Monday, June 22, 2015

From the Office of the County Clerk - G72: Astros in Anaheim / LA

Brett Obertholtzer (2-1, 2.73) versus Hector Santiago (4-4, 2.77)

The Astros enter this game in a strong position in the AL West, but with nagging doubts about their starting rotation and all-or-nothing offence, with either seems to be mashing home runs or getting shut out.  Speed has been a little less of a weapon recently, with Altuve nursing a hamstring injury, and even when uninjured, not getting on base an awful lot.  This shapes up as an important series - any series against a division-rival is, after all, important - but Athletics fans are able to recall the late-season charge the Angels made last year to win the AL West, and claim the title of the Winningest Team in Baseball.

Gonna do something different today.  Joining the game in the middle of the first, and I have a couple of things that I need to do, like pick the youngster up from school.  However, I should be able to remain adjacent to a live feed for most of the time, and if not a live feed, then a mostly live feed.  So let's Live Blog this puppy!!  (warning: likely to lead to grossly inferior and far wordier analysis).

The Astros have González starting at third, and an outfield alignment of Rasmus-Springer-Santana going left to right.  Altuve starts at second, and Castro is catching.  Let's go!

First Inning:
The Astros went in order in the first, with Springer leading off and flying out, Correa lining out to the shortstop, and Altuve flying out to LF.

Obie starts the game a little wild, opening with two balls to Johnny Giavotella.  He strikes him out on a peach of a change on a full count.  Kole Calhoun is next up, and he goes down looking on a peach of a breaking ball.  Mike Trout completes the strikeout triumvirate by swishing at a change up.

As an aside, Kole Calhoun always seems to have killed the Astros.  However, he has come back to earth this year.  B-R rates his OPS+ has 1% above average, noting a fairly uninspiring line of .264/.323/.378.  My prediction is that he will kill the Astros later tonight.

Second Inning:
Despite putting some good at-bats together against Santiago, the Astros again go in order.  Rasmus grounds out hard into the shift, and Carter takes a couple of close pitches before striking out.

The second starts badly for the Astros.  Marwin González - starting at third base tonight - makes a great diving play on Albert Pujols, then takes some off the throw and ends up bouncing it.  Carter is unable to make the play.  Pujols tries to advance on a passed ball on the next pitch - Castros' throw is way late, but Altuve keeps the tag on.  Pujols looks happy at second base, but A.J. Hinch bounces out of the dugout and requests a review.  No one knows what the heck is going on, then the replay shows that Pujols bounced slightly off the bag when sliding in, Altuve's tag is still on at that point, and Pujols is ruled out.  David Freese grounds out with the bases empty, then A.J. Hinch's call takes on significant importance as the next two hitters (Aybar and Ianetta) both single to put runners on the corners with two outs.  Obie then hits the DH, Alfredo Marte, on the back leg to load the bases - he has been pitching inside effectively thus far, but that pitch had some cut on it, and Marte's back leg was in the way.

So, Obie versus Daniel Robertson with the bases juiced.  His first pitch crosses Castro up, then he gets a called strike on a low pitch.  The next one is a little inside.  Robertson grounds out to short to end the frame.

Hinch is the hero of the frame - the Angels would have at least one run on the board if it hadn't been for his out-of-left-field review that no one else saw.

Third Inning:
The Astros broadcast crew opens the frame with a video montage and reference to the Astros with their league-leading 103 home runs.  Domingo Santana completes the seague by mashing the second pitch of his at-bat out to right.  He looked a little off-balance after the swing, and my initial reaction is that he popped it up.  And pop it up he did... about 15 rows back into the RF bleaches.  Astros 1, Angels 0.

Marwin González walked on a full count, but the next three batters all flew out to end the top half of the frame.  Obie then retired Johnny Giavotella on a grounder to second base before allowing a one-out single to Kole Calhoun (see, I told you he would kill the Astros tonight!) before striking out Mike Trout.  I missed the strikeout, so not sure what happened, but it was a 1-2 count and Trout went down swinging.  Calhoun advanced on a wild pitch, then Pujols walked on a full count.  Freese grounded out to end the frame.

Fourth Inning:
The Astros went in order on top of the fourth.  Obie retired the first two in order fairly easily before having a battle with Alfredo Marte, and eventually walking him.  At this point, he is sitting at 71 pitches, so some efficiency would be nice if he is to manage a quality start.  Robertson grounded out to second to end the frame.

Fifth Inning:
The Astros entered this frame leading 1-0, having had two baserunners.  Both pitchers have thrown 77 pitches, and both have thrown 49 strikes, in a nice piece of symmetry.

Chris Carter led off the frame by flying out to LF.  He got caught a little out in front of a fastball, and popped it up a little.  Domingo Santana followed by striking out looking on a 2-2 count at the knees - very impressive pitch if it was in the zone.  González lined out into LF - a flat shot over the 5.5 hole  The pitch was a fastball catching the down-and-inside corner of the plate.  That brings Castro up with a runner on, and he popped out on a 1-1 pitch to end the frame.  At least the Astros got a baserunner, but they were unable to add one to their tally of runs.

Johnny Giavotella jumped on the first pitch he saw, and lined it to medium-right, down the throat of Domingo Santana.  Kole Calhoun grounded one into the shift.  Mike Trout is up with no one on base, and Obie started by being very careful about how he was pitching him - throwing the first two pitches outside the zone.  The end result was a walk, which brought Pujols up with a runner on board.  Obie quickly got to two strikes, but he struggled to put Pujols away.  Obie then threw a fastball up and away - just off the plate, and Pujols drove it out just to the left side of CF.  The ball flew the fence by 5 yards or so.  Angels 2, Astros 1.

David Freese grounded back to the pitcher to end the frame.

Sixth Inning:
The Astros entered the frame behind for the first time in the game.  George Springer opened the inning by hitting a hard grounder up the middle.  Giavotella was shifted, and he threw Springer out without problem.  Correa worked a full count before hitting a second hard grounder of the inning right at Giavotella for the out.  Altuve worked the count to 3-0 before taking a fastball for a strike, swinging at ball 4 well outside the zone down and away, and swishing at strike three which looked to have caught the strike zone.  A K for an over-anxious looking Altuve - should have been a walk.

Erick Aybar opened the Angels' half of the inning by hitting a hard grounder to González at third.  González made a nice play, and got it to first just in time for the force.  Ianetta walked on five pitches, which brought Alfredo Marte up with one out.  Marte has looked good against Obie at this point tonight - he swung through a first pitch change, took strike two up and inside, then swung at an elevated breaking ball that was inside for strike three.  Hinch then visits the mound, and pulls Obie, summoning Josh Fields from the 'pen.  Understandable move - the next two batters are righties, and Obie was never going to be allowed to face Trout and Pujols for a fourth time.  In addition, he is sitting at 101 pitches.  Obie falls one out short of a quality start with one regrettable pitch to the wrong guy the only mark against him.

So, Josh Fields to face Daniel Robertson, formerly of the Rangers.  Check swing foul on pitch one, swinging strike for pitch two (and a quality strike too - a 94 fastball at the knees and away that Robertson was late on), then a ball away, then a single to RF that sent Ianetta to second.  The pitch was also a fastball, and in a similar location to the last one.  Interesting pitch selection.  Giavotella up, and he fouled the first pitch off, took a curve for strike two, then grounded to third on another curve - nice play from both González and Carter.

Seventh Inning:
Hector Santiago, the Angels' starter, is out of the game, replaced by recent call-up Trevor Gott.  Gott has made the jump from AA this year, opening the season in Arkansas.  He opened with a curve that buckled Gattis' knees (although was a ball) before busting him inside with a 97mph fastball.  Crazy movement.  Gattis grounded out to second on the third pitch of the at-bat.  Rasmus worked a 2-2 count before hitting a hard grounder to first.  Carter up - according to the TV telecast, 0 fer his last 12 - and he flew out to RF on a medium-depth fly-ball, just short of the warning track.

Fields stays on for the heart of the order, with Calhoun leading off.  He fouled out to LF on the second pitch of the at-bat.  His reaction suggested that he thought it was deep in the stands, but the ball would have landed fair by a yard or two.  Trout was well worked over by Fields, eventually striking out looking on a fastball in on a 1-2 count.  Pujols up with the bases empty, and Fields worked the count to 1-1 before Pujols took a low-and-away fastball, and mashed it into the LF power alley for his second home run of the game.  The TV telecast just flashed up a graphic saying that Pujols has 53 home runs against the Astros.  Tempting fate for the second time in the game - thanks TV truck - but a very nice piece of hitting from Pujols for the second time tonight. Angels 3, Astros 1.

Fields bounces back to strike Freese out on a fastball up-and-in.

Eighth Inning:
Taylor Featherston comes in as a defensive replacement at third, and Joe Smith is nominated to take the assignment of pitching the eighth on behalf of the Angels.  Preston Tucker pinch hits for Domingo Santana, and lines out hard to CF.  Marwin González is up, and he hits a hard grounder just outside the 1B bag - a double missed by inches.  But González bounces back on the next pitch, doubling to RF off the wall - Calhoun had a tough play on the hard-hit shot, and he wasn't able to make it.  Smith quickly got to 0-2 on Jason Castro, before Castro grounds a low pitch off the plate and well down - mid-shin height - up the middle.  That scores González, and the Astros narrow the deficit to 3-2.

George Springer up, Castro at first.  Springer was victimised on a perfect 0-2 pitch - it was down and at the knees.  He thought he was victimised by the ump, but Joe Smith threw a perfect pitch, and Springer was retired for the fourth time in the game.  Carlos Correa is also hitless to this point - he faced Smith with Castro on first, and walked on a 3-2 count.  Castro to second, Altuve up.

Smith started Altuve off with a ball before Altuve fouled off the next four pitches.  Another ball runs the count to 2-2 before a chopper down the 3B line went just foul.  Another foul.  Then Altuve mashed a deep fly ball to the warning track in left that Robertson tried valiantly to run down.  He dove on the warning track, but the ball landed and bounced into the stands for a ground-rule double.  That scored Castro, but Correa had to hold up at third - a bad break for the Astros, but a good overall break given that Altuve was caught out in front of a slider, and was just good enough to get it into the outfield.  Game tied at 3's.

The Astros summon Huston Street to face Gattis with the go-ahead run on third, and Altuve on second.  Gattis found himself quickly behind 1-2 before he flailed at a ball in the dirt for the third out.  Sigh.

Chad Qualls get the call for the bottom of the eighth.  He has not been sharp lately, and true to form, he finds himself in a 3-2 count to Erick Aybar.  Aybar singles on an elevated sinker up the middle.  The Qualls faces pinch-hitter Efren Navarro, who shows (and misses) bunt attempts on the first two pitches.  Qualls then throws one well in and off the plate which Castro is unable to corral, and Aybar heads to second anyhow.  Qualls battles Navarro for another three pitches - all hard-hit fouls - before Navarro pops up to shallow CF.  Springer might have got there, but Correa raced out to CF to make an over the shoulder catch running directly away from home plate.  Correa got a good jump, and he did extremely well to make the play.

So Correa bails Qualls out - at least temporarily - and Hinch gets Thatcher from the 'pen to face pinch hitter, Matt Joyce.  Well, Thatcher struggled, with the last pitch of Joyce's at-bat perhaps pivotal in the game.  Joyce walked on five pitches, and on the last pitch of the at-bat, Erick Aybar took off for third, stealing the base easily.  Thatcher has a high leg kick and no slide-step, so Aybar was right to take off.

Harris was the next reliever, and on three straight pitches, Daniel Robertson showed bunt, looking for a safety squeeze.  On the fourth pitch, he placed a hard bunt down the first base line, a charging Chris Carter fielded the ball and tried to fire home, but the throw was on the wrong side of the plate and would have been late anyhow, plus the ball got past Castro.  Both runners advanced (to second and third), the run scored on a fielder's choice and an error, and the Angels took a 4-3 lead.

Harris bounced back to strike out Giavotella and entice Kole Calboun into a groundout to end the frame without bothering the scoreboard operators further.

Ninth Inning:
Huston Street stayed on to finish the game.  He got Rasmus to hit into a hard grounder on the first pitch.  Chris Carter grounded out to third for the second out.  Preston Tucker popped out to short to end the game.

A very interesting game - a hard fought affair - which the Angels eventually won by doing an "Astros" - pitching just good enough, a couple of home runs, and some small-ball.  The Astros certainly had their chances, and Altuve's fly into the outfield could have resulted in a much different outcome, which could have scored Correa for the fourth run of the game.  Robertson could also have flagged it down, which would have killed the Astros' come-back attempt, too.  Despite a couple of defensive miscues, the Astros did well.  The problem was really more of an offence, which worked the count well, but just didn't get enough hits to make it count.

Turning Point:
Either of Albert Pujols' homers.  If the Astros never existed, Pujols would probably be on waivers due to a lack of production.  He should enter the HoF wearing an Astros hat.  He owes them for approximately 55 of his career home runs.

Man of the Match:
Domingo Santana, and his opposite-field home-run prowess.  Boom.  Two in the major leagues now.

Goat of the Game:
Right now, Chad Qualls has no business pitching in anything other than mop up.  He wore the loss tonight.

Up Next:
Collin McHugh (7-3, 5.04) versus C.J. Wilson (5-5, 3.39)

10 Eastern, 9 Central.