Astros can't break out of funk in rare trip to Wrigley

April 24th, 2024

CHICAGO -- The only player on the Astros roster who was in the lineup in the club’s previous game at Wrigley Field, which came 11 years earlier, was Jose Altuve. That was June 23, 2013, when a rebuilding Astros team was on its way to a franchise-worst 111 losses in its first year in the American League.

The Astros, of course, have done a lot of winning since, which includes seven consecutive trips to the ALCS, four AL pennants and two World Series titles. It was only last year the Astros were one home win away from reaching their fifth Fall Classic in less than a decade.

So excuse Altuve, or any of his teammates, if they’re having a hard time believing a team of this caliber can do this much losing. But after dropping a 7-2 decision to the Cubs at Wrigley Field on Tuesday night, the Astros are 7-17 -- the first time they’ve been 10 games under .500 since the start of play on May 25, 2016.

“I know we’ve been losing a lot, but I keep my word when I said if we come one day and we execute with men in scoring position and score some runs, I think we’re going to create some momentum and start winning a lot,” Altuve said.

If the Astros needed a reminder of how early it is in the season, the ivy on the outfield wall isn’t even fully green yet. Houston still has 138 games left on its schedule, but at some point the players’ words will ring hollow if they don’t start winning.

“They’re tired of the situation that we are in, and the only way to get over that is we just go to get over the hump,” first-year manager Joe Espada said. “We’ve got to continue to fight. They’re trying; the effort is there. But we’ve just got to be better.”

Tuesday was more of the same for the Astros, with starting pitcher J.P. France giving up five runs in the first inning on a two-run homer by Cody Bellinger and a three-run homer by Mike Tauchman to put Houston in a hole. The Astros have been outscored 26-15 in the first inning of games this year, and their offense’s inability to hit in the clutch has meant only two come-from-behind wins.

“It’s hard because then you find yourself trying to do too much from the get-go, trying to establish your offense or get some at-bats going, trying to get a few runs early in the game,” Espada said. “It’s tough when you’re down five, down four, down three. It just makes it tougher, but we’ve got to find a way. We had eight, nine innings to try to make up for those runs. Not ideal, but we’ve got to find a way. It’s an excuse if we just think that’s the reason why we lost that game.”

Yainer Diaz’s RBI double in the fourth was the only hit with runners in scoring position for the Astros (1-for-4), and Jake Meyers cut the lead to 5-2 with a solo homer in the fifth. But the only hit Houston managed in the final four innings was an Altuve bloop single.

“Like I always say, in good moments we have stretches where we win eight of 10 and I say we have a great team,” Altuve said. “I’m going to say the same thing right now. We have great players and we have guys that are encouraging each other to win games. We still have that team. One game at a time, but I think we can start a good stretch where we can win a lot of games and go back to normal.”

Not even a return to Chicago was the magic potion for José Abreu, who went 0-for-3 to drop his average to .065. He did have the Astros’ second-hardest-hit ball of the game -- a seventh-inning lineout that was 103.6 mph off bat. Alas, he’s hitless in his past 21 at-bats.

Alex Bregman went 0-for-4 in the cleanup spot in the order, extending his hitless funk to 16 at-bats. Like Altuve, Bregman still believes in a team that knows how to win and is struggling to deal with so many losses.

“I think everybody in here knows we have a good team,” he said. “Obviously, we’re not playing like it right now, but we’re going to come here tomorrow and turn the page and try to win one in a row. Just keep trying to do that.”