Sunday, August 24, 2014

From the Office of the County Clerk - G130: Astros at Indians

Frick on a stick... the Indians have some serious pitching talent.  For the second straight day, they threw out a starter (Danny Salazar) who pumps gas in the mid- to high-90's and has serious strikeout stuff.  And that is without even mentioning the 'pen, which has a hard-harder-hardest feel to it - kind of like the Astros' bullpen in 2003-2004, before the Dotel trade.  I know the Astros touched the 'pen up a little last night, but that was with the assistance of errors galore, and you kind of get the feeling that if the Indians are ever in a late-inning grind, they are perfectly comfortable just throwing relievers with a 1-point-something ERA and no clear platoon splits onto to the mound.  Or, at least, that is the way it looks from the last two games.

Regardless, we got to see the Indians pitching in full flight tonight - this time supported by adequate defence - and the result was a 3-2 Astros loss, with the winning runs coming in the bottom of the ninth.  Collin McHugh was solid, and the Astros worked around baserunners in scoring position in the throughout the game to remain in the contest.  But it was the Indians who prevailed with a walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth, with Jake Buchanan recording the loss, the third of his career.

Regardless, the point needs to be made that the Astros, with yesterday's win, secured a .500 road-trip record against the Champs (not for much longer, however), and two other contending teams.  The Astros are missing two major bullpen pieces and George Springer, who was having a nice wee season until his quad difficulties.  While this is nothing to celebrate on its own, it is a marker of progress, and progress is what we needed to see in 2014 after a miserable three years.  Things are about to get a little harder as the Astros now have to run the AL West gauntlet between now-ish and mid-September, so it will be interesting to see whether the Astros finish strong  (á la 2012) or fade (á la 2013).

To the recap!

On the Mound:
Collin McHugh has been solid since his blister problems have resolved, but he has not quite managed the 14-K dominance of his first few starts.  That said, he has been a serious find off the waiver-wire scrapheap this year - the kind of find that teams can only really dream about once in a while - and he looks to have some serious potential after he made some tweaks to his delivery, and stopped throwing a sinker.

He had a good night tonight, but he continues to have to work around a number of baserunners which, in turn, elevates his pitch count, and means that he cannot go deep into the game often.  Tonight he managed five-and-one-third of an inning, throwing 109 pitches, allowing 8 hits, 1 walk, striking out two, and allowing 2 runs which were both earned.  It is another gritty performance from him, and his ERA stands at 3.02 as a result of todays efforts.  He has managed nearly 120 innings this year thus far, so it will be interesting to see how far the Astros push him.

McHugh allowed a lead-off single in the first to Michael Bourn, but he was stuck at first as McHugh induced two fly-outs and a strikeout.  In the second, it looked like he would have runners on the corners with two outs, but Jake Marisnick gunned Lonnie Chisenhall down at third from RF.  In the third, McHugh got two quick outs, then allowed a double, an RBI single, a single, a walk to load the bases, then a line-out to short to allow a solitary run that cut the Indians deficit in half.  In the fourth, the Indians tied the game on a single, single, sac-bunt, RBI groundout, fly-out sequence.  McHugh retired the side in the fifth, and he got the first batter of the sixth (Zach Walters) on a pop-up to end his night.

Kevin Chapman relieved, and he retired every batter he faced (6) by inducing three ground-outs and a pop-out while striking out two.  He was relieved by Jose Veras, who promptly walked Carlos Santana, induced a fielder's choice (the runner was safe on an Altuve throwing error), another fielder's choice (runner out at home on another excellent Marwin Gonzalez play) and a strikeout.  Buchanan relieved to start the ninth, and that proved to be a bad move.  A lead-off single, sac-bunt, walk, wild pitch (runners advance) single sequence ended the game with one out, and Buchanan wore the loss.  He hadn't pitched for a week, so some of that may have been rust, but he looked like he was struggling to command his pitches.  The walk off hit was on a 3-2 pitch that caught the middle of the plate, and was driven over the head of the third baseman.

The Astros staff did well to work around baserunners all night, but it eventually was going to bite them, and it did so before extra innings started.

At the Plate:
Danny Salazar was dominant, striking out seven in six innings pitched, and allowing only five baserunners (3 hits and two walks).  The Indians 'pen allowed one further baserunner (on a walk) and the Astros offence - missing Jon Singleton and Matt Dominguez - was dominated.  That they managed two runs was a credit to some clutch hitting and a throw from the outfield that went all the way to the backstop - another Indians error that benefitted the Astros.

Robbie Grossman (1-3, BB) opened the game by singling to CF, but he was promptly erased on a Jose Altuve (1-4, RBI) GIDP.  Chris Carter had another rough night (0-4, 3K), and he recorded the third out of the first inning with his only non-K out of the night (a pop up).  In the second, the Astros went in order.  In the third, Marwin Gonzalez (0-2, BB) grounded out to start the frame, then Jake Marisnick (1-3) singled to LF, Petit (0-3) struck out swinging for the second out, Grossman walked, and Altuve singled to RF.  Marisnick was waved home on the play, and the throw was in time but Perez (the Indians catcher) whiffed on the catch, and the ball hurtled all the way to the backstop.  Salazar (the pitcher) hadn't bothered to back up, so when Perez had to turn and retrieve the throw, Grossman also scored - an unearned run, the fifth of the series for the Astros.  Carter ended the frame by striking out.

In the fourth, Dexter Fowler coaxed a lead-off walk off Danny Salazar, but he was stuck at first as the next three batters went in order.  The Astros also went in the order in the fifth, and Salazar ended his night strongly by striking out Carter and Fowler to end the sixth.  From there, only a two-out walk by Marwin Gonzalez in the seventh prevented the Indians 'pen from being perfect, and the Astros' offence was toast.

Turning Point:
Bottom of the ninth, tied game, one out, 2-2 count, runners on first and second.  Worst possible outcome??  Well, probably a home run.  That didn't happen, but what did happen is that Buchanan buried a breaking pitch in the dirt which got away from Castro, and the runners advanced.  Next pitch, Buchanan had to throw a strike, but he missed the outside corner and leaked it over the plate.  Jose Ramirez made no mistake, and the game was gone.

Truth be told, Ramirez's hit would likely have scored the runner from second regardless, but a quality 2-2 pitch may have led to a strikeout, which would have changed the complexion of things significantly.

Man of the Match:
Robbie Grossman.  On base twice (single and base-on-balls).  He also scored a run.  His triple-slash is up to .214/.333/.327 for the season, assisted by a .293/.423/.414 July triple slash (142 wRC+) and a .237/.352/.355 line in August (106 wRC+).

Goat of the Game:
Take your pick.  Chris Carter (0-4, 3K) or Jesus Guzman (0-3, 10 pitches).

On the Morrow:
Day game tomorrow to conclude the road trip.

Brett Oberholtzer (4-8, 4.01) versus Jack Trevor Bauer (4-7, 4.41)

1 Eastern, 12 Central.

Afterward, the 'stros head home to face the A's, starting Monday.