HOUSTON -- When the Astros returned home Thursday to face the Twins after going 4-4 on a difficult West Coast road trip through Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles, they appeared positioned to pull away in the American League West. They had a 4 1/2-game lead in the division and the easiest remaining schedule in the AL.
Considering the Astros have been swept earlier this year by the Rangers, Orioles, Tigers and Rockies, losing three out of four to the Twins at Minute Maid Park, capped by Sunday’s 7-5 defeat, shouldn’t all be all that shocking. Houston is 2-6 in its last eight games and now leads the A’s by only two games.
“It’s disappointing, very disappointing,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “But we’ve got to regroup, and we’ve got an off-day tomorrow and come back on Tuesday [against the Rockies].
Here are some notes from Sunday’s game:
Brantley, Montero to be evaluated
Astros outfielder Michael Brantley and right-handed reliever Rafael Montero will be evaluated Monday after each had to leave Sunday’s game with injuries.
Brantley was struck in the head in a first-inning collision on the bases with Twins shortstop Andrelton Simmons while sliding into second base and wound up leaving the game in the third inning for precautionary reasons. Montero was pulled after throwing a pitch in the eighth inning with shoulder soreness, according to Baker.
“We don’t have any other word on either of them right now,” he said. “Fortunately for us, we’ve got a day off [Monday] to get some treatment and be observed by the doctors.”
Montero was making just his fourth outing with the Astros after coming over from the Mariners in the trade that also brought Kendall Graveman to Houston on July 27. He has yet to allow an earned run in six innings with the Astros and had retired five of the six batters he faced Sunday, issuing one walk.
McCullers laments ‘weak contact’
Coming off one of his best starts of the season, Astros starter Lance McCullers Jr. gave up eight hits, including a pair of home runs, and four runs in 4 2/3 innings in Sunday’s loss.
McCullers, who threw 6 2/3 scoreless innings Tuesday at Dodger Stadium, gave up a long two-run homer to Miguel Sanó in the fourth inning and a pop-fly homer into the Crawford Boxes to Jorge Polanco in the fifth. Polanco later homered off Phil Maton, a three-run shot that put the Twins ahead, 7-3.
“I thought my stuff was fine,” McCullers said. “A hit’s a hit, it is what it is, but seven of the eight or six of the eight were extremely weak contact. You’re talking 70, 80-mph hits. It’s kind of one of those things, you’ve got to roll with the punches. Other than the Sanó at-bat, I didn’t feel many of the balls were coming off the bat with much intent. Just a lot of well-placed balls.”
Sano’s homer was a rocket at 107.6 mph off the bat, and Polanco’s homer off McCullers was 96.1 mph off the bat. The only other hit that was more than 90 mph was a fifth-inning 93-mph single by Luis Arraez.
“They found every hole against McCullers,” Baker said.
Alvarez is ‘sore’
After being questioned why left fielder Yordan Alvarez didn’t run hard to first base on a double-play grounder in the first inning, Baker said the slugger is sore. Alvarez had surgery on both knees last year, but has been declared healthy for quite some time and has run hard in spurts, including on a fourth-inning double Sunday.
“He’s been playing a lot,” Baker said of Alvarez, who has started a career-high 23 games in left field. “His legs are fine. He's playing more of the field than he has at other times since he’s been here. … It’s concerning, but he’s sore because he hasn’t played this much. We talked to him about it and like I said, all I can tell you is he’s sore. I think the day off [Monday] will help him and us.”
Meyers collects first hit
Astros rookie outfielder Jake Meyers, who was called up to the Astros a week ago, collected his first Major League hit with a seventh-inning double off Twins reliever Tyler Duffey. Meyers came into Sunday’s game as a pinch-hitter in the third inning, replacing the injured Brantley, and wound up going 1-for-3 with a walk and two strikeouts.
Meyers was able to retrieve the ball and other mementos from the game to commemorate his first hit. A 13th-round pick in the 2017 MLB Draft, Meyers hit .343 with 17 doubles, 16 homers and 51 RBIs at Triple-A Sugar Land this year.
“It’s a moment I’ll remember for the rest of my career and life,” he said. “It was really fun, but yeah, I wish we would’ve won today.”