Offensive funk continues vs. tough pitching

July 18th, 2021

CHICAGO -- For the second game in a row, the Astros’ bats just couldn’t keep up with a White Sox starter.

“This guy on the mound is tough,” Houston manager Dusty Baker said of Chicago starter Carlos Rodón pregame. “If you don't rise to the occasion, this guy will make you look ridiculous.”

It’s tough to say any Astros batter rose to the occasion in Sunday’s 4-0 loss at Guaranteed Rate Field, as they went the entire game with just a single baserunner. Chicago picked up a run in the second inning, scored two more on solo home runs in the fourth and fifth and added on with an RBI single in the seventh. That was more than enough, as Houston was shut down by Rodón.

“The guy is tough, and you give him a lead, it gets even tougher,” Baker said. “They’ve got a very good bullpen that can shut you down. It was a rather uneventful day for us. It was all Rodón.”

For seven innings, only Abraham Toro managed to get a hit on the board with a third-inning single that was just out of White Sox second baseman Danny Mendick’s reach. That was all the damage Houston was able to do against Rodón, who struck out 10 Astros batters and retired each of the last 14 hitters he faced.

Nothing else could be done against White Sox relievers Michael Kopech and Liam Hendriks, who sent Houston down in order in the eighth and ninth innings, respectively.

For a team that came into Sunday sporting the Major League’s best run total (504), hit total (851) and batting average (.267), Sunday was a second consecutive letdown after being held to one run and three hits against Lucas Giolito on Saturday. 

“When we're facing good pitching, it's good pitching,” catcher Martín Maldonado said. “We put the ball in play, we didn't find any holes. They played great defense this series. Coming back from the All-Star break, also four days off for a lot of guys, facing probably the best pitching team in the American League -- we grinded all [throughout] this series.” 

“Giolito was on yesterday, Rodón was on today. It's no secret that they have one of the best pitching staffs and starting pitching in baseball,” Baker said. “These things are gonna happen, so we've just got to put this behind us.” 

Even more concerning were the continued slides of two important bats in the lineup -- Yordan Alvarez and Carlos Correa. 

With two strikeouts and a groundout on the day, Alvarez has just two hits in his last 30 at-bats. 

Baker decided not to keep Alvarez out of the lineup against the lefty Rodón. “You can't sit out a slump,” he said, but Baker moved him up from the cleanup spot to the No. 2 hole. The change didn’t have the desired effect, however, as Alvarez went down swinging at four-seamers in the first and fourth innings before grounding into an out in his last at-bat in the seventh. 

There isn’t an easy fix for Alvarez’s struggles, but Baker plans to keep letting Alvarez try to work through them.

“We've been trying to help him,” Baker said. “I mean, you've got to help yourself, because you can't hit for a guy. He's fouling pitches off that he would ordinarily put in play, which puts him in a two-strike situation. He's on almost every pitch, he's just underneath it. You’ve got to change your sights on the ball. Easier said than done, but he'll get it. 

“This guy -- he can hit, and hitters go through good streaks and bad [ones] and right now, he's not in a very good one.” 

Meanwhile, Correa has gone hitless in his last 23 at-bats -- the worst stretch of his career -- after striking out twice and flying out to center on Sunday. An illness landed Correa on the injured list on July 9, and Baker maintained that Correa regaining the strength he lost because of it has something to do with his issues at the plate. 

“This guy was sick, and it's gonna take a little time for him to build his strength back,” Baker said. “These guys are human. You just don't get sick and then all of a sudden it's nothing, because this game is so physical and mental.” 

While the Astros wait for Correa to get back to full strength, Baker can at least take solace in the fact that Correa is still playing an elite level of defense at shortstop.