Three Houston Astros takeaways: Pressly’s poor luck, McCormick’s struggles and Abreu’s return

HOUSTON — Major League Baseball will not adjust its schedule, so the Houston Astros have to play teams other than the Oakland A’s. Winning six of seven games against Oakland as May concluded afforded the most hope of Houston’s underwhelming season.

Leaving the Bay Area for two actual tests brought the Astros back to their brutal reality. Houston lost five of the seven games it played against two teams positioned for the playoffs: the Seattle Mariners and Minnesota Twins. Three of the losses came by one run, dropping the Astros to 5-13 in one-run games this season.

Houston is now 6-1 against Oakland and 20-34 against everyone else. Here are three takeaways from their failed attempt to step up in class:

Ryan Pressly is paid to pitch clean innings, not post encouraging peripherals. He isn’t doing the former, furthering frustration in a difficult season. Few fans will be heartened by the fact Pressly is a victim of horrible luck, but it does help to indicate why the club will continue to trust him during a disastrous stretch.

Pressly blew two of the three eighth-inning leads Houston handed him during this seven-game week, inflating his ERA to 5.24 and WHIP to 1.61 across his first 24 appearances.

“Velo, the shape of his pitches, he looks like the Pressly I’ve seen in past years,” manager Joe Espada said after Pressly surrendered the go-ahead run in Sunday’s 4-3 loss to the Twins.

“There’s just some unluckiness there that, when he executes his pitches, they find a way to get the barrel to the ball. It’s just a tough stretch, but he’s still really, really good.”

Pressly awoke on Sunday one of seven pitchers in the sport with a batting average on balls in play higher than .400. Yielding two lineouts and a run-scoring double to Minnesota’s Jose Miranda that afternoon lowered his BABIP to .406 — an unsustainably high figure Houston has to hope will even out.

Pick any other metric and it illustrates how poor Pressly’s luck has been this season. A 2.79 FIP accompanies his 5.24 ERA. Entering Sunday, hitters had a .236 expected batting average against him, according to Statcast. Miranda’s hit against a hanging slider increased the actual average to .308. Only four qualified pitchers in baseball entered Sunday with a higher discrepancy between their batting average and expected batting average.

Miranda’s double was the 10th hit against Pressly’s slider this season. He gave up 21 total hits against the pitch last season. The slider is still generating a 37.5 percent whiff rate, up slightly from last season, and has an almost identical spin rate. The expected batting average against it this season is .202. Miranda’s hit increased the actual average to .330.

Pressly is generating less chase and allowing harder contact than his career averages, problems this poor luck can exacerbate. That he is walking 3.2 batters per nine innings isn’t helping, either, and something that can’t be explained away with favorable advanced metrics. Walks precipitated both of his blowup innings last week.

Bryan Abreu preceded both of Pressly’s implosions with a scoreless seventh inning. His sustained success prompts natural wonder if switching the setup men could be beneficial, and perhaps it’s something the Astros should explore. But it’s foolish to think the club will abandon Pressly in leverage innings altogether, all while waiting for luck to even out.

All the talk of an overcrowded outfield hinged upon Chas McCormick reprising his role as a productive player. Jake Meyers’ ascent to an everyday mainstay arrived while McCormick missed 21 games with a right hamstring injury. Activating McCormick last month should have given Houston a surplus.

McCormick’s struggles since have shrunk it. He is 2-for-19 with six strikeouts since returning from the injured list, prompting wonder about his playing time, especially with Yordan Alvarez’s increased time in left field.

Alvarez has started four of Houston’s last six games in left field. The team would prefer to play him behind starting pitchers Hunter Brown or Framber Valdez, two of the staff’s best groundball generators, but the Astros aren’t afraid to deploy him behind a fly ball pitcher, especially in Minute Maid Park.

Yet, during Valdez’s start on Saturday, Mauricio Dubón started in left field, Alvarez slid to DH and McCormick remained on the bench. Continued production from Dubón could put more pressure on McCormick. McCormick hit ninth on Sunday, laid down a seventh-inning bunt single to turn the lineup over and got pulled for pinch-hitter Jon Singleton in the ninth inning, an indication of how McCormick is viewed.

“He’s getting fastballs. He’s barely missing his pitches,” Espada said. “I feel like he just needs a couple of knocks in there to build his confidence. He’s good. His work in the cage is great. His work on the field is great. He just needs some luck there to get him going a bit.”

McCormick has taken just 102 plate appearances this season, and 19 since being activated off the injured list. Drawing any absolutes from such a small sample is impossible, but the Astros aren’t positioned to give a lengthy runway for unproductive players. Yainer Diaz’s dwindling at-bats illustrate it.

That McCormick didn’t produce before his hamstring injury must increase some concern. He slashed .236/.325/.278 in 83 plate appearances before hitting the injured list, a stretch in which he lamented being late on hittable fastballs and his inability to hit anything hard to right field.

“It was crap,” McCormick said of the start to his season. “I didn’t play well. And if I don’t play good enough again once I’m back, I’m not going to play.”

Early returns on José Abreu

Social media may suggest otherwise, but José Abreu is not the sole cause of Houston’s subpar season. The depth of his struggles and his massive salary make him an easy target, but assigning him all blame for a team that’s eight games under .500 is foolish.

Abreu’s return this week from a 28-day demotion only heightened the scrutiny around every at-bat. That Houston brought him back during a critical series against the Seattle Mariners, and at the expense of Joey Loperfido, only furthered outside frustration. Losing three of four to the Mariners didn’t help matters, either.

Abreu has three hits and six strikeouts in 15 at-bats since his return. All three of his hits came against fastballs — one sinker and two four-seamers — and all were struck to the opposite field, which encouraged Espada.

“I think it’s very important to understand where I am and where I need to be at,” Abreu said on Saturday through an interpreter. “The results haven’t been there these first three or four games, but trust me, I feel confident that I can get to a spot where I can help this team (and) help this organization win games.”

Winning would dim the spotlight surrounding Abreu’s every move. So would better production from the club’s established hitters atop the order, which would mask Abreu’s presence near the bottom of the lineup.

Until Sunday, Espada had been coy about Abreu’s playing time and how he plans to proceed at first base. Upon his return, Abreu said he spent his career as an everyday player and had put himself in a position to do it again. Abreu has started five of Houston’s seven games since his return.

All three of Abreu’s hits, including his solo home run on Saturday, arrived in games that immediately followed an off day. During Abreu’s resurgence last October, team officials and coaches cited the plethora of postseason off days as one factor for Abreu’s increased production.

Logic, then, would suggest alternating Abreu and Singleton at first base for the foreseeable future to maximize Abreu while keeping Singleton involved. Espada dismissed the notion on Sunday.

“He’s getting to fastballs much easier than he did when the season started,” Espada said. “He looks fresh. He looks comfortable in the box. Off days are beneficial for everyone, but right now, I’m not thinking he needs an off day to be productive the next day. He looks good. I really like his approach, his at-bats, his pregame work. I’m happy where he’s at right now.”

(Photo of Ryan Pressly in mid-May: Tim Warner / Getty Images)

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top