Monday, September 1, 2014

From the Office of the County Clerk - G138: Astros versus Rangers

Wins are fun.  Comeback wins are fun.  Wins over the Arlington/Dallas/Fort Worth Rangers are fun.  This is not the 2013 Astros that we are getting to watch, but a much more fun version.  The 2014 Astros are definitely better than the 2013 Astros - just look at the wins column - but just how much better will largely be determined by the next few weeks.

The worst team the Astros play in the next 18 games currently sits at 70-64 (the Indians).  The Astros don't play another club sitting below .500 until they see the Rangers in 3 weeks time, after which they get to finish the season with four against the Mets, also currently under .500.

The Astros embarked on this season-defining period in fine style against the Rangers.  Dallas Keuchel had another solid outing - despite struggling with command in stages - and the bullpen finished the game strongly in support of him.  The Astros struggled to get the big hit early in the game, but they came back strongly against Neal Cotts (for the second time in the series) to take the lead in the bottom of the eighth.  Astros win, 3-2, to record a tight comeback victory.

And before the game recap, I feel the need to point out the following records after the August 31 games for the last five years:

  • 2014: 59-79
  • 2013: 44-91
  • 2012: 40-92
  • 2011: 47-90
  • 2010: 61-71 (the 2010 season finished on Oct 3)
On the Mound:
Dallas Keuchel made his 26th start of the season, and it was another very solid effort.  He allowed 2 earned runs on five hits, walking two and striking out three.  He struggled with command in the first, missing arm-side-and-up a fair bit in the early action that I saw.  He lost the strike zone for a while in the sixth, but induced a double-play to end the threat.  He finished strongly in the seventh, and was removed from the game at 101 pitches, with 61 for strikes.

As solid as this start was, there is room for improvement.  He fought his command at times, either missing the strike zone or leaving the ball up.  I could see a return to his May-June form at some stage in the future should he sharpen up a bit, but would also be happy to watch him pitching like this for long periods as well.

Keuchel struggled to start the game, giving up a run in the first, and leaving runners on the corners.  A two-out Alex Rios double, a Beltre walk, then a clean Rua single on an elevated fastball away scored the run, but Arencibia - a day after the intervention - struck out to end the threat.  Keuchel pitched strongly in the second, hitting Odor with the pitch, but inducing a double play shortly afterward to end the frame.  He struck out Andrus and Rios in a perfect third inning, retired the side in order in the fourth, and fifth.  He ran into more trouble in the sixth after Daniel Robertson doubled to lead off the frame, then went to third on a wild pitch, later scoring on Rios' single which was lined past a diving Petit at shortstop.  Keuchel again ended the frame with a double play after walking Beltre to put runners on first and second.  

After the sixth, the Rangers led 2-1.

Keuchel allowed only a two-out single in the seventh, and Veras relieved to open the eighth.  He struck out Leonys Martin, allowed a single to Andrus, walked Rios, but struck out Beltre, and ended a scoreless frame with a Ryan Rua line out with two on.  Chad Qualls then relieved, striking out one while pitching a perfect frame.

At the Plate:
Nick Martinez was also plenty solid in this game, quietening the Astros bats early.  He retired the side in order in the first on 7 pitches, and allowed a one-out double to Castro (1-4, 2B) deep to the left of CF in the second.  Later in the inning, with two outs, Matt Dominguez went the other way with a grounder to RF, scoring Castro, and evening the score in the second.  In the third, the Astros got four baserunners without recording a run: Petit (1-4) single, Grossman (0-3, 2BB) GIDP, Altuve double, Carter (1-4, BB) walk, Fowler (1-2, 2BB) walk, then a Castro flyout with the bases loaded.  

An Altuve double with two outs in the fifth was the next baserunner, but that threat was ended when Carter struck out.  The Astros threatened again in the sixth when Fowler singled to lead off and Singleton (0-3, BB) walked with one out, but Roman Mendez relieved and retired the side without either baserunner advancing.

Mendez stayed on for the seventh and loaded the bases with two outs on a Grossman walk, Altuve single, and Fowler walk, but Castro flew out to left against port-sider Neal Cotts.  Cotts started the eighth - which was the big inning - and, after getting a Singleton pop out, allowed a long home run to LF by Matt Dominguez.  Domingo got a 1-0 88mph breaking ball down-and-in (pretty much where the catcher wanted it) and he put good wood on it, mashing it off the Community Leaders signs for his first home run since that long light-tower shot against Boston (14 August), and his first home run at home since 28 July against Oakland.  That shot tied the game at 2-2.

The trauma wasn't over for Cotts (who was also touched up for three runs in the Game 2 blowout loss), who promptly hit Jake Marisnick (0-3) with a pitch.  Marisnick then stole second, and took third on Petit's groundout - the second out in the inning.  Robbie Grossman worked a walk on five pitches to put runners on the corners, then Jose Altuve singled to CF (his fourth hit of the night, for those counting) to score the go-ahead run.  Grossman went to second, but was thrown out at home plate when Carter singled.  Grossman was out by a mile, but Chirinos seemed to have his foot in front of the plate prior to getting the ball, and the umpires reviewed it, but the call stood.  

Turning Point:
Marisnick stole second - arriving just before the tag - which meant the double play was no longer in order, and allowing him to head to third on Petit's grounder.  He scored the go-ahead run (after Grossman walked) on an Altuve single.

Man of the Match:
Three of 'em:
  • Dallas Keuchel: 7IP, 5H, 2R/ER, 2BB, 3K.
  • Jose Altuve: 4-5, 2x2B (both into the LF corner), RBI.  Man, Altuve is good.
  • Matt Dominguez: 2-4, HR, 2RBI
Goat of the Game:
Every hitter reached base, so No Goat!  As Bo said after the game, great team win.

Up Next:
Day off tomorrow, then the Angels head into town, fresh off their four game home sweep of the A's.

C.J. Wilson (10-8, 4.46) versus Bradley J. Peacock (3-8, 5.13)

8 Eastern, 7 Central.