Cockroach has headed back to Weiland Island for a while. Weiland Island is "off the grid" as such, and therefore the Cockroach has no Internets with which to game-recap. So he has handed the reins to me, and I will try to do my best not to drive the County Clerk horse buggy off-of Recap Road.
Firstly, I want to echo The Constable's sentiments from the other day. Personally, I haven't had much time for writing recently, as extracurricular work-related writings have dominated most evenings over the last few months. Specifically, I would have loved to do a game recap yesterday - a tight one is always a fun one to recap - and I feel a little guilty about some of the other regular columns that I have been trying to do that haven't gotten done. That said, I think the long off-season is a great time to put analytical columns up, and I have a few planned for (i) when work settles down a little and (ii) the aforementioned long off-season. The corridors of the Astros County offices have been a little empty lately, but it isn't that we aren't interested - probably quite the opposite - but we are simply just busy people with busy lives / career changes / families / sporting interests and *ha* social lives to manage. Plus, we tend to spend time tipping buckets of iced water over our heads for some reason. Don't ask.
Back to the Astros - who will forever be front and centre of this blog - as they open a series with the Rangers. I think I have mentioned this before: man, I feel sorry for the Rangers. Their year has sucked. When I wake in the morning dreaming of the Astros winning the Silver Boot, I don't tend to dream about them beating up on a hobbled, decimated Rangers outfit. I kind of wanted them to wrest the god-ugly boot from the clutches of the Rangers, after the Rangers went all-in on a bunch of short-term trades in an effort to grab the AL West, and in doing so the Astros prevented the Rangers from making the playoffs, leaving them to contemplate a close-but-not-quite season and a decimated farm system. But I will take what is happening this year - the Astros beating up on the injury-ravaged Rangers and all - because things to celebrate as an Astros fan are few and far between. It will be kind of neat when three of the first four or five draft picks go to the state of Texas.
The Astros opened a four-game series against the Rangers with a solid 4-2 win tonight at the Juice Box. This win moves them within a game of capturing the Silver Boot since... well, forever. Another close game - this time falling the way of the Astros - a bit of clutch hitting, another solid starting performance and another Sipp save was the story of this game. More details follow...
On the Mound:
Collin McHugh got the start. I think everyone is in agreement that he has been a tremendous waiver-wire grab for the Astros, and with each start like this that he manages to pile up, he looks more and more like the real thing. His pitch-mix - especially ditching the sinker - was extensively discussed earlier in the year, and as he has moved to relying more on his breaking stuff in association with sneaky velocity, thus managing to find a mix that works for him. His work with RISP is also noted - really that is one of the reasons he has a gaudy-looking ERA - so some regression may be in order at some stage, but I am hoping that he spends the offseason refining his control and getting his fingernails looking healthier. His month-by-month ERA's: 0.59, 3.94, 3,78, 5.23, 1.76, with the fingernail and blister trouble popping up in June and starts or innings being missed in June and July.
McHugh was in trouble early. He gave up runs in the first and third inning, and could well have given up more. Leonys Martin opened the game with a bloop-single that dropped into the Bemuda Triangle between short/second, CF and RF. Fowler just missed making the catch. Andrus then chopped one through the right side - there was a huge gap between the first and second basemen - and runners were on the corners with no outs. Mike Carp then generously grounded into an easy 4-6-3 double-play to score the runner but clear the bases for the first run of the game. A meaningless Beltre single over short then followed, but the inning ended one batter later on a line-out to CF.
McHugh retired the side on order in the second, but he ran into more trouble in the third. Robinson Chirinos led off with a liner to LF, and he moved to second on a soft-liner to RF with no outs. Elvis Andrus then placed a perfect bunt down the 3rd-base line - Dominguez called off McHugh, but even he had no hope, and the bases were loaded with no outs. Mike Carp declined to GIDP again, instead choosing to fly out to LF, and all runners moved up on Krauss' wayward throw to home to try and nab the runner. The Rangers led at this point 2-0, with one out, and runners on second and third.
However, McHugh buckled down to strike out Beltre on three straight swinging pitches, with the strikeout coming on a fastball away which Beltre was late on. Jim Adduci would then K on an elevated cutter in and on the hands in a 1-2 count.
From this point, McHugh was nails, allowing baserunners on a hit batter (with 2 out in the fourth), a single (with one out in the sixth) and a ground-rule double (with one out in the seventh). McHugh's final line: 7IP, 8H, 2R/ER, 6K on 102 pitches. Another solid outing. Interesting play in the sixth - with a runner on second, McHugh narrowly beat Odor to the first base bag on a grounder to the right side of the infield. Odor was ruled safe, and the runner scored from second, but the safe call was overturned on challenge.
And speaking of solid outings - Josh Field relieved, and he retired the side in order on 16 pitches. Tony Sipp then came on for the save, and he struck out two in a perfect frame, including a gorgeous strikeout of Rougned Odor looking, and a strikeout of Michael Choice on a ball in the dirt to end the game.
At the Plate:
The Astros went in order in the first (with Marwin Gonzalez leading off), but loaded the bases in the second on a Castro single (breaking an 0-20 skid), a Krauss (0-3, BB) walk, and a two-out Dominguez HBP - second time in as many nights, and it looks like the only way that he is going to get on base at the moment. Jake Marisnick (0-2, HBP) hit a hard liner to left, but it was snagged to end the frame.
In the third, Marwin Gonzalez (1-3, BB) singled to lead off, then Carter (1-3, BB) singled with one out, but Fowler (1-4) GIDP'd to end the frame. In the fourth, the Astros had more baserunners on a Castro lead off walk and a Dominguez (1-3, HBP) two-out single (a hit!), but Marisnick fouled out to end the threat.
However, the fifth inning was where the game was won from the offensive point-of-view. Altuve (1-4) singled to CF with one out (a grounder over the mound) then Chris Carter walked on a low 3-1 pitch to put two on with one out and end Nick Tepesch's night. Tepesch scuffled through 4.1IP, throwing 89 pitches. Roman Mendez relieved - he has a 1.23 ERA over 22IP this year, with a ridiculous batting average against (.137).
Well, Fowler greeted him with a slow grounder to short that Beltre tried to snare and gun to first, perhaps getting in Andrus' way. The bases were loaded at that point with one out. Castro then un-loaded them on an 2-0 count. Chrinos called for a fastball low and away, Mendez missed glove-side and a little up, the ball wound up over the inner third, and Castro turned on it. A hard line drive to RF was the result, and the ball ended up 15 or so rows into the RF stand. Castro knew immediately that it was gone, and when he finished his trot, the Astros led by a score of 4-2.
That was all the scoring from Houston for the game. Their next-best scoring opportunity was in the sixth, when Jake Marisnick was HBP, and Marwin followed with a walk, but Altuve ended that threat with a twin-killing. The Astros went in order in the seventh and eighth, and happily didn't have to bat in the ninth.
The game could have gotten away from the Houston early, and McHugh's strikeouts of Beltre and Adduci were vital in keeping the Astros in the game. However, the turning point came when Castro barrelled up a fastball that was pulled over the inner third with the bases loaded for his second career Grand Slam. Leading us to....
Man of the Match:
... who happens to be Jason Castro. He has had a tough 2014 after an outstanding 2013, but his .227/.297/.377 line including frequent lateness on fastballs away has been a little uninspiring recently. Those following the Astros would have heard him talking about his modifications to his load over the last fortnight or so, and how much better it feels, and the result was an important one for tonights game. His final line: 2-3, BB, HR, 4RBI, plus what appeared to be a well-called game behind the dish.
Goat of the Game:
Jon Singleton has maintained his OBP with a greater-than-10% walk rate despite having few hits fall. However, tonight he didn't even manage to walk - 0-4, K.
The 'stros are one win from the Boot, which is all the silverware they will get this year. However, they still need to complete the win, and perhaps that can be tomorrow.
Scott Baker (2-3, 5.45) versus Brett Oberholtzer (4-9, 4.01)
8 Eastern, 7 Central, and fireworks afterward I think.