HOUSTON -- The struggling Astros find themselves in a position they haven’t been in this deep in a season since 2016, which was the last time they didn't make the playoffs. Sunday’s 9-7 loss to the Reds in 10 innings sent them into third place in the American League West at 39-33, which is their worst record after 72 games since that same year.
The surging Reds completed a three-game sweep at Minute Maid Park -- the Astros’ fourth consecutive loss and ninth in their past 12 games -- by coming back from an early three-run deficit and scoring three unearned runs in 10th inning for their eighth win in a row. That dropped Houston 5 ½ games behind the first-place Rangers and one-game behind the second-place Angels.
“It wasn’t a very good weekend,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “We made a few mistakes this weekend that cost us. When you're playing a hot club and you give them opportunities, they’ll capitalize on them. We had action on scoring a lot of runs today, more than we had in the last week or so, and we left a lot of men on base (12).”
The Astros roared to a 5-2 lead Sunday, with Corey Julks hitting a homer in the second inning and Alex Bregman breaking an 0-for-14 slump with a double and triple, scoring twice, but starting pitcher Ronel Blanco couldn’t hold it. Spencer Steer’s two-run homer in the sixth tied it, giving the Reds momentum.
“He made a mistake on Steer,” Baker said. “That ball came down and into his sweet spot, but with our bullpen situation, we were trying to get him through that one. … We were behind the eight-ball in the sixth and hoping he could get through the [inning].”
Baker lamented mistakes his team made over the weekend, including Blanco not covering first base in the fateful sixth inning on a hard-hit ball that first baseman José Abreu made a great play on at the line and couldn’t beat Elly De La Cruz to the bag. In the 10th, a throwing error by Bregman started an inning in which the Reds pushed three runs across to take a 9-6 lead.
“It was a situation where we didn’t get any breaks, and things didn’t go our way,” Baker said.
After scoring five runs in their previous three games, the Astros’ offense at least showed signs of life. Bregman went 3-for-5, Kyle Tucker was 2-for-4, Yainer Diaz went 3-for-5 and Chas McCormick was 2-for-5. Still, the Astros are 3-6 since losing slugger Yordan Alvarez to an oblique strain earlier this month and remain an enigma offensively.
“Yordan is one of probably our best players, but overall as a team we’ve got to find a way to win games,” catcher Martín Maldonado said. “Somebody has to step up. He's not going to come back for at least a month or something. It’s about stepping up.
"Diaz is doing a good job in the DH spot. Bregman had a big day. Tucker is stepping up. It’s about putting some good at-bats together and believing [in] the guy behind you.”
It doesn’t get any easier for the Astros, who will face three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer of the Mets on Monday at Minute Maid Park. Justin Verlander, who won two Cy Youngs and helped the Astros win a pair of World Series in his terrific five-year run in Houston, is expected to start Tuesday’s game in his return to Minute Maid Park. A 10-game road trip follows, capped by four games at the Rangers.
“You’ve got to be able to turn the page in this game, you’ve got to be able to move on quickly [and] you’ve got to know you’re going to go through stretches and tough times,” Bregman said. “It’s nothing this team hasn’t dealt with before. Obviously, we haven’t been the healthiest this year. We haven’t played our best baseball. We’ve played up and down, really. We’ve had some good series, some bad series. At the end of the day in baseball, you’ve got to have a next pitch mentality and turn the page.”
Baker said the Astros have no other choice than to keep pushing forward with 90 games still remaining.
“That’s the only choice that you have is to go and play,” Baker said. “We know we’ve got a couple of tough guys coming in. We’ve got a tough road in this whole month. You have no choice. You can have sorrow at night, but in the morning there’s joy because the sun came up.”