Friday, May 30, 2014

From the Office of the County Clerk - G55: Astros versus Orioles

Brad Peacock (1-4, 5.20) versus Ubaldo Jimenez (2-6, 4.98)

The Astros continue an impressive run of form, in which they have won 12 out of their last 18 games - second in baseball to the slightly more impressive Toronto Blue Jays (14 out of their last 18, and 21 for 28 for the month of May).  George Springer hit his seventh home run in seven games, tying him with Rudolph Preston York (1937) for the most in a seven game span by a rookie.

The Astros did what they have done so much of recently: starting pitching verging on dominant, timely power hitting, a lack of defensive miscues, and a non-crap bullpen closing the games out.  Another solid win over a contending team (the 26-26 Baltimore Orioles) by a score of 3-1.  On Dollar Hot-Dog night, too.  Everyone's an overweight winner!

On the Mound:

Brad Peacock got his first start in 12 days, after he skipped a start due to forearm tightness.  He showed no evidence of any rust, and had what is probably his best outing of the season: 6IP, 6H, 1R/ER, 8K.  No walks.  Five strikeouts looking (HP Ump Mike Muchlinski's bow-and-arrow got a workout), the remaining three swinging.  His Game Score was a solid 64, easily his best of the month.

As we sometimes do, lets go through the strikeouts:
* J.J. Hardy, struck out looking on a 77mph curve, which just catches in inside corner, low, 0-2 count.
* Manny Machardo, struck out looking on a 74mph inside curve, mid-thigh, 1-2 count.
* Nick Hundley struck out looking on a 93mph fastball, 0-2 count.
* Chris Davis, looking, on a 81mph change up, 2-2 count, started inside on the lefty and ran back over the plate
* J.J. Hardy, swinging on an 0-2 curve, down and away
* Machado, swinging, on a 3-2 fastball down and away, 93mph
* Ryan Flaherty, swinging, on an 80mph, 1-2 curve, down and in.
* Chris Davis, looking, on a 2-2, 94mph fastball over the middle of the plate, but low in the zone.

The hits weren't exactly well hit, either.  Pearce's lead off double to the left-field scoreboard was the hardest hit ball.  He would later score on Nelson Cruz's other-way, against-shift, poke into right field on a fastball down and away, that possibly was designed to have been located further off the plate (although the catchers glove moved slightly away to catch the pitch).  The other hits were of the bloop variety, or ground balls that found holes.  Peacock's outing finished in the top of the sixth, when he retired J.J. Hardy on a groundout to short, with men on first and third.

Josh Fields relieved, and continued the dominance.  He allowed one hit (a bloop single into left, just between Grossman and Villar) in two innings, striking out three.  He was very economical with his pitches - 21 pitches needed for the two innings.  Chad Qualls earned the save by striking out one in one inning pitched.

Impressively, the Astros pitchers struck out twelve while walking none, and allowing seven hits.

At the Plate:

More of the same.  Altuve gets on and gets into scoring position (3-4, 2B, 2SB, twice standing on second with no outs, once with one out) and Springer hits a two run homer - this time to left field, dedicated to a lucky wheelchair-bound youngster.  Line shot, just out, right over the Gallery Furniture sign between the scoreboards.  George's shot came on a 3-2 low 84 mph slider off over-the-top thrower, Preston Guilmet.  Guilmet's action dictates that his slider breaks down and not away, and George went down and got it, lining it just high enough into the Boxes.  These two go-ahead runs were scored in the bottom of the seventh.

Prior to that, the score was nil-all when Jason Castro scampered home on a bases-loaded wild pitch to Robbie Bob Mike Grossman.  It was a close play at the plate - Jiminez did a great job of covering home, and Nick Hundley, Orioles catcher, got to the bouncing ball quickly and flicked a great throw home.  There was not enough evidence to overturn the ruling on the field (safe), and Castro was ruled to have scored.  Interestingly, I think if Castro was ruled out and Bo had appealed, I am not sure there would have been enough evidence to overturn the call either.  These are the calls that seem to have been going against the Astros over the last few years.

The Astros also threatened in the fourth - K, throwing error with one out, walk - but a fly-out, strike-out combination  finished the inning with runners on first and second.  In the fifth - Altuve infield single, stolen base, K, HBP (Fowler, an owie to the right knee), ground-out, K - again, runners on first and second.  In the eighth, a leadoff walk (to Guzman) then two groundouts got him to third, but he was stranded on a Villar groundout.

We covered Jose Altuve's night above (again: 3-4, 2B, 2SB), and we should make note of his ML leading hit count (76, ahead of Melky Cabrera with 72), ninth equal in the ML in doubles, and 2nd in ML (first in AL) in stolen bases (19 to Dee Gordon's NL-leading 32).  Only 3 caught stealing.  He is having an impressive bounce-back season, after last years relative down-season.

Springer went 1-4, but the one hit was the decisive hit of the game, discussed in more detail above.  The only other hit was a Matt Dominguez single.  The Astros struck out nine times versus 4 walks, with one HBP and one ROE.

Turning Point:

Springer's home run in the bottom of the seventh came too late for Brad Peacock to get the win, but got the Astros the win.  And for what seemed like the fiftieth time in the last week, Altuve got to cross home plate right before Springer.  No wonder those fancy, congratulatory handshakes are so tight and well executed.

Man of the Match:

Some very good performances here, and obviously it makes sense to highlight the contributions of the pitching staff (Peacock, Fields and Qualls) and Aluve and Springer.  If I had to choose one, it would probably be Jose Altuve, for another great game.  I really like how Josh Fields looks, too.

Goat of the Game:

Who shifted on Nelson Cruz, dammit??  Interestingly, in Cruz's first at bat, he lined out on a hard line out to a jumping Jose Altuve... standing to the left of second base.   So, when he hit a grounder right at where the second baseman would be, and Steve Pearce got to trot home from second, it was kind of poetic justice.  The shifts giveth, and the shifts taketh away.  Hopefully, they giveth more.

Up next:

Well, this is exciting.  The Astros are at 14-13 in May, and with a win in one of their next two games, they can not only take the series, but secure their first winning month since (I believe) September 2010.  Being the second-hottest team in baseball is also fun.

In addition, the local blackout has been lifted for tomorrow's game, as it is the Civil Rights Game.  It is also the free game.  Anyone can watch via the inter-webs.  Anywhere.  Be there, or be a non-Astro supporter.

Brett Oberholtzer (1-6, 5.32) versus Miguel Gonzalez (3-3, 4.35)