Sunday, July 27, 2014

From the Office of the County Clerk - G105: Astros v. Marlins

Jacob Turner (3-6, 6.03) vs Collin McHugh (4-8, 3.28)

Collin McHugh returned from the disabled list to make his first start for the Astros since July 6. For 5.2 innings, he pitched very well indeed. But those 5.2 innings came after the first 0.2 of the game, which was a rough welcome back for McHugh. Three runs in the first put Houston in a hole their struggling offense couldn't overcome, and so the Marlins complete their sweep of the Astros with a 4-2 final. The Astros await Oakland tomorrow at 42-63 on the season.

On the Mound:

*A single, a triple, a sac fly, and a home run greeted Collin McHugh in the 1st before he settled in. Only three singles, a walk, and a solo HR followed as he pitched into the 7th after that, so overall it was a welcome return to the Astros' starting staff. But it was still not good enough to avoid McHugh's sixth loss in his last six starts, disappointingly so with a 6.1 IP / 7 H / 4 R / 4 ER / 1 BB / 9 K line.

*Darin Downs faced two batters in the 7th, walking one and striking out the other.

*Then Jake Buchanan followed to finish the game, and turned in his best big league outing yet - 2.1 nearly flawless IP with 4 K, and only a two-out single in the 9th allowed.

At the Plate:

*Houston's offense may struggle, but Jose Altuve continues to soar, going 3x4 with a solo HR (his 4th) and a SB (his 42nd).

*Jonathan Singleton matched Altuve's three times on base, going 1x2 with his own solo HR (his 7th), 2 BB, and a K.

*Marwin Gonzalez (1x4), Matt Dominguez (1x4, K), and Marc Krauss (1x2) were the Astros' only other baserunners, but none of them were ultimately of consequence.

Turning Point:

Christian Yelich led off the game with a single against Collin McHugh. Jordany Valdespin tripled to put Miami up 1-0 immediately, then McHugh fanned Giancarlo Stanton for out #1. A sac fly by Casey McGehee made it 2-0 on out #2, but Garrett Jones followed with a solo HR to give Miami a 3-0 lead. Doctor McHugh was rock solid after that, but Houston's offense only managed two solo home runs all day, so that 3-0 hole decided the game very early.

Man of the Match:

Jose Altuve. We like Jose Altuve.

Goat of the Game:

Not gonna pick on McHugh, so All the Astro Bats besides Jose and Jon.

From the Office of the County Clerk - G 104: Astros versus Marlins

Tom Koehler (6-7, 3.85) versus Jarred Cosart (9-6, 4.23)

It seems that Jarred Cosart has a fairly miserable record in the early innings this year, but a single 7ER in one-third would skew anyone's record.  Well, tonight he had some difficulty with they whole "strike throwing" thing early on, but he settled down to gut it into the sixth inning.  He was actually only one pitch from getting out of the second (his Waterloo inning) unscathed, which would have changed the complexion of the game entirely.  Still, the Astros lose their fourth straight by a score of 7-3.

On the Mound:
The aforementioned Jarrod Cosart scuffled with his command, walking three in the first two innings, all of whom scored.  He would add only one more walk to his night, however (an IBB when he was down 3-0 to Giancarlo Stanton), who wouldn't score, thankfully.

Christian Yelich walked in the first, and was grounded to second and third by Jordany Valdespin and Giancarlo Stanton respectively.  He scored on an 0-2 single by the clutch-y Casey McGehee, who is has some ridiculous slash-line with RISP (.370/.455/.454).  In the second, Cosart loaded the bases with a leadoff walk, a flyout (excellent running catch by Kiké Hernandez), a double (runner to third) and a walk.  Christian Yelich then singled on the ninth pitch of his at-bat (after being 0-2 down) through the left side, and all runners advanced a base with one out.  Valdespin stuck out, but all that did was set the stage for Giancarlo Stanton, who smoked a double on a first pitching hanging curve just past the diving Marwin Gonzalez for a bases-clearing double. 

Cosart settled down, but spent long periods of time out of the stretch as he allowed leadoff singles in the third and fourth.  His best inning was the fifth, when he retired the side in order on nine pitches.  He convinced Bo to leave him in with two outs in the sixth and Christian Yelich at the dish -Yelich again singled through the left side after the first two pitches were recorded as strikes.  Darin Downs relieved and retired Valdespin to end the frame after Yelich easily stole second.

The seventh belonged to Veras, who struck out two in a perfect frame, and the eighth belonged to Sipp, who also didn't allow a runner to reach.  Chad Qualls started the ninth in a non-save situation, and he did what he does in low leverage, allowing an opposite field two-run shot to left off the bat of Jordany Valdespin - his first of the year.

At the Plate:
The Astros took an early 2-1 lead when, with 2-outs in the first, Carter (2-5, RBI) hit a clean single up the middle, and Castro smoked a shot to right off the second deck façade on a 2-0 count.  Kiké Hernandez (1-3, BB, 2B) nearly hit it out in the second with a deep drive to the left-centre that hit the wall that lines the visitors 'pen - a few feet to the right, and he would have got the wall where the HR-line sat much lower.  But it didn't, so it was a double.  In the third, Altuve (3-5) and Gonzalez (2-5) reached with no outs, then watched from the corners as Chris Carter smoked one up the middle which ricocheted off the back of Tom Koehler and rebounded into the glove of a waiting Adeiny Hechavarria at short.  Castro and Dominguez both struck out to end the frame after the bad luck on a sure RBI-single.  In the fourth, Krauss (2-3, 2B) doubled with one out, but was also left at second, and in the fifth, Altuve and Gonzalez again singled to start the frame, and this time Carter's single to CF didn't involve crazy-bad (back?) luck, so Altuve scored.  In the sixth, a Grossman (0-3, BB) walk with two outs moved Kiké to second, but Altuve was retired on a hard-hit ball to left.

Altuve reached with no outs in the ninth, and Marwin Gonzalez had a 11-pitch at-bat that ended with a strikeout looking off former catcher Chris Hatcher.  Hatcher also retired the last two batters in order, and the game was done.  Plenty of hard-hit balls, not a lot of luck, but the result was again a loss in a batting lineup affected by key injuries.

Turning Point:
Can't moan too much here, given that Cosart hung a curve down the pipe to Stanton with bases loaded, and Stanton hit it hard along the ground.  Another foot or so to the left, and Gonzalez has a shot at a force at second for the third out.  Not to be, however, and the four runs the Fish scored in that inning were enough to carry them through the game.

Man of the Match:
Jason Castro, 2-5, HR, 2RBI.

Goat of the Game:
Matt Dominguez and Jon Singleton both went 0-4 with a K (and Dominguez added a GIDP to his tally) batting in the 5-6 slots.  That combination effectively killed any rallies that didn't involve a Castro homer or a Carter line-drive.

Up Next:
Jacob Turner (3-6, 6.03) versus Collin McHugh (4-8, 3.28)

2 Eastern, 1 Central.  

Saturday, July 26, 2014

From the Office of the County Clerk - G 103: Astros versus Marlins

Brad Hand (1-2, 4.86) v. Dallas Keuchel (9-6, 3.29)

The Astros, by virtue of missing three Centre Fielders (two of whom are amongst their best players offensively) have received sterling fill-in work from a mis-cast Kiké Hernandez in CF recently.  Hernandez, as I mentioned a couple of game recaps ago, started one game in CF at AA, and one at AAA.  Well, today it ended up biting the Astros as Hernandez made a critical error on a hard-hit line-drive that knuckled during its flight with one out in the seventh.  Two batters later, the score was 2-0 Marlins, and that is how it stayed because the Astros were shut down by a guy with a career 3-12 record.

Also of note is how long the Astros bottom-of-the-order looks against lefties, with Grossman, Hoes and Petit (called up in place of Anthony Bass) occupying the last three slots, and Guzman - who is not hitting at all - batting in the five hole.  It kind of seems like National League ball again, with Lane, Everett, Ausmus and whomever the pitcher-du-jour as the last four in the order.  That brings back warm fuzzies when thinking about 2004-5, and shivers down the spine when thinking of 2010.  Regardless it should never look that way in an American League park.  Because of the various injuries, this team looks seriously offensively challenged at the moment - although the team from the Dallas-Fort Worth area probably has dibs on injury-related sympathy at the moment.

On the Mound:
Tonight marked the return of the excellent Dallas Keuchel.  He was spotting his ball at the knees, coming inside to righties, and throwing his back-foot slider efficiently, getting swings in the process.  His final line: 7IP, 9H, 2R/0ER, 0BB, 7K.  He also kept the ball on the ground (9:4)

One may suggest the nine hits are a worry, but I would counter with the following facts: three of his hits were infield singles (one of them a bunt from Donovan Solano), and three more were seeing-eye singles along the ground just out of the reach of the fielders.  One of his doubles was a little unlucky (it hit third base) and the hardest-hit ball of the night was to the second-last batter he faced.  It could easily have been (i) a shutout and (ii) a win for Keuchel tonight.

That said, Keuchel also pitched very effectively around trouble.  He managed to make great pitches at critical times, including an inning-ending double-play in the fifth (with runners on the corners) and sixth (with runners on first and second).  The Marlins managed to string together some good at-bats against him, and he seemed to lack a put-away pitch, which was often a called third-strike at the knees earlier in the year.

He was unable to escape trouble in the seventh.  The frame opened eventfully, with a fairly hard-hit ball to right that Grossman ran down on the warning track.  It threatened to get over his head and go for extra bases.  Saltalamacchia then stung a line-drive to CF with knuckled, and Kiké had it bounce off the heel of his glove as jumped to track it down.  It was scored as an error, and Salty was on first.  He (critically) went to second on a passed ball, and Keuchel struck out Marcell Ozuna for the second out.    Then, shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, on an 0-2 count, hit a slow grounder to short and beat out the throw.  If Salty has still been on first, the force at second may have been the easier play.  Regardless, runners on first and third, with the nine-hitter Jeff Mathis up.

Well, he stung a first-pitch fastball to the gap in left-centre (and it was well hit, hitting low on the wall below the giant pump), which scored two.  That was all the runs that the Marlins would need, and Keuchel's night ended two pitches later with a tame groundout to short.

Josh Fields relieved, and he managed a scoreless outing.  It wasn't an easy one, however, and he probably won't be ready to go tomorrow after throwing 34 pitches.  Fields' inning went walk, single, K (all on deep counts - 2-2 or 3-2), single to load the bases, fielders choice force at home, flyout to right.  The first three at-bats of his frame were excellent - the Marlins fought off a number of good pitches, and eventually managed to get two on with no outs.  But Fields got a critical grounder when it mattered, and he managed to leave the score the same as how he found it.

Veras finished up, walking the leadoff hitter, but retiring the side uneventfully.

At the Plate:
This will be brief, as the Astros managed only three hits and 2 walks.  The Marlins relief was excellent - the back-end of their 'pen is really impressive - and the Astros only managed to get two runners to second base.

Altuve went 1-4 leading off, and was caught stealing second on review in the sixth.  Carter (0-1, 2BB) and Castro (1-3, 2B) were the outstanding offensive performers, and were the only two Astros to get to stand on second all night.  Gregorio Petit (1-2) has an impressive .500/.500/.500 line for the 2014 season .  Krauss and Singleton both pinch-hit, and both K'd.

Gosh, and that was briefer that I could have imagined.

Turning Point:
An 0-2 slow roller to short could have ended the seventh uneventfully, but Gregorio Petit's throw to first was a hair late.  As has been the trend lately, Bo popped out of the dugout to show photos of his family to the first base ump while the Astros video team worked feverishly behind the scenes to see if a challenge was worth it.  It wasn't, and one pitch later, the Marlins scored the only runs of the game.

Man of the Match:
Chris Carter has been excellent lately, and against a guy having a career start, he was by far the best of the Astros batters.  However, he has to share the MoTM with Dallas Keuchel, who rediscovered his form while being a little unlucky with the BABIP-monster (the evil twin of the OPS-monster) and the extra-outs in the game.

Goat of the Game:
Kiké Hernandez has been getting a lot of positive press around here lately, but we-calls-it-as-we-sees-it, and he gets the goat tonight for his 0-4 performance at the dish, and his critical error in CF.  The error thing is a little rough because he is very mis-cast as a CF, but desperate times call for desperate measures, and in this case the desperate measure involves (i) putting a 22 year old middle-infielder with a handful of games above AA in CF and (ii) crossing ones fingers and toes.

Up Next:
Tom Koehler (6-7, 3.85) versus Jarred Cosart (9-6, 4.23)

Cosart has had a rough time of it recently, allowing 14ER in his last 3 starts (15-and-two-thirds)

7 Eastern, 6 Central.  Some guy is playing some music afterward too, I think.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Friday Morning Hot Links

Here's what's going on as we head into the weekend...

*Dallas Keuchel tossed a baseball to a heckler with a special message. Click here for the original tweet.

*The Astros look as though they're holding on to Chad Qualls. Also in that link we get updates on Fowler (not close to returning), Albers (slow recovery) and Crain (surprise! slow recovery).

*Carlos Correa won't be ready to return from a broken leg for the Arizona Fall League, but the team hopes that he'll be ready for Spring Training. The Astros are also considering sending Rio Ruiz to the AFL, and also to Corpus.

*According to a Chronicle source, the MLBPA has filed a grievance against the Astros regarding their handling of the 2014 draft. No one is commenting on either side.

*SI's Ben Reiter has an in-depth piece on how the Astros lost Brady Aiken:
"A lot of people say they want to be a Hall of Famer," said another scout, "but I believe for this kid it's a realistic goal, to be one of the best pitchers of all time." The consensus was that Aiken could be pitching in the majors in just two and a half years - that is, as early as Opening Day of 2017.

*Mark Appel pitched last night, and lo, it was good. He threw 74 pitches in 6IP, 5H/2ER, 7K:0BB with a fastball that sat in the mid- to upper-90s. "I wasn't thinking about it, I wasn't really thinking about it at all. It was fun, it was, you know - I don't know. I'm not one to shy away from the frustrations of this season, but it's been a while since I had a game that was this fun."

*Aston Villa fan who visited 92 soccer grounds will be in Houston on Sunday to add to his MLB ballpark tour.

*Lance Berkman is returning to Rice as a student assistant.

*Happy Birthday, Billy Wagner, who somehow is only 43.

From the Office of the County Clerk - G 102: Astros at Athletics

Scott Feldman (4-7, 4.30) versus Jeff Samardzija (3-8, 2.91)

a.k.a. battle of the "Aces".  The quotation marks are for Scott Feldman's benefit.

When this series opened, I was banging away at the computer keyboard with the game on the TV telecast to one side.  A graphic caught my eye: through 99 games, the 2013 Astros had a run differential of -155, and the 2014 edition had a run differential of -86.  Progress, Blummer said.  Nearly twice-as-good, Alan Ashby inferred.  More like half-as-bad, the cynical side of me quipped.  Then the Astros won game 1, and the run differential improved mightily to -85.

Now the 2014 edition seem to be doing their best to "catch" the 2013 Astros by conceding a boatload of runs, while scoring fewer.  Today, they made massive strides toward mirroring the awesomeness of the 2013 Astros in a 13-1 loss to the Athletics.  

(Interesting spread for the run differentials throughout the AL, too.  The Rangers sit at -112 as the worst, the Astros are at -99, and the Twins at -32 are the third worst.  That really is a massive gap between second-worst and third worst.  And in the AL West, the Athletics sit at +163, the Angels at +85 and the Mariners at +52.  Interesting spread.)

As this was a day-game, and the committed Astros fan would already have sought (plus found) the result on a decent website and bathed in the warm glow of a decent game recap, I will keep this one short.  Plus I don't like writing 10,000 words in a blowout loss.  Ugh.

On the Mound:
Caveat: the A's are an awesome offensive unit.  They can beat you in a bunch of ways.  Game one??  Josh Donaldson was pretty cool, as was Astros-killer, Jed Lowrie.  Last night was a Cespedes post-HR-derby after-party.  He had been in a serious slump before that game, too.  Today: star hitter had his thumb sawn off by an up-and-in tailing fastball??  Well, lets rest him, and play two catchers, a wrestling fan having an awful season, the guy who nearly broke his wrist yesterday trying to tag out the diminutive Jose Altuve, and Jed-frikking-Lowrie, and record 13 hits and six walks in a royal beat-down.

Scotty Feldman was not awesome tonight.  He managed to pitch into the fifth, but pitched the Astros out of the game in the process: 5.1IP, 9H, 6R/ER, 5BB, 4K.  He seemed to be missing a lot arm-side-and-up, and his lack of control seemed to result in a lot of deep counts, and a lot of hard contact.  He seems to me like a  bit of a junkballer at the moment.  If he can't consistently get his soft stuff across for strikes, he is in serious difficulties.

Feldman retired the side in the order, and got a double-play in the second to end the inning with runners on the corner.  In the third, things got away - double, walk, fly out, strike-out.  Then RBI single-double steal-wild pitch-IBB-single-groundout.  Yuck.  One out away, then a series of crazy mental errors, and the game was mostly gone.

In the fourth, two more hits to lead off the inning, and then a sac-fly.  A groundout with the bases loaded ended that frame with only one run scored.  The fifth was relatively uneventful, and the sixth was horrible - only some of it due to Feldman.  Walk, single, K: Feldman replaced by Anthony Bass.  Hit-by-pitch, grand slam, walk, wild-pitch, groundout, single, foul out.  The Astros give up nine runs in six innings, and the game is well and truly gone.

Anthony Bass retired the side in order in the seventh, and Josh Zeid gave up three in the eighth, with the big blow being a bases-loaded, no-out double.  Horrible.

At the Plate:
Chris Carter continued his hot form, turning on a 95mph inside fastball in the fourth, and mashing off the foul pole in left.  That happened nearly immediately after the A's scored three runs in their half of the third, so there was some hope at that time.  Carter ended up with a 1-4 line, but didn't K.

Altuve managed two hits - both singles - in a 2-4 night.  He also struck out twice - once looking and once waving at a pitch in the dirt.  Robbie Grossman went 1-4, Marc Krauss went 1-4 and Carlos Corporan went 1-3.  And that is all: Samardzija was simply overpowering, and he deserves significant credit for his part in holding the Astros offence down.  Only one mistake, and it was arguable that even that was a mistake, as Carter is hot at the moment and I thought it was more a great piece of hitting.

Turning Point:
July 5, 2014 - the day the AL West got much, much harder.  The Astros got to see the "fruits" of that trade today.

Man of the Match:
Chris Carter, for his awesome power and pretty decent (for him) contact.  Perhaps the 'stros are being rewarded for their patience... kind of like how they also could have been with J.D. Martinez.

Goat of the Game:
Scott Feldman, 534 8455 and Josh Zeid - the pitching unit.  Bass and Zeid have struggled too long for my liking.  Feldman looks more and more like a ten-million-dollar long-guy.  

On the Morrow:
The Astros host the Miami Marlins...

Brad Hand (1-2, 4.86) v. Dallas Keuchel (9-6, 3.29)

8 Eastern, 7 Central.


Thursday, July 24, 2014

PreStros Morning Report: July 23

Oklahoma City (53-53, 4.0 GB)

Round Rock scored runs in five separate innings, OKC scored runs in three separate innings. But OKC enjoyed three four-run innings for a 12-8 win over Round Rock. David Martinez allowed 7H/6ER, 2K:2BB in 3.1IP; Jorge De Leon allowed 3H/1ER, 3K:1BB in 2.1IP. Pat Urchfitz threw 1.1IP, 1H/0ER, 1K:0BB, and Jason Stoffel struck out four in 2IP, allowing 3H/1ER.

Matt Duffy was 3x4 with a homer, walk, and 4RBI; Carlos Perez was 3x5 with an RBI; Jonathan Villar was 2x4 with a walk and three stolen bases. Preston Tucker was 2x4 with a walk and 2RBI. Austin Wates was 1x4 with a walk, two runs scored, and a stolen base. Gregorio Petit was 1x4 with a walk, homer, and 4RBI.

Man of the Match: Matt Duffy

Corpus (16-17, 4.0 GB; 50-53 overall)

Corpus carried a 4-0 lead into the bottom of the 5th, a 4-3 lead into the bottom of the 5th, and then allowed a run in the 8th and the walkoff in the 9th for a 5-4 loss at San Antonio - a loss that puts the Hooks in sole possession of last place in the division. Brady Rodgers had a strong start, throwing 4.1IP, 1H/1ER, 3K:1BB; Luis Cruz allowed 8H/4R (2ER), 5K:0BB in 4.1IP.

Jonathan Meyer and Andrew Aplin (SB) were each 2x4 with an RBI; Tony Kemp was 1x4 with a solo homer and a walk.

Man of the Match: Brady Rodgers

Lancaster (16-16, 4.0 GB; 60-42 overall*)
*clinched playoff berth

The JetHawks became the first Cal League team to 60 wins by getting five runs in the bottom of the 8th for an 11-8 win over Modesto. Zach Morton threw 5IP, 7H/6R (4ER), 0K:1BB; Pat Christensen allowed 1H/1ER, 2K:0BB in 3IP; Daniel Minor allowed 2H/1ER in 1IP.

Jon Kemmer had himself a day, going 3x4 with two homers and 6RBI overall. Teoscar Hernandez (SB), Rio Ruiz (BB), and Austin Elkins had two hits each. Chan Moon, Danry Vasquez, and Jack Mayfield (2B) each added a hit and an RBI.

Man of the Match: Jon Kemmer

Quad Cities (16-15, 4.0 GB; 51-49 overall)

The River Bandits turn a 3-2 deficit in the top of the 8th into a 6-3 win over Dayton for their fourth straight win, despite four errors. Kevin Comer threw 5IP, 6H/3ER, 8K:1BB; Albert Minnis got the win with 2H/0ER, 2K:0BB in 3IP, and Tyler Brunnemann recorded his 3rd save with a perfect 9th inning.

Ronnie Mitchell and Chase McDonald matched each other with a 2x4, double, 2RBI day. Brett Philips was 2x4 with a double and two runs scored. Jose Fernandez was 1x3 with a walk and an RBI.

Man of the Match: Mitchell and McDonald

Tri-City (27-12, 8.0 up)

DUEL! Tri-City comes out on the right side of a 1-0 game at Connecticut, holding them to four hits. Troy Scribner threw 5IP, giving up just 3H/0ER, 6K:2BB; Aaron Vaughn (2IP) and KYLE WEILAND (1IP) threw perfect innings; Jordan Mills allowed a hit and a walk in 0.1IP and Ryan Thompson got out of the jam with a game-ending double play.

Ariel Ovando was 3x4 with the lone RBI. A.J. Reed was 1x4 with a double, Jose Solano and Jamie Ritchie had your other hits.

Man of the Match: Troy Scribner

Greeneville (15-17, 4.5 GB)

Greeneville scored five runs after the 6th inning, including three in the 10th, for a 6-3 win over Kingsport. Robert Kahana threw 5IP, 2H/2R (1ER), 6K:1BB; Reymin Guduan allowed an unearned run with 3K:2BB in 2IP and Angel Heredia threw three hitless innings, striking out three and walking one.

Jason Martin was 3x5 with a double and an RBI; Antonio Nunez and Trent Woodward (BB, 2B) had two hits and an RBI.

Man of the Match: Robert Kahana

From the Office of the County Clerk: G 101 - Astros at Athletics

Brad Peacock (3-6, 4.39) versus Jesse Chavez (7-6, 3.14)

What Brad Peacock had going in terms of control and velocity, it sure has disappeared his last two games.  Peacock struggled for the second consecutive start, but this time he managed more than one-third of an inning.  The Athletics scored the first seven runs (all off Peacock) before the Astros rallied with a five-run eighth to make the game interesting... well, very interesting really... against the vaunted Athletics bullpen.  However, it was all in vain as the Astros fell to a 9-7 loss.

Note is made that the Astros are missing three CF's, as George Springer hit the DL with right knee/quad difficulties.  Marc Krauss got the call from OKC, and he grabbed his glove and ran out to play LF tonight, with Kiké Hernandez manning CF.

On the Mound:
I kind of had the impression that Bradley J had made significant strides through late June.  All of that has disappeared in the last two starts.  He struggled, allowing 13 base runners through three-and-two-thirds.  His line: 3.2IP, 7H, 7R/ER, 5BB, 2K, 3HR allowed.  89 pitches.

None of this is good, so I will be brief.  Peacock escaped a bases loaded jam in the first, on a walk-single-line out-K-single-groundout sequence.  In the second, he wasn't so lucky.  Jed Lowrie leadoff HR-walk-single-walk-sac fly-home run-K-walk-line out.  And the third??  Why, retired the side in order on five pitches, of course!  In the fourth, he allowed a two-run HR to Cespedes (his second of the night) and Jake Buchanan relieved.

Buchanan did ok, allowing a run on a double, a single and a walk in the fifth, and another in the seventh on a two singles and a walk.  Josh Zeid retired one in the eighth and Downs retired the remainder without incident.

Buchanan's line: 3.1IP, 5H, 2R/ER, 2BB, 2K.  Glad to see him getting a long-relief outing and seeing what he can do at the major-league level.  His pitch to end the fifth resulted in the thumb injury to Cespedes - on a 1-2 count with two on and two out, he threw a fastball that ran right in on Cespedes' fists, who managed to bloop it over Buchanan's head.  Altuve fielded it and could have moon-walked to first base to complete the force, because Cespedes was on his butt on home plate nursing a sore hand.  The pitch was pretty much right where Castro wanted it, and Buchanan was rewarded with the out.  No word on Cespedes' thumb.

At the Plate:
Carter walked in the first against Jesse Chavez, and that was the last baserunner that the Astros had until the fifth, when Dominguez hit a clean single to left.  Grossman then walked, Hernandez singled to load the bases, and Marwin drove in the Astros' first run with a ground-out to first.  Altuve ended the frame with a K.

In the sixth, Castro singled to left, and with two outs and on a 2-1 count, Jon Singleton took Chavez's hundredth pitch and smoked it to the scoreboard in left.  It bounced off the wall about half-way up, and Castro scored easily for the second Astros run of the game.

The Astros went quietly in the seventh, but made some serious noise in the eighth, albeit mostly against a struggling reliever (Jim Johnson - who was charged with four of the runs while getting no outs).  Still, the Astros recorded two further hits against Dan Otero, and forced the Athletics to use Luke Gregerson for the remaining two outs, and Sean Doolittle for the ninth.

Anyhow, back to the top of the eighth.  The Astros batted as follows: Altuve (1-5) single to third, then Castro (2-5 with a loud out or two) single to right.  Chris Carter (1-4, BB) hit a clean line-drive to the gap in left-centre on a low 93-mph fastball to drive in Altuve.  Marc Krauss (1-4) followed by dumping an 0-2 outside sinker to centre, scoring Castro, and allowing Carter to get to third.  Singleton (1-4) then grounded out to third - a perfect double-play ball - but Donaldson's throw to second-base was low, and Sogard had to lean forward to smother the ball on the short-hop, taking his foot off the bag in the process.  Everyone safe, Carter scored, runners on first and second, still no one out.  Matt Dominguez (1-4) lined out for the first out, but Robbie Grossman (1-3, BB) hit a clean liner over Lowrie's head toe score Krauss.  Singleton alertly went to third.  Then Kiké Hernandez took an 0-2 pitch away, and hit a clean liner into right field, scoring Singleton and sending Grossman to third.  L.J. Hoes was unable to complete last nights' heroics, striking out on the ninth pitch of his at-bat, and Altuve ended the frame with runners on the corners grounding out to short.

Nice to see an inning where the Astros execute against a strong 'pen, but ultimately they still fell short.  They went in order in the ninth, when Guzman - who pinch-hit for Krauss - struck out.

Turning Point:
Brad Peacock managed to escape a rough first inning with a scoreless frame despite loading the bases on a walk and two singles.  He threw 34 pitches in that frame.  On the first pitch of the second, Castro set up a little up and away, but Peacock missed a little down-and-in with a 89mph fastball - right into the left-handed hitters' wheelhouse.  Lowrie mashed a towering fly-ball which made it into the second row of the seats, right next to the foul pole in right field.  The A's would take the lead, and never relinquish it.

Man of the Match:
Kiké Hernandez got another start in CF, and wasn't unimpressive.  He showed some skills with an over-the-shoulder catch on a John Jaso fly ball with the bases loaded in the second.  He back-pedalled madly to the wall, and adjusted his glove nicely so the ball dropped in it.  A better jump may have made the last bit unnecessary, but given that he played one game in CF in Corpus and one in Oklahoma in his career, he hasn't done too bad out there.  

He also went 2-4 at the plate.  His triple slash sits at .310/.375/.431 for the season.

Goat of the Game:
Brad Peacock for the second straight start scuffled, and put the Astros in the deep, deep hole.  Sorry Brad, but you earned the goat tonight.

Up Next:
The Astros play the rubber game of the series... 

Scott Feldman (4-7, 4.30) versus Jeff Samardzija (3-8 [!], 2.91)

... before jumping on a plane and heading back to H-Town for a set against the Florida Miami Marlins

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

From the Office of the County Clerk: G100 - Astros at Athletics

Brett Oberholtzer (2-7, 4.50) versus Scott Kazmir (11-3, 2.38)

The Athletics aren't the team to take into extras.  They own a 10-5 record in overtime games in 2014, and their bullpen is just nails.  They have enough power that they can knock it out and walk off at any time, and they have a bunch of hitters who seem to hit .500/.600/1.500 every time the Astros roll into town.

But the Astros took them into extras, and stared them down in the twelfth in a game that lasted over four hours.  Tonight, it was the Astros 'pen that was nails, and the Astros hitters that knocked one over the wall.  An unlikely one too.  Little Chris Carter Jerome Hoes took a first pitch fastball out to left to score the go-ahead run in the top half, and Chad Qualls nailed it down in the bottom half - on the 10-year anniversary of his major-league debut.

It was a well pitched game, especially given the tight strike zone, and a tidy game from both teams in the field.  Which was especially pleasing for the Astros given how the series in Chicago ended.

On the Mound:
Brett Oberholtzer got the start to give Colin McHugh's hand a little more time to heal.  I don't know why he doesn't just use pine tar to protect his blistered fingers.  Obie normally throws well against the Athletics (2 runs allowed in 11 2/3 innings).  He also came into this game relatively hot, with an ERA just over three for his last five starts.

And Obie was good tonight.  He got stronger as the game went on, allowing two base runners in his last four innings (the fourth inning to the seventh inning) after allowing seven in the first three .  His eventual line was solid on 99 pitches: 7IP, 6H, 2R/ER, 2BB, 0K.

In the first, a two out Cespedes double followed by a Donaldson walk spelled danger, but Obie got out of it when Norris hit a soft liner to Kiké Hernandez in CF (Springer sat again due to his right leg).  In the second, Obie faced runners on first and third with no outs, but got Nate Freiman (remember him?) to ground out back to the mound.  Lowrie was too far off third and got caught in a run down, and Obie eventually escaped the inning with a pop-up and a foul out.  In the third, Craig Gentry stole second and third after a leadoff single, and he scored on a fielders choice for the first Athletics run of the game.

Obie then settled right down, and didn't allow a baserunner until the sixth, when the A's tied the game up.  Josh Donaldson doubled to CF, Norris followed with a single, and Jed Lowrie hit a sac fly to Robbie Grossman, whose throw home nearly hit Robert Ford in the press box it was so high.  Obie left after retiring the side in order in the seventh with a no decision.

I like-y me some change-up-happy Josh Fields.  He has been awesome lately, and that continued today with two perfect, striking out Reddick and Donaldson.  He may have thrown a couple of curves in his 26 pitches, but I can't remember any more than that.  He gave way to Phat Tony Sipp in the tenth, who pitched an inning, allowing a one-out single to Nick Punto, who advanced on a wild pitch (which was really only a block from Castro, and Punto happened to be going - not much of a wild pitch), but he was left stranded.

Jose Veras opened the 11th with two consecutive groundouts, then a single and a walk, but Darin Downs relieved and coaxed a groundout from Brandon Moss into the shift to end the frame.  And Chad Qualls mashed a couple of lefty hitters with his ridiculous sinker while recording a perfect 12th for the save.  Happy 10th year, Chad!!

At the Plate:
The Astros scored their runs in the third and twelfth innings only, but managed 13 base runners on 11 hits and two walks.  A bunch of excellent at-bats tonight, especially from Jose Altuve (3-6, R, CS to end his SB streak at 28), Chris Carter and Robbie Grossman (2-4, BB).  Jason Castro (0-5) and Jesus Guzman (0-4, BB) looked overpowered, and Kiké Hernandez (0-5) and Matt Dominguez (1-5) had better at-bats than their lines suggested.

Altuve led off the game with a single to centre, but was out stretching at second (and only just) when Craig Gentry was a little too casual getting the ball in (really, he was just the right amount of casual, 'cause he still got the runner, I guess).  The second was remarkable only for Jesus Guzman's lead-off walk.  Note is made that Guzman played pretty solid defence tonight - kind of a welcome change from "Lead-Glove" Singleton.

In the third, the Astros made some noise.  They got a leadoff single from Marwin Gonzalez, then Altuve hit a little chopper to third.  Josh Donaldson was worried about Altuve's speed, and his throw would have been in time but was just a little low.  Nate Freiman couldn't handle it, and Altuve headed to second and Marwin to third when the ball got away.  After a Hernandez chopper to pretty much the same spot at third (which held the runners), Chris Carter drove a clean single up the middle to plate two.  He was erased next pitch on a Dominguez double-play.

Robbie Grossman singled in the fourth with one out.  He was also the next baserunner the Astros would have - in the seventh.  He advanced on a wild pitch, but was stranded at second.  Carter smoked a two-out double in the eighth on the ninth pitch of his at-bat against Luke Gregerson, but he was left stranded.  Altuve reached on an infield single to third (Josh Donaldson will be having nightmares about him tonight!) in the tenth, but was caught stealing on a successful challenge from Bob Melvin.  Matty D hit a single with one out in the eleventh.

But all of that was window-dressing for L.J. Hoes' heroics.  Lefty and Ex-stro Fernando Abad was on the bump, and he retired Robbie Grossman for the first out.  Hoes ambushed Abad on the first pitch of his at-bat - a fastball down and in that missed a little higher than Jaso wanted - and he hammered it on a line just over the scoreboard at the 362' marker.  Not a cheapie.  Hoes floated around the bases, and the 'Stros had scored just enough to win.

Turning Point:
A bunch of important plays were part of this game, which made it so pleasant to watch.  I like Obie catching Jed Lowrie off third on a grounder back to the mound for the first out in the second.  That play kept them scoreless with runners on the corners and no outs.  At that stage, the Athletics were threatening, but that kind of allowed Obie to settle down, and pitch into the seventh.

(Wo)Man of the Match:
This story is being carried by every game recap, but it is kind of cool, so I will mention it too.  L.J. Hoes' mum, Gale, asked for a homer as a birthday present, and L.J. delivered his third of the year.  She is the inaugural Woman of the Match for the Astros.  Probably the only one for the next two decades until my knuckle-balling daughter makes her Major League debut, hopefully for the Astros.  She is a lefty, but has a good sized UCL, so things are looking good so far.

But seriously, I was really impressed by the at-bats from Chris Carter (3-5, 2x2B, 2RBI, K), and the pitching from the combined staff.   Carter's triple slash now stands at .212/.287/.472, but he has looked really good in the last few games.  He has worked a few deep counts, and seems to be able to foul off pitches away recently.  The Astros may be being rewarded for their patience.

Goat of the Game:
Jason Castro has scuffled all season, and his OBP is now less than .300.  He was hitting sixth tonight, after doing well in the 2-hole.  Some Springer protection seems like a good idea for him.

On the Morrow:
Bradley J Peacock (3-6, 4.39) versus Jesse Chavez (7-6, 3.14)

10 Eastern, 9 Central.