Another quick one tonight, as I still have important documents to finish off and submit shortly. I can't pass this game recap up, because the Astros won their 10th of the last 11, completed their second consecutive sweep, went 8-1 on a road trip, and continue to sit atop the AL West by 4 games. Their record stands at a decent 14-7, Dallas Keuchel completed his 12 consecutive quality start, Altuve recorded his seventh consecutive multi-hit game, and the Astros become a team around which there is significant levels of excitement in the fan base since.... well, let's just say it's been a while. If they play .500 ball for the rest of the year, they will head into the last game of the season with an 84-77 record, which would mark significant progress.
Astros win, 7-2.
On the Mound:
Keuchel continued to impress with his early season form. In many ways, his outing was more impressive because he gave up a run early on, and was probably more impressive than another of those boring shutout outings that he has had so many of lately.
Will Myers - who has been a solid threat at the top of the order this series - led off with a single to RF on a 3-2 count. A perfect lead-off at-bat against a tough pitcher, really. Then with one out, and Myers still at first, Matt Kemp took a well-located fastball down-and-away and drove it into the RF gap. Marisnick couldn't get there with the ball slicing away from him, and it bounded to the wall for a double. Myers was always going to score, but Kemp advanced to third because Marisnick mishandled the ball on the track, which allowed Kemp to advance. Keuchel's scoreless streak came to an end, and with the way Andrew Cashner was throwing (six consecutive strikeouts to start the game), Keuchel would have felt like he may have given up enough runs to lose the game.
But the bounce back was impressive. Almost ridiculous. Keuchel then retired 23 of the next 24 hitters, with his only blemish as leadoff single from the opposition pitcher on a 2-2 count. I feel like I need to make that point again. After the Kemp double, Keuchel pitched 7-and-two-thirds more innings, and allowed one more baserunner. No walks, 4 strikeouts. Keuchel and Conger were both quoted in the post-game interviews as saying that the Padres were sitting on the pitch down and away, and once the battery worked that out and pounded the inside part of the plate, a powerful right-handed lineup was neutered Eleven groundouts (against 9 fly-outs) and 4 strikeouts. No walks. His ERA rose.... to 0.73. He threw 115 pitches, and looks like a solid candidate for pitcher of the month.
Luke Gregerson worked the ninth for some mop-up duties, and he channeled his inner Keuchel and conceded a run in his first frame, too. Will Myers led off and reached second on a Carter error (dropped pop up), and advanced to score on two consecutive groundouts. Thankfully, Carter's error didn't matter, but I must say that his defensive work has been far better than expected this year. His reception of low throws has improved markedly on what it was in 2014. But he isn't '96 Jeff Bagwell out there, that is for sure.
At the Plate:
Andrew Casher was just ridiculous to start the game, striking out the first six Astros in a row. Gosh, I thought, this could be an embarrassing landing for the Astros after reaching the giddy heights of a 4-game intradivision lead, but the bats knuckled down and scored enough runs to win most games.
The first baserunner was Handsome Jake, who doubled to LF to lead off the third. Jake and Jed (and recently Altuve) have carried the Astros offence early this year, and Marisnick continues to function as a power-speed threat at the bottom of the order. Handsome Hank (0-3, BB) followed Handsome Jake's double with a walk, and passed ball in the subsequent at-bat advanced Jake to third, so an Altuve sac-fly could drive Marisnick in to tie the game.
In the fourth frame, the Astros took a lead that they would not relinquish. George Springer (1-5, 2B) hit a one-out double to left, then Rasmus - who had been pounded by changeups all night - got a high change that he, in turn, pounded into RF. It was a solid mash, listed at 430 feet, and would have been well out even with the Petco fences in their original position. Rasmus (1-4, HR) can look like an impressive ballplayer at times, and this was one of those moments. He has also had an interesting series - 4-14, BB, two home runs and 5 RBI. Carter (0-3, BB) and Marisnick struck out to end the frame.
In the fifth, Altuve reached on an infield single with two outs, and Valbuena (1-5, 2B) doubled to lead off the sixth, but was stranded at third when Rasmus popped out to foul territory with one out. In the seventh, Dallas Keuchel repaid Andrew Cashner with a single to CF - the brotherhood of pitchers looking after each other there - but Altuve flew out to end the frame. Marwin González walked to lead off the eighth, but he didn't advance past first.
In the ninth, the Astros signed the series off in style. In some ways, this was a microcosm of what they have managed to do in the last three games. Chris Carter walked to lead off the frame, and went to second and third on a passed ball and a wild pitch respectively. Jake Marisnick (2-4, 2B, 2xSB) singled him home, then stole second and third, and scored on the throwing error on the second of those steals. Evan Gattis, who was pinching hitting for Dallas Keuchel (Keuchel's .333 average is nearly double Gattis' .174 average!) singled, and Altuve (2-4, 2B) doubled in his pinch runner (L.J. Hoes) with some timely power on a liner into the RF corner. Altuve went to third on the throw, and scored when Marwin (0-4, BB) reached on a fielder's choice - an awful bit of fielding by the pitcher Maurer, really. The frame ended with a two fly-outs.
So the Astros scored 4 runs in the frame on a combination of walks, capitalising on the Padres' mistakes, stealing bases and forcing other mistakes, timely power hitting, and a slice of luck. They have been merciless on the opposition tandems this series, with a further two stolen bases - one of which resulted in further advancement on an error - today.
When Rasmus turned on a hanging change-up for a long 2-run shot to RF. Worth watching the highlight for the mix of elegance and power. Boom.
Man of the Match:
Dallas Keuchel, for the reasons listed above. Down early, noticed a pattern, able to implement an effective alteration to his game plan, then absolute dominance late into the game. Plus, a .333/.333/.333 triple slash makes him the third most potent bat for the Astros this season.
Goat of the Game:
From last night...
No goat, due to the rule instituted last night. And I quote:
"No goats when a team manages six runs in the final three frames, and wins!"
Well, tonight they managed to score eight runs in the final three frames. And won. So no goat.Four runs in the final frame - especially when they are mostly charged to Craig Kimbrel - combined with a win, is close enough for me.
The Astros fly back to Houston to (i) say hi to Jed Lowrie and (ii) start a 4 game series with the Seattle Mariners. Since the Astros left Seattle, the Mariners have gone 1-2 against the Twins at home, and swept the Rangers in Arlington. King Felix pitched today, so the Astros won't get to face him unless something weird happens.
RHP Scott Feldman (2-2, 4.81) vs. LHP James Paxton (0-2, 6.86)
The 'pen is rested - mostly thanks to Keuchel's heroics today - but Sam Deduno is probably not available because he will probably start Game 2 of the series.