HOUSTON (SportsRadio 610)- Hunter Brown got to do something on Sunday that no other Astros pitcher had done in six days: Throw a pitch while holding a lead.
Brown needed just 11 pitches to get through a 1-2-3 first inning, and then watched as Jose Abreu doubled home Jose Altuve in the bottom of the frame to give the Astros their first lead of the weekend against the lowly Royals. It took six pitches for the lead to disappear.
After fouling off a 2-2 curveball that was below the zone, Nelson Velazquez hammered a hanging slider 380 feet over the right field wall, and Nick Loftin singled on the very next pitch. Brown struck out Michael Massey, only to see Matt Duffy loft a 3-2 fastball into the first row of the Crawford Boxes. A ball that would’ve been an innocent flyout in 28-of-30 ballparks put the Astros behind 3-1, and they could never find their way back.
The Astros lost to the Royals 6-5 on Sunday, completing a disastrous two week stretch that saw them lose 9-of-12 games, with seven of those losses coming to baseball’s two worst teams.
“They’re not good in the win column, but that’s baseball,” Mauricio Dubón, whose walk-off single on Wednesday might’ve saved the Astros from a winless week. “It sucks not being able to win right now and getting swept, but we just gotta forget and go to Seattle and play.”
Two weeks after it seemed as if another AL West title was well within reach and a playoff berth a certainty, the Astros boarded a flight for the Pacific Northwest on Sunday with their fate up for grabs. They hold a half game lead on the Mariners, who themselves were swept over the weekend in Arlington, for the American League’s final wild card, and trail Texas by two and a half games for the division lead.
FanGraphs gives the Astros a 60.2 percent chance of playing past game 162, which includes an 11.3 percent chance of winning the division. Two weeks ago, their odds of winning the West were 79.1 percent, with a 97.9 percent chance of advancing to the postseason.
"The champions always have pressure,” Jose Abreu said. “I think the guys know what they need to do to get out of this. We haven't gotten the results, but we know what we need to do, and it starts tomorrow."
Monday’s game at T-Mobile Park isn’t an elimination game, but it’s close. The Astros shuffled their rotation, moving Justin Verlander back so he could start the opener against Mariners’ ace Luis Castillo. Both teams have lost 71 games in 2023, but the Mariners own the tiebreaker by way of taking 8-of-10 head-to-head meetings earlier this season. Houston’s playoff hopes would be on life support if they fail to earn a series win.
“Everybody knows what's going on, so let's just go in there and be focused and try to win three baseball games,” Dubón said.
High pressure games are nothing new for this Astros team that has won four American League pennants in the last six years. They have responded in the past, and Dubón believes they will again.
“We’re Houston,” he said. “Everybody in the clubhouse is a dog. It’s a matter of going in there and taking care of business.”