Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Tuesday Morning Hot Links

AL West Recap: Lance McCullers got BABIP'd to death and Mike Fiers got rocked but still managed to make a comeback on the strength of Correa's 2-run shot, Valbuena's solo shot, and a Jason Castro grand slam - only to fall 12-9 to the South Oklahoma Rangers. So the Astros and A's lost while the Angels, Rangers, and Mariners won. The Astros are 3.0 up with 55 games to play, but have lost 11 of their last 13 road games.

Astros/Rangers links

*After not giving up more than three earned runs in any of his ML starts this season, Lance McCullers gave up 6ER in 0.1IP Monday night, and was optioned to the minors following the game:
I just wish I had been able to compete a little better for the guys and not make so many guys eat so many innings and that kind of stuff. It's going to happen. Hopefully, it doesn't happen again. Hopefully, I got it off my back. I'm just looking forward to my next start.

*Dan Straily will start tonight for the Astros - a game at which The Wife and I will be in attendance.

*Lance McCullers understands his being optioned - what with him already having thrown a career high in IP. A.J. Hinch said the move was designed to give McCullers a break.

*Cole Hamels spoke about why he rejected the proposed Astros trade - which had apparently been worked out "a couple of days" before he actually was traded to the Rangers:
It just kind of came to that sort of fruition where (the Astros) just weren't on the (approved) list. They asked me, and I said, 'No I'd like to stick with the list...' I've seen what (the Astros) have done and I think they've done great things. I have a four-year contract still...so if it was a different situation where I had a year left or a year and a half I probably would have gone. But because it is more of a longer term I had to weigh those sorts of variables for those nine teams that I had on the list. I didn't want to budge from that.

Having never been in his situation - he and I have probably never shared any kind of experience...ever - I won't say that this rationale is absolute nonsense.

*The Dallas Morning News' Rick Gosselin says the Rangers and Astros' "rivalry" has everything except meaningful games.

*Hacksaw Jeff Banister swore at A.J. Hinch and told him not to grab his players in that little to-do in which Rougned Odor took his sweet time getting back in the box. But they're both all good.

Rando Links

*Carlos Gomez on Club Astros: "I love here. Those guys make me feel sexy"

*George Springer, despite being on the DL, is the center of the Astros' clubhouse.

*Scott Kazmir is your AL Pitcher of the Month for July.

*The Astros are 2nd in SI's Power Rankings

*Jon Singleton took his 72 hours to report to Fresno: "It's definitely frustrating and disappointing, but you still have to go on to continue to be successful. It is a business. You sometimes have to remind yourself of that. You still have to go out and put the work in."

Not-Astros Link of the Day

*From Priceonomics: "The Greatest Double Agent In History"
Read more here: http://www.fresnobee.com/sports/mlb/fresno-grizzlies/article29921698.html#storylink=cpy

Sunday, August 2, 2015

From the Office of the County Clerk - G105: Astros versus Diamondbacks

Jeremy Hellickson (7-6, 4.60) versus Dallas Keuchel (12-5, 2.32)

We like to publish things with a little bit of irony around here at Astros County.  This is The Constable's blog, and he strikes me as a man with a wry sense of humour (as well as long, flowing hair, a flat and muscular abdomen and hands the size of dinner plates).  I like to refer to Hank Conger as Hammerin' Hank, which has a certain sense of irony to it (his other nickname is sometimes Handsome Hank, and I will refuse to speculate as to how much irony that nickname draws upon).  Well, tonight, there was no irony whatsoever in Hammerin' Hank's nickname - he singlehandedly beat up on the Diamondbacks with a two-home run night in an Astros rout.  And in doing so, he also became a little more handsome - to me at least, although I did not ask my wife for confirmation.

What a week for the Astros catchers.  There was a little bit of debate about the relative merits of each catcher during the Royals' series - a commentator (not entirely incorrectly) took me to task for suggesting that Conger "should" start a game against a lefty.  He or she rightly pointed out that Conger's arm is well behind Castro's arm, which is correct.  Expanding on that, I think both catchers are good pitch framers, but I personally think that Castro receives the ball better.  Conger had come through with a couple of hits in the week or two prior to that comment, but then Jason Castro busted loose with two three-run home runs in the last two games.  Conger responded in kind tonight, hitting a solo shot, and then the Astros' first Grand Slam of the year to put the game away for good.

Anyhow, in clarifying my comments about who should start between Conger and Castro, it seems that both catchers exist in a 60-40 time-share of sorts, with Castro on the fat side of that roster.  So it seems logical that Conger may get starts against lefties, only because he should be a little better against them than Castro, mostly by virtue of his switch-hit-ery.  If there are no lefties starting against the Astros, what other tiebreakers could be used??  It seems that one of the tiebreakers that could be used may be to pair Keuchel with Conger, because Keuchel controls the running game so well, thereby minimising the effects of Conger's noodle arm.  Perhaps.  Dunno.

Anywho, I am very glad that the Astros have both catchers active at the moment, and they have both hit well recently.  Conger had a banner night - the best by an Astros' nine-hole hitter for about 50 years, according to the TV telecast - and he led the 'stros to an impressive 9-2 win.  The Angels ran their losing streak to five to drop three games back, and the Rangers also lost by giving up three runs late in regulation, and eventually losing in 11 frames.  Cole Hamels gave up five runs.  So the Astros lead the Angels by three and the Rangers by eight, which is a handy lead with less than sixty games to play.  But the division is still well in play.

On the Mound:
Dallas Keuchel got the start, and that meant a whole bunch of orange T-shirts and fake beards sitting down the LF line tonight.  I only ever get to watch the games on TV (aside from the odd visit to MMP), and the noise in the stadium has definitely increased over the last few weeks.  There seems to be a lot fewer empty seats, which is also great to see. Anyhow, with Keuchel's Korner in full party mode, the first inning flew by with three consecutive grounders on ten pitches.  It looked like another shutout loomed, but that feeling didn't last long.

Keuchel sometimes gets into trouble nibbling, as we have seen this year.  He spends so much time on the edges of the zone, I think, that if he is not accurately predicting the movement on his pitches, he can wind up missing, and that looks like he is pitching around batters.  He doesn't have the stuff to miss in the middle of the zone consistently, so if one of his pitches is moving more than normal, he can struggle.  Which is what he said happened in the post-game comments - Kuechel felt that his two-seamer had a little more bite than normal, so he found himself behind the hitters a lot in the second inning.

Keuchel found himself in a 3-0 count to the first batter of the second inning, Welington Castillo.  He bounced back to strike him out for the first out.  Things went south from there - Aaron Hill got into a 2-1 count before he singled against the shift through the right side (Chris Carter missed the grounder with his dive), then Yasmany Tomás walked to put runners on first and second with one out.  Jarrod Saltalamacchia ambushed Keuchel on the first pitch, and he singled back up the middle to score Hill from second.  Chris Owings stuck out looking (on what seemed like a generous call) after being 2-0 then 3-1 up in the count.  A Pennington walk (0-1, then four consecutive balls) loaded the bases, then Keuchel walked in the second run of the inning (a fastball that got away from him, missing up) after an 8-pitch battle with Ender Inciarte.  Nick Ahmed grounded out to shortstop off the end of the bat to close the frame.  At that point, the Astros trailed 2-1.

Whatever it was that bugged Keuchel, he sorted it out before the third inning started.  He struck out Paul Goldschmidt and Welington Castillo swinging (both on breaking pitches, which he hadn't thrown many of to that point) and Aaron Hill looking (on a fastball away).  The side went in order in the fourth as well, this time on 8 pitches.  In the fifth, the first two hitters went in order, then Altuve booted a grounder off the bat of Nick Ahmed to allow him to reach on an error.  Keuchel - sitting just under 100 pitches, came out for the sixth, and he struck out the first two hitters before enticing Yasmany Tomás into a ground out.  Keuchel ended the night allowing five baserunners (2 hits, three walks) while striking out 8 in five innings for two earned runs.  A very odd line.

What happened next was a bit bizarre.  Josh Fields had been warming up in the fifth, perhaps to start the sixth or be ready if Keuchel got into trouble.  Fields instead came out to start the seventh, but only lasted one at bat - which ended when Saltalamacchia flew out to CF.  Hinch came out and removed Fields and replaced him with Velasquez, with no runners on.  My theory is that Velasquez was meant to come out of the 'pen to start the frame but there was a miscommunication, or alternatively he wasn't quite ready to come out to start the frame, but regardless, Fields lasted only one batter.

It didn't really matter, however, as Velasquez showed dominant stuff in facing one batter over the minimum for the remaining two-and-two-thirds.  Velasquez opened up by striking out Chris Owings on a peach of a 1-2 slider.  Owings swung over it and missed, but the pitch was also a strike on the very edge of the zone, down and away to the righty.  Velasquez retired two on ground balls in the eighth (with the other being retired on a fly ball), and after walking the leadoff hitter (Rule 5 draftee Oscar Hernández) in the ninth, he set the side down on two strikeouts and a foul out.  Note is made that Velazquez has been demoted to Corpus to pitch out of the bullpen, making room for Mike Fiers.

At the Plate:
The Astros continue to show depth throughout their order, with contributions again coming from the bottom of the order.  They have a very interesting balance to their lineup now - and it will be interesting to see how Gómez improves this depth.  Literally any of their lineup can knock one out at any time.  Chris Carter was batting eighth, for goodness sake, and if he gets going, then watch out.

The first few innings of the game were notable for the light.  The sun was shining in through the windows that face out to Crawford Street, putting the mound in bright light, and home plate in the shade.  I thought that the hitters tended to be out in front of the changeups more than they may have been in a more even light, but it didn't matter to Correa, who I suspect is super-human.

In the first inning, Altuve and Gómez both went down on ground balls, before Carlos Correa got out in front of a changeup down the middle (that missed arm-side-and-up), but he kept it fair while floating it into the Crawford Boxes.  It wasn't a cheapie by any stretch - going at least five rows deep - but as soon as he hit it, I thought that he was well out in front of it, and it would result in either a long strike (and a souvenir into Keuchel's Korner) or a foul out.  But no, Correa managed to keep it around 5 yards fair, and the Astros took an early lead on an impressive bit of hitting.

The lead didn't last long, and the Astros entered the bottom of the second with a 2-1 deficit.  Evan Gattis led off with a four-pitch walk before Jed Lowrie singled on a line-drive to RF, putting runners on first and second with no outs.  Colby Rasmus responded by hitting a hard line drive to the left side, against he shift, but he picked out the only fielder on that side (Aaron Hill), who corralled the ball with some difficulty, and stepped on third for the force.  On the next pitch, the Chris Carter grounded it to third again, but this time it resulted in an inning-ending double-play.

Leading off the third, Hammerin' Hank homered to RF.  The pitch was a fastball that was meant to be down and in the middle of the plate, but Hellickson missed up, and Conger turned on it, with a high one-handed flourish at the end of the swing.  The ball went about 10 rows back into the RF stands, just beside the groundsman's access road.  It was a nice piece of hitting to lead off the frame, and drew the Astros level at 2-2.

After the next three Astros went in order, they entered the bottom of the fourth tied.  Preston Tucker smashed a line drive to right, but into the shift, and second baseman Chris Owings flagged it down in shallow right, then nailed a strong throw to first.  A couple of yards either side, and that was a hard hit single.  Evan Gattis then drilled a 1-1 pitch to deep CF - he hammered it on a line, and the ball bounced on the warning track, just to the LF side of Tal's Hill.  CF Inciarte gave up on catching it early - I thought he could have gotten there - instead opting to play the carom off the LF-CF power alley wall.  He played the carom well, and Gattis stopped at second, although I think everyone in the stadium wanted him to dig for third.

Gattis nearly TOOTBLAN'd his way into an out - Jed Lowrie grounded to short, and Gattis took off for third.  Nick Ahmed was surprised to see Gattis take off, and the ball came off the heel of his glove for a bobble and an error.  With runners on the corners, Colby Rasmus wore a breaking pitch off his back foot, loading the bases, then Chris Carter walked on a full count pitch up and in to force in the first run of the frame.  That brought up Hammerin' Hank with the bases loaded, and after taking two balls leading off the at-bat (then fouling the third pitch) he hammered a fastball up-and-in (it was supposed to be down and in) off the façade between the upper and lower decks of the bleachers, just to the RF side of the Astros' bullpen.  Conger hammered it - he knew it was gone - and the ball traveled quite high.  Conger's one-handed high finish to the swing mirrored that of his first home run.

The Astros kept the pressure on, with Jose Altuve singling through the 5.5 hole on the next pitch.  He was right in assuming the Hellickson would try and re-establish his fastball.  Carlos Gómez then followed with his first hit in an Astros uniform - a hard grounder down the 3B line, that hit Aaron Hill and rebounded into where the stands jut out.  That put runners on second and third, but, typical Astros, neither of them scored thanks to a strikeout looking (the pitch looked off the plate away) and a strikeout swinging (changeup fading away from Tucker).

More runners in the fifth - Gattis singled leading off the frame.  The hit was a line shot that clattered off the bottom of the scoreboard that Chad Pennington played the rebound on perfectly.  The ball was hammered, barely got more than 25 feet off the ground, and Pennington, despite being in the vicinity, had no chance.  Another single (to Rasmus, up the middle against the shift) after a fielder's choice, then a fly out put runners on the corners, but Hammerin' Hank - fresh off a 414' home run, hit this one about 410' short of that, grounding it just in front of the plate for the force.

The Astros added on in the sixth.  Carlos Gómez added to his Astros legacy by taking a running fastball inside, and putting a good swing on it, singling up the middle.  Carlos Correa followed by hammering a high fastball on the outer edge, and driving it to deep RF, about three rows back for his second home run of the night.  The pitch was meant to be down and away, but Josh Collmenter - who did a sterling job in long relief to save his bullpen - missed a little up, and Correa put his flat and hard swing on it, with no hint of trying to pull the ball.  He extended through it well, and the ball just got out for the fourth home run of the night, and Correa's second (and third of the last two days).

Hank Conger singled leading off the eighth, and went to second on a wild pitch.  With one out, he tried to score on Carlos Gómez's third hit of the night, but he got his cleats caught in the clay just short of the plate, and the resulting leg bounce gave Oscar Hernández time to tag him - thanks to a perfect throw from Inciarte.  That was the only thing that Hammerin' Hank didn't do well on the night, at it cost Gómez his first RBI as an Astro.

Conger (3-4) and Correa (2-5) were clearly the offensive stories of the night, with both mashing two home runs - Conger's second was the first Grand Slam of the season for the 'stros.  Carlos Gómez also had three hits (3-5), while Evan Gattis was on base three times (2-4, BB, 2B).  Colby Rasmus went 2-3, and was hit by a pitch.  Also getting on base was Chris Carter (0-3, BB), Jed Lowrie (1-4) and Jose Altuve (1-5).

Turning Point:
Hammerin' Hank.  When A.J. Hinch wrote his name on the lineup card, that was the end of the night for the Diamondbacks.

Man of the Match:
Carlos Correa and Hank Conger get half of the award each.  Correa can have the lower left and upper right quadrants, and Conger can have the lower right and upper left pieces.  Not sure why we would do it that way, but that is how we roll.

Goat of the Game:
No goat tonight, but if we were to have one, Preston Tucker (0-4) may be that guy.

Up Next:
This may be a tough matchup for the Astros:

Robbie Ray (3-5, 2.70) versus Collin McHugh (12-5, 4.43)

Pray for a sharp breaking ball, everyone.

Day Game... 2 Eastern, 1 Central.

Afterward, the Astros will roll up the road to Arlington for a three game series with the Rangers.  The Dallas team lead the season series 5-4.  The Astros need some revenge, but seven of the remaining ten games are in Arlington, so they will have to earn it.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

From the Office of the County Clerk - G104: Astros versus Diamondbacks

Rubby De La Rosa (8-5, 4.52) versus Scott Feldman (4-5, 4.54)

Opening game against the in-form Diamondbacks, who, after dropping to 42-48 three games after the All Star Break (and 44-51 seven games after the ASB) have quietly reeled off 7 wins in their last 10, and five in a row to improve to 49-51 entering this series.  The Astros, however, have feasted on the NL this year, going 8-1 in interleague games.

No walk-off magic tonight, anyhow.  The Diamondbacks took an early 1-0 lead, the Astros countered with a four-run fifth inning, then the D-Backs chipped away in the top of the sixth and seventh to draw even.  The Astros closed regulation by getting Marwin González picked off first base, then promptly gave up two solo homers in the top of the tenth.  They were unable to counter in the bottom half, and the end result was Diamondbacks 6, Astros 4.

What went well:Scott Feldman, for the most part, had a reasonable night.  Entering the top of the sixth, he held a 4-1 lead, had given up one run on five hits, walking none and striking out three.  However, in the top of the sixth, a single against the shift, followed by a gapper into the RF-CF gap that both Rasmus and Gomez converged on but didn't catch meant that he faced two runners in scoring position with no outs.  Feldman allowed an RBI groundout, then Qualls did the same, so both runners scored.  He allowed three earned runs tonight in the final washup.

Interestingly, Feldman may be throwing a little harder.  He busted out 93 tonight - only about 4mph above what I would consider his normal "peak" velocity.

Jason Castro hit his second three-run shot in as many nights.  This one was an opposite field home run into the second row of the Crawford Boxes.  The pitch was a fastball away, Castro went with it, and the two runners that had fortuitously reached base ahead of him both scored.  Valbuena singled off Jake Lamb's glove - Lamb is a third baseman who was shifted into a second base position - on a blooper into shallow CF, and Marwin González reached on a nice sac-bunt.

Carlos Correa followed with his own Crawford Box shot - this one a no doubter.  De La Rosa missed up with a slider or cutter, and Correa mashed it to left.  He leads AL shortstops in home runs after hitting his tenth.

What didn't go well:
Carlos Gomez... rough night.  0-5, one K, dropped fly ball in the RF-CF gap.  He had the play made, but overran it a little.  Heading toward the gap, he would have had to have reach back across his body to make the catch, but he wasn't able to.  Perhaps Rasmus distracted him, running the other way.

Marwin González is getting some starts at first base due to his hot bat.  He does everything pretty ok, does Marwin, with this main strength his versatility.  Well, tonight he went 2-4, and reached base on an error.  The error occurred in the ninth, and the pitcher, Daniel Hudson, flat dropped the ball covering first on a routine groundout.  González, firstly, had pulled up running down the line, but he was able to make it to first before Hudson regathered and stepped on the base.  But that was only a temporary reprieve.  With Castro - the guy with two three-run home runs in the last two days - facing Hudson, González got flat picked off.  Hudson stepped off and threw to first, Marwin was toast, and he was easily run down by Goldschmidt, because he was forced to break for second.  Castro didn't get to complete his at-bat until he faced Brad Ziegler with a deficit in the tenth.  Ziegler has a WHIP of 0.85, so Hudson was the guy that Castro would have wanted to face.  This wasn't an obviously costly TOOTBLAN, but I could kind of see Castro getting a hit off Hudson, and he (Castro) was waaaaay overmatched against Ziegler (as was Altuve and Gomez).

The Bullpen... Harris, Gregerson and Fields did their jobs well, but Qualls threw a first-pitch slider to  Yasmany Tomás with a runner on third, and the resulting ground ball scored the Diamondbacks' third run of the game.  Tony Sipp faced a lefty with a runner in scoring positions, and he immediately gave up a hit to score the tying run of the game.  And Pat Neshek... he gets his own entry.

Pat Neshek... uncharacteristic outing - 2 home runs on consecutive batters, neither of them particularly cheap.  Gah!  He wore the loss.

Patchy Offensive Performance... The Astros had eight hits and one walk.  The hits were again clustered toward the bottom of the order - Valbuena went 2-4, González went 2-4, and Castro went 1-4, but his one hit was a home run, and occurred immediately after Valbuena and González managed hits.  The Astros were actually pretty efficient in scoring four runs in an inning where they had four of their hits.  However, they weren't able to consistently get guys on base, and the o-fers killed them.  Altuve and Gomez went 0-5, Gattis went 0-3 with a walk, and Rasmus went 0-4.  Tucker went 2-4, and Correa 1-4 with a home run.

Up Next:
Turning the calendar to August, we have

Jeremy Hellickson (7-6, 4.60) versus Dallas Keuchel (12-5, 2.32)

7 Eastern, 6 Central.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Perpetual Friday Trade Deadline Post

Due to the length of the running post for today's trade deadline - and it's only 10:10am - I decided to move it over to a separate page, which can be found here.

Singleton optioned to Fresno

Jon Singleton has been optioned to Fresno to make room for Carlos Gomez, David Barron reports.

/toots horn

In our write-up of the Gomez trade, this was one of the possibilities we mentioned in how to clear room for Gomez and Fiers.

New Top 30 Prospect List released

MLB.com updated its Top 30 Astros Prospect list, the top ten of which is as follows:

1. Alex Bregman
2. Mark Appel
3. Daz Cameron
4. Kyle Tucker
5. Vince Velasquez
6. A.J. Reed
7. Michael Feliz
8. Francis Martes
9. Derek Fisher
10. Joe Musgrove

Friday Morning Hot Links

The Astros swept the Angels last night behind Scott Kazmir and Jason Castro - be sure you check out the Masked Marvel's recap here. So the Angels lost, as did the Mariners and A's. The Rangers won, though. So the updated FanGraphs Playoff Odds calculator shows the Astros - now with Carlos Gomez - show the Astros with a 68.2% chance of winning the division and a 93.2% chance of making the postseason. Interestingly enough, the Astros chances of winning the World Series increased to 10.3% - meaning that in 10,000 simulations of the rest of the season, the Astros won the World Series in 1,030 of them. Only the Yankees, Nationals, and Dodgers have a higher WS%.

Game Links

Hero Jason Castro:
As long as I've been here, I don't really remember a time that it's been quite like this - the kind of electricity in the air with all the fans. Everyone is really excited to watch Astros baseball again.

Kazmir:
That felt great. I felt the love for sure. What more can I say? I'm just excited to be here.

Pujols helped Valbuena with some tips at 1B.

Trade Deadline Links

Drellich: The Astros aren't done
Crane and Luhnow might smell blood in the water

MLB Daily Dish (which has a history of having #Sources) says the Astros and Padres are involved in talks regarding Tyson Ross and Craig Kimbrel in a package that would include Jake Marisnick and Mark Appel.

Jeff Passan: The Astros and Padres are working on "something big."

The Yankees are interested in adding Kimbrel. The Astros are interested, but don't want to assume all the money on Kimbrel's contract. The asking price is high, but the Astros are at least interested in Aroldis Chapman.

Heyman: The Astros may be trying a "stealth move" for Kimbrel.

Gomez/Fiers Trade Links

Self-Plug: We wrote up the trade last night.

Chron: Traded Astros prospects see opportunity in Milwaukee.

Chron: The Astros and Brewers had been talking for a couple of weeks about Gomez

Chron: The Astros players are excited about adding Gomez.

ESPN: Astros may be division favorite after acquiring Carlos Gomez

NYT: Undone deal is Astros' gain. Luhnow:
I think it sends a message, not only to the players but to the fans, that we're going to put our money where our mouth is, take some of the resources we've accumulated and apply it towards winning games right now. We have a shot to get in the playoffs this year. We have a shot to do something in the playoffs - and we want to take advantage of it.

Other Links

Tyler Kepner: Carlos Correa is already a leader
Since 1950, only two players younger than 21 have reached 50 hits in fewer games: Roberto Clemente and Orlando Cepeda. Both are in the Hall of Fame.

Astros trade for Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers

(You) Hey. How's it going?

(Me) After spending all day thinking the Astros were about to land Tyson Ross and Craig Kimbrel - and, of course, there's still 18 hours before the Trade Deadline - the Astros went and took advantage of the Mets' really Metsing it up with the Brewers and got Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers.

Wait, what?

So if you were paying attention last night, the Mets and Brewers seemingly had a deal in place that would send Carlos Gomez to the Mets for injured starter Zach Wheeler and Wilmer Flores. Except it didn't happen, presumably because the Mets had concerns about Gomez's hip. Wilmer Flores cried, on the field, because some fans with Twitter behind the dugout told him he'd been traded. It was bizarre. Well, as it turns out, because (warning: oversimplified explanation ahead) the Mets' owners got suckered by Bernie Madoff, they don't have any money but agreed to the trade, anyway, and then remembered that they don't have any money, so the Mets wanted the Brewers to pick up $9m of Gomez's salary, the Brewers said "Nah, homey," and then the Mets made up some crap about Gomez's hip to get out of the deal.

Okay, so who is Carlos Gomez?

Gomez is a right-handed 29-year old outfielder, 6'3" 220lbs - he'll be 30 in December. Originally signed by the, yes, Mets as an amateur free agent in 2002, the Mets traded Gomez to the Twins (along with former Astro great Phil Humber) for Johan Santana in February 2008. After the 2009 season, the Twins traded Gomez to the Brewers for J.J. Hardy.

In 2012 he hit .260/.305/.463 for his first League-Average season, and followed that up in 2013 with a .284/.338/.506 season resulting in an All-Star appearance, a Top-10 MVP finish, and a Gold Glove. FanGraphs posted his WAR at 7.5. In 2014 he hit .284/.356/.477 with another All-Star nod - not that that means anything - and a 5.7 WAR. In 74 games this season, Gomez is hitting .262/.328/.423, a 105 OPS+, 1.7 WAR and 107 wRC+.

In short: for the last four seasons, Gomez is averaging .275/.335/.474 with 100 doubles, 19 triples, and 74 home runs and an average of almost 118 wRC+. He strikes out a decent amount - 22.3% K-rate this season to go with a 22.6% career K-rate.

So this year he's been average. How does that help?

You don't understand. Carlos Gomez is a really good defensive centerfielder. Let's compare, eh?

Avg. AL CF:    .266/.324/.409
Astros CFs:      .226/.285/.370
Gomez, 2015:  .262/.328/.423, 107 wRC+, 2.5 Def, 1.7 WAR
Marisnick, '15: .238/.275/.374, 78 wRC+, 1.1 Def, 0.5 WAR

So if you want to call Gomez's 2015 "average," you'd be marginally right. But an "average" centerfielder for the 2015 Astros is actually an upgrade.

What's his contract situation?

Gomez is obviously under contract for the rest of this season, so the Astros will take on the remainder of his $8m salary, but he's also under contract for 2016 at a modest $9m. So he's not a rental, the Astros get 220-odd games with Gomez in the outfield.

Whatever. Marisnick's still hot. What about Mike Fiers?

Mike Fiers, a 6'2" 200lb RHP who turned 30 this past June, was the Brewers' 22nd Round pick in the 2009 draft out of Nova Southeastern University - two rounds after his teammate J.D. Martinez was drafted by the Astros.

Can we stop for a second and pour one out for J.D.? 

Of course.

Okay, carry on. 

As I was saying, Fiers is really only getting his first shot at a solid rotation spot. His next start will be his 22nd, tying a career high he set in 2012 - his rookie year (I'm not counting the 2IP he threw in the Majors in 2011). He only threw 94IP in the Majors in 2013-14, making 13 starts in 25 appearances. This year, though, he has a 3.89 ERA/1.36 WHIP/3.79 FIP in 21 starts, 118IP. In those 118IP, he has allowed 117H/51ER, 121K:43BB for a 9.2 K/9 rate, 3.3 BB/9 rate. If K and BB/9 don't float your boat, that translates to a 23.8% K% and an 8.5% BB%.

He's also not exactly what you would expect from an Astros pitching acquisition - with only a 37.7% Groundball rate. He's also experiencing a 37.6% Hard-hit rate - an increase of almost 8% over 2014, all pretty much borrowed from his 2014 Medium-hit rate. He throws a fastball (89.3mph) 56% of the time, and mixes in a cutter, curve, and change all between 11-16% of his pitches.

Okay...how does this help?

What immediately stands out to me is that Fiers allows the Astros to move McCullers to the bullpen, managing his innings in the same way that they're doing with Velasquez. McCullers and Velasquez are obviously young pitchers unaccustomed to a full season workload. You probably already know this, but McCullers is 1.2IP away from matching his 2014 total (97IP), Velasquez is 12.1IP away from his 2014 IP total. Fiers is a serviceable pitcher that can fit in behind Keuchel, Kazmir, and McHugh alongside Feldman.

ORRRRR....the Astros could fulfill a pipe dream and flip Fiers in a deal to San Diego where his flyball rate isn't such a big deal in a barren landscape.

What does this do to the roster construction?

Gomez and Fiers have already been added to the 40-Man with no issues. The Astros had DFA'd Alex Presley, Joe Thatcher, and Not Fausto, and with Peacock on the 60-Day DL, there was room.

The 25-Man roster is going to be interesting, because it's firmly at 25. Those on the bubble:

With Lowrie's return, the Astros simply have too many infielders. Note that Valbuena got the start at 1B tonight over Singleton, who did hit his 1st home run of the season last night. Singleton could head back to Fresno and...see what happens. Marwin is more versatile than Singleton, and Valbuena's luck has to come around, right....RIGHT?

Tony Sipp was a candidate when Kazmir came on board, but he remains the only lefty option out of the bullpen. So he's probably untouchable. Valbuena and Carter are out of options, so they would have to clear waivers...which won't happen.

The other option - and it's not going to be popular - is to send Jake Marisnick to Triple-A. He has options left, and coming into Thursday's game he was hitting .238/.275/.374. Gomez makes him expendable. I know you think it's a joke to consider Evan Gattis a "left fielder" but with Tucker, Gomez, Rasmus, and Gattis (and with Springer's return, ideally in about a month), Marisnick is expendable.

Who did the Astros give up?

The Astros gave up four minor-leaguers, though one - Domingo Santana - has Major-League experience. The four, in no particular order, are:

Domingo Santana: We know Domingo. Had a nightmare Major-League debut in 2014, going 0x17 with 14K:1BB in 18 plate appearances. This season, though, in 14 games (42 PAs) he hit .256/.310/.462, still with 17K:2BB, but at least he made contact. He's projectable, still only 22. But he was just blocked, what with Springer, Preston Tucker impressing in his rookie season, and then the glut of outfielders.

Adrian Houser: 2011 2nd Round pick. In five seasons, Houser had a 4.30 ERA/1.37 WHIP, though in seven games with the Hooks this season, he's thrown 33.1IP, 39H/23ER, 23K:15BB. Houser was Rule 5 eligible, meaning that, if the Astros didn't add him to the 40-Man roster (which was unlikely) some team could come in and just pick him up like the Rangers did with Delino DeShields, Jr this last offseason. So basically the Astros got something out of Houser before running the risk of losing him for nothing.

Josh Hader: Acquired in the Bud Norris trade with Baltimore. Losing Hader hurts me a little bit, though I get it. He pitched extremely well in Lancaster last year - a 2.71 ERA/1.11 WHIP in the California League, which is similar to pitching on the moon. His brief stint in Corpus didn't go real well last year, but in 17 games for Corpus in 2015, Hader - in his Age 21 season - had a 3.17 ERA/1.29 WHIP with 69K:24BB in 65.1IP. But there are mixed reports on what Hader could become: a serviceable starter or a future LOOGY, or what? Again, there are roster concerns, though he wouldn't be Rule 5-eligible until after the 2016 season. Given the depth acquired and the goals of the organization over the next 15 months, it's hard to see where Hader fits in.

Brett Phillips: Oh crap this one hurts. This is the very definition of "you have to give to get." Phillips was the Astros' 6th Round pick in the Magical Draft of 2012. 21-year old lefty outfielder, just a sweetheart of a guy. In four seasons, Phillips put up a career minor-league line of .298/.371/.491. In 93 games in Lancaster, he hit .325/.391/.580, and carried that on to Double-A where in 31 games he hit .321/.372/.463. Oh, and he's 21.

Things work out differently for people, but right now I'm most upset about Hader and Phillips. Still, losing Phillips hurts. He's lining up to be the prize of the trade. The Brewers did well.

Did the Astros have to make this trade? 

It's impossible to know what trade talks fell through but the Astros had to make a move to take advantage of the wild ride that has been the 2015 season. In my heart I knew that losing Phillips was likely in any trade of substance, but it doesn't make it any easier. It's strange being in this position: a fan of the team that looks at trade impact now instead of on the "let's reevaluate in five years" side. In no way is the overall state of the Astros' system "in danger." This trade did not "clear out the farm."

Did the Astros get better?

Did they get better today? Yes. They upgraded the team today and still have McCullers...and Velasquez...and A.J. Reed....and we could do this for literally minutes. Will they be regret this trade in five years? Who knows - baseball is a faithless whore. Now, call San Diego...

From the Office of the County Clerk - G103: Astros versus Angels

Matt Shoemaker (5-7, 4.55) versus Scott Kazmir (6-5, 2.24)

Well, Astros fans, it is hard not to be a little cock-a-hoop after the kind of day the Astros had.  They consummated a big trade just before they swept their division rivals out of town after being down to their last strike.  The product of their last big trade was a vital factor, but even more vital was was power that the Astros are capable of, right throughout the order.  Tonight, it was Jason Castro who drove a walk-off three-run shot into the RF bleachers to end the game, and put a large exclamation point on a solid post-All Star Break half of July.  The second walk off home run that resulted in a sweep inside of a week.

Astros 3, Angels 0

On the Mound:
This game recap may not take long, mostly because nothing happened until the ninth frame.  Both starters dominated their respective lineups, with Scott Kazmir - one half of The Brothers K (thanks, Constable) - throwing 7-and-two-thirds of shutout, three hit, three walk, five strikeout ball.  One Angel baserunner progressed past second base, and in only one inning did the Angels have two baserunners on at the same time.

In the first, Kazmir struck out Victorino before walking Mike Trout with two outs.  Albert Pujols grounded out to third to finish the frame, where Jed Lowrie was stationed.  Lowrie threw across to another out-of-place corner infielder, Luis Valbuena, to finish the play and the half inning.  In the second, Lowrie was in action again as Erick Aybar bunted one down the third-base line.  Lowrie raced in to make the play, but his throw was about a step-and-a-half too late, and Aybar had a lead off bunt single.  But the next three Angels were retired on fly outs as the top of the second drew meekly to a close.

The next baserunner that Kazmir allowed was a one out walk to Chris Ianetta in the fifth, and the next hit was a one out single to Calhoun in the sixth against the shift.  Neither runner advanced at all - Ianetta was erased on a slick fielder's choice from Altuve, and Calhoun was only able to watch as Mike Trout and Albert Pujols both fouled out to the right side.  Kazmir retired the Angels in order in the seventh, partly because of a marvellous diving play by a drawn-in Jed Lowrie on a hard-hit Aybar grounder down the line.  Lowrie was on the grass, Aybar hit it hard just to his right, and he made a sprawling save and strong throw, nailing the runner by two steps.  Kazmir's seventh was also remarkable for his second warning track fly-out of the night - this one was to LF in front of the out-of-town scoreboard to retire Chris Iannetta.

The eighth was the vital inning in the game for the Astros on the mound.  Johnny Giavotella singled up the middle leading off the frame.  Taylor Featherston generously sacrificed himself via a bunt down the first base line - the Astros executed the wheel play well, with Valbuena making the play after crashing in.  Victorino then walked, and both runners advanced on a wild pitch that Kazmir spiked into the RH batter's box, and Castro was unable to corral.  But on the next pitch, Kole Calhoun tried to hold up on a high fastball, couldn't do so, and he struck out.

That ended Kazmir's night.  With Mike Trout up, Hinch opted to relieve with Pat Neshek.  Neshek worked Trout over, getting two strikes early, then evening the count at 2-2 before ending the frame with a high fastball away that Trout swung through.  That ended the threat for the Astros, and the Angels had squandered their last baserunner.

With a crisis narrowly averted, Luke Gregerson came on for the ninth.  Albert Pujols led off, and Gregerson wasted no time disposing of him, striking him out on three pitches.  The last of them was a tight slider in the dirt.  Erick Aybar fouled off a bunch before grounding back to the mound, and C.J. Cron flew out for the 27th Angel out of the night.  Solid bounce back from Gregerson, after a rough outing last night.


At the Plate:
Not much happened on the Astros' side of the ledger, either.  In the first inning, Carlos Correa singled, then went to second with Luis Valbuena walked.  But Lowrie, who may need a few more at-bats before fully regaining his timing, flew out to shallow LF to end the threat.  In the second, the Astros went in order, including a Chris Carter strikeout and a Jason Castro jam shot that was caught in shallow RF.  In the third, Jake Marisnick struck out looking on a fastball away - he looked perplexed as he wandered back to the dugout - but then Jose Altuve was hit by a pitch, and Preston Tucker singled up the middle to put two on with one out.  Carlos Correa struck out swinging on a fastball away, and Luis Valbuena grounded one down the RF line that Pujols made a nice play on.

In the fourth, Rasmus mashed a line drive up the middle, but his steal of second was overturned when Chris Carter was ruled to have impeded the catcher.  The Astros went in order in the fifth, sixth and seventh, as Matt Shoemaker looked more like he did last year, and much less like he did last time the Astros faced him in May.  He was aggressive pitching inside with his fastball tonight, and he looked to have some giddyup on his pitches, judging by the number of times the Astros were late on his fastball.

Joe Smith relieved Shoemaker to start the eighth, and Marisnick responded by grounding the second pitch of his at-bat to shortstop.  Erick Aybar very briefly bobbled the ball, and as a result, his throw was a fraction late.  Marisnick reached on an error, but he was promptly erased when Jose Altuve grounded a pitch that was ankle height back to the pitcher, who turned a slick double-play.  Preston Tucker followed with his second single of the night, but it was all for naught at Carlos Correa flew out to CF to end that inning.

But all of that was a preamble for the ninth inning.  Jose Álvarez got the call to open the frame, and he got two outs on a strikeout (of Valbuena), walk (Lowrie), fly-out (Rasmus) sequence.  Fernando Salas relieved with two outs and Lowrie on first, facing Marwin González, who had pinch hit for Chris Carter earlier in the game.  González kept the frame alive by taking an 0-2 fastball, and hitting a soft line drive into CF off the end of the bat.  Salas missed up a little in his location - had he buried it, González would have had no chance.  Lawrie advanced to second.

That brought Jason Castro to the plate.  On a 1-1 count, Castro swung through a fastball down the pipe.  Kind of how pitchers have been throwing cheese past Castro for the last 18 months.  On the next pitch, he tried to do the same, but he missed a little glove side, and Castro took a fastball in the down-and-in quadrant, and mashed a deep fly ball to RF.  The ball landed about three rows back, just to the RF side of the Astros' bullpen.  The whole place erupted, gallons of Gatorade were emptied on Castro, and the Astros had their second walk-off homer that resulted in a series sweep inside of 7 days.

Clearly, Castro had the big hit (1-4, HR), but also running the bases were Preston Tucker (2-4), Carlos Correa (1-4), Luis Valbuena and Jed Lowrie (both 0-3, BB), Colby Rasmus (1-4) and Marwin González (1-2).

Turning Point:
I like Neshek's strikeout of Mike Trout, right after Kazmir's strikeout of Kole Calhoun, and right before Gregerson's strikeout of Albert Pujols.  The Astros struck out the heart of the Angels order when they needed it.  Kazmir, with runners on second and third and one out in the eighth, set Calhoun up with a couple of breaking pitches before throwing an elevated fastball that he couldn't hold up on. Neshek got Trout up-and-away, after Trout had fouled off a couple of similar pitches.  Gregerson baited Pujols into swinging at a pitch in the dirt to strike him out.

Man of the Match:
Sorry, Skotty K, but Jason Castro wins the MoTM.  For obvious reasons.

Goat of the Game:
No goat.  Sweep.

On the Morrow:
Ex-Red Sock Rubby De La Rosa (8-5, 4.52) versus Scott Feldman (4-5, 4.54), who had his best outing of the season last time out.

8 Eastern, 7 Central.

Trade Deadline tomorrow, too.  The Astros will have to make some roster moves to get both Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers on the 25-man.  I predict that Deduno will head to the 60-day at some point, but not sure whether that is needed at the moment.  Gomez seems like a lock to straight replace Marisnick.  The Astros may trade a major-leaguer away to clear the logjam.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Thursday Trade Deadline Running Post

2:33pm: Padres talks are progressing with multiple teams, with Tyson Ross as a key piece

1:21pm: Wonder Boy Chris Cotillo "hears" that the Blue Jays are interested in adding Andrew Cashner

1:20pm: The Yankees are poised to strike, which sounds really threatening.

1:02pm: (Twiddles thumbs)

With Hamels and Price off the board, that leaves the San Diego pitchers as the most-linked pitchers to the Astros. The Astros stuck to their guns on Kazmir as the lone rental...

Lunchtime: The bobblehead this weekend looks like a cross between Lloyd Christmas and George Bush

11:20am: Price to Toronto is "imminent"

11:27am: This is getting redundant. Toronto and Detroit are getting close.

11:26am: Toronto may be willing to send Daniel Norris to Detroit.

11:13am: San Fran is now sad as it looks to everyone like Price is going to Toronto

11:07am: Jon Paul Morosi says the Astros would have a better chance at landing Price if they are willing to move McCullers or Velasquez.

10:57am: Rosenthal says Blue Jays may be close, talks "won't go on much longer" for Price

10:50am: Toronto "appears to be a strong favorite" for David Price

10:44am: Blue Jays are making a major push for David Price

9:54am: Jon Morosi apparently said on MLB Network that the Astros are talking about Ross or Cashner "plus" Kimbrel. Kimbrel is under team control through 2017 with a team option for 2018. Ross is under team control through 2017, Cashner through 2016.

9:31am: The Tigers are confident they can get a big haul for David Price.

8:45am: The Dodgers may acquire Alex Wood simply to enhance their proposal for Price.

8:36am: Bob Nightengale says that the Dodgers, Yankees, Blue Jays, and Astros plan to bid seriously on Price.

8:33am: Gammons reports that Crane has approved any deal to add payroll, Crane and Luhnow have talked on Price, but the Padres are more likely, and Mark Appel is available.

8:00am: Some League executives think Price is headed to the Dodgers.

7:57am: Ken Rosenthal explains what happened with Wilmer Flores last night, and a larger point about reporting the Trade Deadline.

7:53am: Because life isn't fair, the Cardinals will get $1 billion thanks to rights from a new network deal, and a minority stake.

7:17am: Houston is talking to Detroit about David Price

7:16am: Hamels told the Phillies he would not accept a trade to the Astros. His wife apparently has relatives in the burning hellscape that is the Metroplex.

1:10am: One GM thinks today is Padres GM AJ Preller Day.

Thursday Morning Hot Links

The Astros beat the Angels last night, again, so be sure to read the Masked Marvel's recap, because it was fun. So that means Anaheim, Seattle, and Oakland lost while Houston and Texas won last night. The Astros retake 1st place in the division, and FanGraphs now has the Astros' chances of winning the division over 50% and an 86.7% chance of making the postseason. Trade deadline is tomorrow afternoon.

*A salty Garrett Richards said after last night's loss:
I have to be better. Bottom line. I'm not going to give them any credit. I have to be better.

*Lowrie is back, and will play 3B, and Not Fausto has been DFA'd.

*Mike Trout "appears several days away" from starting.

Jeff Luhnow:
My feeling was that maybe we could be a .500 team this year, and a puncher's chance at the second wild card. And next year, we would be maybe an 85-, 86, 87-win team, and a good chance to get a wild card race. And then the year after that, win the division title. We thought that was a good plan.

Previous link: The Astros and Phillies had a deal worked out, but Cole Hamels blocked it.

Previous link: Pat Neshek turned down "similar or higher" offers from the Pirates, Blue Jays, and Dodgers in the off-season. "My agent even said, 'How the hell did you pick this place?' Nobody believed in us." And then he bought $1000 worth of stuff for Club Astros.

*Talks with the Padres are "gaining steam."

*We'll have another running trade deadline post this morning.


From the Office of the County Clerk - G102: Astros versus Angels

Garrett Richards (10-7, 3.25) versus Lance McCullers (4-3, 2.60)

A.J. Hinch runs a very even and level-headed clubhouse.  He has been keen to downplay the importance of this series, even despite the tens of salivating Astros fans longing to repay the Angels for two years of (mostly) thumpings.  It helps that Albert Pujols, who has built a Hall of Fame career torturing the Astros and their fans, is signed with the Angels until the End of Time, of course.  For the first time in a decade, the Astros look to have a team that has the potential to dominate the big-payroll glamour clubs, so when they are competitive for the first time in a while, the fans long to see these big intradivision match ups.  This is a big series, even if it is only worth three games overall.

It was particularly good to see Lance McCullers bounce back from a rough start last time out, and use his pitches effectively.  It was also good to see McCullers get behind early, but hold the Angels to the slimmest of advantages.  The Astros were being no-hit after four, but they kept grinding, strung some hits together, and added on again late against the Anaheim bullpen.  This was a solid win, where again they doubled up the Angels by a score of 6-3, taking the series, and gaining the opportunity for a sweep tomorrow.  They are back on top of the AL West by a game, and at worst, will finish the series in a virtual tie.  The occasionally-used .500-watch has the Astros ending the season at 87-75, well in the mix for a postseason spot.

On the Mound:
McCullers' last outing was a rough one - five innings, six hits and three walks against Boston.  He was pitching on 10 days' rest - something the Astros are trying to do to keep his inning totals down.  Entering this game, he had 69 and two-thirds innings in the majors, added to the 29 he had already thrown in Corpus (I am guessing that he has 60 innings left).  But much like the last time he had a short outing (May 29 against the White Sox), he bounced back strongly tonight, walking none in seven innings of 5 hit, 5 strikeout ball.  He gave up one earned run on a pair of base hits in the second frame.

McCullers faced David DeJesus in his first bat as an Angel.  The at-bat lasted four pitches, and resulted in a strikeout looking on a breaking pitch away.  Kole Calhoun followed with a swinging strikeout on another breaking pitch, and Pujols grounded to short for the final out of the first.

McCullers started the second quite well.  David Murphy - in his first at-bat as an Angel - grounded one to the left side which Correa fielded and gunned to first in time.  Erick Aybar followed with a one out double to CF - the ball was a fastball down that drifted glove side, and Aybar drove it away from a shaded Marisnick, to the RF side of CF.  Marisnick took a good route, but Aybar took second without a serious throw.  C.J. Cron then fouled out to first base for the second out, before Conor Gillaspie hit a line-drive gapper to the base of the RF bullpen.  Marisnick, again, was shaded toward LF, and Gillaspie was not only able to drive Aybar home, but cruise into third base standing up.  The offending pitch was an elevated mid-thigh change up, but it was on the very outer part of the plate, and Gillaspie put a solid swing on it, and the ball found grass, then the gap.  Giavotella grounded to third for the final out, helped by Singleton, who made a nice scoop on a throw in the dirt.

Ex-stro Carlos Pérez opened the next inning with a grounder down the third base line.  Valbuena dived to corral the ball then got to his feet, but couldn't nab the runner.  Pérez stole second on DeJesus' strikeout (Hank Conger, as pointed out in the comments section a couple of days ago, ain't no catch-and-throw guy), and got to third on a wild pitch with one out.  But he was stranded when McCullers struck out Calhoun for the second time (this time on a high fastball) and Pujols flew out to medium depth CF.

C.J. Cron spoiled a perfect fourth by hitting a double to RF.  The pitch was a straight fastball away, not quite as high as Conger called for, and Cron went with the pitch and lined it into the CF-RF gap.  Gillaspie grounded out for the third out.  In the fifth, Carlos Pérez doubled down the LF line with one out, but another DeJesus strikeout (curveball down) and a Calhoun grounder stranded him there.

With a lead, McCullers was nails.  He set down the next six hitters in order, and ended his night with 99 pitches thrown to complete 7 frames.  Excellent result for him, both in terms of runs prevented, and in terms of having an economical outing.  He was ably assisted by his defence, with Correa gunning down Aybar to end the sixth, and Altuve ranging up the middle, diving, never fully regaining his feet, and throwing out C.J. Cron while falling over to lead off the seventh.  Must C link here.

Pat Neshek was nails, setting the side down in nine pitches for the eighth inning.  That included a three pitch strikeout of Kole Calhoun.  Gregerson struggled in the ninth - Pujols home run, infield single, bunt single (Gregerson tried to make a sliding, barehanded play), swinging strikeout, fielder's choice (runners on the corners), RBI single up the middle, then a fly out was the order of proceedings.  Gregerson escaped with only two runs given up, and a plethora of soft infield hits in his debit column.

At the Plate:
As mentioned above, the Astros were no hit heading into the fifth frame.  They managed to draw two walks - one in the third inning and one in the fourth inning - but a double play meant that Garrett Richards faced only one over the minimum for the first four innings.  The double play was a little freakish - with no outs in the fourth, Preston Tucker was on first.  Carlos Correa hit a hard grounder up the middle that bounced off Richards' about-to-land right ankle.  The ball perfectly rebounded to Giavotella at a traditional second base without losing much pace.  Giavotella flipped to Aybar for the force, and the double play was on.  Correa was out at first by a couple of steps.

In the fifth, the Astros started hitting the ball hard.  Luis Valbuena led off with a hard-hit line drive that bounced off the Mazda sign at the bottom of the out-of-town scoreboard.  The pitch was a curveball away, and Murphy in left was playing in from the wall a little.  He was unable to make the catch running back, and Valbuena cruised into scoring position.  Valbuena went to third when Richards spiked a fastball and Pérez was unable to keep it close.  Colby Rasmus drove Valbuena in by taking a low fastball and driving it about five yards short of the warning track in left field.  Valbuena tagged, but Murphy's throw sailed well off line, and the game was tied.

And not for long!!  Hammerin' Hank Conger was the next hitter, and he hit a hard single over the shift into RF for a hit.  Singleton popped out for the first out, but Handsome Jake doubled down the LF line, and off the façade of the stands where they jut out in foul ground.  Conger went to third, and scored when Jose Altuve rolled over on a curveball, grounding it softly into the 5.5 hole  Third baseman Gillaspie dived to snag the ball, but as soon as he left his feet, Altuve had a hit.  That put runners on the corners for Preston Tucker to watch in awe as Handsome Jake and Jose Altuve combined to TOOTBLAN their way out of scoring any further runs.  Altuve tried to take second, Pérez's throw was good, Altuve was toast and knew it, so he opted to get in a run down.  Marisnick took off but he got caught in then eventual run-down, and the inning was done.  Wonderful work from ex-stro Pérez, Marisnick did exactly the right thing trying to go home once Altuve was hung up, but overaggressiveness again made me cringe.

As I said in the last game recap, there is a fine line between aggressive and kamikaze baserunning.  In expanding on that point, I wonder whether Altuve needs to pick his spots better.  Preston Tucker underscored that point by hammering a 2-2 pitch into the RF bullpen when he resumed his at-bat in the bottom of the sixth.  Tucker took a breaking pitch away that was hung a little, and he got around on it with his trademark flat swing and low finish, and the ball disappeared into the home bullpen.

Carlos Correa followed with a single through the right side, but he only advanced to second on a grounder before the inning ended.  The next hit - and run scored - was from Singleton in the seventh when he drove a 1-out, 1-1 elevated breaking pitch into the Astros' bullpen for another solo home run.  That pitch caught too much of the plate and was pretty much thigh-high, and Singleton didn't miss.  It was clearly a mistake from Richards, however, whose night ended there.

Starting the home half of the eighth, the Angels trotted out lefty Jose Álvarez.  The Astros loaded the bases with one out on an infield single, and end-of-the-bat blooper into shallow LF-CF, and a walk.  Hank Conger hit a sac-fly to LF, scoring the speedy Evan Gattis (who reached on an infield single), then Jon Singleton hit a seeing-eye single up the middle to score Valbuena.  That put the Astros up 6-1 (at the time), and despite allowing two runs in the top of the ninth, the victory was sealed.

The name of the game for the Astros today was hits all through the order.  If they were clustered anywhere, they were clustered toward the bottom.  The bottom two hitters (Singleton and Marisnick) went 2-3 with a walk and a home run, and 2-4 with a double respectively.  Also on base twice was Luis Valbuena (2-4, 2B) and Preston Tucker (1-3, BB, HR).  Rasmus (0-2, BB) and Conger (1-3) both and sac flies.  Hits were also credited to Altuve, Correa and Gattis (all 1-4).

Turning Point:
The bottom of the fifth was the turning point.  Valbuena led off the frame with a double the other way for the Astros' first hit of the night.  He advanced on a wild pitch, and scored on a sac fly for the first out.  The Astros kept on pressing, with Hammerin' Hank singling, Marisnick doubling with two outs, and Altuve reaching on a slow roller into the 5.5 hole.  That put the Astros on the lead... but they TOOTBLAN'd themselves out of a really big inning by getting a little too aggressive on the bases.

Man of the Match:
Lance McCullers, who is awesome.  Not an easy outing, but he answered all the questions he was asked, and showed top-of-the-rotation command and control, as well as his ridiculous breaking ball.  Anyone else happy with Lance??  I thought so.

Goat of the Game:
No goat.  Not with a sweep on the line.

Up Next:
Jed's back, and will start at third tomorrow.  Roberto Hernández is DFA'd, sadly.  I note that Joe Thatcher opted for free agency after clearing waivers, too.  I wonder what Hernández will do...

Matt Shoemaker (5-7, 4.55) versus Scott Kazmir (6-5, 2.24)

Shoemaker struggled to start the season, with his ERA peaking at 6.61 on May 9 after a game against the Astros.  He allowed 6 ER in 3 innings in that game.  His last five outings have been solid: 2ER in 6IP, 2ER in 5.2IP, 2ER in 5.2 IP, 1ER in 1 relief inning, 0ER (2H, 3BB) in 6IP... with the most recent outing listed last.

8 Eastern, 7 Central.