There were just enough gaps offensively for the Houston Astros to feel as though another opportunity had slipped from their grasp, shortcomings that have suddenly yielded a slump.
After winning 11 consecutive games and taking over first place in the American League West, the Astros have dropped three of their last four, including a 9-7 defeat to the Baltimore Orioles on Monday.
Scoring seven runs seems sufficient at first glance, but the Astros failed to take full advantage of getting 10 hits and receiving 10 walks from seven Orioles pitchers. Part of the issue came with runners in scoring position, with the Astros starting 0-for-11 before notching two hits in the ninth.
“One week we’re picking all the runners up, and this week we’re having problems, especially the double plays and strikeouts with runners in scoring position,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “Those things are going to happen, but we’ve certainly got to pitch better.”
The Astros mustered two extra-base hits. A two-out double from Yuli Gurriel in the first and a leadoff double from Martin Maldonado in the third failed to net runs.
Gurriel hit into an inning-ending double play in the third and Michael Brantley popped out to leave the bases loaded in the fourth. Robel Garcia and Maldonado struck out with the bases full in the seventh.
Houston managed three bases-loaded walks, but for an offense that was seemingly unstoppable heading into a weekend series at Detroit, the lack of timely hits is now an issue.
Right-hander Jose Urquidy (6-3, 3.32 ERA) has the Astros’ starting assignment on Tuesday. He faced the Orioles in his previous start on June 23, allowing three hits and one walk with six strikeouts over seven scoreless innings in a 13-0 victory.
Urquidy is 3-1 with a 3.45 ERA and 33 strikeouts over 31 1/3 innings and five starts since returning from a stint on the 10-day injured list (right shoulder). His previous start was the first of his career against the Orioles.
Left-hander Alexander Wells (0-0, 0.00 ERA) is tentatively the scheduled starter in what will be a bullpen day for the Orioles.
Wells made his major league debut against the Toronto Blue Jays on Saturday, working two scoreless innings while allowing one hit and two walks in a 12-4 loss. He was recalled from Triple-A Norfolk on June 25, having gone 4-3 with a 5.63 ERA in eight games (six starts) for the Tides.
Wells recorded 27 strikeouts against only four walks over 32 innings.
The Orioles won for just the second time in 24 road games, a development that rendered their collective struggles throwing strikes somewhat secondary. Given their difficulties this season, the problems that nearly cost them a victory in the opener of their series with Houston earned a passing concern.
“We have to eliminate the walks,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said. “You’re not going to win games doing that. We got fortunate that we put up a 5-spot in the ninth.
“Excited we got the win.”
–Field Level Media