The Houston Astros could point to an avalanche of injuries as the primary culprit behind their disappointing season, but that macro perspective obscures one undermining inconsistency.
For debilitating stretches, the Astros (25-26) have struggled with runners in scoring position, a failure that was again at the forefront in Friday's 6-3 loss to the visiting Arizona Diamondbacks in the opener of a three-game interleague series.
Houston finished 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position against the Diamondbacks and set an ominous tone in the first inning. The Astros scratched across just one unearned run -- on a wild pitch -- despite loading the bases with no outs against Diamondbacks right-hander Zac Gallen.
Gallen rallied to strike out three straight batters to limit the damage. The Astros never recovered.
"Yeah that was real frustrating, especially to go down twice looking and once swinging," Astros manager Dusty Baker said of the first inning. "That's kind of been the story of the year sometimes. It's very frustrating. We could have blown the game open and perhaps gotten him (Gallen) out of the game in the first inning. it's frustrating for all of us."
The Astros entered the series with four regulars lugging an adjusted OPS below 100. Given the stakes -- Houston is fighting for a postseason berth -- the production must improve with haste,
Said Astros third baseman Alex Bregman, who finished 0-for-4 and stranded five baserunners: "The only thing we can do is get back in there and keep grinding out at-bats and work hard."
Rookie right-hander Cristian Javier (4-2, 3.22 ERA) will make his 11th appearance and ninth start for the Astros on Saturday. He struck out five batters while allowing one hit over two scoreless innings against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday in his second relief appearance.
Javier's most recent start came Sept. 7, when he surrendered two runs over five innings with three hits and three walks with three strikeouts in a 6-0 loss in Oakland.
Javier earned his first career victory against the Diamondbacks on Aug. 4, allowing one run on four hits and one walk with two strikeouts over six innings in an 8-2 win at Chase Field.
Right-hander Luke Weaver (1-7, 6.70 ERA) is the scheduled starter for the Diamondbacks (20-32) on Saturday. He is winless over his last five starts, posting an 0-4 record and 4.70 ERA during that stretch while allowing a .773 OPS with nine walks and 21 strikeouts over 23 innings.
Weaver's only victory of the season came Aug. 18, defeating the Athletics 10-1 in Phoenix. He surrendered one run on three hits and one walk with six strikeouts over five innings. Weaver will make his first career start against the Astros.
Arizona right fielder Kole Calhoun continued his torrid hitting in the opener with his second multi-homer game this week while driving in four runs.
The Diamondbacks are 5-3 over their last eight games in large part due to Calhoun, who is batting .361 with six homers and 15 RBIs over his last 10 games. He also had a multi-homer game against the Los Angeles Angels, his former team, on Sept. 15.
"It's one of those runs every player looks for," Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo said. "It's contagious. He's leading the charge and driving that bus to the right spot every single day.
"He comes up there, and I get on the edge of my seat because I always feel like he's about to do something unbelievable. He's been carrying us and carrying the workload and helping us win a lot of ballgames," Lovullo said.
--Field Level Media