RHP Scott Feldman (2-2, 4.81) vs. LHP James Paxton (0-2, 6.86)
What is 50 pages long and has 114 references?? My document, that I really, really need to complete!! But I can't stop reporting on games in the middle of this win streak, which, by the way, is awesome, and starting to gain some national attention (finally!). The Astros have been hot recently, especially after blowing out the Padres on the days where their 1-2-3 guys started, and sweeping the Athletics by winning games in a variety of different ways. Timely hitting, solid pitching, speed, opposition errors and positional flexibility have all been important components of the streak. Which was extended by one today. Astros win, 3-2, and run their record to 15-7. A .500 record from here would get them to 85-77. Not that we are counting or anything.
Plus, the Astros not only sit atop of the AL West, but are tied with the badass Royals with the best record in the AL. The Cards are 15-6 in the NL Central, so the Astros are nearly the best team in baseball.
/falls off chair.
On the Mound:
Scotty Feldman did a Dallas Keuchel from last night. He started rough, but got better as the game wore on, but in contrast to Keuchel, he constantly worked out of jams. Not quite a full Dallas Keuchel either, with two runs (not one) given up in the first frame, and merely being effective (rather than dominant) from the first inning onward. He hung in there well, and with Deduno going tomorrow, the 'pen remains relatively fresh.
He nearly got singled into oblivion in the first. Which is no surprise - it will happen occasionally, with Feldman being a pitch-to-contact guy and all. Seth Smith fisted an inside fastball to conventional third base, but Valbuena was hanging out at shortstop, and he reached without problem. Smith went to second on a wild pitch then Jackson singled to shortstop - who fielded the ball deep in the 5.5 hole - to reach. Seth Smith didn't advance. Robinson Canó then singled on another grounder to short that Marwin dove to smother, and the bases were loaded with no outs. Nelson Cruz then hit a tailor-made ground-ball to shortshop, and González and Altuve turned an easy DP for the first out, but the run scored. Kyle Seager then singled on a hanging breaking ball to drive in Austin Jackson from third for the second run of the frame. Grossman possibly could have attacked the ball in LF, but he let it drop a couple of yards short of him, and it was an easy second run for the Mariners. Logan Morrison then flew out to left to end the frame. Two run inning, coulda been more.
Feldman also could have conceded more runs in the second. He walked Brad Miller to lead off, and Miller advanced on wild pitch. Dustin Ackley then hit a swinging bunt in front of home plate, and Miller advanced again to third. Castro made a nice play to record the first out. Mike Zunino then grounded to third, Valbuena spent a fraction too much time holding the runner, and Zunino beat the throw for what was recorded a hit. Seth Smith, with runners on the corners and one out, then hit a tailor made double play ball to Altuve, and he and González turned it without problem. Inning over, no runs scored.
Austin Jackson singled to lead off the third frame, but he was caught stealing on a solid (but slightly high) Castro throw. Robinson Canó grounded out, and Nelson Cruz flew out. In the fourth, a two-out walk and single led to a nine-pitch at bat, which ended when Mike Zunino struck out for the third out on a 2-2 count - breaking ball that bounced down and away. The fifth was uneventful aside from a Robinson Canó single with two outs. The Mariners went in order in the sixth and seventh, all on batted ball outs.
So Feldman bounced back from what could have been a disastrous first frame to limit the damage and pitch 7 effective innings. His final line was 8 hits and two walks, versus two strikeouts. He doubled up on the ground-ball to fly-ball ratio (12:6), and gave up only two earned runs. A couple of well-placed double-plays really assisted, as did a caught stealing.
Chad Qualls opened to start the eighth, and he found himself in a little trouble early on. Austin Jackson singled on a sinker away that didn't sink, and subsequently stole second. Robinson Canó grounded out for the first out, and Nelson Cruz struck out on a check swing for the second out. Tony Sipp received to face Kyle Seager, allowed Jackson to steal third. But it was all moot when Seager grounded to second to end the frame.
More baserunners in the eighth. Logan Morrison hit a line drive to RF for a single, then went to second on the sacrifice. Sipp had a look toward second, but got the sure out at first instead. Lo-Mo advanced on a passed ball (gah - third wild-pitch or passed ball in the game), but a strikeout (low breaking ball) and pop out (via Pat Neshek, who relieved Sipp) ended the inning without problem.
Luke Gregerson opened the top of the tenth, and he allowed a lead-off single to Seth Smith. Austin Jackson tried to move him over with a bunt, but Chris Carter dove (he dove!!) to catch the bunt on the full, and pinch runner and ex-Stro Ruggiano couldn't advance. Robinson Canó grounded into a double play back to the mound for the last two outs, and the inning - and Mariners batting - was done for the game.
At the Plate:
The Astros faced the tall lefty, James Paxton. The Astros also started well with run-scoring action in in the first frame. Jose Altuve (who else!) started the frame with a bloop single that dropped nicely between the advancing CF and RF - either could have gotten to it, and neither bothered to call, so the ball dropped perfectly between them, and Altuve was on. He stole second easily, then Luis Valbeuna walked one pitch later. George Springer then grounded to third to advance both runners - a slow, high chopper - then Evan Gattis (0-4, 2RBI) grounded to second to also advance both runners, and score Altuve. Chris Carter got jammed on an inside fastball, and he flew out to left for the third out.
In the second, Jason Castro (1-4) led off by grounding one up the middle for a single, then Handsome Jake (1-4) lay down a bunt which settled perfectly half-way up the first base line for a hit. Martin González then grounded into the third double play in the fourth half-inning of the game, and Mike-Bob Grossman (starting in left against the lefty, Paxton) looked at a breaking ball that seemed outside to me for the third out of the frame. Castro was left stranded at third.
Atuve double to deep left to lead off the third, but he was stranded on a strikeout-groundout-strikeout sequence. In the fourth, two more hitters struck out, as the side went in order. No one reached in the fifth on three consecutive groundouts.
The game was tied up when the Astros scored a run in the sixth. Luis Valbeuna opened the frame with a walk, then George Springer (1-4) hit a soft liner to right. Valbuena tried to go first-to-third, but would have been thrown out by 15 feet with a decent throw. Instead, the throw was up the LF line a little, and Seager had no option but to field it, and throw it straight to second base, where George Springer was showing off his wheels, trying to advance. Seager lost the handle on the throw, and nearly air-mailed it right back to Seth Smith in RF, but Canó was backing up. Everyone was safe, two runners in scoring position with no outs. Gattis then grounded out to drive in Valbuena, (0-2, 2BB) but Carter and Castro went without advancing the runner. Carter got caught looking at what seemed like a ball for strike three.
The Astros went in order in the eighth and ninth, setting the scene for a walk-off tenth inning. With one out, Marwin González doubled to lead off the frame just down the RF line to where the stands jut out. He just beat the throw. Second time in the last few games where he ran the bases aggressively on balls hit into RF and it paid off. Rasmus - pinch hitting for Mike-Bob - walked, but that was all window-dressing for Jose Altuve, who hit his second double (but scored as a single, 'cause he never touched second) off the base of the LF wall for the walk off hit. The pitch was a fastball which missed arm-side and caught too much of the plate, and Altuve turned on it,and mashed a line drive that hit a yard of so off the ground onto the out-of-town scoreboard. González (1-4, 2B) scored easily - high living Gary Pettis on the way past - and the game was done. Altuve's ability to line-drive any pitch is freakish, and his recent run of 8 multi-hit games is a great thing to watch. The dude is a gamer.
The Astros turned three double-plays - two in the first two frames, including one with loaded bases, and one with two on. Gregerson also turned a pretty double-play in the tenth on a grounder back to the plate. The Astros defence is vastly improved this year, and watching their infield work is much less cringe-worthy than it was in 2013. The shifts are working, too.
Man of the Match:
Jose Altuve contacted Astros County and asked us to slow down on the MoTM awards. He is running out of room in his house. Which, yes, resembles a cottage in Hobbiton. Until the dwarves dig him a couple more rooms, then he can only have one MoTM award per month. And because it is May 1 as I write this, Altuve can win the MoTM for his walk-off hit, and his 3-5, 2B, SB night - with solid D.
Goat of the Game:
Carter went 0-4, 3K. But, dude, a diving catch. So perhaps Grossman: 0-3, 2K. Yes, Grossman.
On the Morrow:
Sam Deduno (0-0, 2.89) makes his first start of the young season against LHP Roenis Elias (0-0, 3.18)
8 Eastern, 7 Central. Big and Bright Friday Night, isn't it?