Sunday, May 17, 2015

From the Office of the County Clerk - G37: Astros versus Blue Jays

Marco Estrada (1-2, 3.54) versus Scott Feldman (2-4, 5.23)

The Astros have managed to quietly run off a 3-game win streak, after winning the first two games of this four-game set with the Blue Jays.  After being swept by Texas in an ugly series, the Astros managed a split of an away 4-game series against the Angels - their closest AL West rivals - then split a short home series against the defending champion Giants.  In neither of those series did they play particularly good baseball.  One of the two wins against the Angels was a result of a late comeback, and the other win was a nail biting victory after they blew most of a handy lead.  The lone win against the Giants was another come-back victory after they found some soft, middle-relief underbelly.

Some of this series has been more of the same.  For example, another come-back win on Thursday night, where they again struggled against the opposition starter opened the series.  Last night, it was all power, as they took and early lead, and the Blue Jays didn't really get that close, due to Will Harris averting a potential disaster.  But overall, they have looked much better against the Blue Jays thus far, which is great, because much of the last 10 days work of baseball has been borderline unwatchable.

The Astros looked much more solid today, riding a three home run barrage to a solid 6-5 win over the Blue Jays.  The win streak is at 4 games.  All of the Astros' runs scored via the long ball.  Four struggling players were the key to the game for the Astros.  For more information, read on...

On the Mound:
The Astros held the Blue Jays down for the middle seven innings of this game.  But the Jays opened strongly by scoring three in the first against Scott Feldman, who bounced back strongly to throw six-and-two-thirds, striking out 10 and walking three.  He gave up five hits, four in the first two frames.

Feldman struggled with both his stuff and his command in the first.  With one out, Josh Donaldson doubled on a rolling curve located down and away into the RF corner.  Jose Bautista walked to put runners on the corners, and when a Russell Martin line-drive split Springer in RF and Rasmus in CF perfectly, the ball rolled all the way to the wall, scoring both runners easily.  Martin cruised into third with a triple, then Justin Smoak - who Feldman has always had trouble with - dumped a single in front of Springer in right to score Martin.  Feldman recovered to retire the next two hitters, but a three-run frame put the Astros in an early hole.

A two out double to right by Devon Travis was the main feature of the second frame.  Travis doubled over the head of Springer, who played it perfectly off the bottom of the wall.  However, Springer failed to grip the ball properly on the transfer, and it squirted behind him as he was winding up to throw, allowing Travis to take third.  Josh Donaldson then walked, but Feldman bounced back to retire Jose Bautista on a cue-shot back to the pitcher to end the frame.

From that point, Feldman was pretty much nails.  He retired the side in order in the third, striking out two, then struck out another in the fourth.  Jose Bautista walked with two outs in the fifth, but Feldman struck out the side to keep that frame scoreless.  At this point, he was locating his high fastball which had some run, and hitters had trouble catching up with it.  Three consecutive groundouts in the sixth resulted in Feldman again facing the minimum.

Feldman came out to start the seventh, and with one out, Ryan Goins singled into left - the first Jays hit since the second.  After Feldman struck out Devon Travis, and sitting at 112 pitches, Hinch was not going to let him face the meat of the order again, so he called for Josh Fields.  Fields walked Donaldson to move Goins into scoring position, but he bounced right back to strike out Jose Bautista on high cheese to end the frame.

Tony Sipp them came on and struck out the side for a scoreless eighth.  Luke Gregerson entered with a 6-3 lead, and struck out Kevin Pillar before walking Ezequiel Carrera and enticing Ryan Goins into a fly out.  Then, with two down, and on an 0-2 count, Edwin Encarnación got a slider that was meant to be away, but was instead on the inner third, and he hit the longest home run of the night - onto the tracks, right over the CF end of the Crawford Boxes.  That cut the deficit to one, but Josh Donaldson popped up on the next pitch to end the game.

At the Plate:
The Astros started in a 3-run hole, and they threatened to score immediately.  Luis Valbuena singled with one out, then Evan Gattis reached on an infield single with two outs - ably assisted by (i) pitcher Marco Estrada deflecting the ball with his glove and (ii) Valbuena hurdling the ball right in front of the defender (Travis), contributing to the mis-play.  However, Preston Tucker was well fooled on a 1-2 changeup away, and they Astros were held scoreless in the first.

Hank Conger walked in the second, but the third was when the comeback started in ernest.  Jose Altuve walked on a fastball up and away.  Valbuena and Springer followed with fly-outs.  Evan Gattis then got a 1-1 fastball on the inner third, and he mashed it high onto the wall over the LF power alley.  Gattis knew he got it right away, and he put his head down, flipped his bat underhand, and took a leisurely trot around the bases.

Another Conger walk was the only feature of the fourth, and Estrada struck out the side for a very quiet fifth.  Jeff Francis started the sixth for Toronto, and Preston Tucker answered with a line-drive single to RF on a 2-1 count.  The next batter was Colby Rasmus, and he hit a long fly ball that landed in the CF-RF gap, just out of the reach of a diving Kevin Pillar in CF.  The ball bounded into the 'pen for a ground-rule double, and Tucker was forced to stop at third as a result.

But it didn't matter.  Liam Hendricks relieved Francis with Carter up.  On a 1-2 count, he tried to sneak a cutter/slider past Carter on the outside half, but he missed a little up, and Carter drove it the other way into the RF bullpen.  It was one of those effortless and short swings from Carter, and the ball cleared the fence by plenty.  Martin González followed by hooking an outside fastball into RF bullpen five pitches later for a solo shot, and the Astros led by 6-3.  Marwin's first good at-bat for a week or so, and more surprising power from the left side.

The last two innings were remarkable only for Colby Rasmus' lead off single in the eighth.  He advanced to second with no outs on a passed ball, but was a spectator for the rest of the frame as Carter and Conger struck out, and González grounded out.

Colby Rasmus and Evan Gattis both went 2-4, with the latter hitting a long home run.  Preston Tucker (1-3, BB) was also on base twice, as was Hank Conger (0-2, 2BB).  Jose Altuve (0-3) walked once, and Valbuena, Carter and González all went 1-4, with the latter two hitting a three run home run and a solo home run respectively in the sixth.  The Astros would need all of those runs, as Gregerson made it closer than it could have been in the top of the ninth.

Turning Point:
Scott Feldman didn't look great to start with in this game, then he started getting the high-fastball past the Blue Jays hitters, which kept them off his breaking pitches.  The turning point was the last out of the second when Jose Bautista hit a nubber off the end of the bat to the 1B side of the mound.  Feldman tracked it down easily to throw Bautista out, stranding two Blue Jays on the base paths.  The Jay would have 3 more baserunners up until the top of the ninth, and that allowed the Astros to pull ahead for good.

Man of the Match:
Evan Gattis started the come-back, and went 2-4 with a home run and 2RBI.  Chris Carter hit a three-run shot the other way to take the lead, and Marwin González also flew one into the Astros' bullpen for a solo home run to add on.  Those three players accounted for all the Astros' runs, and consequently earned the Men of the Match honours.

Goat of the Game:
George Springer: 0-4 and an ugly error in right field.

Up Next:
Early game tomorrow for the last game of the series.  The Astros try to bust open the broom cupboard and go for the sweep.

Mark Buehrle (5-2, 5.54) versus Collin McHugh (4-1, 3.50)

2 Eastern, 1 Central.