Scott Feldman (4-7, 4.30) versus Jeff Samardzija (3-8, 2.91)
a.k.a. battle of the "Aces". The quotation marks are for Scott Feldman's benefit.
When this series opened, I was banging away at the computer keyboard with the game on the TV telecast to one side. A graphic caught my eye: through 99 games, the 2013 Astros had a run differential of -155, and the 2014 edition had a run differential of -86. Progress, Blummer said. Nearly twice-as-good, Alan Ashby inferred. More like half-as-bad, the cynical side of me quipped. Then the Astros won game 1, and the run differential improved mightily to -85.
Now the 2014 edition seem to be doing their best to "catch" the 2013 Astros by conceding a boatload of runs, while scoring fewer. Today, they made massive strides toward mirroring the awesomeness of the 2013 Astros in a 13-1 loss to the Athletics.
(Interesting spread for the run differentials throughout the AL, too. The Rangers sit at -112 as the worst, the Astros are at -99, and the Twins at -32 are the third worst. That really is a massive gap between second-worst and third worst. And in the AL West, the Athletics sit at +163, the Angels at +85 and the Mariners at +52. Interesting spread.)
As this was a day-game, and the committed Astros fan would already have sought (plus found) the result on a decent website and bathed in the warm glow of a decent game recap, I will keep this one short. Plus I don't like writing 10,000 words in a blowout loss. Ugh.
On the Mound:
Caveat: the A's are an awesome offensive unit. They can beat you in a bunch of ways. Game one?? Josh Donaldson was pretty cool, as was Astros-killer, Jed Lowrie. Last night was a Cespedes post-HR-derby after-party. He had been in a serious slump before that game, too. Today: star hitter had his thumb sawn off by an up-and-in tailing fastball?? Well, lets rest him, and play two catchers, a wrestling fan having an awful season, the guy who nearly broke his wrist yesterday trying to tag out the diminutive Jose Altuve, and Jed-frikking-Lowrie, and record 13 hits and six walks in a royal beat-down.
Scotty Feldman was not awesome tonight. He managed to pitch into the fifth, but pitched the Astros out of the game in the process: 5.1IP, 9H, 6R/ER, 5BB, 4K. He seemed to be missing a lot arm-side-and-up, and his lack of control seemed to result in a lot of deep counts, and a lot of hard contact. He seems to me like a bit of a junkballer at the moment. If he can't consistently get his soft stuff across for strikes, he is in serious difficulties.
Feldman retired the side in the order, and got a double-play in the second to end the inning with runners on the corner. In the third, things got away - double, walk, fly out, strike-out. Then RBI single-double steal-wild pitch-IBB-single-groundout. Yuck. One out away, then a series of crazy mental errors, and the game was mostly gone.
In the fourth, two more hits to lead off the inning, and then a sac-fly. A groundout with the bases loaded ended that frame with only one run scored. The fifth was relatively uneventful, and the sixth was horrible - only some of it due to Feldman. Walk, single, K: Feldman replaced by Anthony Bass. Hit-by-pitch, grand slam, walk, wild-pitch, groundout, single, foul out. The Astros give up nine runs in six innings, and the game is well and truly gone.
Anthony Bass retired the side in order in the seventh, and Josh Zeid gave up three in the eighth, with the big blow being a bases-loaded, no-out double. Horrible.
At the Plate:
Chris Carter continued his hot form, turning on a 95mph inside fastball in the fourth, and mashing off the foul pole in left. That happened nearly immediately after the A's scored three runs in their half of the third, so there was some hope at that time. Carter ended up with a 1-4 line, but didn't K.
Altuve managed two hits - both singles - in a 2-4 night. He also struck out twice - once looking and once waving at a pitch in the dirt. Robbie Grossman went 1-4, Marc Krauss went 1-4 and Carlos Corporan went 1-3. And that is all: Samardzija was simply overpowering, and he deserves significant credit for his part in holding the Astros offence down. Only one mistake, and it was arguable that even that was a mistake, as Carter is hot at the moment and I thought it was more a great piece of hitting.
July 5, 2014 - the day the AL West got much, much harder. The Astros got to see the "fruits" of that trade today.
Man of the Match:
Chris Carter, for his awesome power and pretty decent (for him) contact. Perhaps the 'stros are being rewarded for their patience... kind of like how they also could have been with J.D. Martinez.
Goat of the Game:
Scott Feldman, 534 8455 and Josh Zeid - the pitching unit. Bass and Zeid have struggled too long for my liking. Feldman looks more and more like a ten-million-dollar long-guy.
On the Morrow:
The Astros host the Miami Marlins...
Brad Hand (1-2, 4.86) v. Dallas Keuchel (9-6, 3.29)
8 Eastern, 7 Central.