Astros 'on the cusp' despite ill-timed slump

Baker ‘not worried' as magic number to clinch the division remains at one

September 30th, 2021

HOUSTON -- By the time the Astros finally clinch the American League West title, they may be more inclined to let out a sigh of relief than spray themselves with champagne in the clubhouse.

With a chance to clinch the AL West title with a win Wednesday night at Minute Maid Park, the Astros were walloped, 7-0, by the Rays. The Astros’ loss combined with the Mariners’ 4-2 win over the A’s on Wednesday in Seattle means Houston’s magic number to clinch the division remains at one.

“The key is, you’re still on the cusp,” manager Dusty Baker said. “There’s a whole bunch of people who ain’t on the cusp. You’ve got to play the game. Nobody is going to give it to you. They’re playing us tough. We’re playing tough.”

• Games remaining: 1 vs. Rays, 3 vs. A’s
• Standings update: Astros lead the AL West by 3 1/2 games over Mariners
• Magic number for homefield advantage in ALDS: 2 (over the White Sox)

The reason the Astros are having trouble closing out the division is because their offense has gone into a deep freeze. The Astros have lost five of their last six games, scoring just 12 runs in the process. They were held to three singles by the Rays on Wednesday and didn’t have a runner reach scoring position until two outs in the ninth inning.

“Hey, man, you go through streaks and periods like that,” Baker said. “You can’t always pick them, when it’s going to happen. It happens to every team. Sometimes, it happens at the wrong time for us down the stretch. We’ve got four games to go, man. This is a game that things can turn around overnight with no explanation. You don’t have an explanation, really, why they are happening, but when they are happening, you’ve got to tighten your belt, you’ve got to play better defense and get better pitching.”

The loss ensured the Rays would have home-field advantage throughout the AL playoffs, but the Astros’ magic number to clinch home field over the White Sox in a possible AL Division Series matchup remained at two.

Astros starter Luis Garcia gave up six runs in five innings, but only three of them were earned. That’s because center fielder Jose Siri misplayed a fly ball in center field, which led to a three-run inning, including a two-run homer by Brandon Lowe. Ji-Man Choi slugged a three-run homer in the fifth to make it 6-0. 

“No. 1, that was more than just a fly ball,” Baker said of the Siri error. “I thought that ball, I was surprised it stayed in the park. That was a ball that was right in between Siri and [right fielder Kyle Tucker]. That was the case where they hadn’t played together much, and then Siri took his eye off the ball to see where Tuck was and when he came back, the ball was behind him. It looked like the ball went the other way instead of hooking. There’s always a danger of giving extra outs. That came back to bite us today.” 

The Astros’ struggling offense didn’t manage a baserunner against Rays starter Drew Rasmussen until a one-out single by Yuli Gurriel in the fifth. The only other hits were singles by catcher Jason Castro in the sixth and Tucker in the eighth. 

“You’re not going to go out and score no seven, eight runs every night,” Baker said. “It’s not going to happen. During this period, it’s been tough, but these guys are tough. I’m not worried about them.”