Thursday, May 5, 2016

No One Wants To Look Stupid

This morning alarm bells went off in my head reading Brian T. Smith's column on how Carlos Gomez knows that he's largely been a disappointment as an Astro. The alarm bells came in how Smith directly quoted Gomez. I ignored those alarm bells much in the same way I ignore my actual alarm clock for the first 30 seconds, resulting in a daily punch from my wife to turn it off.

I instead decided to zoom in - a little, it was just a links post, after all - on Gomez's line about how the fans are booing because they can't actually play the game of baseball. He's correct, of course. If you put me in an Astros uniform and made me play, I'd have a -100 OPS+ quicker than you can say "Jack Daniel."

What I should have done - what I was going to do - was to focus on the actual, direct quote Smith used in his column from Gomez that went as such:

For the last year and this year, I not really do much for this team. The fans be angry. They be disappointed.

It is obviously a direct quote, and you know exactly what Carlos Gomez was trying to say. But it's how it was presented that bothered me, because there was no need to directly quote Gomez like that - in a way that presented him as having a shaky grasp on subject-verb agreement. It belittled Gomez. And I regret glossing over it. 

We can argue over what Smith's intentions are/were here. Could Smith have gone this route:

"For the last year and this year, I (haven't really done) much for this team. The fans (are) angry. They (are) disappointed." 

Yes, and maybe that would have been more demeaning. 

St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist (and, of course, long-time Houston Chronicle reporter) Jose de Jesus Ortiz especially took offense to Smith's editorial decision:

It doesn't matter if you don't think Smith was disrespecting and taunting Gomez. What matters is that people whose primary language is not English feel like it was disrespectful and akin to taunting.

I have been working on learning Spanish for a while now, and Carlos Gomez speaks better English than I do Spanish. If I was in a position where I was being interviewed for a newspaper that was not in my native language, and it was presented in a way that made me look, well, like it was that painfully obvious that it wasn't my first language, I, too, would be pissed.

Nobody wants to look stupid. The point of the column remains valid: Gomez knows he hasn't performed to his ability and he's getting frustrated with it. But there was absolutely no reason to quote Carlos Gomez quote like he's Speedy Gonzalez.

Seeing as how all 30 MLB clubs have translators on hand, this could have been avoided. Smith also could have acted as Gomez's own translator and presented the quote like this:

"...Carlos Gomez, speaking through a translator, said, 'For last year and this year, I haven't really done much for this team. The fans are angry. They are disappointed.'"

The meaning isn't lost. The integrity of the column remains intact. You know what you need to know from Gomez: he's been Not Great, and he knows it. That's it.

I'm not so jaded with Teh Media (sic) that I think Brian T. Smith set out to make Carlos Gomez look bad. But I also have read enough of Brian T. Smith's work over the last however-many years to know that he's not going to sugar-coat anything for the Astros' organization. He could have remained #OnBrand and still gone after Gomez's productivity - or the decision to even trade for Gomez in the first place - without today's column being the look.

Thursday Morning Hot Links

Man oh man. THIS is what we signed up for in Spring Training. Beatdowns, triples short of cycles. Relive it with the Masked Marvel's recap.

*The Astros scored 16 runs last night, having scored 14 runs in their previous five games total (2-3).

*Via Jake Kaplan, Altuve is the first player to hit five leadoff home runs before June since Alfonso Soriano did it in 2003. He needs one more leadoff home run to tie Craig Biggio's franchise record. It is May 5.

*Carlos Correa: "Pound for pound, (Altuve) is the strongest guy in the clubhouse."

*Correa, like a sweetheart, is going to distribute beds to charity on Saturday.

*Everyone's favourite catcher, Jason Castro, is 8x20 with a 1.386 OPS in his last nine games. He made an adjustment to simplify his swing in Seattle, and there you go.

*Handsome Jake Marisnick is on his way back to Houston as the Astros option Michael Feliz back to Fresno. Marisnick will start in LF tonight to allow Colby Rasmus a day off. This will give the Astros 13 position players and 12 pitchers to allow Hinch to get cold players out of the lineup.

*Brian T. Smith writes that Carlos Gomez knows that overall he's been a disappointment.
For the last year and this year, I not really do much for this team. The fans be angry. They be disappointed.

Then *this* quote, regarding fans getting angry:
If you start playing to what the fans do, it's hard to do. When you have 40,000 people outside screaming at you, you smile and you're (upset). I'm the one here, enjoying my time. You're watching because you can't play.

That's, uh, bold.

*The versatility of the bullpen is finally starting to hit its stride.

*We will likely see a more aggressive Chris Devenski tonight against the Grand Marniers.

*Brady Rodgers threw a Maddux - a complete game shutout in which he struck out nine batters, walked none, and needed only 86 pitches. In 30IP, Rodgers has walked two batters.

*Here's the Fresno Bee on closer James Hoyt.

*Video: Outside the Lines' T.J. Quinn explains why there are more PED busts...and there will be more coming.

From the Office of the County Clerk: G28 - Astros versus Twins

Phil Hughes (1-4, 4.45) versus Mike Fiers (2-1, 4.97)

Let's not beat around the bush, Astros fans.  This was a banner night in a thus-far disappointing 2016 season.  Finally a night where the Astros put it all together - solid pitching, shut-down bullpen, efficient defense, hot bats and some damn luck.  Hits and walks all up and down the lineup, two players vying for the Astros' first cycle since Brandon Barnes managed the feat in July 2013, plus the Astros scoring 14+ runs at home for the first time since September 2007.  So it's party time in Houston, finally someone outside the top 4 of the batting order is actually, like, hitting, and perhaps this season isn't lost after all.  The bipolar nature of 2016 continues... the high as the Astros manage a two (TWO!!) game win streak for the first time this year is unbelievable!!

Astros win, 16-4

To cap the perfect evening, the Ramgers bullpen was tagged with another loss as well.

On the Mound:
Mike Fiers.  We talked a little last night about the return of Lance McCullers and the fact that Joe Musgrove seems to be kicking the door down to get to Houston.  Who stays in the rotation??  Who goes??  Mike Fiers was a little unlucky tonight, but he also struggled to dominate.  His line (4.2IP, 9H, 4R/ER, BB, 4K, one home run allowed, but needing 95 pitches) was not strong, and truthfully he was a little unlucky to give up a home run into Jason Castro territory (1 row deep into the Crawford Boxes - really a pop-up), which cost him three earned runs.  But he also didn't dominate, struggling to consistently throw quality strikes.

Fiers started ok: strikeout, grounder, grounder in the first, side retired on seven pitches.  Two two-out singles threatened in the second, but John Ryan Murphy - whose batting average begins with a zero, dammit, struck out to end the frame.  And you guys hate Jason Castro.  In the third: double, single (could have been an error on MarGo, who failed to field a grounder on a hard-ish play), home run halved the lead for the Astros (the score was 6-3 after the homer), but Fiers faced four more hitters in the frame, allowing only a single.  In the fourth: a single and double was sandwiched around a strikeout, but with runners on the corners, a groundout allowed the fourth run to score.  

So heading into the fifth, Fiers carried a lead of five runs, but he couldn't get out of the frame.  A lead-off single, a groundout, a fly-out then a walk meant the night was over for Fiers.  Josh Fields relieved, and he walked the first batter to load the bases (of course he did) before retiring the guy-with-a-batting-average-that-starts-with-a-zero on a fly-ball to medium depth in LF to end the frame.  Gotta love John Ryan Murphy coming up in that spot, but sadly, that is how opposing teams have felt over the last few weeks when ANY Astros hitter in the 5th to 9th slot in the order has come to the plate with RISP.

Fields didn't come out for the sixth inning because the Astros led 14-5 at that point.  Scotty Feldman relieved and he needed 20 pitches to slice through two perfect innings of work, striking out one.  The fact that he only threw 20 pitches means he will be available again quite soon, if needed.  Michael Feliz got the assignment for the last two frames, and he was also perfect, also striking out one.  Immediately after the game, Feliz got his plane ticket for Fresno, with the Astros opting to recall Handsome Jake and carry only 12 pitches for the next while.  

At the Plate:
Well, this is where the action is, and I am not going to bother recapping in detail.  It is certainly worth a watch on the Astros' website, or the At-Bat app, if you didn't see the game.  But the Astros were awesome early, wiping out Phil Hughes in two innings (six earned runs) then getting deep into the 'pen.  Four crooked numbers in the first five innings.  This one was over after five.

First inning - another Altuve lead-off homer on a high fastball that ran back over the plate, and Altuve went the other way, getting enough to send it out into the RF power alley.  Springer (1-4, BB) followed with a walk, Correa with a double and advance-to-third on the late throw home, then Rasmus scored Correa with a productive out (gasp!).  Another three runs in the second: Castro walked, Altuve singled, then George Springer hammered it to the base of Tal's Hill on the left side of CF to drive both runners home.  Springer scored later in the frame on Rasmus' bloop single.

Two runs in the third: Luis Valbuena singled with two outs, then Jason Castro homered.  Yes, you read that right.  Second in two nights.  Another mammoth shot into the second row of the Crawford Boxes.  The man is swinging a hot bat right now.  Altuve - the bum! - grounded out for the third out.

Carlos Correa hit his first home run since the opening series in the fourth - typical Correa homer to RF - low, flat line-drive, hammered on an 0-2 fastball away, just high enough to get out.  Good to see Correa rewarded - he has looked better at the plate in the last few games as well.

The game broke open for good in the fifth.  Evan Gattis (1-3) singled up the middle, MarGo followed with a walk, and Luis Valbuena sac-bunted (really, a drag bunt for an attempted hit) with a 5-run lead.  Hmmm.  Jason Castro walked to load the bases, then Jose Altuve (3-5, 2B, HR) doubled to the RF power alley, with the ball hitting mid-way up the fence in front of the Houston bullpen.  Two runs scored.  After Springer flew out, Carlos Correa (3-5, 2B, HR) singled into LF, scoring another, then Colby Rasmus (1-4, BB) walked to load the bases for Carlos Gómez who hit a ground ball up the middle that rebounded off second base into short RF.  Two runners scored, Gómez (1-5, BB) went to second on the cheapest double ever, and the Astros took an 11-run lead.

The remaining runs scored in the eighth, when the Twins recorded the first two outs without problem on strikeouts (Gómez and Gattis).  But MarGo (0-3, 2BB) and Valbeuna (1-3, BB) walked, and Jason Castro hammered a line-drive that split the gap perfectly to score both players.  Ryan Pressly, clearly frustrated at a long night and his inability to retire Castro (he's a bum, donchaknow) jawed at the umpire on his way off the mound, got tossed, and soon had company when Paul Molitor was tossed as well.  All a bit unnecessary from the umps, really.

Shocking development, as the Astros managed a 6-13 record with RISP.  Overall they walked seven times and recorded 14 hits, eight of which were for extra-bases.  This was a nice bounce-back for a beleaguered Astros offense, but they seem calmer and more patient at the plate (and have done since they won with two hits in Oakland) and seem to be putting better at-bats together.

Turning Point:
The first inning was huge.  Five pitches in, and the Astros had a 1-0 lead.  But they didn't stop there, with George Springer drawing a full-count walk, Carlos Correa hitting a line-drive into the LF corner on a 2-2 curveball, and Colby Rasmus getting enough to bring Carlos Correa home from third.  For the second night in a row, the Twins starter was gone before the third inning was complete, and the Astros had a second chance to rummage around in the Twins bullpen.  Carnage.

Man of the Match:
I asked for "Castro is a bum" comments last recap, but didn't get any.  C'mon!  So I have to up the ante.  MoTM for Castro tonight, who is now raking to the tune of .210/.347/.403.  Raking!!  His night was plenty good: 2-3, 2xBB, 2B, HR, 4RBI.  Perhaps we should trade him for John Ryan Murphy, whose batting average starts with a zero.

Goat of the Game:
I still have plenty of worries about the Astros (Gómez, DH's, corner infielders, starting pitchers) but this game does not warrant a goat tonight.

On the Morrow:
So the division leading Mariners roll into town for a four-game set.  They currently lead the Ramgers by 1.5 and the Astros by 6.5.  Chance to make up some ground, guys.

Wade Miley (2-2, 5.06) versus Chris Devenski (0-1, 1.45)

8 Eastern, 7 Central.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Wednesday Morning Hot Links

*Not Hank Aaron writes that what has happened to this point in the season was not inevitable. And the Masked Marvel has the recap of the Astros' most glorious win last night.

*Hinch:
We never feel out of games, and we never play like we're out of games, which is good and bad. In some ways we know we have a quick-strike offense. It hasn't struck as often as it's going to, but we know we're a walk and a double and a homer away from a big number.

*Glory Glory Jason Castro! Jason Castro hit his first home run since August 23, 2015 - a span of 57 games and 126 PAs.

*Carlos Gomez was 2x3 with two smoked doubles and a run scored. He has raised his average 30 points in the last eight games, going 9x30. Hinch:
He's going to hate that I called it a controlled pace, but the swings were fluid. They were well connected with his timing. Whatever percentage he swung at today produced two balls off the wall, and that's something we see when he's good, and tonight he was a nice spark.

*McCullers may actually join the rotation at Fenway next week, after his rehab start for Fresno this weekend. Hinch:
McCullers was really excited about how he felt today. All signs continue to be one step closer to getting him back into real competition in the sense of a rehab assignment, but I was encouraged with the exchange today when he said, 'All systems go, feeling really good.'"

*Jerome Solomon says the Astros are not going to panic like the Rockets did (i.e., fire Hinch). Jim Crane:
We might have some problems here, but everyone knows they can come up here, shut the door and say, 'OK, here is what my problem is,' and we need to work it out and figure out what the solution is, or say, 'This is the way we're gonna go,' and everybody stay mad until they get glad. But we gotta stay on the same page."

*The Astros have been impressed with Ken Giles' and Michael Feliz's aggressiveness in their last couple of outings.

*Here's video from an E:60 special on Carlos Correa's path to stardom.

*Correa and Twins rookie pitcher Jose Berrios have now started a friendly little rivalry.

*ESPN's Mark Simon writes about what's wrong with Dallas Keuchel.

*And SI details Carlos Correa's lack of power in 2016.

*Couple of quick notes: Max Stassi has joined the Fresno Grizzlies for a rehab assignment.

Also, the Astros will be one of at least 20 teams watching Tim Lincecum's showcase on Friday.

*Two non-Astros reads by Vice: Life After Death in Juarez, and Leicester's odds to win the Premier League were far worse than 5000:1.

From the Office of the County Clerk - G27: Astros versus Twins

Collin McHugh (2-3, 6.65) versus Alex Meyer (0-0, 18.00)

(a.k.a. The Battle for the AL Basement)

So the two bottom-most AL teams battle it out for the second day in a row with the "winner" owning the basement by themselves.  This occurred after the Astros dropped the first game of the series to the Twins (awesomely recapped by Jexas right here).  Dallas Keuchel seemed to nibble his way to another rough start last night, and the Astros scored two more runs, both on solo homers.  We have talked at length this year about (i) the poor starting pitching and (ii) the reliance on home runs to score runs, partly because of (iii) crappy situational hitting.  We won't mention (iv) Ken Giles because the guy probably needs a break.  Anyhow, the result has been a terrible April, a miserable start to the season, and a swift correction in playoff odds (although the "it's only April" brigade is constantly reminding us of how little of the season has passed).

And speaking of how much of the season has passed, the correct answer is 16.67% at the conclusion of this game.  The Lima Time Time podcast talked about Dan O'Dowd's "40-game" mark, which occurs in about two weeks from now, so various pundits will be starting to accept that the season has started and what has occurred is becoming predictive, so what has occurred so far is concerning.  The Astros are in a hole, last night's start from Keuchel was cause for continued concern, and the correction needs to come sooner, rather than later lest the 'stros be thinking about draft picks again.

Well, this game was a step in the right direction.  The Astros ran out winners by a score of 6-4.  Collin McHugh experienced a bit of a rough start, but the offense and bullpen largely picked him up.  The Astros climb out of the basement by virtue of their .333 winning percentage being *vastly* superior to the Twins' puny .296 winning percentage, sarcasm intended (the Yankees are also sitting at .333, but have played three fewer games).

And, if you are interested, it makes sense to note that the Astros trail the division leading (and visiting for a four-game set next) Seattle Mariners by 6.5 games.  The Ramgers bullpen had another poor game, losing to the Jays (due to Justin Smoak, of all people), and they sit a half-game back of Seattle.

Anyhow, on to the recap...

On the Mound:
I have been thinking - prompted by the last couple of Fister outings - about the actual order of the Astros starting pitchers.  With McCullers due back inside 10-or-so days, Joe Musgrove blitzing AA and depth pieces like Bradley J Peacock showing signs of life, I am sure that the Astros are carefully considering the possible exit order of the current starting five.  Feldman looks like he could be in the 'pen for a while - that was pretty easy to call - but who goes next, to be replaced by McCullers??  As I have previously said, Fister has been throwing pretty well, and has been the architect of two of the better starts the last two times through the order, so I would think he would be safe.  More importantly, where does McHugh fit in all of this??

But lets depart from speculation about McHugh's place on Luhnow's starting pitcher "hit list" and look at what he managed to achieve today.  McHugh wasn't sharp, but he was good enough to be credited with the win.  He was scored upon in four of the six innings that he pitched in, but all of the Twins' scoring efforts were of a solo nature.  His final line wasn't flash: five-and-two-thirds innings, allowing seven hits and two walks, while striking out six.  Four earned runs, two of which occurred on solo home runs.  McHugh allowed no other extra-base hits, aside from Miguel Sanó completing a couple before being tagged out in the sixth inning (he popped off the base, and Altuve kept the tag on).

Lots of traffic in the first inning: Danny Santana led off with a solo home run on an 0-2 (!) count.  McHugh tried to climb the ladder with the cutter.  If anything, he missed glove side (crowding the lefty) and Santana turned on it, hitting a line drive that hit the foul pole for a lead off home run.  Not McHugh's fault, I would have thought - Santana just beat him to the spot, and he did fabulously well to keep it fair.  Nice piece of hitting.

McHugh followed by walking Brian Dozier and Joe Mauer (the latter on 4 pitches), still with no outs.  However, Miguel Sanó's fly ball nestled in the glove of George Springer on the RF warning track, then José Altuve and Carlos Correa combined on a well executed broken-bat grounder to complete the inning-ending 4-6-3 twin killing to extract McHugh from further danger.

The Twins went down in order in the second, but took a 2-0 lead in the third.  A clean single the other way, an infield ground-out and an infield single put runners on the corners with one out.  Joe Mauer then grounded out to the right side to score the runner but record the second out, and Miguel Sanó struck out to end the frame.  More BABIP hard-luck for McHugh, or alternatively, better situational hitting from the Twins, with two runner-advancing grounders featuring prominently in the frame.

Two strikeouts punctuated the fourth inning as the Twins again went down in order.  McHugh got the first two outs in the fifth on a groundout and a strikeout, then Danny Santana singled up the middle and stole second.  Brian Dozier followed with a bloop off the end of the bat on a curveball down and off the plate away, and Santana was off and running from second with two outs.  He scored when the ball dropped between Correa and Rasmus for a single.  BABIP luck be damned, again.

A solo home run from Byung Ho Park was the only baserunner in the sixth.  It was a remarkable shot - McHugh went down-and-away with a four-seamer, and Park simply beat him to the location, and hammered a deep fly ball off the upper deck (!) of the RF grandstand.  Remember that Park is a right-handed hitter - that was some serious opposite field power - and again I am not entirely sure what McHugh could have done differently aside from not catch so much of the plate, or have the fastball a couple of inches lower.  If it was a miss, it didn't look like much of one.

So an interesting outing for McHugh.  Two innings where he located well, but the ball left the ballpark.  Two innings when hits were strung together and dropped in.  I am not sure he pitched as badly as four runs in less than six innings would suggest, but his stuff may not have been as sharp as it normally was as well.

Anyhow, Ken Giles relieved, and recorded the last out of the sixth by getting Eduardo Escobar to pop out.  Pat Neshek set the side down in order in the seventh on 12 pitches, Will Harris worked around a fielding error by Carlos Correa on the leadoff hitter (Brian Dozier) in an otherwise perfect eighth, and Luke Gregerson needed 12 pitches to retire the side in order to close the game, assisted by a peach of a fielding play on pinch hitter Oswaldo Arcia.

At the Plate:
The Astros scored in fewer innings than the Twins (two against four) but posted crooked numbers both times.  They also worked out a couple of new ways of scoring runners from third base - a wild pitch and a balk featured in this game - so their continued RISP difficulties (2-7 this game) were somewhat masked.

George Springer walked in the first, but went nowhere as Carlos Correa struck out and Colby Rasmus flew out to CF.  Carlos Gómez, who had a good night, doubled to deep CF with two outs in the second, but Alex Meyer struck out the side to strand him in scoring position.

The Astros entered the bottom of the third down 2-0.  Jason Castro (!) opened the inning with a home run into the Crawford Boxes - his first of the year.  The pitch was an 0-0 fastball down the pipe and low in the zone, Castro hit a fly-ball the other way, and the ball was intercepted by a member of the crowd sitting in the first row, bouncing back into play.  I can understand the fans' enthusiasm - a Castro home run ball is a rare beast in 2016 - but after an initial ruling on a home run, the call was upheld from New York. I think the correct call was made, and Jason Castro is on the board after his mammoth opposite field shot.

The Astros kept adding on in the third frame, which eventually resulted in Alex Meyer being lifted from the game.  José Altuve (0-3, BB, SB) walked and stole second before George Springer walked for the second time in two plate appearances.  Carlos Correa (1-4, 2B, 3K) followed by hammering a ground ball down the LF line, for a double that scored Altuve.  Springer stopped at third, but scored three pitches later when Alex Meyer missed down-and-in to Colby Rasmus (0-4), and a wild pitch got past Kurt Suzuki and went all the way to the backstop.

The Astros followed with another three-run frame in the fourth.  Carlos Gómez - who had a much better game with a 2-3, 2x2B night - doubled to the RF power-alley to lead off the frame, then Luis Valbeuna (0-2, K) sac-bunted him over to third.  Jason Castro (1-2, HR, BB) followed with a walk to put runners on the corners, then both runners advanced with lefty long-man Tommy Milone was called for a balk on a pickoff throw.  The rest of the scoring for the Astros happened when George Springer hammered a high fastball that exited the stadium by way of the left field railway tracks.  Tommy Milone tried to come inside with a 2-2 elevated fastball, Springer got a ball that leaked over the plate, and he didn't miss it.  No souvenirs for the Crawford Boxes from George Springer (1-2, HR, 2xBB) tonight, as he continues to put together a very solid season with both the bat and the glove.

Springer's trot round the bases happened to be the last time the Astros would record a baserunner for the night, but the damage was done.  In terms of the players not already mentioned: Astros DH's contributed little (Evan Gattis and Preston Tucker combined to go 0-4) as did Tyler White (0-4).

Turning Point:
Jason Castro singlehanded turned the Astros' season around by mashing a mammoth opposite field home run to open the scoring.  Castro's effort sent a loud and clear message to the Astros - especially guys like Carlos Gómez and Luis Valbuena.  The message was akin to something being written in 50ft high letters in the sky.  Perhaps something like "stop sucking" or "I have more home runs in 2016 then you, Carlos Gómez and Luis Valbeuna".  Or something.

As an aside, Castro also possess a higher OBP than Luis Valbuena, Carlos Gómez, Evan Gattis, Preston Tucker, Marwin González and Tyler White.  And Erik Kratz.  Take that, Castro haters!!

(I expect a torrent of "Castro is a bum" comments to be left below.  Please don't disappoint me!!)

Man of the Match:
Jason Castro!!  No... just kidding.  George Springer had a whale of a game, walking twice and hitting a long home run.  Springer has looked really good the last two-plus weeks.  Dating back to mid April (and excluding tonight) Springer has a .313/.371/.563 line.  If only he would stop trying to steal bases (1 from 5) then he could be in the midst of putting together a solid season.

/waits for the inevitable injury

Goat of the Game:
I kind of covered Collin McHugh's outing above, and I don't think it was goat-worthy.  He seemed a little unlucky.  Luis Valbuena, Tyler White and Evan Gattis were a combined 0-9 tonight, so they will do.

On the Morrow:
Another rubber game for Astros fans to get bitterly disappointed about...

Phil Hughes (1-4, 4.45) versus Mike Fiers (2-1, 4.97)

8 Eastern, 7 Central.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

This Was Not Inevitable

There was a lot of optimism heading into the season. I personally predicted 93 wins, an easy playoff berth, and then, who knows? It obviously has not worked out that way, so far. 93 wins seems out of the question, at this point, and .500 is becoming more and more of a pipe dream. I've been seeing a lot of talk about how the expectations were flawed, and we should have seen this coming. After all, last year's Astros just snuck into the playoffs with 86 wins, and after their 10 game win streak in April put them 11 games over .500 on May 3, they finished the season 68-69. Then, they proceeded to make very few changes over the offseason, adding a closer  set up guy low leverage reliever and a potential 4th/5th starter. Maybe we shouldn't have expected 8-18, but were the pie in the sky expectations justified?

I think they answer is yes, they were justified. Which in some ways makes this season even more disappointing. Yes, the Astros finished at 86-76, but they also finished with a +111 run differential. They scored the fifth most runs in the American League, and allowed the fewest. We can come up with explanations for why this is, but I think it's safe to say that if they repeated those numbers in 2016, they'd be far better than 86-76, and would finish much closer to their Pythagorean record of 93-69. (I didn't just make my prediction up).

And, Correa was going to get a full season of at bats. Gomez too (who, despite what you may remember, finished the season hitting .318/.370/.571 in his last 19 games last year). The rotation that had the second lowest ERA in the AL, with the third lowest FIP and xFIP, was going to replace 24 starts from Scott Kazmir and Roberto Hernandez with Doug Fister. No loss there, and a potential gain. The bullpen, which, September struggles aside, ended the year easily among the top 5 in the AL, added the fireballer every one said they needed. There was very little reason to expect them to get much worse than their +111 run differential, and a lot of reason to hope they'd get better.

Instead, the bottom fell out in nearly every way it could. The fireball reliever became a HR machine. The reigning Cy Young award winner is sporting a 5+ ERA. The pitching staff that allowed the fewest runs in 2015 has allowed the most in the AL in 2016. The hitting has also dropped to 8th in the league, with some of the worst RISP at bats you can see.

If the Astros were sitting with a +20 run differential, and were below .500 or worse, then we could start talking about whether the lineup construction or plate approach is producing a team that consistently under performs their RS/RA. And how, because of that, maybe we should have kept our expectations in check.

But that's not what happened. The 2015 team was not a fluke, and they were not lucky. They were a good team, that, if anything, under performed. The -36 run differential so far is shocking because it came out of the blue.

The good news is that this is mostly the same team that had a +74 run differential from May 3 on. If they manage to repeat that, history says they will be much better than 68-69.  Whether they will or not is another question entirely.
 

Tuesday Morning Hot Links

Cancel the season. The Astros lost to the soon-to-be worst team in the American League with Dallas Keuchel on the mound at home. Jexas has her first career game recap for Astros County.

*Dallas Keuchel now has a BB/9 rate of 4.38. This is higher than his 2012 monstrosity of a rookie season, when he walked 4.11 batters per nine innings. If there's a silver lining, and if you're looking at the stats to try to find some Hope (note: you should know better than to do that by now), note that Keuchel's BABIP (.348) is 79 points higher than it was in 2015 (.269) and that his FIP (3.26) and xFIP (3.86) say that this is simply a rough patch.

That said, Keuchel has walked 4+ batters in three of his six starts of 2016 - something he did only once in 2015.

*Hinch, on Keuchel:
It looked like he lost feel of his pitches at the wrong time and the innings started to pile up on him. Any time you get a pitcher that throws 40-plus pitches in an inning, some things went wrong.

The strike zone was iffy all night for both sides - The serial-killer-named/Twins catcher John Ryan Murphy got tossed in the game thanks to the strike zone...in a game the Twins had well in hand. Keuchel noticed it, too:
First three innings were a different story and it seemed like it just snowballed from there. Don't feel like I got any help, but I have to do better than that.

*Luhnow thinks that, if the Astros can be at .500 by the All-Star Break, everything will be gravy.

*Hinch:
We've been punched in the mouth the first five weeks. No one is going to feel sorry for us. The thing for me as manager is to find solutions...we're doing things behind the scenes to speed that up.

*Brian Smith goes Full Brian Smith on the Astros - including thoughts on payroll and Spending Money. (Alt Link)

*Notably, Joe Musgrove threw 6IP, 5H/0ER, 5K:1BB at Corpus last night to lower his ERA to 0.39. In 23.1IP this season, he has allowed 17H/1ER, with 26K:3BB.

*Lance McCullers threw 4.2IP in an extended spring training rehab start, sitting 92-97mph, and is expected to join Fresno on Saturday for his first actual outing of the season.

*Chris Devenski will get Thursday's start against Seattle, meaning Feldman remains in the bullpen for the time being.

*Carlos Gomez looks like he's managed to avoid a DL stint. He also made it to #5 on the 2017 Free Agent Power Rankings list from MLBTR.

*The Astros are the first playoff team to go a month without winning consecutive games since the 1982 Phillies.

*Maybe the Astros are one of 20 teams who will watch Tim Lincecum throw on Friday.

*Ken Rosenthal: The Astros' rotation is a "soft-tossing mess." Patrick and I have said this multiple times on the Lima Time Time podcast: the entire rotation is 89-92 location guys, and once teams face the first starter, they can settle in because they don't have anyone like McCullers or, ahem, Velasquez to come up and change speeds on them.

G26:Twins @ Astros


I was hoping that my first game recap would include the Astros getting the W on the first night of their ten game home stand. Not only for the fact that it is my first game recap but also because we all know coming into this stretch of home games that the Astros need to dominate. Instead, the home team was dominated. Earlier in the day as I was thinking about the game I felt pretty good about the possibility of a win & I also really liked the look of the lineup. I am a fan when both Luis Valbuena & Marwin Gonzalez make the cut for the game. I’m going to stick with the usual game recap format used here, so let’s get into this.

On The Mound:
The orange shirts & fake beards sprinkled next to left field showed that the bearded one would have the chance to keep his home winning streak going. The first pitch of the night by Dallas Keuchel was a solid fastball called for a strike and the first plate appearance of the night by Danny Santana would end in a strikeout. Seemed like a good omen. This would be followed by a line drive from Brian Dozier to Colby Rasmus. Next, Keuchel issued a walk to Joe Mauer & then Miguel Sano grounded out into a double play to end the inning.

The second inning would be a pretty quick one with a Byung Ho Park single out to right field, a strike out for Eduardo Escobar & finally Eddie Rosario would ground out to a double play. The third was Keuchel’s best inning of the night. John Ryan Murphy, who would later be ejected from the game for arguing a pitch with the home plate umpire Jerry Layne, would ground out to Valbuena, Eduardo Nunez would do the same to Gonzalez & Keuchel would strikeout Santana for the second time in as many plate appearances.

Onto the fourth inning where things took an unfortunate turn. I’m going to try to go through this quick. A challenged ground out recovered by Correa fired to Gonzalez was overturned for a single by Dozier. Next, Mauer did ground out. Sano would be the recipient of Keuchel’s second walk of the evening & Byung Ho Park would be gifted the third one to load the bases with one out. Eduardo Escobar would single on a ground ball to bring home Dozier, tie up the game (1-1) & keep the bases loaded. Rosario would be called out on a sacrifice fly to bring Sano to home plate and give the Twins the lead (2-1). Here is where I feel that the strike zone may have shrunk a bit. Another walk is issued to Murphy to once again load the bases followed by yet another walk, this time to Nunez to force score Park making it 3-1 with two outs. Keuchel would get his relief from the inning when Luis Valbuena would pick up the ground out from Santana and send it to Jose Altuve, tagging out Nunez at second base.

The fifth inning would bring more trouble for the Astros. With Keuchel still on the mound, Dozier singled on a bunt ground ball. Mauer would send a fly ball out to George Springer for an impressive back peddling catch. Sano would single on a line drive out to right field sending Dozier to second base. Next, Park tripled out to center field, sending Colby Rasmus the the top of Tal's Hill to retrieve the ball as Dozier and Sano would score giving the Twins a larger lead at 5-1. At this point Josh Fields would come in to get the last 2 outs on a pop out caught by Castro behind home plate and a fly out by Preston Tucker.

Top of the sixth, Fields issued a quick strikeout to Kurt Suzuki, who was now catching for Murphy, and an even quicker home run for Nunez making it 6-1. A pop out by Santana to a stumbling Valbuena & a ground out by Dozier would end the inning. Michael Feliz came in for the seventh for a 1-2-3 inning, sending down Mauer, Sano & Park. Same for the eighth. Escobar & Rosario would strike out swinging while Suzuki would pop out to Altuve.

The ninth inning would give Ken Giles the ideal, no pressure situation that would set him at ease and cause him to strike out two of the only three batters he saw. Nunez went down on strikes, Santana sent a ball to the glove of Rasmus, Dozier went down on strikes and I rubbed my face in frustration wondering why we couldn’t get a performance like this from Giles when we really needed it.

At The Plate:
There were 5 hits the entire night by the Astros, so there’s not really a whole lot to say. Tucker launched a home run to right field, a couple walks in the third ended in Gattis crushing our hopes and grounding out to a double play. The fifth inning is where some action at the plate. The first bit came when Twins catcher Murphy was ejected for turning around to the umpire after a clear strike was not called on Altuve. The next ball would strike out Altuve and bring up Springer for a dinger to right field and putting a crooked number on the board for the Astros (6-2). Correa would ground out to end the inning. Preston Tucker would get a hit in the sixth and Altuve doubled in the seventh. The bottom of the ninth would get our fragile hopes up as Tyler White would walk, Castro would single and Altuve would come to the plate. Unfortunately, a simple ground out would end the game.

Turning Point:
The fourth inning and all of those darn walks. While Keuchel wasn’t necessarily a victim of the HP umpire there were some borderline calls on the Nunez & Santana PA’s as the strike zone seemed to magically shrink a bit. Keuchel looked good through three but the fourth he looked closer to Ken Giles than himself (no, not the Ken Giles of tonight).

Man of the Match:
I’m going to go with Michael Feliz who had an impressive outing, allowing no one on base and striking out 4 of the 6 batters he saw.

Goat of the Game:
Keuchel. Man, that stinks to say.

Tomorrow:
Collin McHugh takes the mound opposite Twins’ RHP Alex Meyer who will be making his first Major League start.

This team has serious talent and for whatever reason it is not being displayed. 3 years ago we could laugh at ourselves. Even 2 years ago we could laugh a little about it. Then 2015 came with a trip to the post season and expectations flew. By now in 2016, that win column was supposed to be in the double digits and instead, the loss column is enjoying that distinction. These next 9 home games could set up momentum for the remainder of the season. Call me Captain Obvious but the Astros (and yes, the fans) need these wins.

Side note: Is it too much to ask that by the time the Astros start playing their second game of a four game series in Boston on my birthday, their record shows 18-18? .500 ball for my birthday? (Rasmus & Keuchel merchandise also accepted)

Monday, May 2, 2016

Which Grizzlies can help the Astros?

The Fresno Bee has a really good article on how the Grizzlies are watching the Astros. Plotting. Planning. For what?

Fresno manager Tony DeFrancesco:
They're going to take whomever they need at the time when they feel they need it. Right now, whoever's the hot man is probably going to get the opportunity...They're looking for guys that can give them a chance to win. This is a big year for us up there. They're not going to have a lot of patience when they lose.

The Fresno Bee points out that James Hoyt is killing it: 12.1IP, 20K, six saves. And Grizzlies pitching coach Dyar Miller said, "With Hoyt, it's not a matter of if, but when" he gets promoted.

Some other names get bandied about, so it's a good read.

Week in Review: April 25-May 1

The Astros are currently 8-14, six games back of the Ramgers. FanGraphs currently projects the Astros to finish with an 81-81 record, with a 20.1% chance of winning the AL West and a 29% chance of making the playoffs.

As a team the Astros are hitting (with AL rank in parentheses):
Avg: .229 (13th)
OBP: .313 (8th)
SLG: .406 (4th)
Ks: 246 (15th)
BBs: 92 (2nd)

As a team the pitching staff has:
ERA: 4.80 (15th)
Hits allowed: 244 (15th)
ER allowed: 116 (15th)
HR allowed: 33 (14th)
Strikeouts: 183 (11th)
Walks: 67 (4th)
ERA+: 80

The Astros went 2-4 over the last week, getting outscored 28-16. Seven of those 16 runs for the week came in the 7-4 win at Seattle to prevent the sweep. This means that, in losses, the Astros were outscored 23-7. On the road the Astros are 4-11, getting outscored 84-54.

Hitters

Evan Gattis (16 ABs): .312/.400/.625, 6K:3BB, 1HR/5RBI
Carlos Gomez (13 ABs): .308/.357/.385, 5K:0BB, 1RBI
Jason Castro (10 ABs): .300/.500/.400, 3K:4BB
Jose Altuve (22 ABs): .273/.385/.682, 2K:4BB, 2HR/3RBI
George Springer (23 ABs): .217/.280/.261, 6K:1BB
Erik Kratz (5 ABs): .200/.333/.200, 3K:1BB
Carlos Correa (19 ABs): .158/.360/.211, 8K:6BB
Colby Rasmus (21 ABs): .143/.208/.143, 5K:2BB, 2RBI
Preston Tucker (14 ABs): .143/.200/.143, 4K:1BB
Tyler White (18 ABs): .111/.158/.111, 3K:1BB
Marwin Gonzalez (10 ABs): .100/.250/.200, 4K:1BB, RBI
Luis Valbuena (14 ABs): .000/.067/.000, 8K:1BB

Starting Pitching

Doug Fister: 12.2IP, 11H/4ER, 7K:8BB
Mike Fiers: 7IP, 7H/2ER, 5K:0BB
Dallas Keuchel: 6IP, 6H/5ER, 5K:2BB
Collin McHugh: 5IP, 5H/2ER, 3K:1BB
Chris Devenski: 5IP, 5H/2ER, 4K:3BB

Total: 35.2IP, 34H/15ER, 24K:14BB, 3.79 ERA/1.35 WHIP

Bullpen

Will Harris: 3IP, 3H/0ER, 2K:0BB
Scott Feldman: 3IP, 0H/0ER, 3K:0BB
Luke Gregerson: 2IP, 1H/1ER, 2K:1BB
Tony Sipp: 2IP, 2H/2ER, 1K:0BB
Ken Giles: 1.1IP, 3H/2ER, 2K:1BB
Josh Fields: 1IP, 0H/0ER, 2K:0BB
Michael Feliz: 1IP, 4H/3ER, 3K:0BB
Pat Neshek: 0.1IP, 1H/2ER, 0K:1BB
Erik Kratz: 1IP, 3H/1ER, 0K:0BB

Total: 14.2IP, 17H/11ER, 15K:3BB, 6.32 ERA/1.36 WHIP, 4 HR allowed

Lima Time Time: Episode 6



We sit down (for the first 20 minutes, anyway) with MLB Network/NHL Network's Robert Flores to discuss the Astros, University of Houston, and who is ruining hip-hop.
After he bids you adieu you can be amazed at how quickly we bounce between volatility and cautious optimism regarding:
-The week that was
-Ken Giles
-Mark Appel
-How do you fix the Astros
-Carlos Gomez
-Luis Valbuena/Colin Moran
-The opportunities presented this week.
Lima Time Time is sponsored by Bravado Spice

From the Office of the County Clerk - G25: Astros in Oakland

Doug Fister (1-3, 5.56) versus Rich Hill (3-2, 2.42)

Last game of the road trip, and the Astros' 2-1 win turned a disaster of a road trip into a successful road trip.  The Astros won two games and lost four on the six-game hike through a couple of the AL West opponents, which I count as a success.  You see, two from six counts for a .333 win percentage, which is better than the .292 win percentage that the Astros entered the game with.  So a .333 road trip represents progress, people, for which we should be grateful.

I haven't managed to get to this recap until around 12 hours after the game started.  Plus, loyal masochistic Astros fans probably watched the game from or around the 3pm start time, and will already know the result, and how it was achieved.  So this column will take on a shorter, bullet-point format, just this once.

  • Early leads are good!! And that is what you get when José Altuve leads off for the Astros when they are on the road.  Altuve hit his fourth lead-off home run of the season off the tough opposing lefty, Rich Hill.  1-1 count, Hill came with one of his 17-or-so curveball combinations, he missed up and on the inner third, and Altuve hammered it just to the left side of CF.  The ball got out six-or-so yards to the CF side of the 388 marker, and it got out by plenty, so it wasn't a cheapie.  Boom, 1-0 lead.  Altuve went 1-3 with a walk (and the aforementioned HR) to end a slow series in Oakland - at least by his standards.  His triple-slash stands at a robust .306/.404/.633.
  • Doug Fister was good!!  When he last pitched (in Seattle), I opined he may be the best of the Astros starters at the moment despite his seven-walk night.  Fister bounced back from his messy outing to walk one and strike out five in six-and-two-thirds, allowing seven hits and one earned run.  Four of his hits came on anti-shift slow rollers that resulted in singles, and a fifth was a seeing-eye slow roller from Marcus Semien (see below).  He retired the side in order in the first, fourth and fifth, worked around a double in the third and a single in the sixth, and left with runners on the corners and two outs in the seventh.
  • A bunch of Fister's strikeouts came up in the zone on a four-seamer.  He seems to be doing well to pitch off two fastballs at the moment, and the four-seamer seems to contrast well with his sinker.
  • Fister escaped a bases-loaded jam in the second on a solid defensive play from Correa - Fister's fastball inside blew up Semien, who broke his bat while producing a spinning, looping soft line drive that landed on the infield dirt to the left side of second base.  The ball spun wickedly when it landed, and Correa gloved it, then flicked it to second for the force.  Very nice play from Correa, whose defence seems to have gone through a bad patch recently.
  • When Fister did give up a run, Marcus Semien drove it in with a seeing-eye grounder up the middle.  A little to either side, and it is a double-play ball, which would end the frame without scoring.  But, such is life.
  • Solid defensive plays in this game made it very watchable.  Semien looks like a much improved shortstop, and he made a nice play behind second base on a Preston Tucker grounder that ramped off the mound.  George Springer made a number of solid plays in RF, including a critical play running in to make the first out of the seventh (the inning in which the A's finally scored, and could have scored a bunch more if Springer didn't make that catch).  Correa's play was discussed above, and is best described as an awkwardly spinning ball which was well played.  So, yeah, attractive ballgame to watch.
  • The Astros only managed two hits, but walked seven times to obtain nine overall baserunners.  José Altuve's home-run was one of the hits (obviously), while the other hit was credited to Jason Castro (1-3, BB), who is now hitting .151/.286/.245 on the season.  Now look, that ain't a great triple-slash, but over the last six games, he has 17 plate appearances, resulting six walks, 4 strikeouts, 3 hits with one of those a double (.272/.529/.363).  Not the worst, but also, only six games.  All those frequent Castro commentators out there... answer me this: would you be happy with a  .200/.340/.320 line from Castro this season??  Comments below!
  • As mentioned above, only two hits - but lots of walks!  Carlos Correa and Evan Gattis both went 0-2 with 2 walks, and MarGo also worked a walk and then stole a base.  Colby Rasmus was credited with a sac-fly RBI in the third inning on an 0-3 night - he nearly knocked it out of there for his second Grand Slam of the season.
  • The re-jigged Astros 'pen did well.  No Ken Giles sightings.  Tony Sipp was perfect for the two batters he faced (including with runners on in the seventh), Will Harris allowed a single hit in his two-thirds of an inning, and Luke Gregerson struck out Marcus Semien on a peach of a sinker down-and-away to complete his perfect frame.
Tomorrow:
Tomorrow is a very special day for Astros County readers.  Jexas will be making her recap debut, covering the first of a three-game series with the Twins.  Minnesota (7-18) are the only team in the AL with a worse record than the 'stros.  A strong homestead could to a lot to erase an awful April.

Dallas Keuchel (2-3, 4.41) versus Jose Berrios (0-1, 11.25)

8 Eastern, 7 Central

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Sunday Morning Hot Links

*Read the Masked Marvel's recap of another loss in which the Astros didn't get any hits when they needed them. The Astros end April with a 7-17 record and without having won consecutive games.

*ESPN breaks down all the problems with the 2016 Astros. There are many. Only the 1914 "Miracle" Braves have made it to the World Series with a worse record to start the season.

*Now that this miserable month is over, the Astros are ready to turn the page on the season.

*Carlos Correa hasn't hit a home run since the opening series at New York, but he feels like his swing is coming back.

*Scott Feldman threw three perfect innings in his first relief appearance since 2012, and he chalked it up to being aggressive.
Something that has been a challenge for me the first few times out there was being aggressive like that. Maybe coming out of the 'pen like that kind of just helped jumpstart my aggressiveness a little bit and can carry it over.

*Ken Giles doesn't even know who he is anymore:
I'm out of whack. I'm not me right now...I'm not the guy I was the past two seasons. I'm somebody completely different on the mound, and I don't feel comfortable up there. It's just mechanical work. I don't feel comfortable up there. I don't feel right. I'm just trying to push through where I need to fix those things right now.

This is terrifying. A.J. Hinch also said that he was going to maybe let Giles skip the 8th inning, or high-leverage situations for a while.

*Today in "Okay (wink) buddy" Carlos Gomez is out for a couple of games with a sore ribcage.

*From Steve Grande: George Springer has reached base safely in each of his last 15 games, and 52 of his last 56.

*Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless (*shoots self*) accused Jake Arrieta of using or not using PEDs because they're idiots and I hate myself for even drawing attention to them.

*Ken Davidoff writes that the Yankees' hitting problems are "just getting embarrassing." Same!

*Arizona called up a guy from the Cal League.

*From the Hardball Times: An oral history of the Doug Mirabelli trade. Note: As I mentioned on the Lima Time Time interview with Fenway Park organist Josh Kantor, my wife and I were actually at this game - the only time I've ever been to Fenway.

*Before you go: The Fresno Grizzlies handed out replica 2015 Triple-A Championship rings last night, but 15 lucky fans got actual rings: