Monday, May 29, 2017

Monday Morning Hot Links

*Happy Memorial Day to all of you and your families. For those of you to whom this applies: we appreciate your service, and your sacrifices.

*The big news of the day was the Astros placing Charlie Morton on the 1000-day DL with a lat strain. Jordan Jankowski has been recalled from Fresno and Mike Fiers will now rejoin the rotation and take Morton's spot. Morton:
I just didn't feel right. Went and got it checked out and it was a little more serious than we thought.

Morton won't throw anything for at least a week, and is looking at a long process before coming back to the rotation. A lat strain typically means a three-month layoff period.

*Jankowski only returned to Fresno on Saturday night, and yesterday went from Fresno to Minnesota.

The Astros are going to roll with a Keuchel/McCullers/Peacock/Musgrove/Fiers rotation. And there aren't many internal options to do anything about that. More on that later today.

*The Astros enjoyed a 6-run 2nd inning on their way to an 8-4 win over Baltimore, completing the sweep. The six runs in an inning tie a season-high, they also put up a 6-run 1st inning once this season, and it erased an early 3-0 Baltimore lead - one they would never regain. Hinch:
The explosive inning we had in the second is obviously the huge difference in the game. Obviously, it's huge to see, not just to pick up Lance, but just continue to play pretty exceptional baseball.

*2nd inning recap: Single, Walk, Strikeout (Wild Pitch), Double, Double, Groundout, Home Run, Triple, Single, Groundout.

*Erasing that early 3-0 deficit means the Astros have come from behind in 18 of their 35 wins. A quarter of the Astros' season losses came on this last 10-game homestand.

*Sitting at 19-7 in the month of May, the Astros surpassed the 2016 team's record for wins in a calendar month, and have a couple of chances to win 20 games in a month for the first time since August 2008 (21-9) - the Hurricane Ike season.

*George Springer hit seven homers in his first 14 games, then went 19 games without hitting one out of the park, then hit two against the Yankees on Sunday Night Baseball, then went ten more games without a homer, and now has homered in consecutive games for the second time this season. Springer raised his OPS from .744 to .786 in the series against the Orioles.

*Carlos Beltran's 2nd inning double - the 547th of his career - tied him with Manny Ramirez for 30th all-time.

*Christian Boutwell notes that Lance McCullers hasn't allowed more than 3ER in 26 consecutive home starts, the fourth-longest streak in MLB history.

*Good news for the Astros: even though the Twins played at home yesterday, their Sunday afternoon game went 15 innings, took 6:26, and used nine pitchers who needed to throw 289 pitches in a loss to Tampa Bay.

*Richard Justice: The Astros are putting together a special season. Keuchel:
I've never been to the World Series, but if I had any guess about a World Series team, we have a good shot.

*Brian T. Smith is thinking about October.

*Beyond the Box Score took a look at the pitching staff's ability to miss bats. Collectively, the Astros have the highest swinging-strike rate and the highest bullpen strikeout rate in recorded baseball history. This is an excellent article and you should read it immediately.

*Memorial Day Playoff Odds Check-In:
FanGraphs (97-65): 98.9%
FiveThirtyEight (100-62): 96%
Baseball Prospectus (97-65): 98.8%

*Curious news out of Corpus as outfielders Bobby Boyd and Mott Hyde were placed on the voluntarily retired list. Hyde - the Astros' 2014 26th Round pick - missed two months with a concussion last season. He hit .263/.343/.377 in 306 career minor-league games. Boyd - the Astros' 2014 8th Round pick - had only played in 26 games for Corpus this year, hitting .186/.253/.314. There are now only three outfielders on Corpus roster. Make way for Kyle Tucker?

*This Massachusetts 14-year old wanted an alternative to Tommy John Surgery, so he went to Alabama.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Sunday Morning Links That Are As Hot As Your Toasted Bagel

At the bottom of the Saturday Morning Hot Links, the Constable informed all three of our readers that there would be no Sunday Morning Hot Links because he was unavailable.  Well, he didn't factor in some annoying busybody stepping in write a vastly inferior set of Hot Links.  Constable, enjoy your morning off.

Here goes...

* The mighty Houston Astros continued to to carve through the Rest of Baseball with a 5-2 win over the Orioles.  We will summarise the games' big moments shortly, but for now, let's take a look at what this means, in bullet-point format:

  • The Astros, with their record of 34-16, are off to their best start in franchise history through 50 games... by three games.  The 1998 team, which won 102 regular season games, started their campaign 31-19.  Of course, the '98 team were to manage seven further win streaks of 4+ games over their next 112 fixtures.  They were pretty good.  Until the playoffs, that is.
  • The Astros' .680 win percentage is 0.040 ahead of the next best team, the Rockies.  Both teams have played 50 games now - the Astros have a better record than the Rockies by two games.
  • The Angels beat the Marlins, so they have an even .500 record, and are in second place in a surprisingly weak AL West.  The Angels are 9 games back of the Astros.  The West Paris Ramgers dropped their fifth in a row to drop to 10 games back.  I don't want to invoke the Curse of Dave Raymond here, but if the Astros head into Arlington late next week and do well, the Ramgers may be close to buried.
  • The Astros improved to 7-2 against the AL East.  Buuuuut, Toronto are starting to play better (with the left side of their infield returning from injury), and the Red Sox have David Price back, so maintaining that record will definitely not be easy.
* Dallas Keuchel returned in the minimum time from a 10 day DL-stay due to a pinched nerve in his neck.  He lasted six innings (86 pitches), striking out 8 and walking two.  He allowed one earned run on 4 hits.  The runner who scored walked with two outs in the top of the third frame.

* I was interested in the need for the quick-ish hook for Keuchel (6 innings, 86 pitches) aside from the whole return-from-the-DL thing.  I also got the impression that in the early going, he was locating down consistently, whereas he seemed to be elevating later in the game - or at least not painting the bottom of the zone and below.  Brooks Baseball helped out a little with strike zone plots from the first two innings...

... and then from the fifth and sixth innings:

So Keuchel perhaps was elevating a little later in the game.  I guess this raises concerns around him not finishing his pitches off, and concerns about ongoing neck or shoulder pain / pathology.  Shoulder pain has been cited as being the main reason for his 2016 struggles, and shoulders and necks are closely linked, so it is possible that he wasn't feeling that comfortable, or that some mechanical changes crept  in later in the game that AJ factored in when making the decision to remove him.

(Obvious caveat here - Keuchel threw sinkers pretty much the whole time in the first two innings, and a much higher proportion of offspeed pitches the second and third time through the order.  So that may account for some of the location changes).

* Replacing Keuchel in the sixth (and pitching with a lead of less than 10 runs for the first time in a while) was Tony Sipp.  He allowed a long triple to Chris Davis on a pretty fat pitch, so this appearance didn't go well.  Sipp has been better lately, but the Astros still appear to be without a situational lefty. 

* More slightly-odd pitching decisions - James Hoyt relieved Sipp and finished the sixth, including allowing Davis to score on a brutal wild pitch.    Then Hoyt stayed on to open the seventh, where he threw to one batter.  Hoyt wasn't exactly dominating - he seemed to have trouble locating with both his fastball and his slider.  Then Luke Gregerson relieved Hoyt to finish that frame.  Very weird, especially because I see Hoyt and Gregerson as quite similar pitchers - not sure why Gregerson wouldn't get to open the inning himself. 

* Will Harris earned the save with a perfect inning involving two strikeouts.  Devo and Giles were presumably unavailable.

* Also returning from the DL - Brian McCann, who caught Keuchel, while going 0-2 with two walks at the plate.  

* In terms of the offense: lots of hits clustered at the top of the order.  The top five players went (respectively):  George Springer - 2-5 with a home run, José Altuve - 3-4 with 2 doubles, Carlos Correa - 2-4, Evan Gattis (DH-ing) - 1-4, and MarGo - 2-3 with a walk.  José Altuve batted second for only the second time this year, I believe.  

* Springer scored in the first on a long double off the CF wall by Altuve.  He rounded third as the second baseman gathered the relay, but an impressive slide saw him beat the tag.  Springer followed with a long home run into the LF power alley - the ball must have rattled near the train for a while, 'cause it too a long time to come down.

* Amusing moments during the seventh - the crowd starting chanting "Rally Bird" because of the presence of a small bird that hung around on the infield grass near third base.  It looked plenty comfortable there.  Rally Bird must be a thing, because the Astros won.  At least Julia Morales didn't have to eat any insects this time.  Also: birds eat insects.  So perhaps eating insects is the key for the 2017 Astros.

* Check out this catch from Carlos Correa.  Wow.

* Finally, this game was televised nationally on Fox.  The colour-commentator was none other than ex-Astros great Preston Wilson.  Astros fans of last decade will remember him - Wilson was signed as a free agent to the Astros for the 2006 season to play left field.  I recall "Fast Eddie" Wade talking about how he may hit 50 home runs at MMP because of the short left field porch.  Well, Wilson was good for a .269/.309/.405 line in 416 PA's, managing only nine home runs.  He was subsequently traded to the Cardinals where he showed some late-season life, hitting 8 home runs in 120 PA's.  He retired after a partial season with the Cards in 2007.

Aside from that, I quite enjoyed listening to Preston Wilson.  I couldn't listen to him every day, but he was interesting, reasonably slick and friendly, and he was strong on the technical details of what he observed, especially the outfield defensive plays.  He certainly isn't the worst colour-guy on the national baseball circuit.


In other news:

* AC favourite Bradley J Peacock and his 2.00 FIP will remain in the rotation, apparently at the expense of Mike Fiers and his 7.56 FIP.  Fiers heads to the bullpen.  This is going to be interesting, as Fiers out of the bullpen for Houston has generally not been good in very limited duty - 8 earned runs in 9 innings for Houston over 2015 and 2016.  I recall one awful relief appearance in Arlington when Lance McCullers got bounced early and Fiers gutted out a few innings while giving up a bunch of runs, but I don't recall Fiers ever being particularly good out of the 'pen.

* Jim Bunning, HoF pitcher for the Tigers and Phillies passed away.  Bunning's most recent time in the public eye came as a US Senator from Kentucky.  He died from complications from a stroke suffered in October last year. 

* Jameson Taillon is going to return to the mound again, less than three weeks after surgery for testicular cancer.  He begins a minor league injury-rehabilitation assignment in AA Altoona.  Best of luck to Taillon - hopefully he avoids chemotherapy.

* Ex-Stro Nolan Fontana hit his first ML Home Run for the Angels against the Marlins.  The Astros thought Fontana was all about the strike zone judgment, but he has instead busted out as a power hitter.  Another black mark for Houston in the "player evaluation" column.

* And because we are starved of Astros-related news: two Yankees did something cute!! Let's post it on all of the prominent media outlets' baseball home pages, shall we??  Sigh...

* Lastly, the worst strikeout of all time.  Josh Fuentes (the batter) could have started for the 2012 Astros.  In the four-spot.

Hope you enjoyed reading.  With any luck, the Constable will return tomorrow.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Saturday Morning Hot Links

*The Astros shutout their opponent for the fifth time this season, and the third time in the last nine games, with a 2-0 win over Baltimore. The Orioles came into the game with a .254 average, the 4th-highest BA in the AL. Last night was the 3rd time Baltimore had been shutout all year.

*Joe Musgrove threw 7IP, 4H/0ER, 6K:0BB in his best start of the year. Prior to last night, Musgrove hadn't recorded 20 outs in a start, and had not put up a Zero in the run column. His 75 Game Score is a career-high. Musgrove:
I've been doing a lot of work in between all my starts, really, just trying to find what that little missing piece is. I feel like I found it this week...

...I'm kind of happy about being able to get some of the trust back with some of my teammates and stuff. Not to say they've been down on me, but it's tough to go out there and put together bad outing after bad outing and feel like your teammates aren't really confident going into that day.

Hinch:
We swung the bat better than the score would indicate, we made some critical pitches, obviously, when they did get a couple of guys on base. From Joe Musgrove winning virtually every critical moment of the game, we get out of here with a win. 

*Hinch, on Musgrove:
I thought his execution of his secondary pitches was the difference in the game. Against this lineup, you can't stay in a pattern and you can't just feed them fastballs. His breaking balls were both pretty good. But the conviction he pitched with tonight was pretty special.

*Carlos Beltran's home run moved him into 50th on the all-time HR list.

*Jake Marisnick's homer - his 6th of the season - eclipses in 35 games his HR total from 118 games in 2016. He is averaging a home run every 11.5 plate appearances, up (or down, I guess) from homering every 62.2 PAs in 2016. Marisnick's WAR is higher than Bregman, Gurriel, and Beltran combined.

*The Astros didn't draw a walk for just the 2nd time this season. They lost the previous time it happened, on April 29 against Oakland, 2-1. The Orioles didn't draw a walk, either.

*Chris Devenski loaded the bases with nobody out in the 8th before getting a strikeout and two fly balls to escape the jam. He's stranding 74.4% of baserunners this season, down from a tick over 78% in 2016. Hinch:
Devo had done nothing wrong and ended up in one of the biggest jams he'd ever been in.

With the bases loaded and nobody out, teams can expect to score 2.37 runs.

*Arlington and Anaheim both lost, so the Astros have a 9-game lead in the division for the first time since 1998, when the 102-60 Astros won the NL Central by 13 games.

*Before Musgrove's strong start last night the Astros were considering moving Peacock into the rotation to replace Fiers or Musgrove next week against the 1st-place Twins. The Twins will not face Keuchel or McCullers in that series.

*The Orioles sent Ubaldo Jimenez to the bullpen, so the Astros will face Alec Asher on Sunday instead.

*Correa and Marwin started wearing batting helmets with a protective face guard.

*Juan Centeno and Jordan Jankowski were optioned back to Fresno.

*Here's a good article on 46-year veteran groundskeeper Willie Berry.

*Cuban shortstop Jose Israel Garcia is holding a showcase in Mexico this weekend, and the Astros are among the interested teams. Garcia has been described as a "Manny Machado-type player with less power."

*Frankie Tuesday set a team- and career-high with nine strikeouts last night for Fresno in an 8-7 win over Tacoma. Martes threw 5.2IP, 6H/2R (1ER), 9K:1BB. Side note: Andrew Aplin had an outfield assist at home for Tacoma.

Note: No Hot Links tomorrow (Sunday). Back at it Monday. 

Friday, May 26, 2017

Friday Morning Hot Links

*The Astros scored five runs while I was in the shower in the bottom of the 4th last night and slowly tried to give away a 2-run lead, which they did twice successfully, with Luke Gregerson allowing the tying run in the 8th. Jake Marisnick's go-ahead homer in the bottom of the 8th inning gave the Astros a 7-6 lead to which they would hold on. The Astros are 32-16.

*Hinch:
We talk about series wins all the time. We played enough winning baseball to win the series, which is all you can ask for out of your team, but we didn't play perfect. We've had a little sluggish stretch here, but it's hard to be disappointed when you leave the ballpark tonight having won three of four against the Tigers...

Ausmus:
The fourth inning was the difference in the game.

The five-run 4th inning in a 7-6 game? What a baseball mind...

*The Astros got their five runs while I was in the shower in the bottom of the 4th on three homers off Justin Verlander - just the second time he has allowed 3HR in an inning.

*Marisnick's 8th inning homer was the 2nd he's hit in the 8th or later this season - one tied the game (April 9 vs Kansas City), this one was the go-ahead shot. Those are the only two times he's done that in his career. Hinch, on Marisnick's .559 SLG this season:
I think he's finally connected with his swing. His timing is better, his alignment's better, and his direction's better. Obviously, his pitch selection's gotten a little better. 

*Mike Fiers threw 4.2IP, 10H/4ER, 2K:1BB, generating just two groundball outs on the night. The Astros pitching staff allowed 14 hits to the Tigers, the highest of the season. In games in which the staff allows 10+ hits the Astros are now 6-7. They were 22-44 in those games in 2016.

*This season Luke Gregerson thrown 18IP, 21H/13ER, 19K:7BB, 6.50 ERA/1.56 WHIP (5.70 FIP). His Hits/9 have jumped from 5.9 in 2016 to 10.5 in 2017 and he's currently suffering through career-highs in HR/9 and BB/9. To be fair, six of those earned runs came in 0.1IP against the Royals in April. Take that game out and he's got 17.2IP, 16H/7ER, 19K:6BB. Not elite, but one game has skewed his overall numbers.

*Brian McCann passed his concussion test and is cleared to return to the lineup tomorrow.

*Jon Heyman's Notes column says that Carlos Correa was out of the lineup for not running all-out on a play, not the sinus infection that, oh I don't know, A.J. Hinch said it was. But Heyman does say the Astros are interested in Cuban shortstop Jose Israel Garcia, so that's something, I guess.

*Collin McHugh threw off a mound yesterday!

*Buster Olney says Sonny Gray could be the #1 trade deadline candidate. If the Astros swing a deal with Oakland, they are contractually obligated to include Jed Lowrie.

*Jake Kaplan has some backstory into Jordan Jankowski's drafting/signing, and it's a good one. (We covered it briefly when he got drafted)

*Here's David Barron on Mike Stanton's new role with Root Sports SW.

*Ken Hoffman walked around Minute Maid Park with Reid Ryan before a game last week.

*Mattress Mack will give you a full refund on your bedding purchases of $3,000...if the Astros win the World Series.

*Rachel Robinson is this year's Buck O'Neil Award recipient from the Baseball Hall of Fame.

*The Rangers use their medical staff to recruit players with a history of injuries.

*Not Astros-related, but my favorite soccer team's manager up and quit and I am sad.

*Read Trevor May's account of going through Tommy John Surgery.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Thursday Morning Hot Links

*The Astros failed to take advantage of early baserunners, going 0x8 w/RISP - now 1x28 in this series vs Detroit w/RISP - and ended up losing 6-3. Charlie Morton made it through the 7th for just the second time this season.

*After a 9th inning homer, Alex Bregman finished (wink wink) a triple shy of the cycle.

*For only the second time this season Chris Devenski didn't strike out a batter. Hinch:
It was a little bit of bad luck, little bit of rough start to the inning, and they found a way to push across a couple of runs. 

*Notably, Jordan Jankowski made his major-league debut, striking out the side but allowing a 2-run homer to Jose Iglesias in between the 2nd and 3rd strikeouts. Jankowski:
I felt fine. I thought I made some pretty good pitches. Iglesias just beat me. I hit my spot, and he just beat me. 

Given the velocity and launch angle, Iglesias' home run is a home run 1% of the time.

*Dallas Keuchel is ready to come off the DL:
I didn't really want to go on the DL in the first place...It's not like I was on my death bed or anything. It was one of those things where it wasn't feeling right, and I decided to get right just based on how we're playing and the situation we're in.

Also in that link we find that Correa has been out of the lineup for two games because of a "sinus-induced sickness" that led him to sleep all day yesterday. While the sinus issues are nothing to envy, I'd do just about anything to just sleep all day.

*Since posting consecutive 2-hit games on April 11/12, Carlos Beltran is hitting .210/.269/.370 in his last (arbitrary end point alert) 32 games - 30 starts - with 32 strikeouts in 130 plate appearances.

*A strengthened lineup top-to-bottom means the Astros are stealing far fewer bases this year compared to the last two years.

*Jerome Solomon writes that the Astros faced their biggest challenge this past weekend, and still found ways to win.

*Recently DFA'd outfielder Andrew Aplin was traded to the Mariners yesterday for Cash Considersations or a PTBNL. Aplin, the Astros' 5th Round pick in 2012, had hit .245/.341/.329 in four seasons at Triple-A. When he was drafted, Baseball America said that Aplin was good defensively but profiled more as a 4th outfielder-type.

*Eno Sarris: The Astros have played the 10th-toughest schedule in baseball to date.

*Want a new lefty reliever? The Padres are open to dealing Brad Hand and his 12.1 K/9 rate.

*The Astros' marketing folks are up to it again, revealing a Chris Devenski/Dragon bobblehead promotion (June 20) on the day the new Game of Thrones trailer was released (whatever "Game of Thrones" is...)

*Coming up tonight: Verlander vs. Fiers, which should be just fine.

*Before You Go: