Saturday, September 13, 2014

From the Office of the County Clerk - G147: Astros at LA Angels

Well, this game kind of had everything.  The Astros handsomely outplayed the Angels at the start, then spotted them a couple of runs because... well, I think they felt sorry for them.  Then the Angels totally dominated through the middle, helped considerably by the self-inflicted wounds from the Astros.  Then the game descended nearly entirely into farce, resembling a spring-training game, with the Angels seemingly intent on using all 37 players on their current ML roster, and Tom Lawless using the dregs of the game to get innings for guys that haven't thrown for a while, and at-bats for guys that need them.  Astros lose, 11-3.

There are, I guess, a couple of ways of looking at this for the Astros.  How this all unfolded is embarrassing and sloppy, and they could be derided for it.  Another way of looking at it is that the game is hard, and the Astros have been fairly neat and tidy recently, so a game like this could be seen as a one-off aberration.  Like many things, the answer lies somewhere in the middle, I would say.

But really, the Astros were going toe-to-toe with the hottest team in baseball (and winning!), then totally fell apart.  The defence has been a problem all year - the Astros both make too many errors and convert too few playable balls into outs, so in many ways, they were undone (or at least the unravelling was started) by the weakest part of their game.

Quick note on the Angels.  They have won 14 of their last 16, including a 6-game winning streak, and an 8 game winning streak.  They lost two games in the middle, and those two games were the Sept 2-3 games at Minute Maid Park, immediately prior to this road trip.  The Astros are the only team to beat the Angels in a game in the best part of 3-plus weeks.  The winning record of the Angels recently has been phenomenal, and has all but guaranteed them a spot in the non-one-game-sudden-death section of the playoffs in the hardest division in baseball.  So, the Angels are pretty good, and they deserve a fair chuck of credit for what happened in this game.

On the Mound:
"What could have been..." is the theme of this night.  Brett Oberholtzer took the bump to start, and he retired the Angels in order the first time around, striking out Calhoun, Trout, Kendrick, and Cowgill in the process.  But then what has happened to him all season happened - giving up runs in spots where he shouldn't, and the bats not bailing him out when he is in trouble.

Things went well until the fourth inning happened.  Obie quickly got to 0-2 on Kole Calhoun before the count was worked to 3-2.  Obie seemed to have trouble locating to the third base of the plate, and this at-bat was one example of this.  Anyhow, Calhoun reached out and flicked a single to right, in an impressive bit of 2-strike hitting.  This was followed by a Trout line-drive to deep right that split the gap, allowing Trout to cruise into second, and Colhoun to score easily from first.  The score at this point was 3-1, so the Astros were still looking good.  They looked better when Pujols struck out for the first out of the inning.  They looked worse when Howie Kendrick lined out to CF, Fowler was a little too casual in getting the ball into the infield and Trout, who had tagged from second, scored from third when the ball got away from Villar, the cutoff man.  The error was on Villar, but really it was a team effort with a large assist to Fowler, whose head simply does not seem to be in the game at the moment.  That was the second run of the inning, but at least the bases were clear, and Freese rolled over one to end the inning.

If you think that was bad, stop reading now, because it get a whole lot worse.  In the fifth, Erick Aybar led off with a single past Singleton to RF.  Chris Iannetta then flicked one the other way (against a pretty enthusiastic shift) to have runners on first and second, no outs.  CJ Cron struck out looking - Obie still looked in the game at this point - and the double play was in order, so one ground-ball could have ended the frame.

However, instead of grounding to short or third, Collin Cowgill elected to hit a line drive to the RF gap, but within relatively easy reach of Jake Marisnick.  However, Marisnick entirely bombed the catch - it bounced off the finger-side of his glove as he didn't centre it up properly and as he started to close it a little early.  Aybar scored, Iannetta went to third and Cowgill ended up standing safely at second.

That gave the Angels an extra out, and brought the top of the order up for the third time.  Obie had struggled to locate in the last few innings, as well.  If that is not a recipe for disaster, I am not sure what is.  Anyhow, Colhoun singled up the middle to score both runners - chasing Obie with Jorge De Leon relieving - Trout tripled to the LF gap, Pujols scored him on a sac fly (Marisnick caught this one!!), Kendrick singled and stole second, Freese homered, Aybar singled for the second time in the inning, Iannetta walked, and Cron grounded out for his second out of the inning, ending the frame.  Yikes. A seven run inning on five singles, a walk, a triple, a homer, a crucial error, a stolen base and a wild pitch.  Twelve runners went to the plate, and the outs were made by future HoF lock (on a sac fly) and by C.J. Cron, who made two of them.  Yikes.

Samuel Deduno got the last batter of the fifth, and he stayed on for the sixth.  He allowed two runs of his own on a single, a walk and a double over Fowler's head.  Mike Foltynewicz started the seventh (with most of the Oklahoma City Redhawks behind him by virtue of the plethora of substitutions, and his OKC catcher catching), and he worked around a fielding error (Marc Krauss at first) and a two out single to record a scoreless frame.  The might of the Angels lineup that Folty ripped though included Gordon Beckham, Efren Navarro and Tony Campana.  Told you this game looked like a spring training affair.

Jake Buchanan got the eighth, and he had the choice of pitching to Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Howie Kendrick, or John McDonald, Luiz Jiminez and Grant Green.  He chose the latter, and retired them in order, showing that he has a few good spring training innings in his future, too.

At the Plate:
The Astros worked C.J. Wilson over early, to the point where he had thrown 95 pitches after 4 innings.  Not sure what is happening with Wilson at the moment, but he struggled tonight with a bunch of deep counts.  However, he hung in there - or the Astros were unable to get the big hit, whatever your narrative is - and ended up giving up just three runs, despite allowing 10 baserunners in five innings.  Stunningly, he walked away with the win, as he staggered through five innings on 108 pitches.

The Astros loaded the bases in the first when Jose Altuve (2-4) dumped a single into RF.  Fowler (2-4, 2B, SB) followed with a single to RF, then stole second on the first pitch of Chris Carter's (1-2, 2BB) at bat.  That was enough for C.J. Wilson to throw the next three pitches as intentional balls (in the first inning, with one out!), and the bases were loaded.  Castro  (0-4, 3K) struck out then Marisnick (2-4, SB) worked the count to 3-2.  He then hit a nubber out in front of the plate that Iannetta got his feet too close to when trying to pick up, and he tripped over trying to go to first for the force.  Altuve scored, Marisnick reached, and the first run was in.  Matt Dominguez (0-3) popped out to right to end the frame.

In the second, Singleton walked, stole second on Villar's (0-4, 3K) 3-2 strikeout, and scored on Robbie Grossman's (1-5) single up the middle.  Altuve then singled to send Grossman to second, but Fowler flew out and Carter struck out on a full count to end the threat.

In the third, Marisnick singled, but that was all.  In the fourth, Robbie Grossman reached on an Aybar throwing error (successful challenge by Tom Lawless on the tag), then stole second with two outs.  Dexter Fowler then doubled down the RF line, scoring Grossman.  Carter was the recipient of another IBB, but Castro was retired without incident to end that frame.

The next baserunner was Chris Carter on a one-out single in the seventh.  The next baserunner after that happened in the ninth on a Marwin Gonzalez walk and a Presley single (both with one out), but the rest of the side (at this point, L.J. Hoes and Max Stassi) went in order, and the game was mercifully over, just short of the 3:40 mark.

This was very painful from the fourth inning onward.  In addition to this, my broadcast had a weird 20 second delay between the visual component, and the commentary.  Not sure whether you other online viewers experienced the same, but it was annoying after initial amusement.

Turning Point:
Fifth inning, one out, runners on first and second, Astros holding a slender 1-run lead.  Collin Cowgill is the last batter before the lineup turns over.  He lined it toward the RF gap, and Marisnick and Fowler converge.  Marisnick perhaps hears Fowler's footsteps, perhaps not, but he drops the ball, the runners all advance two bases, and the floodgates open.  Thirty minutes later, the inning ends and the Astros are trailing by six.  Yikes.

Man of the Match:
The Astros started well, but were sloppy all night.  I am taking the MoTM trophy, and stashing it in my desk drawer so that I can give it to two Astros on the days they deserve it.

If you don't like that, then I think I will have to nominate Mike Trout.

Goat of the Game:
No shortage of worthy winners for this one.  Jonathan Villar and Jason Castro both went 0-4, 3K, the former with an error as well.  Matt Dominguez went 0-3, K.  Jorge De Leon gave up 3ER in 0.1 innings of work.  Obie, after dominating the first time through the order, forgot how to locate to the 3B side of the plate.  Sam Deduno poured petrol on the fire by giving up two earnies of his own.

I remember when Bo Porter first got hired prior to the 2013 season.  He, apparently, emphasised fundamentals.  It is painful watching the Astros in games like tonight.  None of them - aside from Marisnick and Villar 70% of the time - are above-average defenders, but making dumb errors, missing catches, lobbing throws in from the outfield, missing cutoff men and not gloving routine grounders gets really grating after a while.  Three errors tonight, and not many memorable plays made on D either.  This could keep them from being a .500 club next year if it isn't sorted out by then.

Up Next:
Scott Feldman (8-10, 3.99) versus Jered Weaver (16-8, 3.58)

10 Eastern, 9 Central.