Sunday, September 25, 2016

Sunday Morning Hot Links

How terrible the Astros have been the last three days seems trivial in light of the truly terrible news of the death of 24-year old Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez. Any time a young person dies it's a tragedy, regardless of their profession. In the case of a public figure like Fernandez, who exuded confidence, charisma, and a joy in playing baseball that was almost unmatched across baseball, it's particularly saddening.

*The Marlins have cancelled today's game against the Braves.

*But the Astros were bad. Despite George Springer's four-hit night and Brad Peacock's 5IP, 7H/1ER (pulled after throwing just 69 pitches), the bullpen - given a 4-1 lead in the 8th inning - melted down again, allowing nine runs to give the Angels a 10-4 win.

*Hinch, who is more pragmatic and also unrealistic than the rest of us:
The season's not over. We're going to continue to bounce back and try to get us a win tomorrow. This is not how we drew up the start of this homestead, and it's not something that maybe is expected, but we can't do anything about it. 

*The Angels have scored 16 runs in the 8th and 9th innings the last two games as all the luck the bullpen had enjoyed since April ran out all at once. Hinch:
This is a good bullpen. They've carried us for most of this month and certainly not the last couple of nights. They've had tough days at work. I certainly stand behind these guys. They've done everything we've asked. 

Bullpen, last two nights: 8IP, 18H/16ER, 11K:8BB

*Before Friday, the Astros were 66-4 with a lead heading into the 8th inning. Now they are an appropriately Satanic 66-6, as the forsaking of this franchise by God is now complete.

*Three games back, seven to play. The Astros' playoff odds are down to 2.6%, but that seems high. And this is a fine time to remind you that the Astros had four must-win games at home against a team whom they had defeated eleven times in a row, and have been shutout by Ricky Nolasco in one and melted down in the other two.

*Correa played, and basically said nothing was going to keep him out of the lineup.

*Before the game Ken Giles had to be carted off the field after getting hit on the wrist by a line drive in practice. And, buddy, if that ain't a metaphor for the 2016 Astros then I don't know what is.

*The worst called ball on record.

Games That Matter (not that anything matters anymore) - September 25, 2016

Things were going swimmingly for the Astros and their fans for most of last night.  The Tigers got smoked on a furious five run rally by the Royals in the top of the ninth, with all runs scoring with two outs.  Eric Hosmer landed the big blow - a three-run shot that broke the tie off K-Rod.  The Blue Jays blanked the Yankees, cementing New York's position behind the Astros on the wild-card table.  And the Twins scored three times in the first four innings, then held the Mariners scoreless for the last five  to eek out a tight, 3-2 win.  The Orioles were the only team ruining a good night for the Astros, leading early and often over the D-Backs in a solid 6-1 win.   Well, the Orioles and the Angels combined to ruin the Astros' night.  Sigh.

So the Astros had an opportunity to close the gap on some wild-card contenders.  But then the top of the eighth happened, and when the dust settled six Angel outs later, the Astros' 4-1 lead had turned into a 10-4 deficit, and now the season looks toast.  This series has been an utter disaster.  The standings:

Toronto* +4.5
Baltimore* +3.0
Detroit +2.5
Seattle +0.5
Astros 0
Yankees -1.5

* current holders of the Wild Card spots.

So, it is not looking like anything matters anymore for this season.  Seven games to play, and three games to make up while leap-frogging two other teams is going to be a tough ask.  It is made harder by the fact that the Springer / Altuve / Correa core looks gassed, and no one else is hitting all that much.  The bullpen looks exhausted as well, and injuries have decimated the rotation and Ken Giles' wrist.  The 2016 Astros are now in serious trouble.

That said, there is a puncher's chance, so these are the Games That Matter for Sunday, September 25.

New York at Toronto, 1 ET
New York's elimination number is 4 so they are close to done.  Toronto holds a two-game lead over Detroit for a Wild Card spot, so they can drop out of the postseason quickly if they aren't careful.  The Blue Jays will be highly motivated to finish off the Yankees at home.  The match-up here is interesting: Michael Pineda toes the rubber for the Yankees, Marco Estrada takes the ball for the Jays.

Kansas City at Detroit, 1 ET
I wrote yesterday that KC has not been able wriggle out of games in 2016 using their patented 2015 late-game magic.  Like the stuff that ended the Astros' season last year.  Then KC overcame a two-run deficit in the ninth to beat Detroit the following day.  So, here goes: Kansas City will never, never manage a 10-run inning in an important game.  NEVER.  Edison Volquez versus Matt Boyd.

Arizona at Baltimore, 1:35 ET
It is official.  The cure for a four-game losing streak is to run into the Arizona Diamondbacks.  Baltimore's fortunes - perhaps more than any other team in baseball - will determine the Astros' overall fate for 2016.  The starting pitching matchup slightly favours Baltimore: Braden Shipley versus Dylan Bundy.

Seattle in Minnesota, 2 ET
The Twins pulled off the unlikely, keeping the Seattle team quiet for the last five innings of their Saturday meeting.  The pitching matchup looks interesting here - and fairly even given Walker's tough season: Taijuan Walker for the visitors, Hector Santiago for the home nine (10, including the DH).

Los Angeles / Anaheim in Houston, 2 ET
The Angels send someone called Daniel Wright to the bump.  He is a 25-year old righty out of Arkansas State.  He has a 7.36 September ERA and a 1.57 September WHIP, but none of that matters against the Astros' scuffling offense.  The Astros counter with Joe Musgrove, but a couple of the Angels hitters are hot, and the BABIP monster has not been friendly to the Astros as of late.  The Astros need this one.  Badly.

If any Astros fans want to hear some late-season uplifting music courtesy of The Pheonix Foundation, I can recommend this (also imbedded below).  It should work nicely on a number of literal and figurative levels:

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Saturday Morning Hot Links

Well it seems a touch fitting that the season would ostensibly come to an end at the hands of the guy who put the Astros in an early hole. Don't get me wrong: Giles has been fantastic as of late but our maxim holds true: Relievers are awesome...until they're not. And it wasn't even all his fault. With a 6-4 lead in the top of the 9th, Giles gave up six runs for a devastating 10-6 loss.

Here's that 9th inning:
-Pennington single
-Escobar two-run homer (6-6)
-Calhoun flyout
-Trout walk
-Pujols intentional walk
-Cron two-run single (8-6)
-Giles wild pitch
-Simmons walk
Feliz relieved Giles
-Buss strikeout
-Ortega three-run double
-Pennington strikeout

Toughest inning of the year, for a lot of reasons. Just a tough loss for this time of year, that fashion. We have six outs and our two primary relievers left. We felt really good about the position we were in, but it will teach you it's never over...That was a gut-wrencher.

*The Astros are now 2.5 GB of the WC2 with the Mariners (2.0 GB) and Orioles (0.5 GB) between them and the Tigers. There are eight games left.

Angels outfielder CJ Cron:
We want to play spoiler. We're not just going to push over and let them take the series. I think you saw that fight in us toward the end of the game today.

I didn't do my job. I put us in a hard position right now, and...I'm going to make up for it.

*The Astros were 73-3 when leading to start the 9th inning. Bad time for that 4th loss. Teams in the Astros position win the game 95.1% of the time, according to FanGraphs. The loss dropped  FanGraphs' odds to 5.8% and FiveThirtyEight's playoff odds to 8%.

*Especially given that, in the 9th, Carlos Correa dived for a ball - missed it - and landed directly on the shoulder he had previously injured. Hinch:
If the ball drops and he doesn't dive, I probably feel a little better in my stomach than I do now.

Correa said he would be in the lineup today.

Frikking Games That Frikking Matter - September 24, 2016

FRICK!!!  September 23 was the worst possible day for the Astros, pretty much.  The frikking Ramgers clinched after Carlos G√≥mez broke up a no hitter in the seventh.  Frikking Baltimore won in extras after tying it up in the frikking ninth on Matt Wieters' 15th jack of the year.  The Orioles rode three solo home runs to a tight win over the D-Backs.  Detroit hammered the Royals, while the Blue Jays hammered the Yankees.  And the Mariners double-hammered the Twinkies.  All of that sucked for Astros fans, who watched their team give up a six-spot in the ninth with a combination of multi-run home runs and BABIP rubbish-luck.  Not many games where teams can withstand a six-run ninth, although the vast majority of the Astros' Wildcard opponents could have.  So the Astros lost.  Carlos Correa was pulled from the game after re-aggravating his shoulder on some of that BABIP witchcraft.  It ain't easy being an Astros fan.

So... the standings look like this.

AL West
Rangers - WINNERS, damn it all.

Toronto* +3.5
Tigers* +2.5
Orioles +2
Mariners +0.5
Astros 0
Yankees -1.5

* current holders of the Wild Card spots.

The County Mountie started a Games That Matter column earlier in the month.  He is out of town, so get to cover the weekend.  Apologies for the quiet nature of Astros County recently, especially from me.  The reasons are long, complicated, involve excessive workloads and limited energy.  So, apologies.

Kansas City at Detroit, 1 ET
The mercurial Yordano Ventura goes up against the young and bearded Daniel Norris.  The Royals have had some crippling injuries this year, but mostly have not managed to repeatedly string game-winning rallies together, like they did against the 'stros.  The Tigers have managed to keep most of their hitters healthy for most of the season, and for once don't have a totally horrible bullpen.  The Tigers are also riding a five-game win streak.  Astros fans need some help in this one.

Arizona at Baltimore, 1 ET
The D-Backs' demise is bittersweet for Astros fans.  On one hand, Tony La Russa looks like an incompetent old-school boob.  On the other hand, the D-Backs are kind of awful when we don't need them to be.  Baltimore finally got off a 4 game slide (including six losses in their last eight) with a two late home runs to tie the game, and one twelfth inning jack to seal the deal.  Arizona sends Robbie Ray to the bump, whereas Baltimore counters with ex-D-Back Wade Miley.  So there's that.

New York at Toronto, 4 ET
The Yankees tried an impossible mid-season reboot, and looked like they could pull it off for a while.  They have struggled recently, losing 7 of 8 between Sept 11 and Sept 18.  Toronto has been cashing in future prospects for current major-leaguers for quite a while now, and this may be the end of their dynasty with a host of righty-hitting sluggers looking set to don another uniform next year.  The Blue Jays of 2017 are going to look quite different, so I am sure they are desperate to hold on here.  The matchup here is interesting - CC Sabathia versus the young and exciting Marcus Stroman.

Seattle at Minnesota, 7 ET
Perhaps the less said about this one, the better.  The 55-99 Twins are the worst team in the majors by around 8 games.  They are 28.5 games back in the Wild Card.  They are, uh, not good.  My prediction is that the Mariners will be able to allow a six-run ninth to the Twins, and still comfortably win.  For the record, the matchup is Ariel Miranda and his 2.16 September ERA versus Houstonian Tyler Duffey and his 8.31 September ERA.  We need some serious, serious help here, Astros fans.

Los Angeles combined with the City of Anaheim, at Houston, 7 ET
The Astros need to win.  The Angels are suddenly hot, with the best player of the 2000-2009 decade, and the best player from 2010 onwards both cranking on all cylinders, and supported by a bunch of career castoffs (and newly-minted fathers) who can suddenly play competent baseball.  Not fair!!  It is hard being an Astros fan, but frankly, the Astros are having to pick up the cheque for a 6-15 start, and a 5-14 record between July 29 and August 18.  Jhoulys Chacin versus Brad Peacock, who now looks like the Astros' #2 starter for the 2017 season.  Shudder.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Games that matter - September 23, 2016

Arizona Diamondbacks at Baltimore Orioles - 6:05 p.m. CT - Go DBacks!

New York Yankees at Toronto Blue Jays - 6:07 p.m. CT - The Yankees winning would be good for keeping both wild card spots close. Honestly, I just want the Yankees swept cause they're the Yankees and they just won't go away. The closer they stay the more the media is going to talk about them.

Kansas City Royals at Detroit Tigers - 6:10 p.m. CT - At this point the Royals are pretty much out of it. They can still do some good by winning some games against the Tigers.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Orange Coutny Souther California at Houston Astros - 7:10 p.m CT - Just win!

Friday Morning Hot Links

A quick note: Next Friday, September 30, is Jose Lima's birthday. In honor of this special occasion, and the prevalence and prominence of our podcast: Lima Time Time, we are encouraging everyone to visit your local Casa Ole and eat dinner next Friday evening. Tweet your picture eating dinner at Casa Ole and we'll retweet it. Do it for Jose Lima. 

This is not the week to forget how to beat the Angels, Astros. The Astros came into last night's game having won 11 of 12 against Los Angelanaheim before Ricky Nolasco - RICKY NOLASCO - beat the piss out of the Astros as the Angels won 2-0.

*The only runs of the game came in the first inning on Cyborg Pujols' home run to the Crawford Boxes. Pujols:
Obviously, you want to take the lead right away, especially when those guys have been playing pretty well against us this year. It was one of those things that I got a good pitch to hit and got a good swing. Nolasco did a heck of a job throwing seven innings. It is not easy to pitch against those guys over there. They have a heck of a lineup.

*It's the first shutout for the Astros since September 9, also a 2-0 loss, to the Cubs. It's only the 3rd shutout for the Astros since the All-Star Break.

*So here's the Wild Card situation after the Orioles lost (again) and the Tigers won both ends of a doubleheader against the Twins:

WC1: Toronto +1 (83-69)
WC2: Detroit - (82-70)
Baltimore: -0.5 (82-71)
Houston: -1.5 (81-72)

Let's not consider that, had the Astros beaten RICKY NOLASCO last night, they would be tied with Baltimore and just a half-game behind Detroit with nine games to play.

Damaging loss as the FanGraphs playoff odds fall to 16.6%. FiveThirtyEight puts it at 22%.

Maybe we can hope for chaos: A six-team AL Wild Card tie.

*But Mike Fiers pitched very nicely, striking out a season-high nine batters. Hinch:
His first inning was really his only bad inning. He had the two walks when I pulled him, but he was really good.

Coming down here in September, [the losses] seem bigger, but it's one game and we're going to come back tomorrow and do things well and beat this team tomorrow. Every game's big for us, starting in April and ending in September. 

*Lance McCullers threw a bullpen session with full intensity off a mound on Thursday. Hinch:
It doesn't really mean anything in terms of setting a timeline or a date, or what it means toward the end of the season. But to see him get off the mound and look like a pitcher again was definitely the highlight of the day so far. 

Bregman is also itching to get back, but the Astros are preaching caution. Bregman:
When you're not out there, it's brutal. I pretty much lost my voice yelling at the TV this week. I've just been following from afar and trying to get healthy and figure out a way to get back as soon as I can.

*In Jon Heyman's regular Thursday column he notes how the Cubs have relied on the stupidity of other teams - not just the Astros!!!1! - to build a juggernaut.

*Bill Brown is retiring at the end of the season, ending a career with the Astros that began on April 6, 1987.

*Keith Olbermann on Vin Scully.

*Seattle's Steve Clevenger: Piece of trash. Also, never get on Facebook.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Thursday Morning Hot Links

The Astros managed to hold on despite the best efforts of umpire Clint Fagan to sweep the A's 6-5. Evan Gattis homered twice to become the first Astro with 30 home runs in a season since Chris Carter in 2014. In fact, here is a complete list of Astros to hit 30+ homers since 2007:

1. Chris Carter, 2014
2. Evan Gattis, 2016

Just trying to finish strong...You don't want to limp out of the season. You kind of want to sprint, you know? 

*Hinch, on the win:
We're really taking this one game at a time, which is the worst cliche you can use at this time of year, but it's the reality of how we show up every day....We know if we win, good things can happen to us. 

Here's how the Wild Card race looks now:
Toronto: 83-69 (+1)
Baltimore: 82-70 (-)
Detroit: 80-70 (-1)
Houston: 81-71 (-1)

*FanGraphs has the Astros' odds at 28%. FiveThirtyEight has it at 36%. This is remarkable

*Worth noting that George Springer - who has admittedly had a down year - is really struggling in the 2nd half:
1st Half: .262/.359/.473, 19HR, .302 BABIP
2nd Half: .234/.346/.415, 9HR, .306 BABIP

August: .246/.360/.412
September: .200/.326/.373

But that was a pretty sweet slide to score a run yesterday.

*Colby Rasmus had a remarkable interview yesterday with the Chronicle on why he's not playing as much down the stretch. Rasmus:
I just haven't been feeling like myself out there on the field, so I just felt that it may be better for somebody else to get in there. (Tony Kemp) got in there and did something cool. Just taking a little breather...I just don't feel that I can get out there and do as good a job as somebody else. So I don't think that it's fair for them or fair for the team for me to try to just get out there if I'm not feeling like I can get the job done. 

I've never heard anything like this from a player before. This goes to the very heart of something I've wrestled with: if you're struggling, is it more admirable to try to play through it - hurting your team in the process - or do you have an obligation to take the field every time you're called upon, regardless of how it turns out.

*MLB overturned one of the error calls on Altuve last week, to give him 203 hits on the season.

*FanGraphs: The Astros gave the Rangers a quality outfielder named Carlos Gomez. Pro tip: Don't read this.

*Hardball Times: Jose Altuve and the quest for .400.

*Preston Tucker had surgery on his shoulder blade, ending a season of pain. Hinch:
It bothered him a little bit in the Minor Leagues before he got called back up, and he was able to tolerate it as long as he didn't swing and miss or have an awkward swing.

Oh, okay. Tucker should be ready for Spring Training.

*David Paulino has been added to the Arizona Fall League roster.

*Happy birthday, Carlos Correa and Larry Dierker:

*An oral history of Vin Scully.

Games that matter - September 22, 2016

Astros one game out and still at 10 games from being eliminated from the wild card, here are the games to keep an eye on today.

Detroit Tigers at Minnesota Twins - 1:10 p.m. CT - Makeup for PPD game on Wednesday.

Detroit Tigers at Minnesota Twins - 7:10 p.m. CT - Tigers could take a wild card spot today with a Orioles loss and two wins. If they split they and Orioles lose they tie. If they lose both they're on the outside looking in...I think. Go Twins!

Boston Red Sox at Baltimore Orioles - 6:05 p.m. CT - We want the Orioles to lose so the Astros can maintain being 1-1.5 games out of the wild card spot (depending on what the Tigers do). If things play out right today, we could see three teams in the second wild card spot today.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Orange County and Southern California at Houston Astros - 7:10 p.m. CT - Keep the winning streak going.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Games that matter - September 21, 2016

With the Astros two games out and 10 games from being eliminated from the wild card, here are the games to keep an eye on today.

Houston Astros at Oakland Athletics - 2:35 p.m. CT - Just sweep!

Toronto Blue Jays at Seattle Mariners - 2:40 p.m. CT - Blue Jays have the first wild card spot. The Mariners are three games out from the second wild card spot. This is probably a win-win for the Astros scenario. If the Blue Jays win it pushes the Mariners out another game. If the Mariners win it keeps both wild car spots close.

Boston Red Sox at Baltimore Orioles - 6:05 p.m. CT - Boston has a comfortable lead in the division. The Orioles still hold the second wild card spot. It would be beneficial to the Astros cause for the Red Sox to beat the Orioles.

Detroit Tigers at Minnesota Twins - 7:10 p.m. CT - The Tigers are a game and a half back of the Orioles for the second wild card spot. A Twins win would be super duper for the Astros.

Wednesday Morning Hot Links

I see you, Astros. Chris Devenski retired all 11 batters he faced in a long relief role between Joe Musgrove - who carried a no-hitter into the 6th - and Ken Giles, shutting the A's down long enough for the Astros to get a 2-1 win.

This is exactly why Devenski's valuable in the role that he's in. I never know when a game like this is going to come up, and for him to take 3 2/3 of a really good performance in a game that we needed it the most, is very, very valuable for us. I understand the appeal of him starting, but in a couple of days he's going to be back in there again in some clutch games over the course of the season. 

I like relieving. I get a good little rush going out there and I've been going out there and giving it my best. 

*The Orioles and Mariners lost. The Tigers and Blue Jays won. Here's where we are:

WC1: Toronto +1 (83-68)
WC2: Baltimore - (82-69)
Detroit -1.5 (80-70)
Houston: -2 (80-71)

There are 11 games left. If the Astros go 9-2, Detroit could go no better than 8-4 and Baltimore would need to go no better than 6-5. Unless there's a tie-breaker. FanGraphs gives it 19.4%. FiveThirtyEight puts it at 25%.

*Tony Kemp, to George Springer before the game:
I was talking to George and before the game today everyone just seemed really loose and ready to go out there and play. No one's really panicking. Everyone's having fun at this last stretch and we're just trying to finish as strong as we can.

*Jose Altuve recorded his third-straight 200-hit season, an accomplishment that hasn't happened since Ichiro did it from (gulp) 2001-2010, or for a right-handed hitter since Michael Young did it from 2003-2007. The only other second basemen to get 200 hits in three straight seasons are Rogers Hornsby and Charlie Gehringer - both Hall of Famers.

*Colby Rasmus isn't playing as much, and it's tough on him. Hinch:
There's no doubt he's had a tough season on a lot of levels. He's had to battle a number of things. He's also grinding to the point of being really hard on himself and not performing at a level that he's used to.

It makes it tough, but that's the game. I ain't mad at nobody. I ain't mad about it. Just not playing as good as I would like to play.

*Evan Gattis doesn't even have any triples this year, bro. Why is he sacrificing his Triples Game to hit more homers?
Swinging at better pitches. Not chasing as much. Knowing the difference in balls I can drive, and strikes. 

*Colin Moran might play winter ball. Luhnow, who indicated that it might be a good idea to get some time at 1B:
Anybody who's in sort of that between Triple-A and the big leagues (tier) as a position player, I think those guys can all benefit from (winter ball) because it's good competition. You have to play well to stay. It's a good environment.

*Tyler White has trimmed down over the season.

*Crowds are really bad at Camden Yards, despite the Orioles being in the WC2.

*Check out Pakistan's baseball team.