Astros’ pitching questions deepen after late collapse, walk-off loss to Angels

Houston Astros pitcher Framber Valdez left Saturday's loss to the Los Angeles Angels with an apparent injury in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Houston Astros pitcher Framber Valdez left Saturday’s loss to the Los Angeles Angels with an apparent injury in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Success for the Houston Astros is not a playoff appearance, or a season barely above .500. By Houston’s standards, a solid year means making a deep postseason run (at the bare minimum).

While Houston’s ultimate goal is to repeat as World Series champions, only 14 MLB teams have won back-to-back championships. The most recent repeat champions were the three-peat 1998-2000 Yankees.

The Astros are trying to claw their way back to where they usually stand, which was made more difficult in a disastrous 13-12 loss to the Los Angeles Angels in walk-off fashion in 10 innings on Saturday.

Not only did Houston blow a six-run lead — and a three-run ninth-inning edge — but the Angels won on a chaotic walk-off play in the 10th inning when Taylor Ward grounded into a fielder’s choice that was misplayed by fill-in shortstop Grae Kessinger.

And the Astros (51-42) will have to get back on track even as they’re missing stars like Lance McCullers Jr. and Jose Altuve to injury.

McCullers had season-ending surgery to deal with a bone spur and a flexor tendon in June. Altuve is dealing with left oblique discomfort, although he’s working his way back.

Other notable names on Houston’s long injury list include star outfielder Yordan Alvarez and right-handed pitchers Jose Urquidy and Luis Garcia.

Urquidy hasn’t thrown for the Astros since April 30, but he’s expected back by August. Alvarez is expected to begin his rehab assignment soon. But Garcia is done for the year and could even miss some of next season.

Left-handed ace Framber Valdez started on the mound for Houston on Saturday in Anaheim. Although he tied his career high of 13 strikeouts, Valdez left the game in the seventh inning with a trainer. Astros manager Dusty Baker said postgame that Valdez has a left calf injury. Shortstop Jeremy Pena also suffered a right hamstring cramp, which led to Kessinger entering the game late.

With the way Houston’s bullpen looks now, the Astros cannot afford to lose another durable pitcher. Houston had to use five relievers in Friday night’s 7-5 win over the Angels.

The Astros weren’t able to secure the weekend series against the Angels on Saturday night, multiple leads in brutal fashion.

Astros reliever Ryan Pressly threw 12 consecutive hitless innings coming into Saturday’s game, but his streak ended after a ninth-inning home run from none other than Shohei Ohtani. The Japanese dual threat’s homer was the first hit against Pressly since June 15.

“Some days you’re going to get hit. You don’t like it. [Pressly] doesn’t like it. Nobody likes it. But that’s part of the game,” Baker said of the ninth inning. “It’s hard to accept, but it happens.”

However the larger, overarching concern is the sustainability of this weekend’s pitching lineup. The MLB trade deadline is Aug. 1, and Houston has yet to make any splashy moves to obtain an experienced pitcher to fix its current situation. Four out of the nine starters the Astros have used this season are rookies. Houston’s had 37 rookie starts this year, the third-most in the league behind Oakland and Cleveland.

Houston is just three games behind its in-state rival and current AL West leader, the Texas Rangers. And it currently holds the last wild-card spot by a single game over the Yankees. The Astros will finish the series in Anaheim on Sunday afternoon before heading to Colorado to face the Rockies.