I talked briefly yesterday about the "long tail" in the Astros lineup, looking specifically at the lack of protection for Chris Carter and Jason Castro (the latter is the formers protection, unfortunately). The term "long tail" is specifically known to me as a cricketing term. In cricket, much like baseball, the best hitters / batsmen bat at 3-5, and the worst guys are stashed at the bottom of the order, so I would think the term is essentially interchangeable. The Astros have had a whole lot of ineffective bats from 5 onward recently. I also talked about the Astros' recent relative run-drought, averaging 3.11 over their last nine games.
Anyhow, the Angels - heading into this game - had managed to rattle off a 10-game win streak, two games after a six game win streak. Sixteen of 18 is the impressive overall result since August 26. In that time, the Angels have managed 8, 6, 4, 4, 2, 8, 3, 1, 5, 7, 8, 14, 12, 9, 8, 7, 11 and 5 runs (the numbers in italics are the runs scored against the Astros in the two games they lost). All of that adds up to 122 over 18 games, averaging 6.7 runs per game. The last 10 games (i.e. their current win streak)is powered by a mammoth 86 runs scored by the Angels, with a minimum of five runs scored in a game.
Which makes it even more when considering what Keuchel did today. He took a perfect game into the sixth, a no-hitter into the seventh, and wound up yielding only one run on a hot California day. The Astros jumped on the Angels early, Keuchel nailed down the win, and the Astros pen closed it down in a 6-1 victory. This win gives the Astros a 5-4 road trip through the three contending teams' home parks in a row, and they have gone 11-7 in their last 18, all against the AL West. The Astros get to 66 wins for the season with thirteen games to go, with the next seven at home against contenders (Indians and Mariners), and the last six against the Rangers and Mets.
A quick note about the AL West. In the period of time that the Angels have won 16 of 18 (or 16-2), the Athletics have gone 5-13. The A's recorded seven one run losses in a row (including 2 against Houston). This has been a stunning late-season turnaround - and along with the Mariners' awesome pitching and the incredible cratering of the 2014 Rangers, the AL West has certainly been the division of surprises and story lines this year. The Astros are arguably the most unsurprising team in the AL West, despite the fact that they will not pick first in the draft this year for the fourth time in a row (as a lot of pundits were picking).
On the Mound:
Dallas Keuchel is the story, just like he was in Game 45, earlier this year. Keuchel, as mentioned above, retired the first fifteen in order, eventually losing a perfect game bid on a full-count pitch to Iannetta leading off the sixth (the pitch was actually right on the corner, about where umpires tend to call pitches 50% of the time, and Keuchel did not get the call on this one). However, Iannetta was promptly erased on a double play, keeping the no-hitter intact. Mike Trout (who else!) blooped a single into the LF-CF gap in the seventh for the first hit, then he was erased on a double-play by Albert Pujols, so Keuchel faced the minimum through seven despite giving up a hit and a walk.
I remember checking in after four, and seeing Keuchel with the perfect game intact, but sitting at 65 pitches - not quite as bad as Santiago's 82 pitches after 2+. At that point, I thought that if the perfect game remained intact, that may be the worst thing, as Keuchel would be encouraged to go for it, throwing 200-odd pitches in the process. The ultimate in pyrrhic victories - Dallas "perfect game" Keuchel has his left arm hanging limply by his side for the rest of his career - so in some ways, I am glad that the walk and a hit eventually occurred, but I wish him all the best for his next go-round.
But what Keuchel did was dominate in hot, exhausting weather. His eventual line (7+IP, 3H, 1R/ER, BB, 4K on 114 pitches, with 15:2 GB:FB ratio) was a microcosm of his season. A great WHIP, a low ERA, some nice strikeouts, ground-balling at an amazing rate, but losing effectiveness if he went too much over 100 pitches. That said, he totally neutered a powerful Angels lineup in impressive fashion, and his ERA now sits at an even 3.00.
Keuchel got some solid glove-work from Jose Altuve in the third when he ranged to his left, spun, and threw out Collin Cowgill; Jesus Guzman in the fifth who dove to his right off a soft liner off the end of the bat; and Matt Dominguez, who hoovered up absolutely everything, and threw accurately all day. The two double-plays were also impressive. The D was very helpful today. No errors!
Anyhow, Keuchel was relieved after allowing a run on a Beckham double to right (just out of the reach of a diving Marisnick), and a Freese hard-single up the middle. Jose Veras relieved, and he struck out Grant Green on a pitch in the left-hander's batters box, got Iannetta on a weak pop up, and struck out C.J.Cron looking for the final out. Tony Sipp got the ninth, and he got Cowgill to pop out, walked Calhoun, struck out Shawn O'Malley, and got Pujols to ground to third.
At the Plate:
The Astros worked over Angels starter Hector Santiago in impressive fashion... in every way except the runs column. The three runs scored off Santiago were nice, but it could have been so much more.
Grossman (2-5, 2B, 2RBI) started by striking out, then Altuve (2-4, BB) hit number-205 deep into the 5.5 hole for a single. However, he was stuck there for the inning, as the next two hitters went in order. In the second, Jake Marisnick (3-4, BB, SB, CS) singled to RF leading off (just over the head of Howie Kendrick at second), and Santiago walked Corporan on four straight. Jesus Guzman (0-5) saw six pitches without taking the bat off his shoulder, striking out on a full count. Santiago then picked off Marisnick as Dominguez (0-4, BB) then walked on five pitches to put runners at first and second with two outs. Then Gregorio Petit (2-4, 2B, HR, 3RBI), on a 3-1 count, got a low-and-in-fastball, which he mashed deep into LF for a no-doubt, 2-out, 3-run home run - his second of the season. Nice piece of hitting - the ball was exactly where Iannetta called for it, and thankfully the Astros managed some runs in the inning.
But the second wasn't finished there (or it was, in terms of scoring). Robbie Grossman hit a line-drive double into the LF gap, Jose Altuve reached on an IBB, then Dexter Fowler (2-5) struck out looking on a full-count. Inning mercifully over for the Angels, and they most likely considered themselves lucky to only give up three runs.
Santiago came out for the third, and he immediately gave up a line-drive single to Chris Carter (1-4, BB) to left. He walked Jake Marisnick on a full-count, and followed suit with Carlos Corporan to load the bases with no outs. However, two foul outs and a strike out meant that none of Vinnie Pestano's inherited runners scored, and the score stayed at 3-0, Astros.
Fowler then doubled with two outs in the fourth, and Carter walked on a full count before Marisnick struck out looking. In the fifth, Carlos Corporan walked (his third!), Gregorio Petit doubled to the wall in CF with two outs, and Robbie Grossman drove in two with a soft single to CF, just out of the reach of a leaping Howie Kendrick. Astros 5, Angels zip.
In the sixth, the Dexter Fowler hit his second double of the game (to RF), before Jake Marisnick singled him home with a hard grounder up the middle with one out. The Astros went in order in the seventh, Altuve singled in the eighth, but was erased on a double-play, and Marisnick hit a lead-off single in the ninth, but went nowhere.
Ex-stro Wade LeBlanc threw 2.2 scoreless for the Angels. Perhaps the Astros shouldn't have given up on him so quickly... :-)
The Astros nearly departed the second inning without scoring any runs. Hector Santiago allowed a lead off single, then gave up a walk, and things were looking pretty good when Jesus Guzman was sitting 3-0 with no outs. However, Guzman struck out and Marisnick was picked off, leading to two outs. Matt Dominguez walked to restore the runners-on-first-and-second thing, but Gregorio Petit was considered at long odds to score them.
Well, Petit showed some teeth. A long home run, well out in left, on a good pitch scored three runs. Petit has been very interesting this year. His line now sits at .275/.296/.449, and he has shown enough to potentially get another look next year as a utility guy. I would think that Jonathan Villar should start 2015 at short (barring a bad Spring Training), but Petit's presence may allow the Astros to either trade Marwin Gonzalez (who has also had a very solid year), or start Villar at AAA. Who knows, plenty of water to go under that bridge, but for one it is nice to see the Astros having actual options, not having to pick the best of two bad ones.
Man of the Match:
No shortage of candidates here, so just as well I kept the MoTM from two days ago. Today, The Battery get the credit. Keuchel was obviously awesome, but so too was Carlos Corporan, with a great line of his own: 0-2, 3BB, 2K. Carlos Corporan, master of the Two True Outcomes.
Goat of the Game:
Jesus Guzman was the only Astro who did not get to run the bases - 0-5, 2K, 3 RISP, 8 LOB.
On the Morrow:
The Astros return home to play Cleveland, who impressed when when they last met. However, Cleveland have scuffled since then, and are very close to being done for the year.
Zach McAllister (3-6, 5.97) versus Collin McHugh (9-9, 2.79)
8 Eastern, 7 Central.
As this was the last West Coast game of the year, this may also be my last game recap for 2014, depending on the extent of Cockroach's post-viral fatigue. I hope I have kept everyone entertained and engaged, and I have really enjoyed doing some overly wordy descriptive analysis that is unique to Astros County. I now get to go to work on catching up on the monthly recaps, looking at prospect ages, circulating some more roundtable minutes, and writing about PED's. Look forward to catching you over the offseason if this is, indeed, my last game recap for the year.