Sunday, September 14, 2014

From the Office of the County Clerk - G148: Astros at Angels

The Astros dropped to 4-4 on this road trip, losing to the Angels by a score of 5-2.  The Angels offence at the moment is a ruthless hitting machine - give them an inch, and they will take a mile - and Jered Weaver was on his game from the get-go, making it doubly difficult.  Like yesterday, a single inning (in this case, a three-run inning) accounted for the difference, but the Astros also cannot expect to win many games scoring only a pair of runs.

The only real comment that I have to make prior to starting the game recap is that the Astros seem to have a long tail to their lineup at the moment.  Especially today, when they elected to start Alex Presley in CF (was Dexter benched?) and Gregorio Petit at third (who likely offers more than Matt Dominguez in batting average, but far less in potential power).  So, protecting Chris Carter was Jason Castro (who has not had a good series), and protecting him was... Alex Presley!  Then, Marisnick, Gonzalez, Singleton and Petit.  So, out of the last six spots in the order, only Marwin Gonzalez has an  OBP greater than .300, and Marwin also has the highest slugging percentage, at .390.  Yikes.

This is where losing Springer for the last 50 games really hurts, especially when added to the offensive black holes at first, third and catcher.  I think it is difficult manage long winning streaks when you offence doesn't fire - it means that you rely too much on pitching, and if the starter has a rough day, or the bullpen guy struggles, the game is lost.  So, in September, the Astros have scored 8, 4, 4, 3, 4, 1, 2, 5, 3, and 2 runs, which averages out to 3.6 runs per game.  Remove that 8-run "bust out" on September 2, and you have 3.11 runs per game.  For the sake of comparison, the Angels currently lead baseball in runs per game (4.92), the Astros check in at number 18 (3.95 on the year) and the Padres are the worst team in baseball in terms of runs per game (3.23).

On the Mound:
Scott Feldman is a gritty battler.  He didn't have his best stuff tonight, allowed 9 base runners in 6 innings, and none of the non-Trout base runners got to touch home plate.  His final line was 6IP, 8H, 2R/ER, BB, 5K.  But he allowed two home runs - both solo shots - to Mike Trout in the first inning (fastball away, driving to RF into the third row of the stand above the high wall) and again to Trout in the third inning (low curveball to straightaway CF).  But the Angels left 2 runners in scoring position in the first, had a baserunner erased on a busted hit-and-run in the second, left a base runner sitting on first for three outs in the third and went in order in the fourth.  Mike Trout doubled with one out in the fifth, and advanced to third on a grounder, but he didn't score when Howie Kendrick grounded out to the pitcher.  Feldman ended the sixth with a double play, and his night was mercifully done.  Feldman, again, kept his mob in the game with another quality start against the top offensive team in baseball.

But when he left, things fell apart.  Mike Foltynewicz relieved, and retired Hank Conger on a grounder for the first out.  Collin Cowgill reached on a high chopper off the plate that no play was possible on - a miserable bit of luck for Folty really - and Darin Downs relieved.  Downs sent Cowgill to second on a wild pitch, who then stole third on the next pitch.  Kole Calhoun then walked, and Tom Lawless opted not to go after Mike Trout (thus loading the bases) and hope that Albert Pujols GIDP'd instead.

Veras relieved to induce said GIDP, but he walked Pujols on a full count, scoring a run.  Kendrik then singled on a ball that leaked back on the inner third of the plate, scoring another run.  Erick Aybar grounded out to short to score the third run of the game, and Freese lined out for the final out.  But the damage was done - mostly by Downs and Veras, who walked 3 (1 intentionally) between them.

Kevin Chapman pitched the eighth, and he was solid, allowing a single, then striking out two, both swinging.

At the Plate:
Jered Weaver was nasty to start the game, striking out three in the first two innings pitched.  I was rolling my eyes at this point, thinking that a no-hitter was nearly inevitable, so it was a real surprise when the Astros scored a run (and levelled the game) in the top of the third.  Marwin Gonzalez (1-4) led off with an infield single, the stole second.  Singleton struck out for the first out, and Gregorio Petit (0-2) flied out for the second out.  However, Robbie Grossman (1-4) ambushed Jered Weaver on the first pitch, hitting a hard liner into RF - Calhoun dived for it, but the ball went off his glove, and MarGo scored without a throw to level the game at one-all.

Altuve (2-4) then singled Grossman to second, but Chris Carter (1-4) struck out to end the frame.  Carter also happened to be the next Astros baserunner in the sixth, when he singled to right field against the shift with two outs.  Castro (0-4, 2K) struck out to end the frame.  Alex Presley (0-3, BB) walked to lead off the seventh, Marisnick (1-3) sacrificed, but Gonzalez and Singleton (0-4, 4K) both struck out to end the frame.

The Astros scored their second run in the eighth.  Dexter Fowler, pinch-hitting for Gregorio Petit, led off with a double to RF, and advanced on a flyout to the warning track in right from Grossman.  Jose Altuve then doubled to left over the head of Cowgill off the wall, scoring Fowler.  However, Carter and Castro struck out to end the frame.

And Marisnick singled with one out in the ninth to prolong the agony, but was stranded at second on a Singleton strikeout.

All-in-all, 15 Astros struck out, versus 1 walk.  Jered Weaver did have good stuff, and may have been getting a few calls that the Astros weren't getting.  But 15 strikeouts in 33 at-bats is kind-of-a-lot.  Not quite Domingo-Santana-2014-a-lot, but certainly quite a lot.

Turning Point:
Darin Downs did a great job last time he pitched against the Mariners on the tenth of September.  He faced five batters in two complete innings, striking out 2 and walking one.  Today, he was less good.  He advanced a baserunner to second on a wild pitch, then allowed a stolen base before walking the guy he was facing.  He was called upon to intentionally walk Mike Trout, then Jose Veras relieved with his petrol can and collection of oily rags, and he stoked the fire by issuing a walk, allowing a hard-hit single, and enticing an RBI groundout.  Pity, because the Astros scored what may have been the game-tying run the next inning, had they not been in a 5-1 hole.

That said, Jose Veras didn't have a run credited to his ledger.  He just allowed all three of his inherited runners to score.

Man of the Match:
Lets go with Jose Altuve, who is hitting .338/.375/.449 on the year.  He went 2-4 with a double, earning his 203rd and 204th hit.  Altuve has a mammoth 26-hit lead on Michael Brantley for the most hits in MLB, a 4-point lead on Victor Martinez in the MLB batting average race, and lies third on the majors with 52 stolen bases (and 7 CS) behind Dee Gordon (60 SB versus 17 CS) and Billy Hamilton (55 SB versus 22 CS).  Jacoby Ellsbury in the next on the AL, with 38 SB and 5 CS.

Goat of the Game:
Jon Singleton: 0-4, 4K.  However, kudos to Jon for the improvements in his "D" - nice jumping catch today, and a good block of Petit's desperate throw to get Cowgill in the seventh.

Up Next:
Battle of the lefties...

Dallas Keuchel (10-9, 3.08) versus Hector Santiago (5-7, 3.38)

3.35 Eastern, 2:35 Central.