The Houston Astros split the series with the visiting Baltimore Orioles this weekend, losing Saturday and Sunday despite Nelson Cruz injuring his left hand on a wild pitch by Scott Feldman. The losses ended Houston’s seven-game winning streak, and the Houston Astros are now looking forward to a three-game home series against the Los Angeles Angels, while narrowing down their options for the number one pick in baseball’s amateur draft.
Houston was on a roll through the end of May, starting with 9-4 and 4-1 wins over the Seattle Mariners and then steamrolling the Royals in Kansas City with two nine-run outings and a three-run shutout. They returned home to host the Orioles, winning the first two games by slim one-and-two-game margins. At 24-32 on Friday, Houston was still a few games behind the fourth place Mariners, but things were looking up for the first time all season—perhaps the first time in years.
Unfortunately for Houston, Nelson Cruz chose to turn up the heat on Saturday afternoon, going two for two and directly causing three of the four Orioles runs, with three RBIs that included a solo home run in the eighth inning. Dallas Keuchel had a decent outing, but lost his command and walked three batters in a three-run fifth inning. Jerome Williams sealed their fate in the eighth inning by serving up Cruz’s one-run homer.
Sunday afternoon was no kinder to Houston, as Scott Feldman threw to the tune of nine Baltimore runs even after Cruz left the game to have his left hand x-rayed in the third inning. Cruz was hit by Feldman’s pitch and left the game before the end of the inning. If the Orioles were worried about winning without Cruz, they sure did not show it. Baltimore managed 11 hits off of Feldman in just 5.1 innings, including a two-run homer for David Lough in the second and a career-first grand slam for Manny Machado early in the sixth. Feldman allowed six runs in the sixth inning before being replaced with Josh Fields. The Houston bullpen stayed tight, holding the Orioles to just one hit and no runs for the remainder of the game.
With the end of their win streak bringing the Astros back to reality, Houston turns to the Thursday’s amateur draft in hopes of bringing some life back into the organization. This is the third straight year that they have picked first in the amateur draft, which is a Major League Baseball first. The Houston Astros are also one of just three clubs to have had the first pick five times—the New York Mets and the San Diego Padres being the other two.
The Astros have narrowed their selection to as little as three potential players according to some reports. North Carolina State Pitcher Carlos Rodon is at the top of the list, as is high school pitcher Brady Aiken from San Diego. There is speculation, however, that Houston has its eye somewhere other than the mound, and may jump off the board to grab Nicholas Gordon, high school shortstop from Florida. All rumors of Houston being interested in Gordon are still just rumors, but Houston has a history of being unpredictable.
While they are looking to the draft on Thursday, the Astros are hoping that it will follow a winning series against the AL West second-place Angels, ending their weekend slump and getting their win streak back on track. It is only June, and the Houston Astros are only five games behind the Mariners. They could still manage to avoid a four-peat atop the draft.
Commentary by Christina Jones