Wednesday, August 13, 2014

From the Office of the County Clerk - G120: Astros versus Twins

The last time Collin McHugh faced the Twins was in Minnesota in early June.  That marked the second or third outing with his blister / fingernail avulsion problems that ended up sending him to the DL.  The Astros won that game in a laugher, but McHugh didn't get the win as he exited in the fourth.  As a result of the DL stint, some bad luck, and a cranky bullpen, he hadn't won in his last bunch-of-starts, evan after leaving the game in Philadelphia after seven innings with a 5-1 lead five days ago.

After managing to un-clutch-hit, sloppily defend and issue bases-on-balls to a loss on the first game of the series, the Astros needed to bounce back in this one.  How did they do??  They won, 10-4.  And for more detail, read on.

On the Mound:
Collin McHugh was strong tonight, not really allowing much in the way of hard-hit balls, walking no one, and striking out three.  The only blemish on his outing was a second-inning 2-out solo home run to Oswaldo Arcia (who celebrated his change of agent with two home runs) on a cutter / slider on the inner half.  Castro's glove didn't move, so I think McHugh put the ball where it was supposed to be, and Arcia lined it just over the wall in right, about 15 feet from the "Fowl" pole.  Grossman had a very difficult play on the ball - made difficult by the very limited amount of time he had to get there - and he was unable to pull it back in as the ball hit the top of the wall and bounced over.  That run gave the Twins the lead, 1-0.

However, McHugh rebounded and finished well.  His final line was 6IP, 4H, 1R/ER, 0BB, 3K.  That gives him 1ER in each of his last three starts while pitching at least 6 innings.  What a find off the waiver-wire.

I was especially impressed by his work in the 3rd and 6th innings.  In each of those frames, he had a runner on second with no outs (in the third on a Jordan Schafer infield single and stolen base, and in the sixth on a Danny Santana double to right).  However, neither runner advanced because McHugh coaxed three consecutive grounders out of the Twins in the third, and strangled the Twins with a strike out-line out-ground out sequence in the sixth.

The abovementioned hits (the Arcia HR, the Schafer infield hit and the Santana double) were three of the hits that McHugh allowed.  The fourth was a first inning single to Joe Mauer.

Jose Veras relieved for the seventh, and he worked a scoreless frame around a Kurt Suzuki one-out double.  Tony Sipp and Marwin Gonzalez combined to get three outs in the eighth in a perfect frame (two pop-outs and a grounder).  But Mike Foltynewicz - getting his feet wet in the Bigs - had a night to forget, allowing two home runs (both on the first strikes that he threw to each hitter) and giving up three runs in the process.  He allowed three hits in that frame, but one of his outs was also a bit of a loud out.  He may throw hard, but he seems kind of hittable at the moment, and worryingly, the pitches that were hit out were low.

At the Plate:
Collin McHugh kept things nice and boring on the mound, so at the plate is where the action was.  Mike-Bob Grossman (2-5) was again leading off and was followed by Jose Altuve (3-5, with a TOOTBLAN trying to turn one of the singles into a double).  Chris Carter was hitting third (!) and he had himself a night.  Carter went deep twice, driving in five in the process, including Jose Altuve twice.  The first home run was an impressive bit of hitting from Carter and an impressive bit of sequencing from the top of the order - with Marisnick already in the dugout after hitting a home run, Jose Altuve lined an 0-2 2-out change up into CF.  With a 2-1 count, Yohan Pino missed his spot low-and-away on an 89mph fastball, and Carter scorched it off the Lexus sign just below the tracks in left.

Carter's second home run more of a cheapie into the front row of the Crawford Boxes in left.  It came after a 1-out Altuve RBI single that sent Grossman to second.  Carter then took the first pitch he saw (an 81mph slider that again should have been down-and-away but caught the heart of the plate) and he hit it to the same fan that caught the first home run ball.  The fan was interviewed on TV and he said that it was his first visit to MMP.

Also having good nights were the 8 and 9 hitters: Jake Marisnick and Marwin Gonzalez respectively. Both went 2-4 with a K, with Marisnick earning 6 total bases on a home run hit well into the Crawford Boxes, and a ground-rule double to right.  Marc Krauss was on base twice (1-3, BB) and Jon Singleton and Matt Dominguez both managed a walk (0-3, BB).  Not having a good night at the plate - and continuing his slow season - was Jason Castro, with an 0-4, K line, lowering his triple-slash to .229/.293/.377.  I don't think any of us expected catcher to be an offensive black-hole this year unless there was a catastrophic injury, but that seems to be how it has shaken out.  That said, Castro called a nice game behind the dish, and there were no passed balls or wild pitches credited to the Astros, with lots of comments about his improvement as a receiver.

Turning Point:
Up 3-1 in the Astros-half of the fifth, Jake Marisnick led off with a strikeout.  Marwin Gonzalez followed with a clean single to right and Grossman then singled to the CF-LF gap to send Gonzalez to third.  Altuve followed with a line-drive single over the Trevor Plouffe's head into left, bringing up Chris Carter.  On the last pitch he would throw in the game, Yohan Pino tried to get Carter to fish on a slider down-and-away, but he missed with it, and Carter didn't.  That was all the runs that the Astros would need - in fact Carter's 5 RBI's were more runs than the Twins scored.

Man of the Match:
For the reasons outlined above, Vernon Christopher Carter.  His triple-slash for July was .289/.355/.651 and for August (hard to believe he could improve much on that) it stands at .366/.404/.886.  I am kind of glad he wasn't traded at the deadline.

Goat of the Game:
Mike Foltynewicz had a tough one tonight.  His ERA now stands at 9.64.

Up Next:
The rubber-match of this series is an early one tomorrow (2 Eastern, 1 Central) and pits Kyle Gibson (10-9, 4.13) versus Brett Oberholtzer (4-7, 4.05).  The Astros then head to Fenway for four against the Red Sox before having a day off on Monday.