Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Just a quick reminder of how far the Astros have come

Remember when the Astros won their first game in the American League??  Bud Norris out-duelled the Arlington Rangers in the first game of 2013.  Photos like the one below were doing the rounds at the time - mostly because they were expected to be bad.  The Astros fulfilled expectations, winning only won 50 more games of the remaining 161.  This photo is from 1 April 2013:

Channelling that thought, I made sure that I took the following photo after the first game of the 2015 season.  This photo - because I am somewhat technologically challenged, is also literally a photo of the screen of my work computer (plus, hospitals block software that can take screen grabs for obvious reasons).

It is a terrible photo, and I apologise for that.  However, I was so pumped that the Astros were at the top of the AL West that I wanted to preserve that image for prosperity.  I needn't have bothered, because they stayed in first for most of the rest of the season.

Six months later, here we are.  The Astros are making their first postseason appearance in a decade.  If they get through today, they progress to a winnable matchup against the Royals.  The best part of it all, as I wrote in the G162 recap, was the you can easily imagine significant improvement in the Astros teams of the next few seasons.  There is hope, readers.

Best of luck to the Astros for tonight.  I will see you for the Postseason Game Recap in 8 hours or so.

Arbitration Projections Are Out

MLBTR has posted their arbitration projections. We'll come back to this in the off-season, but at least it provides something to think about other than the overwhelming nausea we collectively feel over the Wild Card game.

Here's what MLBTR's figures project:

Keuchel: $6.4m
Valbuena: $5.8m
Carter: $5.6m
Castro: $4.6m
Gattis: $3.4m
Marwin: $1.9m
Conger: $1.8m
Fields: $800,000
Deduno: $700,000

Keuchel's a slam dunk. What say you on the others?

Tuesday Morning Link Dump

In advance of tonight's Wild Card game at Yankee Stadium, here are some links for you to read while you pretend to work and can't think of anything but baseball.

*Don't miss our 1600-word Wild Card Tale of the Tape.

*FanGraphs' Dave Cameron: The Astros/Yankees game should be a bullpen affair. Lots of good information on aces pitching on short rest and the importance (and value) of bringing in relievers early and often.
*Dallas Keuchel doesn't care about that stat.

*Average tickets on TiqIQ for tonight's game are going for $180, far less than the $300 the Cubs/Pirates tickets are going for.

*Evan Drellich, on how the 2015 Astros were built. Keep reading until you get to the part about how huge Luhnow views the Dexter Fowler trade.

*Colby Rasmus stuck up for Josh Fields' camouflage suit, and a clubhouse leader was born, based on his apparently miserable experience in St. Louis:
I'd get there five, six hours before a game to just sit there and look at my clothes in my locker in a locker room where nobody really even wanted to talk to me anyway. And when they did, it was just to make fun of me about my clothes or things like that. To me, that's really not beneficial to a healthy environment. Call me a sissy or whatever, but I don't think that that's the way it should be.

*Jose de Jesus Ortiz, on how Club Astros was born.

*Jerome Solomon: The Astros' best is good enough

*Carlos Gomez plans to play tonight, but it's not really up to him:
I don't know. It's not be decision, but I should be there. That's on my mind that I'm going to be there. Tomorrow I'm going to come ready to start in the lineup and do my job.

*Collin McHugh is lined up to start a potential Game 1 of the ALDS on Thursday.

*This is weird: Luhnow is "putting forth a new vision" that could result in altered roles or the departures of farm director Quinton McCracken and assistant farm director Allen Rowin. Luhnow "has already made changes in player development, letting go of a slew of people last week." Seven of the nine affiliates made their respective playoffs in 2015.

*Howard Megdal wonders about all those Evan Gattis triples (stealing an off-season blog post idea right out from under me).

*Steve Wulf on how the Astros arrived ahead of schedule.

*The Astros and Yankees both think they're underdogs.

*Girardi won't reveal the lineup, and A-Rod and Reggie Jackson have nice things to say about Carlos Correa.

*Joel Sherman wonders if the 2015 Yankees can channel the 2000 Yankees.

*Surprise! Both beat writers from Enn Jayyy Dawt Cawm think the Yankees beat the Astros tonight.

*The New York Post introduces baseball fans in New York to the Astros.

*Luhnow's first Major League game was at Yankee Stadium, and the bright lights and big city await the youthful Astros - a good read from Gordon Edes.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Wild Card Preview: Astros @ Yankees

This is strange. Usually when I would do series previews on Astros County it was early in the season, and the enjoyment of doing so petered out by, say, the third week of April. This is the first postseason series preview in Astros County's seven year history, and it's a one-game playoff, so this should all be qualified by saying "This is a freaking crapshoot." Still, in the interest of page views (I should probably set up something #OnHere that makes us money for page views) here is your tale of the tape heading into the Wild Card Game at Yankee Stadium.

Season Series: 

Houston leads the season series 4-3, outscoring the Yankees 36-17, assisted by the 15-1 romp at Yankee Stadium on August 25. Other, closer games went as follows in 2015:

June 25: Dallas Keuchel threw a complete game shutout with 6H/0ER, 12K:1BB in a 4-0 win. Astros got four doubles, two from Altuve, and 2RBI from Evan Gattis.

June 26: The Astros had a 2-0 lead before a 3-run 7th from the Yankees provided the final margin. Vince Velasquez threw 6.1IP, 5H/2ER, 2K:1BB. Then Will Harris allowed a 3-run homer - two runners of which were inherited from Velasquez.

June 27: The Oberholtzer Game! The Yankees had a 6-0 lead on McCann's 1st inning grand slam and Chris Young's 2nd inning two-run shot. Next batter up was Alex Rodriguez, whom Brett Oberholtzer tried - and failed - to hit. This got him ejected and sent down later that afternoon. Hinch apologized to the Yankees, it was an ordeal. But the Astros fought back and after back-to-back jacks in the 5th by Correa and Altuve, tied the game up at 6-6, all runs off Masahiro Tanaka. Then in a horrible bout of foreshadowing, Neshek walked the first batter he faced in the 8th, the 2nd batter reached on an error, he got A-Rod, and then gave up a 2-run double to Mark Teixeira. Sipp gave up a solo homer to Chase Headley in the top of the 9th, and that was that. 9-6 Yankees.

June 28: Collin McHugh dominated the Jankees after they took a 1-0 lead in the 2nd, ending up throwing 8IP, 2H/1ER, 8K:2BB, 71 of his 106 pitches for strikes. Luke Gregerson got his 18th save. Correa tied the game when he hit a double, advanced on an error by Ellsbury, and made it around the bases to score a not-little-league homer. Correa later scored the go-ahead run on Evan Gattis' 64th triple of the season. Astros split the series.

August 24: Yankees win 1-0 on a walk-off sac fly after Scott Feldman goes 8IP, 6H/0ER, 6K:0BB and Oliver Perez walks the first three batters he sees in the 9th to load the bases for Chad Qualls, who gave up a deep flyball to Carlos Beltran.

August 25: Blowout! Also known as The Game Where Carlos Gomez Remembered How To Hit, Until He Hurt His Ribs (I'm working on the title). Gomez, despite going 8x18 in his first four games as an Astro, was hitting .192/.232/.256 up until the August 25th game. Then he smacked a double, homer, and 4RBI and from that game until the Intercostal strain hit .306/.362/.565.

August 26: A four-run 4th and a solid start from Collin McHugh gives the Astros the series with a 6-2 win. Gattis hit two homers.

Playoff Experience:

The Yankees everyday lineup has played in a combined 237 postseason games with 924 plate appearances.

The Astros' entire offensive corps has played in a combined 35 postseason games with 117 plate appearances.

Advantage: Could go either way! The Yankees could be so bored and jaded, and feel so entitled to a playoff spot that they forget there's not a Game 2. The Astros could be more jacked up and talented that they destroy the Yankees. Or the Yankees' faceless machine doesn't know how to do anything but roll, and they win. Or there isn't an advantage based on playoff experience, because it's a 9-inning crapshoot, anyway.

Experience in Single-Game Situations

The Astros are 86-76 in single games this season. The Yankees are 87-75 in single games this season.

Advantage: YANQUIS.

Recent Form

This is where it gets interesting. The Yankees went 3-7 in their last ten games, and the only reason that this game isn't in Houston is because of a balk and a two-run homer to Paul Goldschmidt. Still, they went 9-11 in their last 20, and 13-17 in their last 30 games. They're depleted. Weak.

But hey it's not like the Astros set it on fire and pissed on the ashes in the last month. Yeah, the Astros were 6-4 in their last ten, getting a crucial 4-2 road trip to end the season, but they were 10-10 in their last 20, and 13-17 in their last 30. Basically the Astros are a game better than the Yankees in their last 20, and dead even in their last 30. Of course, of the five AL playoff teams, only the Blue Jays and Rangers are over .500 in their last 30 games (both at 18-12). So whatever.

Advantage: Push!

Keuchel vs. Tanaka

Of course this comes down to Keuchel vs. Tanaka. Keuchel will be pitching on short rest and while I've made my feelings about his 6th inning last Friday known, there isn't a pitcher I'd rather have on the mound in a one-game series than Dallas Keuchel. I mean, I wouldn't trust Scott Kazmir to start my car right now. I'd give him the keys just to start it, come out five minutes later and he'd be holding the muffler and telling me my game plan sucked.

Tanaka, 2015: 24 starts, 154IP, 126H/60ER, 139K:27BB, 25HR allowed. 3.51 ERA/0.99 WHIP.
Tanaka, Post-ASG: 13 starts, 87IP, 70H/33ER, 72K:14BB, 15HR allowed, 3.41 ERA/0.97 WHIP.
Tanaka, last 5 starts: 32.1IP, 26H/11ER, 29K:3BB, 5HR allowed, 3.06 ERA/0.90 WHIP.
Tanaka, at home, 2015: 14 starts, 87.1IP, 72H/36ER, 78K:15BB, 3.71 ERA/1.00 WHIP.

Tanaka has been pretty great. Just because it's Keuchel doesn't mean this is going to be a walk in the park for the Astros, a formality before the Astros go to Kansas City to exact revenge on Edinson Volquez for breaking Springer's hand. Sure, the second part will likely happen, just not in an organized MLB setting.

If there's anything to feel good about, it's that Tanaka's worst start of the season came against Houston, but at Minute Maid Park. In that June 27 game, he allowed 7H/6ER, 5K:2BB and 3HR. That was actually the second start in a row he had given up 5ER+ and 3HR. Since that start against Houston, he has allowed a 3.31 ERA/0.94 WHIP.

And while we're feeling good about things, or not, we can at least look at his HR/9 (1.46) and see that it's the 9th-highest among pitchers who have thrown at least 150IP. So for a team that likes to hit BOMBZ, that's also, um, good.

Keuchel. We already know Dallas Keuchel. 27 of his 33 starts have resulted in three or fewer earned runs.

Keuchel, 2015: 33 starts, 232IP, 185H/64ER, 216K:51BB, 17HR allowed, 2.48 ERA/1.02 WHIP
Keuchel, Post-ASG: 94.2IP, 81H/30ER, 102K:17BB, 10HR allowed, 2.85 ERA/1.04 WHIP
Keuchel, Last 5 starts: 31.1IP, 30H/13ER, 31K:7BB, 3.73 ERA/1.18 WHIP
Keuchel, on the Road: 102.2IP, 98H/43ER, 77K:23BB, 13HR allowed, 3.77 ERA/1.18 WHIP

The most impressive thing about Keuchel's last five starts is that it includes the 11H/9ER outing at Arlington in 4.2IP. Keuchel's road numbers are skewed for two reasons:

1) Because his home splits are so good. Anything that's not The Greatest Home Record in Major League Baseball history is going to look a little lackluster.
2) 15 of his starts were on the road. In 10 of those starts he allowed three or fewer earned runs. There was the Arlington Disaster on September 16. Three of the other unKeuchel starts were in May and June, and then the only other road start where he allowed 4ER+ was on July 26 at Kansas City. So in six of his last eight road starts, Keuchel has allowed three or fewer earned runs.

Then there's Keuchel against the Yankees: 16IP, 9H/0ER, 21K:1BB.

Advantage: It's one start. Who freaking knows?


Dear God, please let Keuchel throw a Maddux.

The Astros' bullpen issues are well-documented and picked apart.

But the Yankees bullpen has been bad as well. Since arbitrary numbers don't require as much research, we can see that from September 1 to the end of the season the Yankees bullpen has allowed a .270/.363/.458 slash line. The Astros' bullpen in that same time frame? .284/.342/.453.

Advantage: There's no advantage right now.

Astros-Killers vs. Yankee-Killers

Astros-Killer: Chris Young. We have to stop Chris Young. Hit him. Give him syphilis. Do whatever you have to do, Luhnow. Dig deep down into Ground Control's Dark Web and pause the app causing murders and changing the weather to fire a brown note at Chris Young and make him poop himself in the on-deck circle. Chris Young is hitting the Astros to a .333/.391/.619 line.

Yankee-Killer: Evan Gattis. In seven games, Gattis is 11x26 with a .423/483/.885 line, 2K:3BB. Carlos Correa is hitting .333/.385/.583; Jose Altuve is hitting .348/.429/.565.

Advantage: Astros.


There's no use trying to predict this. Let's just hope there's a happy revenge flight to Kansas City on Wednesday morning.

Your Playoff-Bound Houston Astros

Jeebus. Who would have thought? I mean, yeah, I'm processing all the negative feelings that come with having lost the division to South Oklahoma, but when Cole Hamels titted out and rejected a trade to the Astros to join the Northwest Louisiana Rangers, there was a turn in the season narrative. "Nobody believed in us!" said the team with the $170m payroll and three future Hall of Famers. "We - the Southwest Arkansas Ramgers came and took it." Bastards. I hope they all get pink eye from rubbing their crotches on each other's pillows and I wish nothing but a lifetime of rocking back and forth with a Windex bottle of toilet wine as they mutter "One Strike Away" for the rest of the miserable lives they lead, in traffic.

But this isn't about the Metroplexuals.

Your Houston Astros are postseason bound for the first time in ten years. Nobody is more excited than the likely-hungover Hank Conger:

*Some people apparently got offended at the fact that sometimes baseball players use potty language when they get excited and/or make the playoffs.

*Rasmus: "To put it into words is crazy. Poppin' bottles is easier."

*Luhnow: "Hopefully they'll be making a movie about this one day."

*This is one of those things that, if I was morally bankrupt and a Rangers fan, I would find entertaining. But really I just want to punch a sackful of kittens.

*ESPN gazed into the abyss and unlocked the mystery of the Astros' success this season: Pitching, Home Runs, and Defense. So by being good at pitching, hitting, and defense, it turns out the Astros were pretty good. That's nuts. Why didn't they try that before?

*Oliver Perez: We're going to play one game and we're going to play like it's Game 7 of the World Series.

New York Media

NYT: Innocence is a virtue for the young Astros

NJ.com: Do the Yankees think they can beat Dallas Keuchel?

Newsday: The Yankees have to solve Dallas Keuchel

NY Daily News: Yankees could have a problem with Dallas Keuchel

From the Office of the County Clerk - G162: Astros in Arizona

Lance McCullers (6-7, 3.21) versus Robbie Ray (5-12, 3.50)

So there we have it, Astros fans and loyal readers.  For the first time in a decade, the Astros are a playoff team.  Unlike the last playoff team in 2005, this team looks like it is on the upswing, rather than reaching the end of its shelf life.  Today - Game 162 - was not perfect, however: the Astros were denied the opportunity to challenge the Fort Worth Rangers for the AL West, then they were unable to secure home-field advantage for the Wild Card Game.  However, looking at the bright side, their travel plans for the next few days are now clear, and they don't have to participate in either a play-in game, or any other kind of Game 163.  Plus, the Astros enter the playoffs with an already fresh bullpen, with their best pitcher on the mound, and with an offense which has shown some encouraging signs of life recently - even on the road.

Playing New York at New York isn't the worst match-up in the world, either.  The Astros have a lot of fly-ball hitters, and I seem to have the impression that they hit a few outs to the warning track - which could get out at Yankee Stadium.  Rasmus and Valbuena - in particular - may get a Yankee Stadium boost.  Plus, Dallas Keuchel is an extreme groundballer, so the Yankees may have a little bit of trouble getting the ball in the air and taking similar advantage.  Looking at matchups on paper, however, is an exercise in futility - Keuchel (or Tanaka, for that matter) may have an absolute shocker, and the game may be gone early for either team.  It is going to be interesting to watch.

Anyhow, lets turn our attention to G162 for the next few minutes.  This game was an interesting one - it was fairly tight, with some encouraging moments, but in other way it was a microcosm of the Astros' season.  The Astros came back three times and looked like they had what it takes to pull it off, but they were ultimately done in by their own mistakes.  The bullpen again faltered - this was not a feature of the season as a whole, but was certainly a feature of two weeks in late June and the last five weeks of the season.  You could see a more mature (or less enthusiastic) Astros' team grinding this one out - perhaps the 2017 Astros would be more likely to grab a win in a situation like this.

Astros lose, 5-3, mostly because Paul Goldschmidt is awesome.

On the Mound:
Lance McCullers was the unsurprising starter tonight.  I am sure he wouldn't have gone if the Astros had no chance or catching the Rangers or Yankees - then the start would have fallen to a Dan Straily or someone similar.  Anyhow, pressure-wise, this was the biggest start of McCullers' career, and for the most part, he handled it well.  The radio guys made multiple comments about the lack of sweat, humidity and air pressure, and what that does to curveball grips and spin rates, because the Delaware clay that the balls are rubbed up with loses moisture and becomes all shiny.

McCullers started reasonably well, getting two outs without incident until throwing a 2-1 fastball up in the zone to A.J. Pollock.  Castro called for the pitch down and away, McCullers missed arm-side-and-up, and Pollock took him deep to dead CF for a solo shot.  It was a nice piece of hitting from a guy that has had a great season (.315/.367/.498, with solid defence).

McCullers had a solid second frame (only a one-out walk) before he loaded the bases in the third inning with two outs.  Steve Sparks on the radio commented that McCullers looked like he was keen to get back into the dugout and have a quick inning, and immediately afterward McCullers gave up two two-out singles.  McCullers elevated a 3-2 curveball to Phil Gosselin which was lined into RF, then he allowed another single on a similar pitch to A.J. Pollock.  Goldschmidt followed with a walk to load the bases, but McCullers struck Jarrod Saltalamacchia out looking for the last out on a 2-2 curveball that broke back over the plate toward the lefty.

The next inning was the critical one, in my opinion.  If this inning doesn't happen, Chad Qualls probably does not get to pitch in this game.  The inning started relatively well, with Aaron Hill fouling out to first base.  The second out should have been made when Jake Lamb rolled over on a grounder to Chris Carter.  Carter made a nice play coming in, and may well have been able to beat Lamb to the bag himself.  But McCullers was covering, so Carter employed an underhanded toss.  The toss was fine, but McCullers was tasked with catching the ball and standing on first at the same time.  The ball bounced off the heel of his glove, and rolled far enough away for McCullers to have no chance to get Lamb at first.  A one out reached-on-error later proved to be an important baserunner.

McCullers bounced back, striking out Chris Owings.  That brought Robbie Ray to the plate... and he doubled (!) on a slash down the third base line.  The pitch was a similar pitch to the one that Salty had struck out on - a curveball that started outside to the lefty and broke into the zone, and Ray hammered it along the ground just inside the third base bag.  Lamb stopped at third because of slick glove work from González, and Ray cruised into second.

Lamb scored when McCullers elected to pitch out of the windup, and balked.  It was a huge call from Jeff Nelson, the crew chief stationed at third, but it was correct.  The balk was the first from an Astros pitcher all year, and it proved vitally important.  Lamb - who had reached on an error - scored, and Ray advanced to third.  Socrates Brito ended the inning by grounding out for the third out, but the damage had been done.

McCullers came out for the fifth - no surprise there - and he again recorded some quick outs.  Then Paul Goldschmidt singled on a line drive to CF, advanced on a spiked breaking ball that Castro did well to keep in front of him, and scored on a two-out ground rule double.  Saltalamacchia took a 2-2 pitch, drove it deep to RF, and the ball bounced on the warning track and over the fence.  If Goldschmidt doesn't advance, no run would have been scored, because the next batter grounded out (simplistic analysis acknowledged).

Tony Sipp opened the sixth inning, and he managed to get the first two outs without incident.  Then Peter O'Brien hit a double down the LF line that wedged in the padding in the corner, and it was correctly adjudicated to be a ground-rule double.  Sipp then walked Socrates Brito, which resulted in Chad Qualls being summonsed from the 'pen, and he struck out Phil Gosselin for the final out on three efficient pitches.

Qualls stayed on for the seventh, and the game was tied 3-3 by virtue of the Astros scoring in the top half of the frame.  The scores stayed tied for no further outs, however, because A.J. Pollock led off with a single to RF, then Paul Goldschmidt followed with a majestic home run into the LF bleachers. It was a full-count-something-elevated - looked like a cut fastball or hard slider - that was located up and inside, and Goldschmidt turned on it, and kept it just fair, inside the foul pole.  The ball bounced off the back wall of the bullpen, so it got out by plenty.

That ran the score to 5-3.  Oliver Pérez relieved Qualls, and his outing was unremarkable.  Pat Neshek scuffled a little, allowing a single and a double to put runners on the corners, but he escaped by getting Pollock to fly out.  Neshek looks to be scuffling with his location, and both the hits seemed to be recorded on fastballs that ran too far in to the righty hitters. 

At the Plate:
Robbie Ray, who the Diamondbacks acquired as part of the Didi Gregorius trade, has had a solid season.  He opened fairly solidly, allowing a Springer hustle-double in the first.  Springer hit a hard grounder to the LF side of CF - medium depth only - and because Pollock had to come in on the ball, Springer took second on a slide.  It was all to no avail, however, as Correa lined out to third base, and Rasmus struck out swinging to end the frame.

The Astros managed their second consecutive one-out hit (a single into LF for Marwin González) in the second inning, and third one-out hit (an Altuve single) in the third.  Altuve dumped one into shallow RF, then he scored when Springer hammered a pitch that was meant to be down and away, but caught the middle of the zone.  The hit was a hot line drive that landed just to the RF side of CF, slicing just out of Pollock's reach.  Altuve had hesitated to make sure that ball wasn't caught, and Springer kept going past second - possibly to protect Altuve at the plate, although Altuve would have scored easily - but he was caught in a rundown and tagged out.  Impressive bit of hitting, but over-aggressive bit of baserunning.  Probably wouldn't have mattered, however, because the next two hitters struck out.

The Astros managed another one-out single in the fourth - a Chris Carter grounder that was unable to be cleanly fielded by the third baseman.  They immediately followed with another single (a González single to left which looked very similar to the second inning) to put runners on first and second.  But Jed Lowrie - who looked late on the fastball all night - and Jason Castro - who couldn't lay off breaking balls - struck out to end the frame without damage.  Ray had struck out the side while allowing two hits.

In the fifth inning, the Astros - gasp - managed a one-out hit.  This one was a triple from Jose Altuve, who hit a hard grounder down the LF line.  Altuve motored for second, then the ball clanged around in the corner in full sight of Altuve, so he gunned for third.  The throw in was offline - it would have needed to have been perfect for there to be a play on the wee guy - and the Astros had a man at third with one out.  

The next batter was George Springer, and we worked a 1-2 pitch off his lead elbow to reach base.  Then Carlos Correa walked on a full count to load the bases.  Evan Gattis pinch hit for Colby Rasmus, and he beat out a grounder to shortstop that recorded a lone out at second base.  Chris Carter followed by striking out against the reliever, Randall Delgado, who pitched really well.  

Randall Delgado retired the side in order in the sixth.  In the seventh, the Astros didn't record a one-out hit, but did record a two-out walk to George Springer instead.  Then Carlos Correa singled to left field - a line drive pretty much right to the fielder - and somehow Springer went first-to-third.  That put runners on the corners for Handsome Jake Marisnick who had a 2-0 count when Daniel Hudson's low fastball eluded Salty and bounced toward the Astros' dugout.  The carom was so extreme that Correa went first to third on it.  However, Marisnick turned a 3-0 count into a strikeout three pitches later, and Correa was stranded at third.

Brad Ziegler pitched the last two innings for the Diamondbacks.  He allowed a two-out single in the eighth to dancing robot Hank Conger, then allowed the first two runners to reach in the ninth.  The second of these runners was Jose Altuve, and that hit meant that he recorded 200 on the season.  However, a George Springer double-play on a hard-hit grounder up the middle erased the game tying run off of the bases, and Carlos Correa grounded out for the last out.  Regular season over, and the Astros were unable to catch the Yankees.

The box score is again interesting.  The top of the order (Jose Altuve - 3-5, 3B - and George Springer - 2-3, BB, HBP, 2x2B) dominated.  After that, it gets a little patchy.  Carlos Correa went 1-4 with a walk, Colby Rasmus went 0-2 with 2K, Chris Cartet went 1-4 with 2K and Marwin González went 2-3.  However, Jed Lowrie struck out three times in three at-bats, Jason Castro struck out three times in four at-bats, and Lance McCullers isn't expected to be able to hit.

Turning Point:
The Astros' fielding miscues were the turning points of this game.  The fourth inning error resulted in Jake Lamb reaching on a catching error from Lance McCullers and later scoring from third on a balk.  The fifth inning involved a two-out single from Paul Goldschmidt who advanced on a spiked curveball, then scored on a ground-rule.  If neither of those runs scored, the two teams may still be playing in a tied game, but I would have pegged the advantage to the Astros because of the state of the relative bullpens.  

Man of the Match:
Jose Altuve has not managed to attain the levels of success that he had last season, but he is still a nasty hitting machine.  When Altuve and Springer hit the ball hard at the top of the order, the Astros look like a side with serious postseason potential.  Altuve scored two of the three runs today, and his 200th hit breaks a tie with George Springer for the MoTM.

Goat of the Game:
Jed Lowrie is in a wee slump.  1-for-his-last-24 or thereabouts, I believe.  He was regularly busted inside today.  Not good.  Jed is important for this team, as he normally represents one of the harder outs of the lineup.  If his timing returns, then he could be an important weapon.

Up Next:
The postseason, baby!!  I didn't dare to imagine this at the beginning of the season.  The Wild-Card Game is much better than fourth place in the West.  Well done, Astros!

Houston versus New York... Dallas Keuchel versus Masahiro Tanaka

Tuesday 6 Sept, 8 Eastern, 7 Central.

This will be worth a watch.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Well, okay then.

Can you believe this? I know it's a trite expression, but seriously, can you believe the Astros? After being next to useless for four months on the road, they win four of five to set up at least a G163. Astros win 6-2. More on that later.

What happened elsewhere

The Yankees dropped both ends of a double-header at Baltimore

The Twins were eliminated from contention with a 5-1 loss to the Royals.

The Angels punched the Rangers in the nuts in the 9th inning, scoring five runs to win 11-10. This game was crazy. The Angels were up 5-1 after putting four on the board in the top of the 5th, which were answered by the Rangers in the bottom of the 5th. The Rangers then scored five of the next six runs to take a 10-6 lead. In the top of the 9th, the Angels went homer, homer, groundout, double, strikeout, single, single, single, single to go up 11-10.

Colby Lewis:
It's not over. We still have tomorrow and tonight really. It's thoroughly disappointing what just transpired. We've come this far. We're not going to let anything else get us down.

FanGraphs gives the Astros a 15.4% chance of winning the division, and a 74.7% chance of making the postseason.

Houston @ Arizona

Collin McHugh was good, as has been his custom. In his first 13 starts of 2015, McHugh threw 79.2IP, 90H/45ER (5.08 ERA) with 12HR allowed and an .808 OPS. Since: 124IP, 117H/43ER (3.12 ERA) with 7HR and a .637 OPS. This includes back-to-back starts at Oakland and Arlington in mid-September in which he gave up 5ER in nine total IP.

Colby Rasmus hit his 24th and 25th home runs of the season, and his 3rd in the two games against Arizona. After the September 2 game against Seattle, Rasmus' OPS bottomed out at .735. Since then, however, he's hitting .301/.407/.658 in 87 PAs with eight homers and 13 walks.

George Springer was 2x4, his 5th multi-hit game in a row, and 8th 2+ hit game in his last eleven.

Chris Carter was 2x4 with two doubles last night but was thrown out advancing to third both times. Despite that, Carter is hitting .326/.420/.860 since the Yankees series at the end of August. He has hits in twelve of his last 14 games .

*Jose Altuve was 2x4 with a double and a home run, and has 5RBI in his last three games. The double was his 40th double of the season, giving him at least 40 doubles in back-to-back seasons. Since the All-Star Break, Altuve is hitting .332/.367/.502.

Where we are now

Here is the scenario:

AL West
Rangers: -
Astros: -1
Rangers: -2

AL Wild Card:
Yankees: +1
Astros: -
Angels: -1

So here's what can happen:
HOU win + ARL loss = G163 for the division to be played on Monday, loser
HOU win + ARL win + NYY loss = Astros host Wild Card game vs NYY on Tuesday
HOU win + ARL win + NYY win = Astros play Wild Card game at NYY on Tuesday
HOU loss + ARL win = Astros play Wild Card game at NYY on Tuesday
HOU loss + ANA win = G163 in Houston vs LAA on Monday for 2nd Wild Card

If the Astros win, they're in. Hinch:
Nothing can happen to us negatively if we win (on Sunday). We'll be playing for the division or be in the Wild Card.

Jeff Luhnow:
I love it, and it's fun as a fan. But I'm a nervous wreck.

I'm planning on having another start. I'm planning on having another three, four starts. 

Coming into Spring Training, everybody counting us out, pretty much saying we're going to be subpar. To have this grind of these last few games, to be able to give us that chance, man, it's pretty sweet.

Today's Slate

Garrett Richards (LAA) vs Hole Camels (ARL)

Richards will be pitching on short rest while Hamels has to pitch, and then won't be able to start a potential Game 1 of the ALDS on normal rest. Yay for this universal start time.

In his last five starts against the Rangers (dating back to 2014), Richards is 5-0 and has a 1.80 ERA. In his last seven starts, Richards has a 3.04 ERA

Hamels hasn't faced the Angels since 2008, but he's 5-0 in his last seven starts with a 3.38 ERA, including his last start against Detroit in which he gave up 6ER.

It's still hard to root for either team, but now that we won, it certainly puts pressure on teams around us. It gives us a chance to win the division.

Lance McCullers vs. Robbie Ray

McCullers has a 3.27 ERA in his last seven starts, not giving up more than 3ER in any of them.

Robbie Ray has a 3.82 ERA in his last seven starts, including two starts against the Dodgers (11IP) in which he did not give up an earned run.

Other Reads

*Jeff Luhnow stands by the Kazmir and Gomez/Fiers trades:
The players on this team that put us in a position to make those trades at the end of July deserve the opportunity for us to add talent, and that's what we did. It doesn't always work out. I think we know that, we knew that going in. Fortunately for us, we have Fiers and Gomez next year, and we're still in it. 

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Astros exercise bats, exorcise some demons

Well that got out of hand pretty quickly. The Astros set a club record with 21 runs in a 21-5 win over the Diamondbacks last night in Arizona. More on that in a minute, let's see what else happened.

*Mike Trout hit a leadoff triple in the 9th and scored on Albert Pujols' single to beat the Rangers 2-1.

*The Royals beat the Twins 3-1. And the Twins were sad...
The Minnesota Twins clubhouse, clouded so often this season by fog machines for the post-victory dance parties, was crystal clear and eerily quiet...

Oh really...fog machines and dance parties in the clubhouse? How novel.

So that leaves us with two games to play and...

AL West:
Ramgers (87-73): -
Astros (85-75): 2.0 GB
Angels (84-76): 3.0 GB

2nd Wild Card:
Astros: -
Angels: 1.0 GB
Twins: 2.0 GB

If the Astros win tonight, the Twins are eliminated and it guarantees at least a G163 with the Angels. If the Astros lose tonight and the Angels win, they are tied for the final Wild Card spot with Sunday's game remaining.
If the Astros win and the Angels lose tonight, Houston clinches the final Wild Card spot.

Astros @ Diamondbacks

Astros runs by inning: 3, 2, 1, 1, 0, 3, 7, 4, 0

Arizona manager Chip Hale:
We just couldn't slow them down. Tonight we will take a shower and get rid of this game and have a better one tomorrow. 

A.J. Hinch:
It was a good night for us. We swung the bats extremely well, from the beginning all the way to the end and really did a lot of damage. So I was proud of our guys. We showed up at the right time, and what a game. We haven't had a game like that in a long time, and it was nice to be on the winning end of that.

You have never seen anything like that, because the Astros had never scored 20+ runs before. Diamondbacks fans had never seen anything like that, because they had never allowed 21+ runs before.

Why did Keuchel pitch the 6th?

Dallas Keuchel became the Astros' first 20-game winner since Roy Oswalt in 2005 and the 2nd lefty pitcher to win 20+ games in franchise history, the first since Mike Hampton did it in 2009.

Which is cool and all, but he came back out for the 6th inning, because pitching six innings looks shiny for idiot BBWAA voters who don't pay attention. This is routine behavior for BBWAA voters. But Keuchel ended up throwing 99 pitches in a game that was 7-2 by the time he qualified for the win. Going back out there for the 6th - after the Astros had scored three more runs to make it 10-2 - resulted in Keuchel throwing 21 more pitches. Take this with as many grains of salt as you like, but I would feel a lot better about Keuchel throwing a potential Wild Card game on three days rest at Yankee Stadium after having thrown 78 low-leverage pitches as opposed to 99 pitches. Maybe 21 pitches isn't that big of a deal, but it seemed silly to me.

But A.J. Hinch didn't want to talk about the possibility of Keuchel pitching on Tuesday:
To be honest with you I'm comfortable with McHugh pitching tomorrow in a really important game. That's as far as I'll look.

Keuchel isn't bothered by it and, hell, maybe we shouldn't be, either:
I could pitch tomorrow if I need to.

Correa breaks Berkman's record

Carlos Correa was a double short of the cycle, and Hinch pulled him before he could get it:
I wanted the cycle, but Skip told me I'm done. I'm not going to be like, 'Hey, I want to play. I want a double.' It would be selfish to think about myself and being ready for the next day in case something happens that gets me hurt when the game is not even close. 

With Correa's 22nd homer of the season, he broke the record for homers by a rookie set by Lance Berkman.

Meat Wagon Update

*Carlos Gomez's intercostal was strained again thanks to the double-play laser he threw on Wednesday night to end the Mariners game on an 8-3.
*Jed Lowrie sat out last night but Hinch says he could have started.
*Did we know that Pat Neshek has been dealing with a stress fracture in his foot?
*Will Harris's 2nd child was born, and he went home to Louisiana. He'll be back in Arizona today.

Saturday Slate:

Hector Santiago takes on Colby Lewis at 12:05pm in Arlington. Santiago has a 1.48 ERA in his last five starts against the Rangers in 2015. Colby Lewis has a 9.11 ERA in his last five starts against the Angels dating back to 2014.

Yordano Ventura takes on Tommy Milone at 12:05pm in Minnesota. Ventura has 49 strikeouts in his last 42 IP (seven starts). Minnesota Tommy Milone has a 5.09 ERA in his last seven starts.

Collin McHugh gets the start for the Astros, facing Jeremy Hellickson who was a member of the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings. McHugh has a 3.63 ERA in his last seven starts and threw 7IP, 8H/1ER, 6K:1BB in his one start against Arizona this season. Hellickson has allowed 7H/3ER in his last 11IP but got lit up for 6ER in 3IP back in August against the Astros.

Other Links

*Jonah Keri breaks down the Astros' September:
Want to end up 11-16 in September? Start by making sure your pitchers have both their worst and their unluckiest month of the season. 

*Check out Jay Jaffe's Team Entropy update if you're just rooting for chaos.

*17 Clear-Eyed, Full-Hearted Facts About "Friday Night Lights"

Friday, October 2, 2015

The playoffs start tonight

It comes down to this, Astros fans. The Astros have to win this series at Arizona in order to play the Yankees in a one-game series on Tuesday. So let's check out what happened last night:

*The Rangers beat the Angels, 5-3.

*The Twins beat the Indians, 4-2.

The Yankees and Rangers both clinched playoff spots last night so the only thing left to decide is the AL West/2nd Wild Card, because. Here's where we stand:

Clinched playoff spot: Blue Jays, Yankees, Royals, Rangers.
Still alive: Astros, Angels, Twins

AL West
Rangers (87-72): -
Astros (84-75): 3.0 GB
Angels (83-76): 4.0 GB

AL 2nd Wild Card:
Astros (84-75): -
Angels (83-76): 1.0 GB
Minnesota (83-76): 1.0 GB

With the next win by the Rangers, they will clinch the division because the only point of baseball is to make you as miserable as possible. But the Wild Card is up for grabs. Obviously, if the Astros win out, they're in. There are three teams fighting for one playoff spot, and three games remaining in the season.

FanGraphs gives the Astros a 1.2% chance of winning the division (which seems high) and a 73.3% chance of holding on to that Wild Card spot.

If the season ended today:

Things would be much easier to deal with, emotionally. The Astros would head to New York for the Wild Card game on Tuesday and the winner would then head to Toronto for the ALDS.

Tonight's games:

7:00pm: Angels at Rangers. Jered Weaver vs. Martin Perez
7:10pm: Kansas City at Minnesota. Chris Young vs. Ervin Santana
8:40pm: Houston at Arizona. Dallas Keuchel vs. Rubby de la Rosa.


The Fighting' Goldschmidts are coming off a sweep of the Rockies entering the final weekend of the season. They're 3rd in the NL West at 78-81 and are 38-40 at home this season. The D'Backs are 7-3 in their last ten games, 12-8 in their last 20, and 15-15 in their last 30 games.

The Astros will face Rubby De La Rosa tonight, who is 14-8 with a 4.56 ERA. In five September starts, De La Rosa has thrown 24.1IP, 25H/14ER, 17K:9BB, allowing 4HR. This includes his September 12 start where the Dodgers rocked him for 9H/6ER in 2IP.

The Astros will throw Dallas Keuchel tonight, Collin McHugh tomorrow, and Lance McCullers or Mike Fiers on Sunday in an effort to keep Scott Kazmir the hell away from any semblance of an important outing.


*Bob Nightengale writes that clinching a playoff spot in Arizona would be pretty BAWSE for A.J. Hinch:
The last time he put on a uniform in this city, A.J. Hinch was openly mocked in his own clubhouse, ridiculed locally and nationally, and fired in a managerial experiment that went horribly wrong. 

*Brian T. Smith has sunshine, rainbows, and chocolate sprinkles coming out of his butt.
If you can blend a stubborn puppy dog with a relentless bumblebee, that's the 2015 Astros.

*Jason Lisk writes that September results are not a predictor of October success.

*Dallas Keuchel and Carlos Correa are finalists for the Players Choice awards, which will be won by Taylor Swift.

*Bo Porter has interviewed for the vacant managerial position with the Marlins. My appreciation and respect for Bo Porter is well-documented, and I think he is well-suited and better-equipped to return to the manager's chair. He has earned the right to start the Marlins turn-around before they inevitably and systematically dismantle their team out from under their fans and their manager.