Saturday, April 18, 2015

From the Office of the County Clerk - G10: Angels at Astros

Jered Weaver (0-2, 8.71) v Roberto Hernandez (0-1, 1.93)

Apologies, loyal readers for a lack of game recaps, and the lateness of this game recap.  Cockroach remains on the DL, and I am just completing a lighting tour around the globe.  The good news is that the latest stop in this lightning tour is Houston, Texas, where I will spend the weekend at MMP, attending games in person.  This culminates a week of good news for Astros fans from my part of the globe.

This series serves to be a fascinating one for a bunch of reasons.  Firstly, the Angels - who have themselves been the victims of a reasonably tepid start to the season - are a fabulous benchmark for a young Houston team, as the reigning champs in the AL West last year.  Secondly, this weekend marks the 50th anniversary of the Astros brand.  Thirdly, with the Rockets in the playoffs, it will be interesting to see how an early-season Astros team draws against post-season basketball.

And lastly, prior to launching into the game recap: much has been written about the demise of Mike Trout.  Remember him??  The guy who can't hit high fastballs??  With Mike Trout neutralised, once and for all, the Astros only really need to worry about that Albert Pujols guy, who... uh.... this.

On the Mound:
Roberto Hernandez started off strongly in what was an exceptionally well-pitched ballgame going into the fourth frame.  Hernandez struck out four while coaxing five groundouts out of the Angels bats the first time through the order, and he started the fourth inning without allowing a baserunner.

A Calhoun triple to lead off the fourth was the first hit of the game.  Marisnick may have been able to make the play with a better jump, but for the most part, this was a lead-off, stand-up triple to the base of Tal's Hill on the first fly-ball of the game for the Angels.  Hernandez bounced back well to get Trout swinging, then a walk to Albert Pujols put runners on the corners with one out.  Matt Joyce hit a shallow fly-ball to LF, Rasmus' strong throw was on target, but it hopped a bit on Castro, and he was unable to get the tag down in time to get a sliding Calhoun for the first run of the game.

Calhoun was also the architect for the next Angels scoring opportunity.  He took first on a bloop single into shallow left - down the third base line.  The next batter was Mike Trout, and he mashed a low fastball into the Crawford Boxes for his 100th career home run.  The pitch may have missed a little arm-side-and-up - Castro's glove did seem to move a little - but on a 3-2 count, a sinking fastball was on the cards, and Trout made no mistake.

Hernandez left the game after the sixth, with a promising looking final-line involving one walk and six strikeouts.  However, the three earned runs that he gave up didn't tell the entire story in terms of his pitching, and would be considered disappointing in an otherwise strong and solid performance.

Will Harris relieved, and he retired the first two before walking Chris Iannetta.  A strikeout ended the frame without further incident.  Harris managed to get two outs on four pitches, and I wondered whether he may have been trotted out there for a second inning had Iannetta been retired a little earlier.

Regardless, Harris needed 16 pitches to end the frame, so Qualls took over for the seventh and was immediately in trouble.  An infield single to open the frame, followed by a walk, put Trout at the plate with runners on first and second.  Qualls quickly worked the count to 0-2, Trout fouled off two more strikes (one of the fouls was on a pitch down that he was out in front of, and was a great piece of hitting) then Qualls missed down on Castro's call for a high fastball, and the ball was sent 10 rows back, just to the right of the Astros bullpen in RF.  Three-run shot - Trout's second of the game, and both off sinker-ballers - and the Angels took the lead.

Sam Deduno took the hill for the ninth, and he faced the minimum despite allowing a lead-off single. Altuve made a really nice play on a grounder up the middle, beating the runner to the bag and firing over to first in time.  The defence from the right side of the infield has been solid this year, and Lowrie (on the left side) makes the plays he is supposed to, which is nice to see given the groundball-heavy pitching staff that the Astros have.

At the Plate:
Personally, I was hoping for a repeat of the homer-fest that happened the last time Weaver pitched an early-season game in Houston, but it was not to be.  Weaver carried an 8-something ERA into this game, having only managed 11 innings in two starts in 2015.  The radar gun has not been his friend in 2015 so far, and this continued, as he struggled to get a pitch above 85 on the MMP gun all night.

But he was effective, and again, the Astros had trouble with a lack of big hits in big situations.  Despite that, the game was tied at 3 heading into Quall's eighth inning, but no rally was able to be mounted against Joe Smith and Houston Street in the eighth and ninth frames respectively.

Against Weaver, Gattis (2-4, 2B) represented the first Astros baserunner in the second frame with a single to left with one out.  Gattis later doubled to shallow-left in the fourth to put two runners in scoring position for Jason Castro, but he hit a hard grounder to second to end the frame.

In the fifth, the Astros had a chance for a crooked number, but more hard-hit balls that didn't find gaps, and a slight baserunning mistake from Jake Marisnick meant that only one run resulted from an inning where three singles, a stolen base, and a sac-fly occurred.  Chris Carter opened the frame with a single to short, Jake Marisnick (1-2) followed with a one-out single to short, then Jose Altuve (1-3, BB) hit a hard grounder up the middle to score Carter (1-4) and send Marisnick to third.  Altuve stole second to put to runners in scoring position, and Springer (0-3, RBI) hit a hard, low shot to the warning track in left.  Marisnick wasn't tagging up - he may have struggled to erase his secondary lead to tag up regardless because the ball was hit so flat and hard - but he clearly froze, and was unable to come home on a ball that was deep enough for him to score.  Jed Lowrie (0-4) grounded out to end the frame.

Jason Castro (1-4, HR) hit a two-out shot to right in the sixth - a nice piece of hitting with enough distance on a fly-ball just to clear the wall in RF.  Kole Calhoun is... um... not tall, and was unable to scale the wall to bring it back, but it would have been hard to retrieve anyhow.  Castro had a bunch of hard-hit balls that didn't go for hits again tonight.  Weaver was pulled one out later.

With Colby Rasmus (0-2, 2K) due up to start the seventh, Mike Scioscia opted for the lefty, Jose Álvarez to open the frame.  A.J. Hinch countered with Robbie Grossman (1-2), and the move paid off when Grossman blooped one into CF for a leadoff single.  RHP Vinnie Pestano relieved to face the rightly Marisnick, and Hinch again countered with a switch-hitting replacement, Jonathan Villar (1-2).  A repeat of the Grossman's at-bat happened: a bloop hit to nearly the exact same place, with Robbie Grossman needing to hold to make sure the ball dropped and eventually stopping at second.  Jose Altuve followed with a walk to load the bases with no outs.  Springer then scored Grossman on a hard-hit sac-fly to the warning track in right, but Jose Altuve was unable to advance to second on the throw.  This was critical, because Lowrie GIDP-ed on an 0-2 count to end the threat.  This represented the Astros' last scoring opportunity.

So, again, inopportune hitting dominated, with the Astros going 1-5 with runners in scoring position. As a team they managed eight hits - two for extra-bases - and walked once, striking out five times.

Turning Point:
A number of solid candidates for the turning point could be nominated for this game.  I have chosen the Springer sac-fly.  A little more distance, and the Astros have four runs on the board - enough to cover for Mike Trout's heroics.  Instead, they were left with runners on the corners, and a GIDP three pitches later put and end to that threat.

Trust me, people, the bats will wake up, and things will be exciting again.  Hopefully soon.

Man of the Match:
Jason Castro has threatened to be an offensive force at the plate this year.  He was hitting between Gattis and Carter - something that I think has been sorely needed for some time.  It seems that even his outs are loud at the moment.  If he gets going offensively, then things could change.  Plus, his receiving - at least to my untrained eye - seems to be solid this year.  Kudos to the coaching staff, and Castro himself, because some work seems to have been put in during the offseason.

Goat of the Game:
Qualls, sadly.  He simply missed with that pitch to Trout.  But before we get on Chad too much, Mike Trout is hitting .442/.500/.750 on the young season, so Qualls and the Astros aren't the only guys he has hurt.  He was the difference in this game, however.

Up Later Today:
(because I am horribly jet lagged, and didn't get this recap done until 12+ hours after the game was done)

C.J. Wilson (1-1, 3.95) versus the underrated Dallas Keuchel (1-0, 1.29)

7 Eastern, 6 Central.