Is it time to reshape the lineup?

SEATTLE — The Astros played almost all of their three-game streak against the Mariners with borderline pathetic baseball. Two of their three starting pitchers delivered duds, including ace Justin Verlander. Their defense made four errors in three games, almost unheard of for one of the sport’s strongest units. The lineup scored three goals in 27 innings and finished 1-to-17 with the runners in goal position.

Still, the Astros boarded a plane to California after what might have been their worst performance of the season Sunday night with a 3 1/2 game lead in the American League West. They held a two-game lead before the start of the series.

The quality of the game can be a concern, but the grand scheme cannot be overlooked. Houston is 30-18, one of two American League teams with at least 30 wins. Saving Sunday’s game felt monumental and offered a reminder often forgotten in a long season: winning despite poor performance is a hallmark many teams fail to match. Just ask the Los Angeles Angels.

This road trip includes two more series against two of the American League’s worst teams, fueling hope that the Astros can continue a trend they started this weekend. Here are three takeaways from their streak loss to the Mariners.

Time to swap?

Dusty Baker’s batting orders are a constant source of consternation, but they’re not the primary cause of Houston’s stuttering offense. Lineup setup can dominate the conversation, but when multiple players aren’t performing, the order doesn’t matter. Jordan Alvarez has recorded seven singles and one doubles in his last 34 at-bats. His last home run came on May 17. Kyle Tucker sat in a 5-for-28 funk on Sunday. Alex Bregman hits .238.

Baker could tinker with the batting order, but reshuffling underperforming or collapsing players only gets so much. A move seems possible, but Baker is not ready to make it. The time seems long gone for Baker to swap Yuli Gurriel and Jeremy Peña in the lineup.

The manager isn’t ready to execute the plan—yet.

“Gurriel has a long track record. One has to consider what that will do to Gurriel. What if it doesn’t work?” Baker said ahead of Sunday’s game. “You want a child to be comfortable first. What did (Peña) play, 40 games? You want him to be comfortable. He’s doing a good job… I have to get these other guys to get up and do what they’re capable of.

Peña played his 41st game on Sunday. He hit a solo home run and finished the race 1-4. His .290 batting average leads the team. His .850 OPS follows only Alvarez and Altuve for the team lead.

Gurriel, on the other hand, continued to lapse into his season-long funk. A 0-for-3 afternoon sent his batting average to a .222. Even more concerning – Gurriel has stranded four baserunners. Two of his four bats came to the base with runners. He bounced into a double and flew into left field.

When at full strength, Gurriel beats fifth in Baker’s lineup. The four players batting ahead of him have the team’s highest on-base percentage.

As a result, Gurriel has won 72 at-bats with runners on base this season. Only Alvarez and Bregman took more. Gurriel has a .167 batting average and a .197 on-base percentage during his at-bats with runners on board.

Peña is hitting .273/.364/.455 in 55 at-bats with runners on base this season. Both logic and circumstances suggest he needs more opportunities to ride runs or simply advance baserunners.

Baker doesn’t seem keen on pressuring Peña any further, even though he’s already demonstrated an uncanny ability to handle it. His continued confidence in Gurriel, the reigning American League batting champion and one of Cuba’s all-time greatest players, appears to outweigh Peña’s productive start in 41 games. Regression or progression to a mean can occur for both men.

“If it doesn’t work, will I tell Yuli I was just kidding? Where you hit in the lineup, it’s a situation where it’s mostly about confidence,” Baker said.

“I’ve thought about it. But not just yet. The last thing you want to do is pretend to panic. While we wait for some of these guys to do what they’re capable of, we’re still number one. One thing I can’t do because I’m in the Marines is panic.”

After Baker made those comments, his offense totaled two carries and scored six hits. The Astros average 4.02 runs per game. They have 26 in their last 11. If the anemia persists, Baker’s hand may be forced.

Urquidy uneasy

In what may today be considered a deviation, José Urquidy produced 20 swings and misses on May 22 while limiting the Rangers to an average exit speed of 87.4 mph on the 16 balls they put into play. The start offered hope of a turnaround for Houston’s weakest starter.

Six days later it faded. The Mariners crushed Urquidy during takeoff, which became too frequent. Seattle hit 12 in 4 ⅔ innings against him, hitting six carries and increasing Urquidy’s ERA to 4.80. Opponents are now calculating an average exit speed of 91.7mph against him, hitting .330.

Allowing an .887 OPS, Urquidy is sometimes saved by receiving more run assist than any starter on Houston’s staff. He still sort of has a 3.91 ERA in five starts in May. The ability to prevent a complete collapse is admirable. Urquidy’s place in the starting rotation is not – and should not – be in jeopardy.

“Concern is exceptionally low,” general manager James Click said on the team’s pre-game radio show on Sunday.

“This is a guy who’s proven himself at the biggest levels and the biggest stages… He can throw thugs off balance because he has so many different options to go to. The other team has a bunch of professional thugs and they will come through from time to time. Long track record has shown us how talented (Urquidy) is. We will not overreact to a few starts.”

No major league starter has conceded more hits than Urquidy, a remarkable feat considering he’s pitched just 45 innings this season. Urquidy’s 12.8 hits per nine innings is the most among pitchers who have pitched at least 40 innings. He has scored 12 hits in two of his last three starts.

Baker often bemoans Urquidy’s tendency to throw “too many strikes.” For Urquidy to be successful with his low to mid-90s fastball speed, his fastball position in the zone must be accurate. Swing and Miss with its changeup is crucial.

On Saturday, however, he seemed to rely on his curveball more than any other start this season. Hitters have put 18 of his curveballs in play this season. Eight fell for hits.

“They hit a lot and that’s part of baseball,” Urquidy said. “I try to throw out of zone on swings and misses. The most important thing is that I’m healthy now. We’re early in the season so I’m preparing for my next outing and trying to get better every day.”

Check in at midfield

As Jake Meyers nears a minor league rehab assignment, attention shifts from the outside to the underdog when he returns. Neither Jose Siri nor Chas McCormick have proven indispensable, but deciding who gets demoted is still not easy.

Meyers is not yet on a minor league rehab assignment. If the Astros send him on one, Meyers has a maximum of 20 days with a partner before returning to the major league roster. The countdown to a decision between Siri and McCormick begins in earnest when this announcement is made.

Siri went into Sunday’s game with a win over the substitute, according to the Baseball Reference. McCormick is worth 0.1 by the same metric. Siri played in right field on Sunday but is worth five saved defensive runs in midfield, according to Sports Info Solutions. No center fielder in baseball is worth more.

According to Baseball Savant, Siri is worth four outs above average in midfield. McCormick is worth three. Siri travels 29.9 feet per second when sprinting. McCormick is at 28.6 feet per second.

McCormick has the better overall offensive profile but brought in a below-average 95 OPS+ into Sunday’s game. Siri has 94 OPS+. McCormick is swinging more frequently this season and chasing outside the hitting zone at a much higher clip than in his rookie campaign. Siri has lowered its tracking rate, but it’s still well above the league average.

Siri struck twice on Sunday, giving him 31 out of 99 record appearances. McCormick has 30 punchouts in 130 record appearances. So little separates the two players that it’s hard to imagine one remaining the clear favorite over the other.

The following hovers over the decision: Baker is a fan of Siri. He made no secret of it. He regularly compares Siri to César Cedeño, appreciating his boldness and aggression — two traits McCormick hasn’t displayed. If Baker has a prominent voice in the decision, anything he’s ever expressed would tend to keep Siri.

Nothing illustrates the momentum more than Sunday’s starting grid. Tucker sat with a foot problem. Seattle started left-handed Marco Gonzales. McCormick has hit lefties far better than righties in his major league career. Siri not.

Baker launched Siri anyway, but not in midfield. That was reserved for Mauricio Dubón while McCormick was on the bench. In the eighth inning, when Martín Maldonado got the go-ahead run, Baker called out Aledmys Díaz, not McCormick, to run for him.

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