HOUSTON -- A matchup of two former Cy Young Award winners produced predictable results on Sunday at Minute Maid Park -- for six innings.The last three were more complicated for the visiting D-backs, whose series of miscues played a big part in a 5-4 loss to the Astros that cemented
HOUSTON -- A matchup of two former Cy Young Award winners produced predictable results on Sunday at Minute Maid Park -- for six innings.
The last three were more complicated for the visiting D-backs, whose series of miscues played a big part in a 5-4 loss to the Astros that cemented a series defeat. Arizona fell to 4 1/2 games back in the National League West. The Rockies are half a game up on the second-place Dodgers.
Poor defense has been a running theme in recent times for the D-backs, who spent the better part of the first five months of the season as one of the NL's best defensive teams. Arizona's about-face in that area dovetails -- not so coincidentally -- with its September slide, which has produced a 4-11 record.
"The pitching and defense has been the constant for us this year," D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said. "They spoil me, so when they don't make some plays I've seen them make, it jumps out at you. It's what has carried us and what will continue to carry us. I know that that's a great recipe for us, and we've got to crank it up tomorrow at home."
A cleaner game could have translated to a win.
In the sixth, third baseman Eduardo Escobar bobbled a ground ball from Yuli Gurriel and was late getting the throw to second, preventing Ketel Marte from having enough time to turn the inning-ending double play. The next batter, Tyler White, doubled home a run.
In the seventh, Tony Kemp sent a hard liner right to Marte, who made a quick throw to Nick Ahmed for the first out of the inning. But Ahmed threw high and wide to first, pulling Paul Goldschmidt off the bag.
With reliever Archie Bradley in to pitch, Kemp stole second and scored on Jose Altuve's single to right, increasing the Astros' lead to three.
"Marte made an awesome play to pick that ball," Ahmed said. "He got it to me, and I got handcuffed a little bit on the transfer and didn't pull it out clean enough to get a good throw off. I should have made the throw. We would have had him with a good throw. I would have liked to have made it, but I didn't."
The problems continued in the eighth. Carlos Correa flared a ball high in the air behind second base, but it was too far into shallow center for Marte to make a clean catch. Instead, Marte clumsily retrieved the ball after it bounced off his glove, pivoted and threw past Escobar, covering second, which allowed Correa to reach third. He would score on Martin Maldonado's single.
"I don't think I was in a good position to throw the ball," Marte said. "That's part of the game."
At the time, the D-backs' deficit was large enough that it didn't seem as if the defensive issues would be the reason they lost. Then came the ninth inning.
The D-backs scored three runs, two of which came off the bat of Daniel Descalso, who knocked a homer off Houston closer Roberto Osuna.
"He challenged me with a couple of fastballs in, but I thought I took a couple of good swings at [them]," Descalso said. "I swung through the first one, fouled off the second one. I felt like he was going to challenge me again there, in that count and in that spot, and I didn't miss that last one."
Osuna proceeded to strike out Marte looking to end the game. As a result, a more pedestrian loss turned into another one-run gut-punch for the D-backs, who are barely hanging on as postseason contenders.
"We were keeping that good feeling alive until the final out," Lovullo said. "We battled. We did what we had to do to get to that point. Unfortunately, we lost the game. There were some things that led up to that earlier in the game that I felt like things were a little sloppy and got away from us. If we did things we were supposed to, it could have had a different outcome."
FORMER CY YOUNG AWARD WINNERS DUEL
Arizona starter Zack Greinke was strong through six, but Houston's Justin Verlander was just a little bit better. The first-inning run Greinke allowed arrived on an Alex Bregman double play, and the Astros didn't score again for five more frames.
"[Felt] really good for the most part," said Greinke, who was charged with four runs over 6 1/3 innings. "The last inning wasn't that great. Just trouble getting them to strike out. Just a lot of balls in play and put a lot of pressure on the defense. Just wasn't perfect. I felt really good, but they battled like a really good team would do."
D-backs hitters, meanwhile, could do very little against Verlander. The Houston ace struck out the first five hitters and fanned a total of 11. David Peralta's solo homer in the sixth was the lone mistake for Verlander.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Kemp thought he had hit a home run off Greinke in the third, sending a towering fly ball to right that looked like it was headed for the stands. But right fielder Jonathan Jay made a leaping grab about a foot in front of the wall, marking the first out of the inning.
HE SAID IT
"I mean, we'd like to score more runs and play better defense, but we're not. I don't know what to say. Everything is kind of hitting the fan at the same time. We'll try to get going again tomorrow." -- Ahmed
The D-backs open a three-game series with the Cubs at 6:40 p.m. MST on Monday. It will mark the D-backs' final non-divisional series of the regular season. Left-hander Patrick Corbin (11-5, 3.05) will make his seventh career start against the Cubs. Right-hander Kyle Hendricks (11-11, 3.71) will start for Chicago.
Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.