Friday, August 22, 2014

From the Office of the County Clerk - G129: Astros @ Indians

Brad Peacock (3-8, 5.47) vs Carlos Carrasco (5-4, 3.27)

This is the very frustrating kind of ballgame to lose; TOOTBLANs on offense and errors on defense at crucial junctures gave the game away. Fortunate for Houston, then, that they were on the receiving end of the benefits from those mistakes. The Astros only managed three hits, and Brad Peacock was forced from the game with a forearm issue after five, but by Cleveland's generosity (and four unearned runs in the 9th), they win anyway on a 5-1 final. Houston improves to 11-9 in August and 55-74 overall.

On the Mound:

*The one dark spot remaining from this game, even with the win, is concern over Brad Peacock's injury. No, he hasn't always been particularly effective this season, but today he was very much so, turning in a 5 IP / 2 H / 1 R / 1 ER / 0 BB / 4 K line before he came out to begin the 6th. But discomfort in his forearm during warmup pitches ended his night early just as it seemed he had everything figured out. Here's to his health and hoping that he'll be back and dealing like this again on schedule.

*Kevin Chapman got the emergency call from the bullpen when Peacock couldn't continue, and he rose to the occasion, facing five batters and retiring four (1 K), with the only baserunner reaching on a fielding error by Jose Altuve.

*Josh Fields allowed a single in between a pair of strikeouts to end the 7th.

*Tony Sipp faced the minimum (and earned the win) for a bizarre but scoreless 8th inning. A Mike Aviles leadoff single put one runner on. A Tyler Holt sac bunt to Sipp resulted in a safe call at second, which put two runners on. Then Aviles was picked off and caught stealing third in a rundown, during which Holt moved up to second. Then Holt attempted stealing third, and he was caught too. Then Roberto Perez struck out to end the oddities.

*After Cleveland continued to harpoon themselves in the 9th, Chad Qualls took over and started with old friend Michael Bourn reaching on a Matt Dominguez error. A Jose Ramirez single pushed Bourn ahead to second, but then Chad got Michael Brantley on a F7, and Marwin Gonzalez turned a slick double play on Carlos Santana's grounder to end it.

At the Plate:

*Very, very little offense before the 9th. Pretty much only Marwin, actually, as his solo HR (6) leading off the 5th accounted for Houston's only earned run of the night. He later reached on a fielder's choice and scored again, finishing 1x4.

*Jon Homerton had the single biggest swing of the night, and all of Houston's other RBIs, on a 3-run blast to left in the 9th. It was Jonathan's 12th home run of the season, and he ended up 1x4 with 2 K.

*Jake Marisnick had the Astros' only other hit - an infield single in the 3rd - and he finished 1x3 with a K.

*Gregorio Petit never came to the plate, but he pinch ran for Chris Carter in the 9th and scored the winning run on an error - more on that to come.

*Carter (0x2, 2 BB, K), Jose Altuve (0x3, BB), and Jason Castro (0x3, BB, R, 3 K) also notched walks for the Astros. Dexter Fowler was 0x4, but reached on an error and stole a base.

Turning Point:

After Cleveland (literally) ran into trouble in the 8th, they gift-wrapped the game for Houston in the 9th. It started innocently enough, as Jose Altuve grounded to short. Chris Carter walked. Then the fun really began, as Dexter Fowler reached on a Carlos Santana throwing error and Carter chugged around to third. With the score still 1-1, Gregorio Petit pinch ran for Carter, and with Jason Castro batting, Fowler took off to steal second. But Cleveland catcher Roberto Perez threw the ball away, letting Petit scamper home and Fowler move on to third. Castro walked, then Marwin Gonzalez grounded to short, but Fowler was called out at home on a fielder's choice as the Indians finally got the second out. Then Jonathan Singleton put the exclamation point on the inning with a 3-run HR on a 3-2 count.

Man of the Match:

Brad Peacock. Come back soon, Bradley, me boy.

Goat of the Game:

Matt Dominguez. 0x4 with a K, and a fielding error to boot.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

From the Office of the County Clerk - G128: Astros @ Yankees

Dallas Keuchel (10-8, 3.11) vs Brandon McCarthy (4-2, 2.30)

Well... at least it was quick? Dallas Keuchel and Brandon McCarthy both threw complete games this afternoon. Neither pitcher walked a batter. Keuchel had one inning of vulnerability. McCarthy had none. Houston did manage a couple of scoring opportunities, but neither ultimately amounted to anything, and so the Astros drop the series finale by a 3-0 final, in a brisk 2 hours and 7 minutes. Houston's three-game winning streak is snapped, but they still win the season series against the Yanks 4-2, while dropping to 54-74 overall.

On the Mound:

*For the fifth time this season, Dallas Keuchel went the distance, and it only took him 96 pitches (65 strikes) to do so. He faced the minimum in 5 of 8 innings, didn't allow a runner past first base in 6 of 8 innings, and didn't allow a run in 7 of 8. Even in the one scoring inning, he got three straight outs after three straight hits. By any measure, Kid Keuchy was great once again today. Today, Brandon McCarthy was just better. And so for the second time this year, Keuchel logs a complete game and loses, with a 8 IP / 7 H / 3 R / 3 ER / 0 BB / 5 K line.

At the Plate:

*Obviously there's not much offense to talk about when your team gets shut out. Robbie Grossman gave the Astros their first baserunner of the day with a leadoff single in the 4th, and he finished 1x4.

*Dexter Fowler doubled with two outs in the 4th, moving Grossman up to third, but Marc Krauss (groundout) couldn't get them home. Fowler finished 1x4 with a K.

*Chris Carter led off the 7th with a single, but was erased on a fielder's choice by Fowler in the next AB. Chris ended up 1x4 with 2 K.

*Then Krauss hit a ground-rule double with one out in the 7th that moved Fowler up to third, but Jonathan Singleton (K) and Carlos Corporan (F7) went quietly thereafter. So Krauss finished 1x3 with a K, and Houston's last threat died on the basepaths.

Turning Point:

It happened very quickly in the 2nd; everything happened very quickly in this game. Three pitches into the bottom half of the inning, Mark Teixeira singled to right. Three pitches later, Martin Prado doubled to left, moving Teixeira up to third. Three pitches after that, Chase Headley doubled to right, scoring both Teixeira and Prado. Headley would advance to third on out #1 by Francisco Cervelli, then score on sac fly out #2 by Ichiro, and thus the 3-0 final was set.

Man of the Match:

Gotta go with Dallas Keuchel. No shame in his effort today, even including a couple of nice plays with the glove.

Goat of the Game:

All the Hitters, though hats off to Brandon McCarthy, too. I guess we'll pick on Jon Singleton in particular - 0x3 with a K that came in Houston's best chance at scoring.

Have the Astros signed Brady Aiken yet?

The deadline? to let the Commissioner's office know that teams have signed their draft picks WAS at 7/18/2014 4pm Central. Here is a running update of updates.

UPDATE: UMMM, so this is interesting.
More details

We shall see

UPDATE: 4:15pm: Report that the Astros did not sign Aiken, Nix, or Marshall

 4:13pm: Jim Callis reports a source who said Marshall did not sign with Houston (

4:00pm: waiting on word

3:55pm: No

3:50pm: No

3:40pm: No

3:30pm: No

3:00pm: No

2:30pm: No

2:00pm: No

1:30: No

1:00pm: No

12:30pm: No

12:00pm: No

11:22am: No

11:00am: No

10:30am: No

10:00am: No

9:30am: No

9:00am: No

8:30am: No

8:00am: No

From the Office of the County Clerk - G127: Astros at Yankees

Scott Feldman (6-9, 4.45) versus "Pine Tar" Pineda (2-2, 1.82)

The Astros, at this stage of the season, are playing for a combination of pride and (for some) ongoing individual survival in the big leagues.  I recently wrote about their tough upcoming schedule - running the gauntlet in the AL West, which this year looks like the strongest division in baseball.  This has surprised some pundits, with many pre-season predictions focussing on the AL East.  Rightly so, because 8 out of the last 19 champs have been either the Red Sox or the Yankees, with the AL East has contributing the AL representative in 11 of the last 19 World Series.

Regardless, in playing a storied franchise like the Yankees - who have been so dominant since the ’94 strike - the amount of pride to be gained if a team were to outplay them is not insignificant.  With a win tonight, the Astros would win (i) the current series (ii) the season series and (iii) an away series, and win both tilts against the Yankees in 2014.  

So it is with significant pride and not-insignificant amounts of joy that I report an Astros win, by a score of 5-2.  How did it happen??  Lets go to the game recap…

On the Mound:
Scott Feldman was the recipient of the season opening win against the Yankees, and he also has a funky little streak of his own going (which includes the Opening Day start).  Feldman has recorded four straight quality starts against New York, and a 2.30 ERA over that span.  Tonight, he threw 121 pitches (a career high) while working around 10 baserunners just under 7 IP.  His eventual line was a robust, keep-'em-in-the-game 6.2IP, 8H, 2R/ER, 2BB, 7K.

Feldman's work around baserunners was especially effective.  In the first, he allowed two consecutive 1-out singles, and both runners completed a double-steal on a strikeout that constituted the second out of the inning.  In the second, Feldman was again faced with runners on second and third with two outs after he walked Stephen Drew with one out, and allowed a double to Ichiro Suzuki with two outs.  No runners scored in either of these innings, partly thanks to Gonzalez's excellent defensive play on the run to end the second and nail the speedy Brett Gardner.  

Feldman managed the next five outs until Stephen Drew (with two outs in the bottom of the fourth) mashed a home run to RF the very pitch after Chase Headley was caught stealing second base (the second CS when Feldman was pitching this year).  The home run to Drew was on an 86mph fastball that may have cut a little - Castro asked for it down and away and Feldman missed up and glove-side - and Drew put a charge into it, clearing the wall in the RF power alley without difficulty.

In the fifth, Feldman allowed a lead-off single to Ichiro, who watched as Brett Gardner fouled out, then stole second and went to third on Derek Jeter’s grounder to third.  Then, with two outs, Jacoby Ellsbury laid down a perfect bunt along the third base line.  Feldman was quick off the mound for a big guy, but Ichiro was also quick down the third base line, and Ellsbury was quick out of the box, and no play was possible despite Feldman throwing home late.  Ichiro scored standing up and the Yankees took the lead by a score of 2-1 while playing a bit of small-ball.

Feldman rebounded to retire the side in order in the sixth on a groundout and two strikeouts.  In the seventh, he recorded the first two outs before walking Brett Gardner on a full count, and allowing a single to Derek Jeter on a 2-2 count.  Kevin Chapman relieved with runners on first and second, promptly allowed a passed ball that moved the runners up 90 feet, but he recorded three straight strikes on Jacoby Ellsbury (including a slider down the middle of the plate that was foul tipped for the third strike) to earn the final out of the inning.

At this time, the Astros were leading 5-2, so they were keen to shut the Yankees down.  Fields allowed only a 2-out single in the eighth, and Jose Veras came on for the save.  He hasn’t been as sharp this year as he was last year, and his first save of the year was… er… interesting.  He got the first two outs without too much difficulty (although the line-out to short by Ichiro could easily have found a hole), but then Brett Gardner singled and Derek Jeter walked to send the tying run to the plate.  Jacoby Ellsbury had a lash at the short porch in right on a pitch that caught too much of the plate, but he came up just short of the warning track, and the final out of the game was recorded.

At the Plate:
Bo again led off with Robbie Grossman, who now has his OBP up to .337 (as at the conclusion of this game).  Grossman’s second at-bat also marked the first Astros baserunner.  Grossman (2-5, 2RBI) singled to right to lead off the inning, and went to second on an Altuve (1-4) sac-bunt.  Grossman then got to watch as Carter (0-4, 3K) struck out on three straight whiffs, but he scored with Dexter Fowler (1-4), with two outs, lashed a low slider doubled down the RF line which bounced high off the wall for the first run of the game.  Fowler went into second standing up, then Castro (0-3, BB) grounded out to end the frame.

In the fifth, the Astros recorded two-out singles to Matt Dominguez and Jake Marisnick (both 2-4, R, and Marisnick added an RBI).  A Grossman groundout ended that rally.  In the sixth, Michael Pineda retired the 2 to 4 hitters in order.  Pineda came out of the seventh inning, but he walked Jason Castro in an 8-pitch battle, and his night was done.  He left the game with a 2-1 lead.

David Huff relieved, and he got Jon Singleton (0-3, BB) to strike out.  Marwin Gonzalez - batting righty - then eased a 2-1 pitch into left, sending Jason Castro to second, and prompting Joe Giradi to lift the lefty Huff, and bring Esmil Rogers in from the ‘pen.

The Astros were aggressive against Rogers, recording 4 base-hits in the next 6 pitches.  Matt Dominguez started the roll by lining the first pitch he saw to CF.  The runners were only able to move up one base, so this meant that the bases were loaded with one out.  Jake Marisnick then found himself down 0-2 before went down and got a low-and-away breaking pitch, and lined it over the third baseman into LF, scoring Castro and tying the score at 2-apiece.  The very next pitch, Robbie Grossman lined a 2-RBI single to CF on an elevated cutter over the middle of the plate and the runners scored as Ellsbury ranged over into the RF gap.  With runners on the corners, Jose Altuve singled on the first pitch he saw, driving in Jake Marisnick from third and scoring the fourth run of the inning.  Each of the RBI singles were recorded over the course of three consecutive pitches.  Chris Carter looked at a ball, then struck out on a 2-2 pitch, and Dexter Fowler also K’d on four pitches to end the frame, stranding the runners on first and second.

A Singleton walk with one out in the eighth was the only other Astros baserunner.  Esmil Rogers managed better luck in the eighth to record a scoreless frame, and Chase Whitley managed an uneventful ninth.  But the damage was already done, as the Astros ‘pen was in the process of suffocating the Yankees bats.

Turning Point:
A six pitch sequence proved to be the turning point of the game, as the Astros attacked Esmil Rogers early in the count.  With runners on first and second, Dominguez singled on the first pitch of his at bat.  Down 0-2, Marisnick singled to drive in the first run and leave the bases loaded.  Grossman hit a 2-RBI line drive on the following pitch, and Altuve dumped the first pitch he saw just short of Ellsbury in CF for another RBI.  

Man of the Match:
Some solid performances tonight, with my pick being Robbie Grossman with a vital hit in the seventh inning to push the Astros to a lead they wouldn't relinquish.  Dominguez and Marisnick with 2-4, with each of their hits setting up the four-run seventh inning.  On the pitching side, Scott Feldman battled bravely to record a solid outing.  Marwin Gonzalez quietly went 1-4 whilst managing some solid defensive plays.

Goat of the Game:
Whomever kidnapped Chris Carter and replaced him with an otherworldly robot during his hot streak, only to decide that the original Chris Carter is better, please stop playing with out sensibilities.  Carter didn't manage to redeem himself tonight with an 0-4, 3K night, and was the only Astro who didn't get to run the bases.

The Astros send Dallas Keuchel to the mound to pursue a sweep, and continue to seriously dent the Yankees' playoff hopes.

Dallas Keuchel (10-8, 3.11) versus Brandon McCarthy (7-12, 4.24, but a much better 4-2, 2.30 as a Yankee)

1 Eastern, noon Central

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

From the Office of the County Clerk - G126: Astros at Yankees

Brett Oberholtzer (4-8, 3.87) versus Chris Capuano (1-3, 4.13)

The Astros and Yankees squared off in a tight one in the Bronx in the first game of the three-game series.  This set marks the last time the Astros play against the AL East, but is only the second-last 2014 trip to New York for the Astros, as they finish the season with four against the Mets.  Opening the series were two soft-tossing lefties hoping the neutralise the effects of the short right field porch.

Both starters opened strong, then struggled through the middle innings, with the score eventually tied 4-apiece at the conclusion of the sixth inning.  The Yankees turned to their pretty awesome pen, and all was fine until the ninth, when Chris Carter learnt to spell R-E-D-E-M-P-T-I-O-N (after striking out four times earlier in the game) and the Astros broke out with three runs, sending nine batters to the plate.  Chad Qualls managed an uneventful save, and the Astros won by a score of 7-4, ensuring at least a season split with the Yankees because they lead the second series 3-1.

On the Mound:
Brett Oberholtzer got the start, and looked record his sevently consecutive Quality Start.  He started well enough, working around a pair of two-out singles in the first, striking out two in the second, and working around a lead-off single in the third to keep the game scoreless through three.

However, Oberholtzer ran into problems in the fourth, allowing a 2-out Prado single to left, followed by a McCann homer into the second deck in right on an 0-2 count.  It was a genuine no-doubt shot on on a hanging breaking ball that caught waaaaay too much of the plate.  It was a mistake pitch from Obertholtzer, and it means that this article on Fangraphs is now out of date as it was a long shot that would have been out in any stadium around the traps.

Oberholtzer then retired the side in order in the fifth, after the Astros scored a run in the top-half of the inning to halve the deficit.  In the top of the sixth, the Astros added three more runs to the tally, so Oberholtzer entered the sixth with a 4-2 lead.  He promptly allowed a hit to left to Jacoby Ellsbury, who took second on a balk when Oberholtzer's spike caught on the mound, so he couldn't complete his pitching motion.   He rebounded to strike Teixeira swinging on a 1-2 count, and got Beltran to the same 1-2 count before walking him.  Martin Prado then doubled on a full-count fastball down the pipe into the left field corner, and Marisnick was slow to get the ball in because (i) he slipped on his heels (landing on his butt) when he hit the warning track, and (ii) he had trouble getting a handle on the ball when it rebounded off the wall away from him.  This allowed Beltran to score from first, meaning Prado had managed to tie the game with a 2-run, 1-out double.

Brett Obertholtzer's final line was the worst one (in terms of runs allowed) since his 5ER outing on 3 July against the Angels, and his shortest since he lasted on 4.2IP on 30 April against Washington.  His final line:  5.1IP, 7H, 4R/ER, BB, 7K.  He threw 94 pitches, and allowed the one home-run to McCann and a double to Prado.  The pitches to Prado and McCann were both elevated, and he can't live there pitching off a 90mph fastball.  Still, not a discouraging outing, and it wasn't like he was lit up.

Tony Sipp relieved: he had been warming up and Steve Sparks thought that Prado would be Oberholtzer's last batter regardless, given that Brian McCann was looming large in the on-deck circle.  Sipp retired McCann on a pop-up, and got Headley swinging, both on full counts, and comments were made on the radio broadcast that Sipp did not look that sharp.  However, he returned for the seventh inning, and retired the side in order on two fly-outs and a ground-out.

Fields then relieved, and he threw a scoreless, yet shaky inning.  The inning started badly when Altuve misplayed a sinking liner hit right to him by Jacoby Ellsbury.  It probably should have been scored an error, but was instead recorded as a hit, and another of those plays that the Astros infield has managed to not parlay into outs this season hit the books.  The inning improved for Fields when Teixeira struck out on a high fastball, but milliseconds afterwards it worsened when Ellsbury, who was running on the strikeout pitch, slid into second, and had Castro's throw bounce off his leg, going behind second base in the process.  Ellsbury took third, and the Yankees had the go-ahead run in scoring position with one out and with Carlos Beltran at the plate.

Beltran then took a ball with the infield drawn in, then Fields fired a strike on an elevated curveball away which Beltran grounded right to a drawn-in Marwin Gonzalez.  Ellsbury was going on contact and because it was a relatively hard-hit grounder right to short, Gonzalez had the luxury to taking his time to cut the runner down at the plate.  Beltran took first on the fielder's choice, and moved to second on the second single of the inning from Prado, was was stranded there when McCann flew out to CF.  The eighth ended tied, 4-4, despite two singles (one leadoff), a stolen base and an advance-on-error play, then a TOOTBLAN which was due to the go-on-contact called from the dugout.

Qualls then relieved for the save (the Astros took the lead in the top of the ninth) and retired the side in order on 12 pitches, with a strikeout, groundout and flyout.  The Astros 'pen combined for 3.2IP, allowed 2 hits (both to Fields, and one could have been scored an error) but struck out three while walking none.  Sipp also stranded Oberholtzer's last baserunner at second.

At the Plate:
Hits were spread all over the order today, with only Jake Marisnick (0-5) failing to get on base.  The Astros were held down for the first half of the game, as Capuano managed to restrict the Astros to a solitary baserunner per inning for the first four frames.  Altuve (1-3, 2BB) reached on a single in the first, then was erased on a runner's fielders choice when he tried to advance on a pitch in the dirt.  In the second, Dexter Fowler (2-4, BB, 3B) walked to lead off, but he was erased on a fielder's choice from Matt Dominguez (1-5, 3K) and the rest of the inning ended uneventfully.  In the third, Gregorio Petit (starting at shortstop and going 2-2, 2x2B) mashed a 1-out ground-rule double, but was stranded on a line-out from Grossman (1-4, BB) and a groundout from Altuve.  In the fourth, Castro (2-5) singled with two outs, but was left stranded on first.

The Astros entered the top of the fifth trailing 2-0, and they managed to halve the deficit.  Singleton (2-4, BB, with both of his hits to LF) struck out to lead off the frame, and Marisnick followed with a flyout.  Petit then doubled to left, and scored when Robbie Grossman hit a little liner off the end of the bat into shallow RF, and Petit narrowly beat the throw to the plate.  

In the sixth, the Astros erased the deficit and took a 4-2 lead.  Dexter Fowler hit a stand-up triple to the LF gap to lead off the inning - he is pretty quick when he gets going - and he scored on Jason Castro's groundout to the right side.  Matt Dominguez then singled to CF, and Singleton followed with a single to left.  Marisnick grounded out to move the runners to second and third, and with two outs in the inning, and Bo chose to pinch-hit with Marwin Gonzalez for Gregorio Petit against the right-hander who had relieved Capuano.  Gonzalez managed a clutch base-hit on an 0-1 slider that caught too much of the plate, and Ichiro misplayed the ball, allowing Gonzalez (1-2) to get to second.  He was still credited with 2RBI on the play as Singleton would have easily scored from second regardless.

The Yankees bullpen controlled the seventh (Shawn Kelley struck out two) and eighth (Dellin Betances struck out one, allowing a 2-out single) before David Robertson relieved to start the ninth in a 4-4 tied game.  Marwin Gonzalez flew out to CF, then Robbie Grossman walked on a 3-1 count for the first baserunner of the frame.  He promptly stole second on a blown hit-and-run: Altuve swung at a pitch about a foot outside and in the dirt, but McCann's throw sailed well wide of second and was successfully corralled so that Grossman could not advance further.  

Then, with a 0-1 count, and Grossman on second, Altuve dug himself deeper in the hole when he swung at another breaking ball in the dirt.  He fouled off the third pitch of the at-bat, then took four consecutive balls to work a walk.  The 2-2 pitch was a front-door slider that looked for all the world like a strike on the inside corner, but McCann was setting up outside and had to reach back across the plate, and the umpire called it a ball.  The 3-2 pitch was well inside, and Altuve took first on the base-on-balls.  The result of this was that first base was no longer open should Robertson want to walk Chris Carter, so if Carter was to walk, Grossman would head to third with only one out.

And a walk to Chris Carter would not have been the worst idea in the world, especially after Robertson fell behind 3-0.  Robertson tried to get a 90mph cutter over the plate for a cheap strike, but Carter crushed hit to deep LF for a 436ft bomb that flew into the second deck of the power-alley (Alan Ashby: "Watch it at the wall..." - it cleared the wall by a mile).  The swing was short and sweet, and it was a no-doubter the instant it left the bat - Carter took a bit of a look as he strolled out of the box which makes me wonder whether he will catch one in the ribs tomorrow.  The end result was that it was a three-run shot and that Chris Carter would become the hero, despite also managing the Golden Sombrero.

Turning Point:
2-2 pitch to Jose Altuve looked pretty good to me, but Paul Emmel may have been fooled by McCann having to reach back across the plate.  Altuve walked on the next pitch, and four pitches later, the Astros led 7-4 thanks to Chris Carters' retooled swing and new approach.

Man of the Match:
I kind of feel silly giving it to a guy who had the Golden Sombrero, but Chris Carter (1-5, HR, 4K, 3RBI) gets a leg-up on the MoTM because he is the reigning AL player of the week.  He also mashed his 30th HR of the season, and sits two HR behind Jose Abreu for the AL lead.  Those not wanting to heap love on the exploits of Chris Carter could choose to prefer the efforts of Dexter Fowler (2-4, BB, 3B, R) or Jon Singleton (2-4, BB, R) who were both on base three times.

Goat of the Game:
Jake Marisnick - 0-5, K - and a bit of a misplay in the LF corner.

The Astros look to secure the season series in the second game of the set tomorrow.

Scott Feldman (6-9, 4.45) versus Michael Pineda (2-2, 1.82)

7 Eastern, 6 Central.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

For those that think the 2014 Astros have not improved.

A few days ago (Game 123), the Astros reached the heady plateau of 51 wins, which would not be a significant number if the Astros hadn't won 51 games last year.  The Astros equalled that win total with 123 games completed, and therefore had 39 games - or very close to a quarter of the season - still to play.  The 2013 win total was eventually surpassed in game 125, with 37 more games still to play.  Excellent!

Around the same time, I was trawling through the Baseball Prospectus website when I saw this hit list.  The BP hit list is my favourite of all the power-ranking / in-season-team-listing list, partly because of the presence of a greater sabermatic presence and formula used to rank the teams, and partly because of the humorous lines posted right below.

Regardless, the thing that caught my eye was the presence of three AL West teams in the top three slots - the A's, the Angels and the Mariners.  Some significant down-scrolling is required to find the Astros (#26) and the Rangers (who would be #31 if the list went that low), so the whole AL West isn't great, but three quarters of the Astros' intra-division opposition is considered to be pretty darn good, and fighting for playoff slots.

I also recalled writing around a month ago - hidden inside another article - about the incredibly odd distribution of the runs-for and run-against equation of all the teams inside the AL West.  As of end-of-play on 18 August the AL West looks like this in terms of run differential per team:
  1. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: +89
  2. Oakland A's: +161
  3. Seattle Mariners: +96
  4. Houston Astros: -91
  5. Texas Rangers: -135
Now this places the AL West at a total, division-wide run differential of +120.  The current run differentials of all the divisions in 2014 (in order, as at 18 August) look like this:
  1. AL West: +120
  2. NL Central: +8
  3. AL East: -3
  4. NL East: -8
  5. AL Central: -26
  6. NL West: -91
But what I thought was interesting a direct comparison to the run differential from last year inside the AL West.  As at August 18 2013, the AL West standings looked like:
  1. Texas Rangers: +58
  2. Oakland A's: +69
  3. Seattle Mariners: -86
  4. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: -36
  5. Houston Astros: -174
... for a total division wide run differential of -172.  The baseball-wide division standings looked like (at 18 August 2013):
  1. NL Central: +179
  2. AL East: +159
  3. AL Central: +68
  4. NL West: -107
  5. NL East: -127
  6. AL West: -172
Last year, the Astros lagged all of baseball with -174 runs scored - the worst mark by exactly 70 runs.  This was also inside the worst division in baseball by runs scored versus runs against.  This year, they are 83 runs better, in the hardest division, which has arguably the top three teams in baseball.

Now the 2014 season schedule is somewhat unbalanced, and the Astros have a total of 24 games against AL West opponents out of their remaining 37 games (in 2013, they had 21 intra-division games to play on August 18).  Seventeen of these 24 games are against what some may argue as the top three teams in baseball, with the most difficult stretch in the 18 games between 25 August and 14 September - all of which are against AL West opponents, and only four of those being against the Rangers.  

This stretch will go a long way to determining what kind of season the Astros are recorded as having.  Go .500 through that 24 game period, and a legitimate shot at 70+ wins is the result.  Win two or three of those games, and another weak finish will consign the season to another lost one.

I guess the other point to make is that the Astros have not been a healthy team this year.  We don't quite get to grab all the sympathy from the Texas Rangers (who have ten players on the 60-day DL), but I read somewhere recently that the Astros have lost the second-most number of days to the DL of all the teams in the American League.  Some of these are important bullpen cogs (Jesse Crain, Matt Albers), some of these are/were key offensive performers (Dexter Fowler, George Springer) and some of these are/were spare parts (Jose Cisnero, Alex Presley).  Regardless, this has not been a great year for injuries in a young team, and potentially this could have cost the Astros a couple of games in the wins column as well.

In summary, I would make the argument that the 2014 Houston Astros are much better than the 2013 addition, and I don't think I will get much disagreement.  If anything, the win-loss column has the capacity to minimise the extent of the improvement given the improved competition inside the tougher division.  Injuries may have acted to obscure the extent of the improvement as well.

However, before any Astros fans get all excited, please check out the five right-most columns of the BP Hit List table.  They are the columns that outline the calculated playoff odds.  Until the Astros manage to have some non-zero numbers in those columns, they really haven't done anything, despite the extent of any improvement.

Monday, August 18, 2014

From the Office of the County Clerk - G125: Astros at Red Sawx

This matchup pitted Collin McHugh (5-9, 3.08) versus Joe Kelly (0-0, 2.08), and came in a day game which was the final episode in a four game series between Houston and Boston.  Boston was leading the series 2-1, and the season series 4-2, so the Astros had a chance to earn an away-split and their second win ever at Fenway.  Sadly, the season series is gone.

I would have done a game recap yesterday, but I decided to try and stick a knife into my abdomen instead, as it was less painful than watching Brad Peacock blow a series of handy leads.  But the Astros had a good one today, so that gets me suitably motivated to engage in a bit of recap-ery, even if it is from my hospital bed in a surgical ward after having my spleen removed.  Sitting the laptop gently on my stitched abdomen... here I go...

Astros win, 8-1, thanks to an important overturn after a challenge on an egregious attempt at a force by Xander Bogaerts, with subsequent discussion on whether this constituted the neighbourhood play or not.  It may have met the criteria for the "postcode play", but as Marc Krauss was not close to the neighbourhood, and Bogaerts got Marwin Gonzalez at first after the "force" by about 5 steps, the neighbourhood play was not seen as appropriate.  The umps eventually determined that Boegaerts did not need to release the ball prior to stepping on second, overturned the call and ... well, it worked out to be important.

On the Mound:
As mentioned above, the Astros sent diamond-in-the-rough and awesome waiver wire acquisition Collin McHugh to the hill today.  The brief story was the he opened strong, scuffled through the middle a bit, and finished relatively well.  He did what he has done well all season - not allow hits with runners in scoring position - as the Red Sox had a bunch of baserunners (11 in six innings against McHugh), and only scratched out one run against him.  McHugh's final line was a slightly fortuitous 6IP, 7H, 1R/ER, 4BB, 6K on 109 pitches, but note must be made that he battled and hung in against a solid lineup missing Dustin Pedroia.

McHugh started well enough, allowing a hard hit lead-off single to left against Brock Holt in the first, but stranding him there.  McHugh missed in the middle of the zone, and Holt flicked it over Dominguez's head into left with a hard liner.

The next three innings saw a total of 8 Red Sox baserunners for a yield of one total run: in the second, two two-out singles were stranded on a fielder's choice to the left side of the infield.  In the third, a lead off walk scored on a Daniel Nava double, who TOOTBLAN'ed himself into getting run down between second and third.  This was followed by a 4-pitch walk, a pop-up single into "Marisnick territory", a wild pitch, then a strikeout and a groundout.  In the fourth, two consecutive singles with no outs put runners on the corner for a pop out, a strikeout and a groundout to end the inning without troubling the scorers.

McHugh then had his only frame when he retired the side in order - the fifth - with 2 strikeouts.  In the sixth - his last inning - he allowed a leadoff walk, then a missed a double play opportunity to first, then allowed a walk, then coaxed a double-play on a grounder to third by Dan Butler, who remains yet to record a hit in the Bigs.

Sipp relieved against the top of the order - Brock Holt, righty-killer and switch-hitter Daniel Nava, and David Ortiz, and he retired the side in merciful order.  Mike Foltynewicz was handed the eighth, and he allowed one baserunner on a single to right field.  Chad Qualls then set the side down in order in the ninth, and the Astros managed to nail down a win.  The 'pen allowed only one hit over the last three, in contrast to McHugh's generosity earlier in the game.

At the Plate:
After a Jose Altuve single in the first (followed by a Carter (0-5) double-play), the events of the second inning unfolded.  Dexter Fowler (2-4, BB, HR, 2R, 2RBI) led off with a single into CF, and Jon Singleton followed with a four-pitch walk to put runners on first and second.  Carlos Corporan - playing today to give Jason Castro two consecutive days off - then followed with a hard single to right past the dive of the second baseman, Brock Holt.  Marc Krauss (2-3, BB, R, RBI) then followed with a "single" to LF on a horribly misplayed ball by Cespedes, who never picked up the easy fly ball which eventually landed right behind him, coming off the wall about a yard or so off the ground.  It was somehow scored a single - not the Marc Krauss is complaining - but this must have resulted in a massive collective flashback from the Boston crowd to the days of Manny Ramirez and his LF misadventures.  If one was to generous to Cespedes, a hypothesis that the ball was lost in the sun could be advanced, but as there were no shadows out during the play it seems that no kind of bright light could have caused this difficulty.  More likely a white ball against a grey cloud.  Normally the kind of thing that a Chris Carter or Marc Krauss in left would do for the Astros, so nice to get something back.

Regardless, the runners were able to move up a base each, so the bases remained loaded when Matt Dominguez (0-3, GIDP) hit a long fly ball to the RF-CF gap, which scored Singleton (1-3, 2BB, HR, 2R, RBI) for the second run of the inning.  Krauss was unable to move up from first, but that was fine, as his lack of pace was the catalyst for the next play.

Marwin Gonzalez (0-4), with runners on the corners, hit a hard ground ball that deflected off the back of Joe Kelly and rebounded toward Bogaerts at a conventional DP-depth short.  He gloved the ball easily, and ran toward second to make the throw, but clearly released the ball well before he touched second.  At the time of his release, Marc Krauss was around 5 yards away and about to start his slide, and Bogaerts' throw beat Marwin to first by another five yards.  Both runners were called out, but Bo came out to argue, and the umpires kicked it to the New York crew to determine whether (i) the neighbourhood play applied, and (ii) whether Bogaerts touched second before releasing the ball.  The review was in favour of the 'stros, and they got another batter with runners on second and third and two outs.

Grossman (1-4, BB) followed (back to the top of the order) and he had another excellent at-bat which resulted in a nine-pitch walk to re-load the bases.  Jose Altuve then took a ball, and with Dan Bulter asking for a cutter down-and-away, Joe Kelly missed arm-side-and-in, the ball took the inner third of the plate thigh high.  Jose Altuve drove the ball to the top of the Green Monster, depositing it next to a guy wearing a giant bulldog head for a Grand Slam - Altuve's first Slam and the fourth of the year for the Astros - and the Astros led, six-nil.  John Farrell raced out of the dugout and got tossed, still upset by the call, but really he should have been upset by Cespedes' misplay in left that extended the inning such that the double play was needed.  Perhaps that is what he was complaining to the crew chief about - how rubbish the Red Sox LF have been defensively recently.

In the third, Fowler drove the second pitch of the inning - a fastball in where the catcher wanted it - over the visitors bullpen for a solo shot.  The Astros got two more baserunners - first and second with one out - but Dominguez and Gonzalez were unable to score them.  In the fourth, the Astros loaded the bases with two outs on an Altuve single, a Fowler walk and a Singleton walk, but Carlos Corporan (1-4, BB) struck out on an 83mph change for the third out.

The fifth went uneventfully - Craig Breslow threw that frame for the Sox - and in the sixth, knuckleballer Steven Wright allowed two consecutive singles to lead off the inning before getting Carter on a deep flyout, and striking out Fowler and Singleton.  A Dominguez GIDP erased a Krauss single in the seventh, and the side went in order in the eighth.  The ninth was notable for Singleton's eleventh home run of the year - a towering shot on an 0-1 knuckler that was deposited 10 rows back into the RF stand over the bullpen.  This homer was measured at 436ft, so wasn't a cheapie by any stretch, and hopefully this will give Singleton some confidence heading into Yankee Stadium and the short RF porch there.

Turning Point:
Bo Porter's successful review extended the second inning.  Good at-bats by Grossman and Altuve followed, and the Astros got enough of a cushion to allow Collin McHugh to attack the hitters when he needed to.

Man of the Match:
I wanted to go with Jon Singleton here - his 1-3, 2BB, HR line was good - and I really wanted to point out his excellent defensive play.  He made a great play on a short-hop to end the third inning with runners on second and third, and McHugh got to first in time to allow an easy feed.  He also made a solid sliding play in the ninth to end the game - good to see some good defence from the Astros infield, who often seem to grant extra outs when put under pressure.

But Jon Singleton goes home empty-handed, because of Jose Altuve's night.  His line: 4-5, HR, 4RBI, and his first career Grand Slam.

Kudos, also, to the Astros 'pen, and Collin McHugh for battling through six innings.

Goat of the Game:
Interspersed in the Astros' 11 hits and 6 walks was Chris Carter (0-5, GIDP), Matt Dominguez (0-3, GIDP) and Marwin Gonzalez (0-4).  Matty D may find himself job-sharing with Gregorio Petit - a key figure in this series offensively and defensively - for the rest of the season if he doesn't get it going soon.  His line of .227/.268/.354 has probably been the most disappointing aspect of the season for the Astros.

Up Next:
The Astros have a day off and get to go shopping in Manhattan tomorrow - I am picking that they will hang out at American Apparel or Gap or something - before launching into a three game set against the Yankees, who are also off tomorrow.  Brett Oberholtzer (4-8, 3.87) versus Chris Capuano (1-3, 4.13) in a battle of the lefties.  7 Eastern, 6 Central on Tuesday.

Apologies for the spelling of "neighbourhood".  Thanks for reading.