Astros miss chance to claim best record

Offense and revamped bullpen perform well, but rotation stumbles in SF

August 2nd, 2021

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Astros arrived in San Francisco with an opportunity to usurp the Giants as baseball’s winningest team. As they depart the Bay Area, that box will remain unchecked.

On a buzz-filled afternoon where All-Star third baseman Kris Bryant made his thunderous debut for the orange and black, the Astros fell to the Giants at Oracle Park, 5-3, dropping two of three games against the Majors’ best team in a back-and-forth battle between two heavyweights.

“They’re two very good teams,” said Astros manager Dusty Baker. “They’re one of the best teams that we’ve seen. They seem to get what they need. It was a heck of a series from the fan standpoint.”

Houston didn’t have a singular, splashy acquisition like San Francisco did with Bryant, but this three-game set was an unveiling of the tweaks the Astros have made.

Kendall Graveman, Yimi García, Phil Maton and Rafael Montero, all of whom were acquired this week to bolster the bullpen, made their debuts over these last three games, shoring up Houston’s most notable deficiency. Additionally, with Myles Straw being traded to Cleveland as part of the deal that brought over Maton, rookie Chas McCormick took over as the team’s starting center fielder. With a strong lineup and rotation already in tow, Houston certainly has the makeup of a team destined for a deep run in October.

“I think we have a great team that can go out there and win the World Series this year,” said shortstop Carlos Correa. “We truly believe it. The group of talent that we have -- our lineup, our starting rotation, our bullpen -- I’m happy with where we’re at right now.”

Here are three observations from Houston’s series in San Francisco.

New relievers sharp

Graveman, García, Maton and Montero all had an opportunity to make their debuts for Houston, each of them proving why Houston set out to acquire them.

Across these last three games, that quartet combined to allow just one run across 5 2/3 innings with Graveman and Maton striking out the side in their debuts.

“We’re glad that we made those acquisitions and now we’re going to figure out where and when to use them that’s best for them and best for us,” Baker said.

"I think the moves that we made really shored up an area of our roster that we felt like needed a little bit of attention,” said general manager James Click on Friday. “Again, I feel really good about our offense, I feel really good about our starting pitching and I now feel really good about our bullpen. I think we have a very complete team.”

Starters struggle to pitch deep

While Houston’s new relievers were sharp, the same can’t be said for the team’s starting rotation. Framber Valdez, Zack Greinke and Luis Garcia have been the foundation of one of the American League’s best starting rotations, but against San Francisco, those three struggled mightily.

The three starters combined to allow 11 earned runs across 13 2/3 innings, none of them making it to the sixth inning. Greinke had the most uncharacteristically poor start, allowing four home runs in four innings in Saturday’s 8-6 loss. Baker said that formula is unsustainable, but he believes this series was an aberration.

“That’s not been the norm other than this series,” Baker said. “You’ve got to give the other team credit for getting to our starters. But certainly can’t keep this pace of working your bullpen the way we did this series. I’m sure that our guys will be much better in the next series.”

Hostility awaits Astros in Los Angeles

Now, the Astros will travel to Los Angeles and play the new-look Dodgers, who added three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer and All-Star shortstop Trea Turner. More important than the premium upgrades, this two-game series will be Houston’s first time playing at Dodger Stadium with fans in the stands since news of Houston’s sign-stealing scandal broke in November 2019.

The Astros have encountered choruses of boos at every road stadium they’ve played at thus far, but given the history between them and the Dodgers, the reception Tuesday won’t be kind.

“Probably not good,” Baker said of the potential reception. “It wasn’t bad here. Wasn’t bad here, at all. But I’m sure it’s going to be a lot more hostile when we get to L.A. so just got to deal with it. You’re not really worried about the reception that we’re going to get. You’ve just got to go out there and play ball.”