Monday, September 1, 2014

Astros fire Porter and Trembley on Labor Day

The Labor Day bit just adds to the irony.

As of a few hours ago, the Astros announced that Bo Porter and Dave Trembley have been "relieved of their duties", and replaced with organisational managerial stand-in Tom Lawless and ex-player/roving instructor Adam Everett respectively.

The Front Office Press Release specifically stated that the firing was nothing to do with current record, but more to do with differing philosophies.  In fact, Luhnow specifically takes the blame for the win-loss record, while pointing out that perhaps Bo was not paddling in the same direction.  The press release provides no real further detail.

The shakeup comes on the first off-day after Ken Rosenthal's story broke that cited numerous anonymous sources that discussed "tension" in the front office.  The Chronicle Astros Blog commented on the story, seemingly pouring cold water on it.  Fangraphs, in an earlier conversation, detected no animosity or hint of difficulty between Porter and Luhnow.  Then this happened, and it appears that Rosenthal's sources were correct, and that the Astros may have been waiting for the off day to do the firing.

I may perhaps publish a long and rambling, overly wordy article on this later in the day, but my first thought is that this must relate to a relatively recent event or series of events that made Porter's position untenable.  As the interface between the number-inclined Front Office (all decisions made by a computer algorithm, donchaknow!) and the human-beings with thoughts and feelings running around on the field, there is always going to be some friction, and the job is more about how that friction is handled.  Handle it the wrong way, and the wrong message gets sent to the players; handle it right, and that is important in getting the buy in of everyone.

My second thought is one likely shared by most of you.  Man, the hits for the PR side of the organisation keep coming.  When do the Astros stop resembling a joke??  Winning is going to cure a lot of hard feelings (if it ever happens) but at the moment, the organisation looks chaotic and disorganised at times, with periods of relative calm in between.  The Ground Control leaks were bad, this is bad, Jarred Cosart's chip is bad, Bud Norris' earlier comments were bad... you get the point.  Sheesh, when will this all stop.

Finally, it seems that Bo Porter is the first casualty of the new regime.  He came in at the very bottom - at a critical time of the rebuild - and won't get to see the fruits of his labours, or the rewards for lots of losing.  That, to me, is sad.  Best of luck, Bo.

ESPN has a good early take which is very speculative here.  I am sure more ink will be spilt about this story in the next few days.

Enjoy Labor Day.

From the Office of the County Clerk - G138: Astros versus Rangers

Wins are fun.  Comeback wins are fun.  Wins over the Arlington/Dallas/Fort Worth Rangers are fun.  This is not the 2013 Astros that we are getting to watch, but a much more fun version.  The 2014 Astros are definitely better than the 2013 Astros - just look at the wins column - but just how much better will largely be determined by the next few weeks.

The worst team the Astros play in the next 18 games currently sits at 70-64 (the Indians).  The Astros don't play another club sitting below .500 until they see the Rangers in 3 weeks time, after which they get to finish the season with four against the Mets, also currently under .500.

The Astros embarked on this season-defining period in fine style against the Rangers.  Dallas Keuchel had another solid outing - despite struggling with command in stages - and the bullpen finished the game strongly in support of him.  The Astros struggled to get the big hit early in the game, but they came back strongly against Neal Cotts (for the second time in the series) to take the lead in the bottom of the eighth.  Astros win, 3-2, to record a tight comeback victory.

And before the game recap, I feel the need to point out the following records after the August 31 games for the last five years:

  • 2014: 59-79
  • 2013: 44-91
  • 2012: 40-92
  • 2011: 47-90
  • 2010: 61-71 (the 2010 season finished on Oct 3)
On the Mound:
Dallas Keuchel made his 26th start of the season, and it was another very solid effort.  He allowed 2 earned runs on five hits, walking two and striking out three.  He struggled with command in the first, missing arm-side-and-up a fair bit in the early action that I saw.  He lost the strike zone for a while in the sixth, but induced a double-play to end the threat.  He finished strongly in the seventh, and was removed from the game at 101 pitches, with 61 for strikes.

As solid as this start was, there is room for improvement.  He fought his command at times, either missing the strike zone or leaving the ball up.  I could see a return to his May-June form at some stage in the future should he sharpen up a bit, but would also be happy to watch him pitching like this for long periods as well.

Keuchel struggled to start the game, giving up a run in the first, and leaving runners on the corners.  A two-out Alex Rios double, a Beltre walk, then a clean Rua single on an elevated fastball away scored the run, but Arencibia - a day after the intervention - struck out to end the threat.  Keuchel pitched strongly in the second, hitting Odor with the pitch, but inducing a double play shortly afterward to end the frame.  He struck out Andrus and Rios in a perfect third inning, retired the side in order in the fourth, and fifth.  He ran into more trouble in the sixth after Daniel Robertson doubled to lead off the frame, then went to third on a wild pitch, later scoring on Rios' single which was lined past a diving Petit at shortstop.  Keuchel again ended the frame with a double play after walking Beltre to put runners on first and second.  

After the sixth, the Rangers led 2-1.

Keuchel allowed only a two-out single in the seventh, and Veras relieved to open the eighth.  He struck out Leonys Martin, allowed a single to Andrus, walked Rios, but struck out Beltre, and ended a scoreless frame with a Ryan Rua line out with two on.  Chad Qualls then relieved, striking out one while pitching a perfect frame.

At the Plate:
Nick Martinez was also plenty solid in this game, quietening the Astros bats early.  He retired the side in order in the first on 7 pitches, and allowed a one-out double to Castro (1-4, 2B) deep to the left of CF in the second.  Later in the inning, with two outs, Matt Dominguez went the other way with a grounder to RF, scoring Castro, and evening the score in the second.  In the third, the Astros got four baserunners without recording a run: Petit (1-4) single, Grossman (0-3, 2BB) GIDP, Altuve double, Carter (1-4, BB) walk, Fowler (1-2, 2BB) walk, then a Castro flyout with the bases loaded.  

An Altuve double with two outs in the fifth was the next baserunner, but that threat was ended when Carter struck out.  The Astros threatened again in the sixth when Fowler singled to lead off and Singleton (0-3, BB) walked with one out, but Roman Mendez relieved and retired the side without either baserunner advancing.

Mendez stayed on for the seventh and loaded the bases with two outs on a Grossman walk, Altuve single, and Fowler walk, but Castro flew out to left against port-sider Neal Cotts.  Cotts started the eighth - which was the big inning - and, after getting a Singleton pop out, allowed a long home run to LF by Matt Dominguez.  Domingo got a 1-0 88mph breaking ball down-and-in (pretty much where the catcher wanted it) and he put good wood on it, mashing it off the Community Leaders signs for his first home run since that long light-tower shot against Boston (14 August), and his first home run at home since 28 July against Oakland.  That shot tied the game at 2-2.

The trauma wasn't over for Cotts (who was also touched up for three runs in the Game 2 blowout loss), who promptly hit Jake Marisnick (0-3) with a pitch.  Marisnick then stole second, and took third on Petit's groundout - the second out in the inning.  Robbie Grossman worked a walk on five pitches to put runners on the corners, then Jose Altuve singled to CF (his fourth hit of the night, for those counting) to score the go-ahead run.  Grossman went to second, but was thrown out at home plate when Carter singled.  Grossman was out by a mile, but Chirinos seemed to have his foot in front of the plate prior to getting the ball, and the umpires reviewed it, but the call stood.  

Turning Point:
Marisnick stole second - arriving just before the tag - which meant the double play was no longer in order, and allowing him to head to third on Petit's grounder.  He scored the go-ahead run (after Grossman walked) on an Altuve single.

Man of the Match:
Three of 'em:
  • Dallas Keuchel: 7IP, 5H, 2R/ER, 2BB, 3K.
  • Jose Altuve: 4-5, 2x2B (both into the LF corner), RBI.  Man, Altuve is good.
  • Matt Dominguez: 2-4, HR, 2RBI
Goat of the Game:
Every hitter reached base, so No Goat!  As Bo said after the game, great team win.

Up Next:
Day off tomorrow, then the Angels head into town, fresh off their four game home sweep of the A's.

C.J. Wilson (10-8, 4.46) versus Bradley J. Peacock (3-8, 5.13)

8 Eastern, 7 Central.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

From the Office of the County Clerk - G137: Astros versus Rangers

The Astros managed to bring the Boot back to Houston for the first time since 2006 by beating the Rangers tonight, and in the season series.  The Astros recorded their tenth win of the series of the 15 games played so far.  The two teams play the final game of this series tomorrow, then have a late-September 3-game series at Arlington.  It should be pointed out that the Astros have managed a quite different record to the 2-17 record they managed in 2013 (and remember, one of those two wins was in the opening game, so after that they went 1-17 for the rest of the year).  I am not sure who would have predicted the Rangers' collapse, but it has been spectacular, and the relative win-loss records between 2013 and 2014 involving these two teams reflects that.

While the Silver Boot is not exactly a playoff berth, note is made that the only thing that the Astros fans have had to celebrate for the last few years has been number one draft picks and top-3 farm systems rankings.  Little else, aside from the occasional 4-game away sweep.  It has been lean pickings as an Astros fan recently, and perhaps the Boot is a salve for some of those wounds.

Astros win, 2-0.

On the Mound:
This game was all about Scott Feldman, who was involved in a pitcher's duel early, was efficient in throughout the game, and he closed it out for this second career shutout, and his second complete game of August.  He threw 115 pitches, allowing 4 base-runners on three hits and a walk while striking out five.  This continues a solid late-July through August run for Feldman, who has given up 1ER in 7IP, 1ER in 9IP, 3ER in 6.1IP, 7ER in 5.1IP, 2ER in 6.2IP and 3ER in 7IP in the six games prior to his appearance today.

Feldman was perfect through four-and-a-third, when he allowed a one-out single to Ryan Rua.  He allowed a lead-off single in the sixth to Rougned Odor, who was later erased on a caught stealing (thanks to a fantastic catch-and-tag by Gregorio Petit).  He walked Beltre with two outs in the seventh, and he allowed a one-out single to Leonys Martin in the ninth.

He was assisted by a couple of tremendous defensive plays.  Robbie Grossman (in LF) made a nice low catch on a sinking line drive coming in and to his right in the first.  Gregorio Petit, subbing in for a sore Marwin Gonzalez, make an excellent diving stop behind second base in the sixth.  He caught the ball behind him a little bit, so he had angular momentum that took his legs toward the infield, and his body toward the outfield.  He continued the spin, got to one knee with his body aligned perfectly, and threw out the speedy Martin by a step or two.  In the seventh, Matt Dominguez made a good play on a hard hit grounder by Ryan Rua with one on and two outs, and he threw him out by plenty (partly thanks to a great catch from Guzman).

Feldman was assisted striking out Michael Choice looking three times.  He also struck out Andrus swinging, and Odor looking.

At the Plate:
The Astros were not much better than the Rangers early on in terms of offence.  Robbie Ross Jr got the start, and he had a no-hitter (allowing three walks) through 5.  He was lifted at 70 pitches, mostly because he threw 42 in the minors 2 days ago.

The Astros' first hit was off Phil Klein in the sixth - an Altuve (1-3, BB) double down the LF line.  Altuve leads Melky Cabrera in hits in MLB by 17, and Victor Martinez in average by 4 points.  Adrian Beltre is a further three points of batting average behind Martinez, having a typically solid season.  Altuve's double ultimately meant little, however, has he watched from second as Carter (0-3, BB) struck out, and Fowler (0-4) grounded out.

The only runs of the game came in the next inning.  Jesus Guzman (1-2, 2BB) walked to lead off the frame.  Guzman got the start against lefty Ross, but he stayed in the game to face the righties Klein and Tolleson.  Carlos Corporan (1-4, 2B) then doubled down the LF line - a slicing shot that kicked off the warning track that landed just past where the 3rd base stand juts out.  The ball kicked into the stand.  Then, with runners on second and third, Marisnick hit a high chopper back to the mound, Klein gathered and decided not to throw home (Guzman was only a little more than half-way down the line when he caught it, so he would have had a play) and instead tried to get Marisnick at first.  However, Ryan Rua had left the first-base bag when he saw the chopper, presumably with the intention of coming in to field it, and in his rush to get back to the bag and field the throw, it got past him and all the runners advanced a base.  Guzman scored on what was ruled as an infield single, and Corporan scored on the throwing error, with Marisnick ending up at second.

Marisnick advanced on Dominguez's (0-2, BB) flyout, but was stranded at third when Petit (0-3) struck out.  The Astros managed to get two on with two outs in the eighth - a Carter one-out walk and a Guzman two-out single - but Corporan struck out to end the frame.

Turning Point:
Phil Klein's misplay was the big play here.  When Marisnick hit the high chopper, Steve Sparks opined that no one was directing the infield as to which base to throw to.  This meant that Klein didn't know Rua had come off first, and Telis was waiting at home for the throw to try and get Guzman.  The throw got away, and the only two runs of the game scored.

Man of the Match:
Scott Feldman, for all the reasons outlined above.  Jesus Guzman also walked twice and singled, so he deserves a mention.

Goat of the Game:
Gregorio Petit and Robbie Grossman both that 0-fers, but both made great defensive plays.  Dominguez and Carter both had 0-fers, but walked.  Fowler had an 0-fer, but his season line stands at .274/.374/.409, so he is insulated from the Goats for a while.  Therefore, no goat -  not on Silver Boot Saturday, anyhow.

Up Next:
Houston try to win three of the four games in the series.  Nick Martinez (3-10, 5.31) squares off against Dallas Keuchel (10-9, 3.05).

Day game - 2 Eastern, 1 Central.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Affiliation Shuffle is about to begin.

Baseball America has recently published one article and one table about the affiliation negotiation window that opens in about a fortnight.  Additionally, the Astros have announced that they have recently re-upped with Tri-City for another two years.

Essentially, the Astros affiliates at AA (Corpus Christi), Lo-A (Quad Cities) and Tri-City will remain unchanged.  So too will Greeneville, which is owned by the Astros (as are most clubs in the Appalachian League).

However, the Hi-A Lancaster JetHawks (California League) has its player-development contract expire this year, along with seven others (out of ten) in the league.  So it is possible that Lancaster will not be the home of the Astros next year, and that the Hi-A affiliate is instead located in Bakersfield, Adelanto (High Desert), San Bernadino (Inland Empire), Lake Elsinore, Modesto or Rancho Cucamonga.  Lancaster has resigned for another term with the Astros - thanks to a loyal, eagle-eyed reader for pointing this out.  I thought I had read this a few days ago, but then convinced myself that it was not Lancaster who resigned, but Tri-City.  However, the below paragraph remains true.

Purely on a name-only basis, Rancho Cucamonga wins, hands down.

But the real action will be in the Pacific Coast League, where the Astros currently have a player development contract with the Oklahoma City RedHawks.  It appears that:

  • a Dodgers minority owner (Peter Guber) is apparently close to purchasing the RedHawks, and they will most likely become the new Dodgers affiliate, replacing Albuquerque.
  • The A's will likely move out of Sacramento, probably to Nashville, ending the Brewer's affiliation with Nashville.  Sacramento will sign a player development contract with the Giants.
  • The Giants will leave Fresno to move to Sacramento.  Fresno is apparently an affiliate with some problems with ownership, attendance, and finances.
  • The Astros and Brewers will probably both vie for an association with Albuquerque, with the unsuccessful suitor heading to Fresno.  
  • It appears that the Mets will probably stay in Las Vegas, the Padres will stay in El Paso, and Colorado will stay at Colorado Springs, but there is a lot of use of the word "probably" in that summation, and one of those franchises making a different decision is could result in a lot of movement elsewhere.
  • I have seen a number of comments indicating that Round Rock will not be able to break its contract with the Rangers, so that seems unlikely.  Their PDC expires in 2016 (according to Baseball America, but 2018 according to other sources - and thanks for pointing that out as well.
Interesting times ahead.  I am guessing that wherever the Astros go, they will do so for only two years.  That will give them enough time to pursue the purchase of a new franchise with the aim of moving them closer to Houston, or will allow the PDC to expire at the same time as Round Rock's contract with the Rangers expires.

From the Office of the County Clerk - G136: Astros versus Rangers

Not a good one for the Astros tonight.  Brett Oberholtzer gets lit up for his worst start this season, Jake Buchanan relieved and kept piling gasoline on the fire, and the Astros' late runs were rendered meaningless because of the huge head-start they generously provided to the Rangers.  Silver Boot celebrations go on hold for a while because of a 13-6 loss.

On the Mound:
Obie didn't really have it tonight.  He needed help in the form of Jake Marisnick's cannon-like arm in the first to avoid a crooked-number inning.  Daniel Robertson led off with a walk, scored on an Andrus double, but when Andrus tried to advance to third on a pop out down the line in RF, Marisnick gunned him down with a perfect throw.  Beltre then flew out to the warning track just short  of the Astros' bullpen for the third out.

Obie got the side in order in the second, but the Rangers sent debutant Ryan Rua and veteran-of-three-games Tomas Tellis to the plate, so it is possible they were overmatched.  The third is when the trouble really intensified: groundout-double-single-sac-fly, line out resulted in another run, but some hard-hit balls.  Things worsened in the fourth with with three singles (one should have been an error, and one was a total bloop-job to CF) and a home run for a 4-run frame.  And when Obie allowed a consecutive one-out doubles in the fifth (one just over a diving Marisnick in RF), his night was done.  Jake Buchanan relieved, and he got the side out of the fifth without any drama.

As this is getting ugly at this point, I will be brief.  Buchanan allowed another run in the sixth on three singles - two of them of the infield variety - and the inning ended when Daniel Robertson was caught between first and second on a pitch that got away from Castro.  But Buchanan's next inning was a disaster - reached-on-error, walk, single, 2 RBI single, groundout (first out), 3-run home run, K, groundout.  13-1 Rangers.

Mike Foltynewicz was the third pitcher of the night, and also the most successful.  He walked Elvis Andrus as his first batter in the eighth, then erased him by inducing Alex Rios into a GIDP.  Folty allowed only a 1-out infield single in the ninth to record two scoreless innings to finish the night for the pitchers.

At the Plate:
The Astros tied it up in the first (after entering the bottom half of the inning trailing by one) on a Gonzalez (3-5, 2x2B, 2RBI) single, who was later driven in from first by Dexter Fowler (2-2, 2B).  Fowler was promptly erased as second after he cruised out of the box, then decided to try for second when he saw the throw going home - some hustle would have helped, that is for sure.  Marc Krauss (1-3, BB) walked in the second, Gonzalez doubled in the third, but was caught stealing.  Fowler doubled in the fourth - that would be his last plate appearance because he was also a victim of Marisnick's arm when the two collided going for a deep fly-ball in the first.

The side went in the order in the fifth, Altuve (2-5) singled in the sixth but was erased on a Carter (0-4, BB) GIDP.  Castro (1-4, HR) hit his second homer in as many nights top RF in the seventh, and this was followed by singles from Krauss and Marisnick (2-4), but the runners were stranded at the corners by a strikeout of Gregorio Petit (1-4) who got the start at third.  The Astros kept making noise in the eighth, when Altuve singled, Carter walked and Jesus Guzman (1-3 in relief of Fowler) singled to plate a run.

The Astros strung together some offence in the ninth for a crooked-number inning.  Jon Singleton (0-3, BB) walked, followed by a Marisnick single, followed by a Petit single to load the bases.  Marwin Gonzalez then cleared the bases with a double to left field - Petit from first scored on the throwing error - to run the final score to 13-6.  Sigh.

Turning Point:
Michael Choice's moon shot off the Community Leaders signs about the Crawford Boxes in left went 90% of the way toward sealing the loss for the Astros.  That blast scored three, and ran the Rangers' scoring to six at the time.  Obie put the pitch about where Castro was asking for it - down - but Choice got under it and mashed it to left.  Sigh.

Man of the Match:
Seven run loss equals no MoTM.  But, if there were one, I would like to point out Marwin Gonzalez's performance leading off tonight: 3-5, 2x2B, 2RBI, R (and a frikking caught stealing at third).  His season line sits at .272/.320/.398 - another interesting season for the utility player and ex-Rule V draftee.  Interestingly, the struggle to get Astros minor leaguers onto the 40-man to stop them being claimed in the Rule V draft may cost Marwin his roster spot after the season - I would think in the form of a trade - but the irony would not be lost on me if it did.

Goat of the Game:
Chris Carters' bipolar season continues, oscillating between goat and hero on a near nightly basis.  His OBP dropped below .300 again: .228/.299/.513.  The power is real, however, not that it needed pointing out.

Up Next:
Robbie Ross Jr (2-5, 6.06) versus Scott Feldman (7-10, 4.34)

7 Eastern, 6 Central.

Friday, August 29, 2014

From the Office of the County Clerk - G135: Astros versus Rangers

Cockroach has headed back to Weiland Island for a while.  Weiland Island is "off the grid" as such, and therefore the Cockroach has no Internets with which to game-recap.  So he has handed the reins to me, and I will try to do my best not to drive the County Clerk horse buggy off-of Recap Road.

Firstly, I want to echo The Constable's sentiments from the other day.  Personally, I haven't had much time for writing recently, as extracurricular work-related writings have dominated most evenings over the last few months.  Specifically, I would have loved to do a game recap yesterday - a tight one is always a fun one to recap - and I feel a little guilty about some of the other regular columns that I have been trying to do that haven't gotten done.  That said, I think the long off-season is a great time to put analytical columns up, and I have a few planned for (i) when work settles down a little and (ii) the aforementioned long off-season.  The corridors of the Astros County offices have been a little empty lately, but it isn't that we aren't interested - probably quite the opposite - but we are simply just busy people with busy lives / career changes / families / sporting interests and *ha* social lives to manage.  Plus, we tend to spend time tipping buckets of iced water over our heads for some reason.  Don't ask.

Back to the Astros - who will forever be front and centre of this blog - as they open a series with the Rangers.  I think I have mentioned this before: man, I feel sorry for the Rangers.  Their year has sucked.  When I wake in the morning dreaming of the Astros winning the Silver Boot, I don't tend to dream about them beating up on a hobbled, decimated Rangers outfit.  I kind of wanted them to wrest the god-ugly boot from the clutches of the Rangers, after the Rangers went all-in on a bunch of short-term trades in an effort to grab the AL West, and in doing so the Astros prevented the Rangers from making the playoffs, leaving them to contemplate a close-but-not-quite season and a decimated farm system.  But I will take what is happening this year - the Astros beating up on the injury-ravaged Rangers and all - because things to celebrate as an Astros fan are few and far between.  It will be kind of neat when three of the first four or five draft picks go to the state of Texas.

The Astros opened a four-game series against the Rangers with a solid 4-2 win tonight at the Juice Box.  This win moves them within a game of capturing the Silver Boot since... well, forever.  Another close game - this time falling the way of the Astros - a bit of clutch hitting, another solid starting performance and another Sipp save was the story of this game.  More details follow...

On the Mound:
Collin McHugh got the start.  I think everyone is in agreement that he has been a tremendous waiver-wire grab for the Astros, and with each start like this that he manages to pile up, he looks more and more like the real thing.  His pitch-mix - especially ditching the sinker - was extensively discussed earlier in the year, and as he has moved to relying more on his breaking stuff in association with sneaky velocity, thus managing to find a mix that works for him.  His work with RISP is also noted - really that is one of the reasons he has a gaudy-looking ERA - so some regression may be in order at some stage, but I am hoping that he spends the offseason refining his control and getting his fingernails looking healthier.  His month-by-month ERA's: 0.59, 3.94, 3,78, 5.23, 1.76, with the fingernail and blister trouble popping up in June and starts or innings being missed in June and July.

McHugh was in trouble early.  He gave up runs in the first and third inning, and could well have given up more.  Leonys Martin opened the game with a bloop-single that dropped into the Bemuda Triangle between short/second, CF and RF.  Fowler just missed making the catch.  Andrus then chopped one through the right side - there was a huge gap between the first and second basemen - and runners were on the corners with no outs.  Mike Carp then generously grounded into an easy 4-6-3 double-play to score the runner but clear the bases for the first run of the game.  A meaningless Beltre single over short then followed, but the inning ended one batter later on a line-out to CF.

McHugh retired the side on order in the second, but he ran into more trouble in the third.  Robinson Chirinos led off with a liner to LF, and he moved to second on a soft-liner to RF with no outs.  Elvis Andrus then placed a perfect bunt down the 3rd-base line - Dominguez called off McHugh, but even he had no hope, and the bases were loaded with no outs.  Mike Carp declined to GIDP again, instead choosing to fly out to LF, and all runners moved up on Krauss' wayward throw to home to try and nab the runner.  The Rangers led at this point 2-0, with one out, and runners on second and third.

However, McHugh buckled down to strike out Beltre on three straight swinging pitches, with the strikeout coming on a fastball away which Beltre was late on.  Jim Adduci would then K on an elevated cutter in and on the hands in a 1-2 count.

From this point, McHugh was nails, allowing baserunners on a hit batter (with 2 out in the fourth), a single (with one out in the sixth) and a ground-rule double (with one out in the seventh).  McHugh's final line: 7IP, 8H, 2R/ER, 6K on 102 pitches.  Another solid outing.  Interesting play in the sixth - with a runner on second, McHugh narrowly beat Odor to the first base bag on a grounder to the right side of the infield.  Odor was ruled safe, and the runner scored from second, but the safe call was overturned on challenge.

And speaking of solid outings - Josh Field relieved, and he retired the side in order on 16 pitches.  Tony Sipp then came on for the save, and he struck out two in a perfect frame, including a gorgeous strikeout of Rougned Odor looking, and a strikeout of Michael Choice on a ball in the dirt to end the game.

At the Plate:
The Astros went in order in the first (with Marwin Gonzalez leading off), but loaded the bases in the second on a Castro single (breaking an 0-20 skid), a Krauss (0-3, BB) walk, and a two-out Dominguez HBP - second time in as many nights, and it looks like the only way that he is going to get on base at the moment.  Jake Marisnick (0-2, HBP) hit a hard liner to left, but it was snagged to end the frame.

In the third, Marwin Gonzalez (1-3, BB) singled to lead off, then Carter (1-3, BB) singled with one out, but Fowler (1-4) GIDP'd to end the frame.  In the fourth, the Astros had more baserunners on a Castro lead off walk and a Dominguez (1-3, HBP) two-out single (a hit!), but Marisnick fouled out to end the threat.

However, the fifth inning was where the game was won from the offensive point-of-view.  Altuve (1-4) singled to CF with one out (a grounder over the mound) then Chris Carter walked on a low 3-1 pitch to put two on with one out and end Nick Tepesch's night.  Tepesch scuffled through 4.1IP, throwing 89 pitches.  Roman Mendez relieved - he has a 1.23 ERA over 22IP this year, with a ridiculous batting average against (.137).

Well, Fowler greeted him with a slow grounder to short that Beltre tried to snare and gun to first, perhaps getting in Andrus' way.  The bases were loaded at that point with one out.  Castro then un-loaded them on an 2-0 count.  Chrinos called for a fastball low and away, Mendez missed glove-side and a little up, the ball wound up over the inner third, and Castro turned on it.  A hard line drive to RF was the result, and the ball ended up 15 or so rows into the RF stand.  Castro knew immediately that it was gone, and when he finished his trot, the Astros led by a score of 4-2.

That was all the scoring from Houston for the game.  Their next-best scoring opportunity was in the sixth, when Jake Marisnick was HBP, and Marwin followed with a walk, but Altuve ended that threat with a twin-killing.  The Astros went in order in the seventh and eighth, and happily didn't have to bat in the ninth.

Turning Point:
The game could have gotten away from the Houston early, and McHugh's strikeouts of Beltre and Adduci were vital in keeping the Astros in the game.  However, the turning point came when Castro barrelled up a fastball that was pulled over the inner third with the bases loaded for his second career Grand Slam.  Leading us to....

Man of the Match:
... who happens to be Jason Castro.  He has had a tough 2014 after an outstanding 2013, but his .227/.297/.377 line including frequent lateness on fastballs away has been a little uninspiring recently.  Those following the Astros would have heard him talking about his modifications to his load over the last fortnight or so, and how much better it feels, and the result was an important one for tonights game.  His final line: 2-3, BB, HR, 4RBI, plus what appeared to be a well-called game behind the dish.

Goat of the Game:
Jon Singleton has maintained his OBP with a greater-than-10% walk rate despite having few hits fall. However, tonight he didn't even manage to walk - 0-4, K.

Up Next:
The 'stros are one win from the Boot, which is all the silverware they will get this year.  However, they still need to complete the win, and perhaps that can be tomorrow.

Scott Baker (2-3, 5.45) versus Brett Oberholtzer (4-9, 4.01)

8 Eastern, 7 Central, and fireworks afterward I think.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Bud Selig on Aiken "We are working towards a hopeful solution"

I have no idea what that means

If Selig allows Aiken to sign past the deadline, will that make up for everything else he has done to Houston in his tenure?

Appel Just Might Be Okay

I'm sure you've heard, but Appel finally pitched like a number one pick is supposed to pitch last night. No more, he was good, but with a bad inning, or, much better than he was in the Lancaster. Nope, this time he was legitimately great, with no qualifications.

His total line was 8 IP 2 H 1 BB 10 K. He pitched into the 9th, but was pulled after the leadoff hitter doubled, just the second hit allowed in the game. Best of all, he was efficient, sitting at only 88 pitches. Possibly, if the Hooks had staked him to a more than 1 run lead, he would have been able to finish it out. Tyson Perez got the call, and closed the game out, getting Appel his first AA win.

That outing brought his AA ERA down to 3.15. His FIP stands at a much better 2.57. In his last four starts, he has struck out 26 while walking only 4, and he's allowed only 1 AA homerun. The scouting is starting to match the results. At least one very important observer was impressed.
Obviously, he has a long way to go. One start in AA doesn't make a career. But, for the first time all year, it feels like he is heading in the right direction.