Dallas Keuchel (6-0, 1.67) versus Wei-Yin Chen (1-3, 2.90)
Not a wonderful start to the Astros' series in Baltimore. The Astros squandered multiple offensive opportunities while the Orioles maximised their hit sequencing. Both Los Angeles / Anaheim and Texas won, so both move a game closer to the Astros in the AL West standings. Actually, a stellar day for the AL West, as the Angels, the Rangers, the Athletics and the Mariners all won. But the Astros didn't. They lost a tight one, 4-3.
On the Mound:
Dallas Keuchel got the start, and he was either dominant or getting belted over the fence. Location seemed to be the problem on the two pitches that resulted in runs being scored - both seemed to be flat and elevated, and that simply isn't Keuchel's game. Keuchel allowed a pair of 2-run home runs (in the second and seventh innings) and dominated in between, eventually throwing an eight-inning complete game, wearing the loss, and running his record to 6-1 on the year.
Keuchel faced the minimum in the first, but he walked Manny Machado on a 3-1 count leading off. Adam Jones later lined into a double play - Chris Carter caught the ball off first base, and the runner (Parades) was toast, with Carter between him and the base. Carter wandered over and touched the bag for the third out.
In the second, Delmon Young hit a clean single over the right side of the infield leading off. The pitch was a little elevated - thigh-high and away. Keuchel bounced back to record the next two outs, including a Steve Pearce fly-ball to the warning track in LF, before Caleb Joseph got a belt-high change-up and drove it just into the first row of seats in left field. Tucker wasn't convinced it got out - it did seem to bounce off a fan who was leaning into the field of play, but the umps signalled it being gone, and the score was 2-0, Orioles. The inning ended on an Everth Cabrera ground-out up the middle that Jose Altuve made a wonderful scoop-and-throw with his momentum taking him away from first-base - a play which underscored the improvement in his defence this year.
Keuchel faced the minimum in the third, thanks to a double play off the bat of our old friend and second-base wrecking-machine, Jimmy Parades. The one-out "single" was a fairly generous call on a misplayed ball off the glove of Jonathan Villar at shortstop. In the fourth, two grounders and a strikeout meant that the Orioles went in order. Keuchel also retired the side in order in the fifth and the sixth.
The seventh was where the game was lost for the Astros. They entered the frame leading 3-2. Delmon Young started the comeback with a 1-out single up the middle on an fastball that was up just a little. Steve Pearce followed with a opposite-field home-run off a thigh-high fastball away. It didn't clear the fence by much, but it cleared it by enough, and Keuchel had managed to cough up his third and fourth home runs of the year in 70-odd innings of work. His ERA remains below 2 (1.98), but he won't be happy missing pitches up, and my bet is that he bounces back and resumes pounding the zone down (except for elevating out of the zone deliberately) next start.
A single off the next battler was the last baserunner of the game for both teams - he was promptly erased on the Astros' third double-play of the day. Keuchel stayed in to finish the eighth, ending the day at 98 pitches. He gave up 6 hits, walked one and struck out three, but the four earned runs were an anomaly that he will not be happy with.
At the Plate:
The Astros were facing the Taiwanese lefty, Wei-Yin Chen, who has a smooth action, throws pretty hard for a lefty, and fields his position well. He has been a solidly-league average arm over the fourth years and 500+ innings that he has thrown in the US, with 2015 representing his best year. The Astros constantly had him working around traffic, with 11 hits in 5 innings, but were simply unable to land the knockout blow to give Kuechel a hefty lead. The Astros bats went quiet when Chen left the game - they were unable to manage a single baserunner for the last four frames.
Example of how to squander baserunners: In the first, Springer and Altuve both singled on the first two pitches of the ballgame. Yes, the order was correct - George Springer was leading off for the second game in a row - no surprise really, after his strong game leading off yesterday. Valbuena fouled out, Gattis struck out swinging on a fastball down the pipe, and Carter flew out to end the frame.
In the second, more of the same. Preston Tucker singled into the shift leading off, then Jonathan Villar recorded a clean single between shortstop and third. Hank Conger then bunted into an unusual 1-5-3 double-play, and Handsome Jake struck out looking on a fastball down-and-in for the last out. In the third, George Springer took a hung change-up, and he drove it deep to the LF power-alley, into the upper bullpen. That drive was listed at 425 feet, and he got most of it. An Evan Gattis double to deep-right happened with two outs - he again peppered the CF-RF gap for another extra-base hit. Chris Carter grounded into the shift for the third out. In the fourth, Hank Conger hit a 2-out fly-ball that bounced half-way up the giant wall in RF, and he was forced to stop at second and watch Handsome Jake strike out for the second time in two at-bats.
The Astros took the lead in the fifth, having been down 2-1 entering that frame. George Springer hit a lead-off single to LF, then Jose Altuve followed with a single through the 5.5 hole. Valbuena hit a line-drive back to the pitcher, and Chen dropped it, then recovered to try for another 1-5-3 double play. Valbuena beat Machado's throw to first, putting runners on first and second with one out. Evan Gattis then struck out swinging after an 8-pitch at-bat - the pitch was a high change-up that Gattis could have driven, but he seemed to be sitting fastball. Chris Carter then dunked one into RF, down the line, on a full count to score both Altuve and Valbeuna. Carter and Gattis both battled Chen, and Carter's hit was clutch - a nice piece of hitting. It came off a breaking ball that caught the middle of the plate. Preston Tucker then singled through the left-side to send Carter to second, but Villar struck out to end the frame.
Chen was pulled at that point and the Orioles 'pen was perfect. Handsome Jake struck out for a third time in the sixth. Gattis struck out in the seventh. Carter struck out on a nasty pitch in the eighth, and Rasmus was called out on a pitch in the RH batters box to end the eighth. Wanna see where it was?? Below:
The side went in order in the ninth, with the game ending on a Springer street swinging on a 2-2 count.
George Springer (3-5, HR) and Jose Altuve (2-4) combined well in the 1-2 spots of the order. Preston Tucker also went 2-4, and Gattis and Carter both went 1-4, with the former striking out three times. Jonathan Villar (1-3) and Hank Conger (1-4, 2B) had the other hits, and Handsome Jake and Valbeuna both went 0-4, with the former striking out three times.
I didn't hear this play being discussed anywhere, so it may be that I have it totally wrong. But, in the fifth, Chris Carter was up, and he fought Wei-Yin Chen to a full count before hitting a wee blooper down the RF line. It was fairly deep - around two-thirds or three-quarters of the way to the fence. The ball landed a yard-or-two fair, and Delmon Young is as slow as molasses and was shaded to Carter's pull side, so it is unsurprising that Valbeuna scored all the way from first.
What didn't happen is that Carter didn't take the extra base. I never saw a good view on TV or what happened, but with a bloop, and an overweight, immobile outfielder steaming over to the line in right, I automatically thought that Carter would take second. Also, the throw was too high for the cutoff man. But he didn't take second, and I certainly can't prove that he could or should have.
Why it matters is that Preston Tucker singled on a grounder to the LF-CF gap as the next batter. If the infielders were positioned the same with Carter on second (and no guarantee that they would have been), then Carter would probably have scored on Tucker's single. That would have scored a fourth run for the Astros. Which may have been vital. Who knows, and feel free to discuss in the comments.
Man of the Match:
Welcome back, George Springer! His last two games has his OBP to .347 - adequate for a man leading off. The organisation seems keen to have Altuve batting second, too, so it seems that Springer leading off may be a feature of Hinch's lineup cards for a while.
Goat of the Game:
Handsome Jake is very handsome, and had a great April. Since then, he has been... um... less great, but still very handsome. He went 0-4 tonight. A Tucker-Rasmus-Springer outfield alignment has been tried a bit recently, and if Marisnick has more games like this, may become more common.
On the Morrow:
Scott Feldman (3-4, 5.17) versus Chris Tillman (2-5, 6.10)
Murphy's Law says this will be a 1-0 pitching duel. A pitching duel that will start at 7 Eastern, 6 Central.