Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Tuesday Morning Hot Links

AL West Recap: The Astros, Angels, and A's all had the night off, but the Rangers and Mariners both lost. FanGraphs gives the Astros a 38.3% chance of winning the division and a 78.8% chance of making the postseason.

Brian T. Smith writes that it's time for something to happen with Valbuena and/or Carter:
The Astros have been too good for too long in 2015 to have two starters living below the Mendoza Line. Batting average means less than ever in baseball. But .198 and .184 don't translate to AL West division winner in any era.

Angels Series Links

*A.J. Hinch is keeping this series with the Angels in too much perspective.
It's going to be fun. We know that when we play in our division it means a lot. But it's three of 62 (remaining) games. We want to win as many as we can, and against them it would be better. It's the next series on our schedule.

Evan Gattis:
We're a team that rises to the occasion and enjoys playing hard games against hard teams. Everybody feels as if they have something to lose. They feel hungry. I think this team responds well to that.

*"Dear Mike Trout: Could you please stop? Seriously, you're screwing it up." (Google the headline if the link doesn't work)

*The Astros have now caught the Angels' attention. When the Astros started out so strong in April, players privately told LA Times writer Mike DiGiovanna: "It's early. Let's see where they are in July and August."

Wednesday pitcher Hector Santiago:
A couple of years ago, you'd go into Houston thinking you were going to get a three- or four-game sweep. That's what it felt like. It's not like we can go in there and run through that team...I still think we're a better team, but they're really good.

Trade Deadline Links

*According to Ken Rosenthal, teams are starting to put together better packages of players for the Phillies in any potential Hamels deal.

*We wrote about the Case For Cole Hamels last night.

*The Blue Jays acquired Troy Tulowitzki and LaTroy Hawkins for Jose Reyes, Jeff Hoffman, Miguel Castro, and another minor-leaguer. Stunning trade. So to get Tulowitzki took an ML player (Reyes, thought he's probably more salary-related), two of the best arms in the Blue Jays' system (Hoffman was a projected Top-5 pick in 2014), another excellent young arm, and another player. Take note of that.

Other Links

*Alex Presley, who was DFA'd recently and cleared waivers, accepted his minor-league assignment. Alex Bregman, this year's 1st Round pick, has been promoted from Quad Cities to Lancaster.

Non-Astros Link of the Day

Vice: I played chess with GZA of the Wu-Tang Clan.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Case for Cole Hamels

Look, even talking about this may very well be an academic exercise. We already know that the Astros are on Cole Hamels' no-trade list, which doesn't mean that he can't be traded to Houston, it just means he would have to approve a trade to the Astros. Which - of course - he may not be willing to do. But, for tonight, let's just say that he will. While we're Just Saying Things, let's also say that I'm Jeff Luhnow, and it's my call on whether or not to pull the trigger on sending whatever ransom Ruben Amaro is demanding.

If I'm looking at my core players: Altuve, Correa, Keuchel, Springer, I'm looking at the window of when they're in their prime. Altuve and Springer are 25. Keuchel is 27. Correa is but a wee lad of 20, of course. But if the Astros want to strike while these players are in their prime, then it makes perfect sense to trade for Cole Hamels.

Because you're buying Hamels for essentially the last 10 starts of his Age 31 season, and then his Age 32-34 seasons (and a buyout or vesting option for his Age 35 season). So acquiring Hamels means that you have another ace lefty to go alongside Keuchel (Scott Kazmir is not germane to this particular discussion), who will be in his Age 28-31 seasons from 2016-2019, while Altuve and Springer are in their Age 26-29 seasons over the life of Hamels' contract, straight peaking. Correa will be in his Age 21-24 seasons, which is just amazing.

That gives you a foundation of Hamels, Keuchel, Springer, Altuve, and Correa right in the prime of the latter four's careers (Hamels would be on the downward slope of his career) - and we're not even talking about McCullers and Velasquez (one of which you just know is going to Philly in return), McHugh, whomever else. You show any potential free agent those five core players, and I guarantee you the Astros are going to be more of an attractive destination to fill in the holes that can't yet be filled through the farm system - which will remain deep after this fictional trade goes through.

We fans suffered - I have an Astros jersey made of sackcloth and ashes - so the franchise could have the depth to even be a part of this conversation. Do it.

Taylor Swift moves Minute Maid concert

Taylor Swift scheduled a concert for Minute Maid Park for October 9, 2015. The Astros said that, should the Astros make the playoffs, the concert would be moved.

This was met with great hilarity and unironic SMHing.

The Huffington Post, for instance: Astros laughably warn that Taylor Swift concert might be moved for playoff game.

USA Today got in on it, as well: Astros optimistically promise to reschedule Taylor Swift concert if they're in the playoffs. Writer Nate Scott:
Yes, it's funny that a helpless team is promising to reschedule a concert on the small chance they turn it around next year. But whatever, if I'm a season-ticket holder I'm at least happy that the Astros are entertaining the idea of making the playoffs.

Well, suck it. The Astros have around an 80% chance of making the playoffs, according to FanGraphs, so the Astros announced today that Taylor Swift has moved her concert to September 9, causing great inconvenience to the good tweens of Fargo, North Dakota, who will now get to see Taylor Swift on October 12.

Now prepare yourselves for a 22-game losing streak thanks to a Curse of Taylor Swift.

Monday Morning Hot Links

AL West Recap: Dallas Keuchel had a rare terrible 1st inning and the Astros lost to the Royals. Rangers and A's lost, leaving the Angels (who beat the Rangers) and the Mariners with wins. The Astros are a game back of the Angels with an off-day today and a three-game series with the Angels starting tomorrow. FanGraphs gives the Astros a 42.1% chance of winning the division and a 78.9% of making the playoffs.

*Keuchel's streak of five straight quality starts comes to an end after yesterday's 6.2IP, 10H/5ER performance, and he gave up 5ER for just the 2nd time this season.

This wasn't a terrible day. I had good stuff. I had a good slider. I made good pitches with my changeup...This is one I wouldn't take back. The only thing I would take back is some of those first-inning runs, but against a quality team like the Royals before a good crowd, I can't ask for more except a few inches to the left or right and those balls going into somebody's glove.

*Velasquez made his first relief appearance of the season, and it reminded him of the old days with the piggyback system.

Hall of Fame Links

*Here's Biggio's plaque.

*You can watch Biggio's speech in its entirety (scroll down).

*A good tweet:
*A.J. Hinch would like MLB to rearrange start times of games on Induction Day so players can watch speeches.

Another good tweet:

Trade Deadline Links

*The Rangers and Dodgers became the weekend favorites to land Cole Hamels, while the Astros (among others) had scouts present at Wrigley for Hamels' no-hitter. One scout, who apparently is narrow-minded and is perfectly willing to give undue weight to a mediocre half-season and ignore years of Hamels' pitching excellence:
After watching that, there's no doubt in my mind he's still one of the best pitchers in baseball. He's a difference-maker for somebody.

*The Tigers want an MLB-ready starter in return for David Price, says Jon-Paul Morosi, and the Astros weren't one of the teams he named as showing interest...which may actually mean more than if they were.

Other Link

*4100 words about Ed Wade, Shawn Chacon, and the crazy 1st half of the 2008 season.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Sunday Morning Hot Links!

Good morning, and Happy Biggio And Three Scrubs Hall of Fame Induction Day!

Quick Hall of Fame story, if you don't mind: In 2007 Cal Ripken, Jr and Tony Gwynn were inducted into the HOF. There were 80,000 people in Cooperstown that weekend - 95% of them had driven up from Baltimore to see Ripken. On the morning of the ceremony the weather forecast called for early afternoon storms, so the decision was made to flip the order, and let Ripken go first and then Gwynn - that way, if storms did delay some of the ceremony, it would be during Gwynn's speech, and Ripken would have already finished. Well of course when Ripken's speech ended, at least half the crowd got up and walked off the lawn of the Clark Sports Center. When I got back to my house (and we lived right in town), my buddies were having a cookout in our shared backyard. They asked how the ceremony went and I said, "It was good. Although a bunch of people walked out in the middle of Gwynn's speech because Ripken was done." They replied, "Well, that sucks," to which I responded - just as a gaggle of Orioles fans walked by - "Ehh. Orioles fans are used to leaving early." A fight was narrowly avoided.

AL West Recap: The Astros, Angels, Mariners, and A's all lost, with the Rangers taking care of the Angels to ensure that the AL West remained tied atop the board. FanGraphs actually now gives the Astros the edge over the Angels, with a 49.2% chance of winning the division, compared to a 47.5% chance to the Angels, and an 82.2% chance of making the postseason in some capacity.

*There is a "good chance" that the Astros make at least one more move before Friday's Trade Deadline. Luhnow:
I think there's a good chance that we'll be involved in one other deal, but you never know, you never know who else they're talking to...The intensity of the conversations across the board is picking up, and I wouldn't be surprised to see some things happen in the next day or two. Not necessarily with us, but I mean, there's a lot of activity going on.

*The rotation for the series against the Angels beginning on Tuesday: McHugh, McCullers, and Kazmir.

*Hinch wants Lowrie to get more reps in the field on his rehab assignment. Lowrie will get the day off in Corpus today and play 3B tomorrow.

*The Royals very nearly acquired Johnny Cueto yesterday.

*Jim Crane, Jeff Luhnow, and longtime trainer Rex Jones will be in Cooperstown today.

*We posted a...post from Friend of Astros County Michael Driscoll about the space between his first Astros game and Craig Biggio's induction.

*You can read a ridiculously long article about the Astros' chase for Randy Johnson here.

*Non-Astros link of the day: The Insane Story of the Guy Who Killed The Guy Who Killed Abraham Lincoln

The Trip to Cooperstown

By Michael Driscoll

The road to the Hall of Fame is long, for players and fans. Craig Biggio, and a few others, will be able to say it began at the Astrodome on a summer afternoon a few decades ago, wound through a ballpark in downtown Houston and ended in Cooperstown, N.Y., on Sunday.

In the summer of 1988, Steffi Graf was ruling the tennis courts. Lloyd Bentsen was getting ready to tell Dan Quayle he was no Jack Kennedy. A movie ticket cost $4. And I was more a fan of spectacle than of sports. When good grades got me an unexpected pair of tickets to a baseball game in Houston, a trip to the Astrodome sounded like a good a way to spend a Sunday afternoon. The stadium wasn't quite the Eighth Wonder anymore, but it was still big-city, bigtime, big deal. It would be the setting of many standout memories for someone growing up in Central Texas in that era: a trip to the Livestock Show & Rodeo to see Charley Pride; football games at the Dome when our high school team made it to the state finals; looming in the background on birthday trips to Astroworld.

My dad dropped us off outside the stadium and went to shop for the sheet music he couldn't find in College Station. He'd pick us up later on a street corner nearby--something that seems vaguely irresponsible in 2015, not to mention impractical, given the lack of homing devices we would use today. I don't recall it being the source of much debate or difficulty.

I also don't remember much about the game, but I do remember we sat on the third-base side, and I remember the small thrill of being loose in Houston with the friend who came along as my plus-one. When they announced that a young catcher, Craig Biggio, was coming to the plate for his first major-league at-bat, I wouldn't have known whether he was the team’s most promising prospect or a scrub who had finally lucked into a cup of coffee in the bigs. I remember being disappointed that he didn't hit a home run--we could have said, “We were there!” my friend and I lamented.

Over the next two decades, I did much to bolster my fan bonafides, following the team from the vantage point of another National League city, Atlanta, while in college, then catching the yearly game when the Astros came to play the Mets (and now, sadly, the Yankees) once I moved to New York.

Early one fall morning in 2005, I sleepily hit “Reload” again and again on my computer until I was, suddenly, awarded the right to buy four World Series tickets. I made an 18-hour trip to Houston for Game 3. My friend from 1988 flew in too, from Los Angeles. With two other friends, we agonized as the Astros scrapped through all 14 innings of a game that remains tied for the longest in World Series history. (Fun fact: Babe Ruth pitched all 14 of the other.) Sure, the home team lost, and the next day it got swept. But the Astros delivered the first World Series game ever played in Texas. We were there. Biggio went 2 for 6.

We gathered again two years later for Biggio’s final game. It was another overnighter for me, sandwiched between shifts at the newspaper. But how could we be there for his first game--then for the World Series!--and not for his last? Unlike most of those in attendance that afternoon in 1988, all in this crowd knew they were seeing something special. Biggio crossed the plate for the last time that day, once, just as he had on that Sunday in 1988.

It's been 27 years since my high school gave its freshmen free Astros tickets in exchange for modestly-above-average performance, and jobs, marriages and families have intervened since. The plus-one who saw Biggio’s first hit with me, and his 3,060th, won’t be at the Hall of Fame; he’s expecting a baby to arrive any minute. I hope to get to Cooperstown sometime Saturday night or early Sunday, and I’ll be back at work Monday morning. I’m looking forward to saying, “We were there!”

Michael Driscoll has been an Astros fan since June 26, 1988. He lives in New York City.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

From the Office of the County Clerk - G98: Astros in Kansas City

Scott Kazmir (5-5, 2.38) versus Jeremy Guthrie (7-5, 5.36)

Scott Kazmir started his Astros career about as strongly as you could on a hot night in Kansas City.  The Astros scored early, pressed most of the game, and came out winners by a score of 4-0.  Texas won - keeping pace with the Astros - but they beat the Angels, who now slip back into a virtual tie with the Astros atop the AL West.  However, the Angels have won one less game, and lost one less game, so they lead the division by 0.002 percentage points over the 'stros.

On the Mound:
We all knew that Scott Kazmir was pretty good - after all, he has a career 3-1 record and a 2.72 ERA against the Astros - but he started his Astros career about as well as he could.  I was watching the game on TV, and the first noticeable thing is how everyone looked hot and bothered.  Kazmir looked like he was wilting a bit in the heat, and he certainly lost control of some pitches at times.  But he kept his pace deliberate, was efficient with pitches when able, and went seven scoreless innings against a solid offensive unit (albeit one that isn't great against lefties).  In those seven frames, he allowed 3 hits, walked one, and stuck out three.

Kazmir started by pounding the strike zone in the first.  He threw seven pitches in that inning, allowed a lead-off single on the first pitch, and retired next three batters in order.  All seven pitches were strikes.  He retired the first batter of the second inning on two more consecutive strikes, so the first ball he threw was on the tenth pitch of the game.  The Kansas City lineup was retired in order in both the second and third innings, with the third inning notable for another quick frame - 7 pitches.  Some solid defensive plays (especially by Marisnick and Correa) were made behind him.

The first real trouble that Kazmir encountered was in the fourth inning.  Mike Moustakas reached on a leadoff single to CF, and with one out, Eric Hosmer walked on a full-count pitch (after being ahead 3-0).  The second out was a fly out - reasonably deep - and the Moose advanced to third.  With runners on the corners, Kazmir was able to coax Alex Rios into a fly ball to CF, which Marisnick gloved without problem.

The last baserunner that Kazmir allowed was a lead off single in the fifth.  That runner didn't advance as Kazmir struck the next two hitters out.  He retired the side in order in the sixth (on 8 pitches) and seventh frames.  His night ended at 91 pitches - the heat was probably the biggest factor in that decision.

Chad Qualls - the excellent version - entered the game in the eighth, and he struck out two in a perfect frame.  Tony Sipp got the assignment for the ninth - he had a four run lead - but he walked the lead off hitter (and lefty) Moustakas before recording an out on a fly out to CF.  Eric Hosmer then reached on a slow bouncer back up the middle that Correa gloved and tried to throw for the force on the run.  The throw was wide, and rebounded back into play off the fence - Moustakas took third successfully, and Hosmer had started toward second, but he realised that he was toast because of the friendly rebound of the ball.  Chris Carter chased him down the line, then flipped the ball to Altuve functioning as the other bookend in the rundown, but no one was covering first (Sipp was covering home) and Hosmer got back to first without being tagged.  

With runners on the corners Hinch went to Gregerson to close the game down, and he did so with a 5-4-3 double-play grounder to the first batter he faced (Kendrys Morales).  That killed the drama.  Gregerson's pitches have a lot of downward movement at the moment, and Morales looked a little overmatched during that at bat.

At the Plate:
The Astros had the Royals starter, Jeremy Guthrie, in trouble early in the night, but they simply were not able to put him away.  Preston Tucker singled with one out in the first, but he did not advance.  Valbuena walked with one out in the second, and he went to third on a two-out Jason Castro single, but Handsome Jake struck out to end the frame.  The Astros then managed two runs in the third.  After Jose Altuve grounded out to second base leading off, Preston Tucker continued his hot streak by mashing a hung changeup away to RF for a solo shot.  Guthrie missed up, and Tucker was caught slightly out in front, but he barrelled it to his pull side, and it cleared the wall by plenty.  

The Astros didn't stop there in the third.  Carlos Correa - the next hitter - walked, then Evan Gattis sent him to third base with a single to CF.  Colby Rasmus drove Correa in with a dunk single into shallow RF - he was jammed on a pitch up and in, but good enough to get it into RF for a single and an RBI.  Valbuena and Singleton went in order to strand two runners.

The Astros' other scoring inning was in the fourth.  Handsome Jake lined a fastball away to deep RF for a double with one out.  He stole third, then Jose Altuve singled him home on an infield single - a fisted bloop just over a drawn-in infield.  Both the radio and TV commentators pointed out that if Marisnick doesn't steal third, the infield doesn't come in, and that bloop doesn't drop.  The pitch was up and way in, and Altuve thought he had popped out before realising the ball had a chance to drop.

Then the TOOTBLAN's began.  The next batter was Preston Tucker, and he doubled to LF over the head of Paulo Orlando.  Gary Pettis sent Altuve home around third, but the relay was perfect.  Altuve was tagged, and never even touched the plate.  So the Astros lose another run to aggressive baserunning - seems to have been a spate of them lately.  I don't necessarily think that they should be conservative in their baserunning, but there is a real cost when runners are lost at third and at the plate.

Anyhow, Tucker was standing on second, and he scored when Carlos Correa lined one into CF just past the diving shortstop Escobar.  The pitch was a fastball, and was low and inside.  The Evan Gattis singled to put runners on the corners, but Colby Rasmus flew out to LF to end that frame.

The next baserunner was Handsome Jake.  He singled leading off the sixth, but was promptly picked off in another TOOTBLAN.  He was initially ruled safe, but the Royals challenged, and the call was overturned.  After Marisnick was picked off, the next 11 Astros went in order, but they had already scored enough for Kazmir to earn the win, and the game was done.

The hits were again clustered to the top and bottom of the order.  Of the first four hitters, Preston Tucker was the star - he went 3-5, with a double and a home run.  Altuve went 1-5 with an RBI, Correa went 1-3 with a walk, and Gattis went 2-4.  Colby Rasmus went 1-4 with an RBI from the 5-hole.  At the bottom of the order, Jason Castro went 1-4, and Handsome Jake went 2-4 with a double and a stolen base, and was the victim of a pickoff.

Turning Point:
After Preston Tucker's solo shot, the Astros kept the pressure on with a walk, and and two singles.  That scored another run, and forced the Royals to make pitches to get out of the frame.  The Astros would have loved to have managed another couple of hits and knocked Guthrie out of the game, but they weren't quite able to do that.  Still, 4-0 win was enough to catch the Angels.

Man of the Match:
Sorry, Preston Tucker.  Finishing a single short of the cycle is like being a girl short of a threesome, as the Constable is fond of saying.  This one goes to Scott Kazmir.  He fired seven scoreless on a tough night weather-wise, and only went 91 pitches in the process, keeping some powder dry for his next start.  Impressive Astros debut, and one that eases the sting of losing The Sheriff to the A's.

Goat of the Game:
Gary Pettis.  Again.  

Up Next:
Scott Feldman (4-5, 4.93) versus Danny Duffy (4-4, 4.24)

Duffy is a lefty, and Hoes is in Fresno, so I am guessing that Carter and González get the start on the infield corners, and Tucker-Marisnick-Rasmus get the outfield assignments.  Unless Santana gets called up tomorrow.  Conger should start behind the plate - he has been in solid offensive form recently.

7 Eastern, 6 Central.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Friday Morning Hot Links

AL West: The Astros won on Altuve's walk-off (you can read the Masked Marvel's recap here), the Mariners won, the A's and Angels both lost, and Texas had the day off. Thus, the Astros are 1.0 back of the Angels, 7.5 up on the Rangers, 9.5 up on Seattle, and 10 up on the A's. FanGraphs gives the Astros a 43.4% chance of winning the division and a season-high 81.9% chance of making the postseason in some capacity. That's a 14.8% jump in winning the division, so I'm guessing FanGraphs adjusted for Kazmir's addition to the rotation.

On to the links:

*Luhnow struck the first blow in the race to October, writes Brian T. Smith. Luhnow:
They talk about high leverage for relievers. This is a high-leverage opportunity for our club. We're in a division with one other team that seems to be our biggest challenge to winning. We owe it to ourselves to take advantage of this.

Hank Conger:
It just shows the level of commitment from the front office and how the organization is committed to winning this year.

*Trading for Kazmir gives the Astros credibility, within the team and with the rest of the league, writes Evan Drellich.

*Lancaster's J.D. Davis sounded like Jacob Nottingham died, not got traded:
I spent my day off with Nottingham and Fisher in Anaheim on Wednesday and hung out. It was kind of a shocker...

*Keith Law says the Astros paid dearly (Insider only):
The Astros paid dearly for two months, maybe a dozen starts in the remainder of the regular season, of Kazmir, giving up a top young catching prospect and a quality right-handed starter prospect who was buried in the team's surfeit of right-handed arms.

*SI's Cliff Corcoran said the price really wasn't that high.

*Beyond the Box Score writes about how Kazmir improves the Astros' already-solid rotation.

*George Springer raised over $100,000 for charity.

*Here's the Chronicle's Big Ol' Biggio HOF section.

*We wrote about the 2014 A's as a cautionary tale yesterday about an hour before the Kazmir deal.

PreStros Morning Report: July 23

Fresno (57-42, 11.0 up)

Fresno had a 3-0 lead heading into the bottom of the 4th at Las Vegas before Asher Wojciechowski's wheels fell off in a 9-4 loss. Wojciechowski threw 4.2IP, 9H/7ER, 2K:3BB.

Three 'Stros of the Game:
3. Robbie Grossman: 2x4, 2B
2. Tyler White: 1x2, 2B, 2BB, RBI
1. Matt Duffy: 2x3, 2B, HR, BB, 2RBI

Corpus (61-36, clinched playoff berth)

Corpus and Frisco were in a downright Homerthon, hitting a combined six home runs, but Frisco got the last laugh in a 6-5 win over the Hooks. 

Three 'Stros of the Game:
3. Jack Mayfield: 1x3, BB, HR, 2RBI
2. Juan Minaya: 2.1IP, 0H/0ER, 5K:0BB
1. Jon Kemmer: 2x3, 2B, HR, BB, 2RBI

Lancaster (50-46, 13-13 in 2nd half - tied)

Lancaster stopped a five-game losing streak with a 6-1 win over Stockton in which Jacob Nottingham went 1x4 for Stockton after walking across the field to the visitor's dugout. 

Three Stros of the Game:
3. Chase McDonald: 2x3, 2B, BB, RBI
2. Mott Hyde: 2x4, 2B, 3RBI
1. Yuhl/Radziewski: 9IP, 7H/1R (0ER), 9K:1BB

Quad Cities (61-35, clinched playoff berth)

It was 0-0 heading into the bottom of the 6th, but Kane County pulled away with three unearned runs in a 5-2 win over Quad Cities

Three 'Stros of the Game: 
3. Alex Bregman: 0x2, BB, SB, RBI
2. Jason Martin: 1x4, 3B, RBI
1. Justin Ferrell: 6IP, 4H/1ER, 1K:1BB

Tri-City (18-15, 1.0 up)

Tri-City gave up two 1st inning runs, but scored four unanswered in a 4-2 win at Lowell to reclaim the division lead.

Three 'Stros of the Game:
3. Anthony Hermelyn: 0x4, RBI, two runners thrown out
2. Aaron Mizell: 2x4, 3B, RBI, outfield assist
1. Scott Weathersby: 4IP, 4H/0ER, 7K:0BB

Greeneville (16-12, 2.0 up)

Greeneville scored eight unanswered runs in an 8-1 win over Bluefield. 

Three 'Stros of the Game: 
3. Ford Stainback: 2x3, BB, SB
2. Marlon Avea: 3x4, 2B, BB, 3RBI
1. Jose Hernandez: 4IP, 2H/0ER, 8K:0BB

Note: Hernandez, pitching in his 3rd game for Greeneville, has thrown 7.2IP, 5H/1ER, 13K:1BB in his last two appearances.

GCL Astros (9-19, 5.5 back)

Once again the GCL Astros fell apart late, carrying a 2-1 lead over the GCL Braves into the 9th, then allowing the tying run in the top of the 9th and the go-ahead run(s) in the 10th for a 4-2 loss. 

Three 'Stros of the Game:
3. Frankeny Fernandez: 2x4, 2B
2. Daz Cameron: 0x2, BB, 2SB, Outfield Assist
1. Enrique Chavez: 4IP, 2H/1ER, 3K:1BB

From the Office of the County Clerk - G97: Astros versus Red Sox

Lance McCullers (4-3, 2.52) versus Wade Miley (8-8, 4.49)

Woke up this morning to the news of the Kazmir trade, and the new nickname ("the Brothers K" © the Constable) for the Astros' starting rotation.  Great news for the Astros... and all they needed was a strong start from Lance McKullers, and they could complete the sweep.  Kollin McHugh was solid last night, and Skott Feldman haven't pitched for a few days.  I am guessing that the rotation for the rest of the season is set: no room for Vince Velasquez - kan't work a K in there anywhere.

But seriously, this recap is all about the final game of a successful home stand.  The Astros won on a walk off home run - their first of the season - to take the game, 5-4.  They have righted their season in style, winning five of six - all at home - before embarking on a very short three-game road trip.  The next six games are crucial - three against the Royals (away) and three against the Angels (home) before getting nine straight games against sub-.500 competition.  And because the Angels finally lost tonight, the Astros are now only one game back in the AL West.

This game was a very interesting one to watch - a real high-stakes affair.  Lots of crucial plays were made, including runners thrown out a the plate, runners thrown out at third, runners nearly thrown out at second, runners picked off first, guys losing balls in the lights, and vital home runs.  When the dust settled, the Astros had completed the sweep, partly due to the walk-off heroics of the shortest man in major-league baseball.

On the Mound:
Lance McCullers got the start, and he didn't have much on offer tonight.  His line was a potentially disastrous 5IP, 6H, 3BB, 2K line, but he allowed just two earned runs.  Ten baserunners in five innings isn't great (one reached on a Correa error), but keeping it to two earned runs was better than what it could have been.  McCullers neither had much in the way of fastball control, nor was he spinning his pitches well - one hung curveball of which was hammered by a struggling Mike Napoli into the signs above the Crawford Boxes.

He gave up a run on two doubles in the first, and a run on the abovementioned home run in the second.  He escaped further damage in the second when catcher Ryan Hanigan tried to score from second on a grounder into shallow CF, and was tagged out at the plate.  Tucker's throw wasn't perfect, but Conger corralled the ball well, and when Hanigan slid, his left foot got caught up just short of the plate.  That was enough for Conger to apply the tag, and that ended the second frame.

Back-to-back two-out walks was the story of the third, and in the fourth, McCullers had arguably his strongest frame.  Mike Napoli opened the inning with a double to LF, but McCullers got the next three batters in order.  In the fifth, McCullers' only baserunner was a reached-on-error on a ground ball to shortstop.  Correa muffed a hard-hit ball.

Tony Sipp got the sixth inning, and he retired the side in order - the first time the Red Stockings went in order in the game.  Chad Qualls followed suit in the seventh (he looks MUCH better), and in the bottom half of the seventh, the Astros turned a 2-1 deficit into a 4-2 lead.  Will Harris relieved to start the eighth, and he allowed a lead off home run to David Ortiz on a high fastball that missed glove side, then a bloop single that just dropped inside the RF line to Hanley Ramírez.  Han-Ram stole second on a reviewed play (he picked up his foot off the bag when he was standing up, and Correa quickly tried to tag him).  Harris bounced back to strike out Pablo Sandoval and entice Alejandro De Aza into a pop up, then Luke Gregerson came on for a 4-out save in a one run game.

About that save... it never happened.  In stunning play, Mike Napoli looked to hit the ball straight down the throat of Preston Tucker in left field.  Tucker didn't move - I think he lost the ball in the lights - and the ball sailed over his head.  Two steps backward, and he would have made a comfortable catch, and he had plenty of time to do so.  Han-Ram scored from second, and the game was tied.

Gregerson didn't come out in the ninth in the tied game, which I thought was interesting.  Josh Fields did instead, and he allowed only a lead-off single in a scoreless frame.  He turned a slick fielder's choice on a grounder back to the mound, and he busted David Ortiz inside for a simple infield pop up.  Fields was rewarded with the win, thanks to Altuve's walk off Crawford Boxes home run.

At the Plate:
The Astros constantly had Wade Miley in trouble, but were unable to put the game away for a variety of reasons - many of which were due to baserunning.  Marwin González made sure that baserunning was not an issue early, when he took a 2-1 fastball inside and deposited it into the Crawford Boxes, about 5 yards fair.  It looked to be a no-doubt shot, and I think it hit off the façade above the boxes.  The inning ended on a TOOTBLAN - Evan Gattis singled and was promptly picked off.  He slipped, realised he was toast and tried to run for second.  Mike Napoli tried to chase him down.  The sight of those to guys running was comedy gold - Gattis is slightly faster than Napoli.

In the second, the Astros worked two walks with two outs.  They worked Miley hard in that frame - both strikeouts were on 2-2 pitches, and both walks were on full counts.  In the third, Jose Altuve led off with a bunt single toward the first baseman, and Carlos Correa walked with one out to join him on the bases.  But a fielder's choice and a groundout ended the frame.  After going in order in the fourth, the Astros managed more traffic on the bases with a one out double to deep left off the bat of Altuve, just to the CF side of the Crawford Boxes.  Altuve tried to advance to third on a blocked pitch, but he was thrown out on a bang-bang play at third - Panda's tag swept his arm away from the base.  The two walks that followed would have advanced him to third anyhow, but Altuve didn't have the benefit of hindsight.  I just wonder - when a pitcher is constantly working around trouble, it perhaps isn't the best idea to take too many risks on the bases.

In the sixth, the Astros went in order on five pitches.  Tucker, Carter and Conger were the culprits, but Carter's out was a loud out on a line shot to left.  In the seventh, the Astros made hay against the reliever and ex-Ranger, Alexi Ogando.  Colby Rasmus started the scoring with a one-out, pinch hit home run to draw level - the pitch was a 3-2 fastball down into the LH hitters happy zone and Rasmus nailed it into the RF bleachers.  Jose Altuve then hit a clean single to CF, closer Tazawa relieved, and  Marwin González doubled over the head of Mookie Betts in CF to score him.  This ball was a 2-2 splitter that didn't sink much, and stayed just in the zone.  González crushed it from the left side of the plate, but when he dug for third, he was thrown on on the relay.  Carlos Correa, with the bases empty and two outs, doubled on a line shot into LF right down the line, then he scored when Evan Gattis singled up the middle on a hard hit grounder on a pitch away.  That put the Astros 4-2 ahead.

The side went in order in the eighth.  That cleared the stage for Jose Altuve, who, with one out, took a 3-1 inside fastball from Craig Breslow.  He hit a hard line drive that just cleared the yellow line about the Crawford Boxes, around two-thirds of the way toward the CF end.  The Red Sox reviewed but to no avail, and the game was over.  Which is just as well, because Altuve already had a couple of Gatorade Showers, and wouldn't have been able to play on without changing his uniform.

Leading the offence was the top four hitters in the order.  Jose Altuve led of, and went 4-5 with a double and a home run.  Marwin González was nearly as good, going 2-3 with a double, a home run, and a walk.  Carlos Correa - batting third - went 1-2 with a double and two walks.  Evan Gattis went 2-4.  The next four hitters in the order combined for no hits and two walks.  The only other hit was via Colby Rasmus who pinch hit in the nine-hole, and went 1-2 with a home run.

Turning Point:
Marwin González had just doubled Jose Altuve home to take the lead in the seventh inning.  Carlos Correa followed with a double whipped into the LF corner - a hard hit line drive that Sandoval had no play on.  Correa scored on Evan Gattis' single.  The Astros could really have done with González still on base at that point, but the extra run scored with two outs on two hits off the toughest of the Sox's relievers was vital.

Man of the Match:
Jose Altuve.  4-5, and a walk off home run.  The Astros need him to get hot.  González and Correa combined with Altuve to go 7-10 with three walks, three doubles, and two home runs.  Not bad from the 1-3 hitters.  Pity they combined to get thrown out at third base twice.

Goat of the Game:
Preston Tucker.  Sorry, bro.  0-4 and a misplayed line drive into LF.

Up Next:
The Astros head to Kansas City.  New-stro Scott Kazmir (5-5, 2.38) makes his Houston debut against Jeremy Guthrie (7-5, 5.36)

8 Eastern, 7 Central.