Mike Wright (2-0, 1.40) versus Collin McHugh (5-2, 4.24)
The Astros played the second game of a four game set against the Orioles, who happen to be struggling a little at the moment. As Steve Sparks and Robert Ford said prior to the game, sometimes it isn't who you play but when you play them. The Orioles are stuck in a stretch where they have played 15 games in 14 days (prior to this game), and have five more games before their next off day. They have fared reasonably well over that stretch, winning 7 of the 15 games - including series wins over the Mariners and Astros - but they entered today's game having won two of their last six.
The season is approaching an exciting time, with the Rule 4 draft coming up in a week, and the one-third milestone (54 games) being met for the Astros tomorrow. The Astros have fared well, holding some kind of multi-game lead since mid- to late-April, despite slow starts from the sluggers, a major injury to a key infielder and an unsettled fifth starter slot. Anyhow, the Astros won tonight's game in handsome fashion, by a score of 6-4. Looking around the AL West, the Angels and Mariners lost (Seattle's fourth in a row), whereas the newly invigorated Rangers and barely-relevant Athletics both won. So the Astros lead the Angels by 5, the Rangers by 5.5, and the Mariners by 8.5. This is the best it has been in Astro-town for a long time.
On the Mound:
When I have written about the minute details of the starting rotation, I have started to subconsciously move Collin McHugh from the "dominating starter" bin (lots of room in that bin because it is only occupied by Dallas Keuchel) to the "question mark over ongoing effectiveness" bin, which seems to be getting more and more crowded. Plus, any bin in which Roberto Hernández is placed will have a little remaining room - he is a large individual, after all. Jokes about body mass aside, McHugh has struggled a little recently. His command seems to have worsened a little, his curveball does not seem quite as sharp, and the hitters have been able to lay off the breaking stuff recently.
McHugh's game logs are a little concerning. He opened the season pretty well - 1 ER in 6IP followed by 1 in 5.2. Then: 3 in 7IP, 3 in 6IP, 4 in 7IP, 2 in 7.1IP, 7 in 4.2IP, 2 in 7IP, 3 in 7IP and 4 in 6IP. Only one of those starts is a disaster, but none of the other starts approaches the dominance that we saw a lot of last year. It does have to be acknowledged that he has been an innings eater, however - 68IP in ten starts is a pretty decent effort.
McHugh faced the minimum in the first, thanks to a double play that erased the lead-off hitter, Manny Machado. McHugh got in deep trouble in the second, allowing 4 earned runs, with the Orioles batting around. Some of it was bad luck, but much of it was solid hitting from the O's. Chris Davis walked on nine pitches before Delmon Young grounded into the fielder's choice to record the first out. Ex-stro Jimmy Parades singled to right (he was busted inside, and he hit a slow seeing-eye single through the shift), putting runners on the corners. Steve Pearce singled to deep right - a nice piece of hitting the other way on a pitch outside, and Springer made a sliding stop to halt the progress of the ball and keep Pearce to a single. Ryan Flaherty followed with his second triple in as many nights (fastball away), over the head of Handsome Jake and all the way to the wall, scoring two. Caleb Joseph grounded out to the pitcher for the second out before Manny Machado singled to LF on a hanging curve, scoring Flaherty. Travis Snider then rubbed salt into the wound by hitting a perfect nubber off the end of the bat down the third base line, but Adam Jones (the ninth batter of the inning) was retired on a three-pitch swinging strikeout for the final out of the frame.
If you are thinking that this recap is going to be overly long, then I am pleased to inform you that the "On the Mound" portion is already mostly complete. McHugh bounced right back in most impressive fashion, eventually completing seven frames. The next baserunner he allowed was Travis Snider in the fifth on a walk with one out, and he didn't last long because he took off on a pop fly to CF that Marisnick comfortably ran down. Carter completed a double play after the lobby-est of lobby throws to first. McHugh, after being on the ropes early, allowed 6 hits and two walks in seven innings and 111 pitches. He struck out six. The four runs - all earned - is the only ugly bit of an otherwise solid line.
Pat Neshek pitched the eighth - side retired in order. Luke Gregerson came on for the save - side retired on strikeouts, in 12 pitches. Delmon Young hit one very hard to the base of the wall in RF, but George Springer played it perfectly to keep him to a single. Gregerson finished Steve Pearce off in most impressive fashion.
At the Plate:
The Astros went in order in the first, but threatened to make some noise in the second after entering the bottom half of the frame four runs in arrears. Evan Gattis singled up the middle leading off, then Chris Carter hit a solid single to LF, moving Gattis to second. Handsome Hank then walked, loading the bases, but Marwin González grounded a 3-2 pitch to the third baseman for a perfect double-play ball, ending the inning.
The third is where it all happened. George Springer hit a one-out single to CF - a hard line shot. Jose Altuve followed by dumping one into the LF-CF gap, a little off the end of the bat. Preston Tucker followed by hitting a hard ground ball right to second baseman Steve Pearce - potentially for a double-play - but the ball took a nasty hop right over his head, and George Springer scored. Evan Gattis followed by hammering a moon-shot to LF for a three-run home run - the pitch was a hanging slider or changeup, and Gattis didn't miss. That tied the game - for all of one pitch - because Luis Valbuena followed by hammering a similar pitch over the Astros' bullpen in RF for a solo shot on a 1-0 count. After a Carter strikeout, Hank Conger then doubled to the warning track in CF, but Marwin grounded out to second to end the frame. The Astros had also batted around, but had managed to score one extra run, which gave them a lead that they would not relinquish.
A Valbuena HBP - the first pitch he saw after his home run - was the next baserunner, with two outs in the fifth. May have been a little suspicious, but I think it was accidental, as the pitcher looked a little annoyed with himself, rather than annoyed with Valbuena. Valbuena got his revenge in the bottom of the eighth. He walked leading off, followed by a Carter walk, then Hank Conger flew out deep to CF, allowing Valbuena to move up to third. He scored on a González grounded to first - Chris Davis tried to get Valbuena at the plate, but Valbeuna slid around the tag, touching the back-corner to home-plate, and I doubt that Caleb Joseph even tagged him. Great baserunning from Valbuena.
On base twice was Jose Altuve (2-4); Evan Gattis (2-4, HR, 3RBI); Luis Valbeuna (1-2, BB, HR, HBP); Chris Carter (1-3, BB) and Hank Conger (1-3, BB). Springer and Tucker also had hits - 1-5 and 1-4 respectively.
Evan Gattis' shot was awesome. The roof was open, too, to add to the atmosphere. If anyone is walking along Crawford Street tomorrow, and they see a badly bruised ball in the gutter, pick it up and hand it to Evan Gattis for signing.
Man of the Match:
Nod to Collin McHugh for not packing it in after a rough second, but Evan Gattis gets the MoTM here, for his big blast. Luis Valbeuna also deserves an honourable mention, for his first strong night in a while.
Goat of the Game:
Handsome Jake went 0-4, 3K.
On the Morrow:
Third game of a four-game set. Another four game home sweep would be nice.
Miguel Gonzalez (5-3, 3.48) versus Lance McCullers (1-0, 2.40)
8 Eastern, 7 Central.