Two teams overcoming problems to put together winning streaks in this most unusual season open a three-game series at Petco Park in San Diego on Friday night.
The Houston Astros arrive riding an eight-game winning streak, although their injury list continues to grow.
And the host San Diego Padres have won four consecutive games despite continuing bullpen problems thanks to an offense that Thursday became the first in major league history to hit grand slams in four consecutive games.
The series opens with a match of right-handed Tommy John graduates — the Astros’ Lance McCullers (March 2019) and the Padres’ Garrett Richards (July 2018).
McCullers is 2-1 with a 5.47 ERA. Richards is 1-1 with a 3.45 ERA.
But Friday night’s starting pitchers aren’t really the heart of this matchup. The Padres and Astros have climbed into playoff positioning with determined resilience. Houston seems to get stronger with each injury while the Padres’ offense seems capable of overcoming every bullpen meltdown.
“We’ve been able to take big-time body blows and bounce back,” San Diego manager Jayce Tingler said Thursday night after the Padres rallied three times to earn a second straight, 10-inning, walk-off win to complete a four-game, home-and-home sweep of the Texas Rangers.
“We feel confident. There’s a toughness. We’ve got guys stepping up. We’ve got guys working the count and getting on.”
And then there are the grand slams — four in four games, each by a different hitter.
Monday — Fernando Tatis Jr. had a grand slam as part of two-homer, seven-RBI game. The 21-year-old’s slam came on a 3-0 pitch with the Padres leading Texas 10-3, setting off a national debate on unwritten rules.
Tuesday — Wil Myers hit a first-inning grand slam to give the Padres a quick lead.
Wednesday — Manny Machado hit a walk-off grand slam in the 10th.
Thursday — Eric Hosmer’s fifth-inning grand slam overcame a 2-1 Rangers lead.
Four straight wins off 34 runs, but the bullpen is hurting literally and figuratively. Padres relievers gave up five runs Thursday, marking the seventh time in nine games that the bullpen has surrendered at least three runs in a game (with the number being four or more five times).
Plus, the relievers the Padres count on most are hurting. Kirby Yates is finished for the year with bone spurs in his elbow. Drew Pomeranz is experiencing shoulder soreness and was unavailable the past two nights. Craig Stammen and Matt Strahm were also unavailable Thursday.
But don’t talk to the Astros about injuries.
Alex Bregman, the runner-up in the American League MVP voting last year, went on the injured list Thursday after straining a hamstring Wednesday. Yordan Alvarez, the AL Rookie of the Year in 2019, is facing knee surgery. Justin Verlander is out with a forearm strain. Reliever Roberto Osuna is out with an elbow issue. And All-Star outfielder Michael Brantley is sidelined due to a quad injury, although he could be activated this weekend.
And Houston keeps winning.
“Every day, we’re dealing with disappointment,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said, “but we’re going to find a way to stay positive.”
McCullers has worked 26 1/3 innings in his five starts. He has given up 16 runs on 22 hits. But half those runs came in one start against Arizona. Over his past two starts, McCullers has allowed two runs on four hits in 12 2/3 innings.
Richards will also be making his sixth start Friday. He has given up 11 runs on 26 hits and nine walks with 21 strikeouts in 28 2/3 innings.
McCullers lost his lone career appearance against the Padres two years ago, giving up three runs (two earned) in five innings. Richards is 5-5 with a 2.99 ERA in 15 career games (12 starts) against the Astros.
–Field Level Media