting isn’t there, the defense isn’t there and the coaching isn’t there. The pitching staff still lacks depth as well, so we should all be out of our collective misery before long.