Thursday, May 14, 2015

From the Office of the County Clerk - G34: Astros versus Giants

Brett Oberholtzer (0-0, 0.00) versus Tim Hudson (1-3, 4.50)

The Office of the County Clerk has been shut due to unspecified natural disasters over the last couple of days.  I have been unable to get in because of firey/watery/earthy/atmospheric conditions (choose one), so have not been able to recap the Astros' last few games.  So, lets see how they did...

Hmmm.  4 hits in their last 86 at-bats (per Drellich).  Yikes! Well, doesn't matter how well you pitch, that ain't going to win you many games.  The cratering of the entire offence recently has been stunning.  With Lowrie out, and hits for Altuve and Marisnick not really dropping, Gattis and Carter returning to their strikeout-heavy ways, and the lefties Valbuena and Rasmus also struggling, it has been a rough couple of games for the 'stros.  However, they managed to split an away series against a best-2014-record-in-the-AL Angels (helped immensely by a ninth-inning comeback and a three homer barrage games one and three).  In three of the last four games, they have been absolutely dominated at the plate by Jered Weaver, Garrett Richards and Chris Heston.

I was actually very impressed with Heston.  He hit his spots on both sides of the plate with all of his pitches. Perhaps he benefitted from some BABIP luck, but he made some of the Astros hitters look a little silly at times.  Castro homered to (hopefully) signal that he is heating up, but that was the only run that they scored.  And against Richards (who has ridiculous stuff), the only run scored when Richards tried to go inside, and drilled Preston Tucker in the back with the bases loaded.  Safe to say, it wasn't intentional.

So tonight, the Astros needed to bounce back against an familiar foe who has dominated them in the past.  Hudson entered this game having pitched seven times against the Astros, going 5-0, 1.24.  In 195 PA's, he has allowed a triple-slash of .189/.247/.233, with a 34:12 K:BB ratio.  And, as the cherry on top, a catcher by the name of A.J. Hinch caught his major-league debut in Oakland in 1999.  Hudson has had a great career, which included recovering from a gruesome broken ankle in 2013.  And, with the Giants on a hot streak, and them being the defending champs and all, this game could have gotten ugly.

But, as has been the case a few times this season, the Astros relied on the home run, pitched adequately, and got just enough offence to go ahead late, and win 4-3.  How did it happen??  Read on!

On the Mound:
Brett Oberholtzer got the start for the first time this year, after a blister popped up in Spring Training and sidelined him for the best part of a month.  And he didn't start well, giving up a run in his first inning back.  Nori Aoki grounded out to second, Matt Duffy walked, and then stole second during Buster Posey's at-bat.  Posey then took a 3-2 inside fastball that was supposed to be away, and hit what sounded like a broken-bat liner over a shifted Altuve to drive Duffy in for the first run of the game.  Justin Maxwell followed with a single just past a statuesque Carter, but both were stranded when Brandon Belt struck out to end the frame.

Obie bounced back in the second, striking out the catcher, Andrew Susac, then walking Casey McGehee and allowing a single on an 0-2 count to Brandon Crawford on an elevated fastball.  The ball had no business being elevated and away to the lefty Crawford - Castro had set up inside.  But a well executed 5-4-3 double play to get the speedy Aoki ended the frame - nice work from Valbuena and Altuve to turn the twin killing.

Obie got assistance from another double play in the third.  Matt Duffy - not the Astros farmhand Matt Duffy, either - has killed the Astros this series, and he led off with a solid single to CF.  Angel Pagán then GIDP into another 5-4-3, Posey singled and Maxwell struck out to end the frame.  At this point, Obie was starting to stare at his fingers, and when he ran a 2-seamer back over the inside part of the plate to end the frame, his night was done.

Deduno took over for the fourth, and he continued the theme of being constantly in trouble.  He got two outs relatively quickly, then allowed a single, a HBP, a wild pitch and a walk to load the bases.  Matt Duffy for once didn't get a hit, lining out to CF on a fat elevated curveball.  In the fifth - after the Astros drew level at 1-1 Deduno allowed a Pagán lead-off triple (he is fast), then Posey hammered a belt-high curve ball just short of the railway tracks.  Deduno bounced back well to end the frame without yielding another baserunner.

The sixth was given to Will Harris, and aside from a two-out single, it was unremarkable.  He has allowed 1ER in 17 frames this year.  Neshek retired the side in order in the seventh.  Qualls faced the minimum in the eighth after an error by Valbuena (he booted it) allowed Brandon Belt to reach, but Belt was erased caught stealing with a fabulous throw from Castro.

Gregerson gave us a few heart palpitations in the ninth.  Brandon Crawford - the opening batter of the frame - took a high-and-outside pitch to the wall in LF for a leadoff double.  Very similar to the pitch location that Crawford singled off Obie earlier in the game.  Aoki followed with a grounder to short and - I won't get to type this many times so it needs to be in capitals - VILLAR MADE A HEADS UP PLAY!  Villar was behind Crawford when he broke for third, he threw to Valbuena covering third, and Crawford was out by plenty.  That proved to he an important play because, with two outs, Angel Pagán singled to CF (just past a stretching Altuve) to put runners on the corners.  Buster Posey then ended the game with a cue-shot back to the pitcher, and Gregerson went to first for the final out.

Obie and Deduno worked around eleven baserunners in the first five frames to give up only 3 runs.  Some timely double plays helped.  But the rest of the 'pen was nails.  No walks, 4K's, 3 hits in four innings.  Luhnow's 'pen re-boot has been impressive, and they have been strong throughout the season.

At the Plate:
Hudson, as mentioned earlier, is a fine pitcher, and he started well, facing the minimum in the first despite an Altuve one-out single into LF.  Valbuena grounded to second for the 4-6-3 double-play, and he was thrown out by plenty.  The Astros went in order in the second, including a cue-shot off the end of the bat of Gattis, now batting sixth.  The Astros continued their habit of going in order in the third, including a hard-hit line-out from Castro into CF.

In the fourth, the Astros drew level at 1-1.  Luis Valbuena walked with two outs, then advanced to second on a Springer walk.  Colby Rasmus then hit a little line-drive off the end of the bat on a low splitter into CF to score Valbuena.  Gattis struck out looking to end the frame.  In the sixth, Jason Castro hit his second home-run in two games when Hudson missed over the plate with a fastball that was meant to be inside.  Castro hit it to the railing on the CF side of the Astros' bullpen, and the ball bounded into the CF seats behind Tal's Hill.  Chris Carter then hit a solid single into LF, followed by a Jonathan Villar singla into CF, but Handsome Jake hit a hard liner to third, and Altuve grounded into a double play to end the frame.

In the seventh, Luis Valbuena homered leading off the frame.  Hudson again missed a little over the plate, and Valbuena pulled the pitch into the Astros bullpen.  It cleared the fence by plenty.  Valbuena's eighth homer of the year, and his line is currently sitting at an interesting .200/.270/.433.  Gattis singled later in the frame and went to second on Justin Maxwell's curious error where the ball seemed to slip out of his hand in the middle of the throwing motion, but that was all for the sixth.

Carter worked a nice walk leading off the eighth, coming back from an 0-2 count and laying off pitches down and away.  He had a quietly solid game, and seemed to look a little more balanced at the plate.  Villar then popped up a bunt, trying to get pinch-runner González to second, and three Giants collided trying to make the play in foul territory. Andrew Susac successfully held on to the ball for the out.  González failed to advance when Marisnick struck out, and Altuve flew out.

That all led to the eighth.  With the scores tied 3-3, George Springer headed to the plate with one out. On a 3-2 count, and on the seventh pitch of the at-bat, Jeremy Affeldt (who does not give away many homers) left a pitch in the middle of the plate and at the top of the knees.  Springer ripped it into the power-alley in left, and the ball cleared the wall under the gas pump, hitting the Phillips 66 sign underneath it.  The ball never got very high, but it was hit plenty hard, and Affeldt knew it straight away.  The Astros took the lead 4-3, and hung on in the ninth to end the game.

Hits from Jose Altuve, Colby Rasmus and Evan Gattis (1-4), with a home-run from a resurgent Jason Castro (1-3).  Chris Carter went 1-2, BB for a solid night, and Jonathan Villar went 1-3, but popped up a bunt.

Turning Point:
I have to say it again - VILLAR MADE A HEADS UP PLAY!  In the ninth, critical situation, Villar was the recipient of a grounder from Aoki with a runner on second, breaking to third.  He opted to get the lead runner at third, and he and Valbuena executed the rest of it perfectly for the out.  Which was important, because a 2-out single would have scored a runner from third, and the game would probably still be going.

Man of the Match:
Two guys with identical lines stood out today.  Luis Valbeuna and George Springer both hit vital late-inning homers to tie the game and go ahead respectively.  Their lines were 1-3, BB, HR, with Valbeuna scoring two runs, and Springer one.

Goat of the Game:
Who kidnapped Handsome Jake???  Only Astro to not get on base tonight.  He has struggled recently... but so have the rest of the bats.

Up Next:
The 17-18 Blue Jays roll into town.  The Astros' first AL East opponent, and first series outside the AL and NL West since the opening series against the Indians.

Drew Hutchison (3-0, 6.69) versus Roberto Hernandez (1-3, 3.88)

A perfect example of why pitcher W-L records are like like blood in the water to a sabermatic shark.

8 Eastern, 7 Central.