Monday, June 8, 2015

From the Office of the County Clerk - G57 & G58: Astros in Toronto

Loyal readers, (all 19 of you, 9 of which are immediate members of the Constable's family, and five others of whom write for the site) this post will consist of brief notes documenting the last two games in Toronto.  Both were losses, meaning Toronto swept the Astros in three games at home.  Sweet revenge for the Jays after getting swept in Houston in four games in May.  These seven games consist of all the games that the Astros and Blue Jays play in 2015.

So the Astros are done with the Blue Jays (and Orioles) for the year - for which I am glad.  There have been some comparisons between the records of the Astros and Blue Jays over the last week or two, as both a teams that feature similar run differentials (+45 and +18 at the time of writing, but both were clustered around the mid-20's when the article that I can no longer find was written) yet divergent win-loss records.  Given how the Blue Jays have looked at home over the last three days, I am stoked that the Astros are finished playing them for the rest of the regular season, because they look like a team that could go on a serious tear at some stage... like now.  Ditto the Orioles - the Astros were fortunate to get them while they weren't playing to their best - so against both of the teams, the Astros possess a 4-3 win-loss record.

And while I am writing about the Orioles, I was kind of drawn to comments portrayed over the TV telecast on Friday.  Alan Ashby commented that he talked to A.J. Hinch about the sloppy loss against the Orioles (G55), where the Astros blew multiple chances to draw ahead late in the game.  Hinch - according to Ashby - answered that it was hard to get upset about losing that game given that the Astros had just completed a solid home stand (4-3) and dominated the O's.  I beg to differ - losing games where you blow multiple chances is a fabulous way to start a losing streak, and the Astros continued that streak with the two games covered here.  They look a little flat, and when Hinch took the field earlier today, he looked a little frustrated for the first time in a while.

So the Astros lost G57 by a score of 7-2 (yesterday's game) when Brett Oberholtzer got knocked around early.  The ugly bits for the Astros included Obie being lit up to the tune of 4 runs (2 earned, courtesy of a Marwin González error after a stunning dive-and-throw from Jonathan Villar), five Blue Jays stolen bases, Altuve being caught stealing once on an awful play, the Blue Jays getting all the clutch hits, and the multiple twin-killings that the Astros grounded in to (with a number of other near-twin killings).  The positive bits for the Astros included a late home run from Jonathan Villar, and solid relief efforts from Handsome Jake (Buchanan) and Joe Thatcher.

Obie seemed to be leaving the ball up, and I thought that his breaking ball lacked bite.  He may be lacking a start or two, and perhaps there are sharper outings in the near future for him.  The Astros lined plenty of balls right at fielders, so they had little in the way of good luck.  But really, they were out-hit and were helpless when the Jays decided to run the bases - which is probably how the Padres and Athletics felt about the Astros in late-April.

G57's result made the result of G58 harder to stomach - especially because the Astros managed to hang in there before posting a 4-run inning against the Blue Jays 'pen.  The 'stros looked set to salvage one game of the series before the Astros' bullpen themselves gave up 4 runs in three frames, for a 7-6 loss.  Collin McHugh gave up three runs on two home runs in six frames and Will Harris gave up his second run of the year on a solo homer top Joey Bats, who had two on the day.  Pat Neshek walked someone (ending his streak), then Luke Gregerson gave up three earned runs getting only one out in the ninth.

Gregerson's frame is worth looking at as a microcosm of this game, plus for the odd circus play that occurred in the middle of it all.  Light-hitting utility infielder Munenori Kawasaki led off the frame by slapping a double about a foot fair down the LF line on a pitch which was located at about ankle-height.  It was, charitably, an emergency hack.  Jose Reyes then singled to CF on an flat, elevated pitch away, driving him in.  Josh Donaldson smashed one into LF, which Tucker made a good play on for the first out - it was a low line-drive, and Preston got down and gloved it cleanly.  The next batter was Jose Bautista, and Jose Reyes stole second base - his fourth of the series at the time (soon to be followed by his fifth).  That steal was vital, because when Joey-Bats popped up to the vicinity of second base, Reyes was standing on the base and directly between Villar - who was trying to make the catch - and the ball.  Reyes wasn't looking at the ball, and he stuck his bum out trying to duck down, but it was enough to throw Villar off, and the ball bounced off Villar's glove, allowing Bautista to get to first.  Hinch chatted with the umps (showing the aforementioned frustration), but the ruling was that Reyes was on the bag and didn't have to move.  Given Reyes didn't even know where the ball was, it would have been hard for him to obstruct Villar anyhow.  The worst thing that could be said about Reyes' behaviour on that play was that the celebratory hand-claps were perhaps unsportsmanlike, but that ain't going to get you given out in baseball.

I feel for Villar on that play.  He called Altuve off, so technically, it was his fault.  Perhaps an Altuve that was on form - he has slumped a little recently - would have remained on the play, leaving his departure from the vicinity a little later.  But I would think that most ML shortstops would call the second baseman off on popups similar to that, and it is just rotten luck that the ball drifted to where it was.  Villar will get the blame - a little like Altuve did on that odd error with a Chris Carter scoop - and the calls for him to be sent down to make room for Correa will intensify.  Although Villar has been a mixed bag on defence recently, he has outhit González - for whom he is competing for a role - mightily: Villar is hitting .327/.367/.509 in 61 PA's with 17 strikeouts in the last 28 days, while Gonzalez sits at .208/.208/.302 in 55 PA's, with 10 strikeouts in the last 28 days.  Villar is the flashier defender and faster baserunner, but González makes the play he is supposed to, and is the reserve first baseman, so if one of them goes, it is probably Villar.

Anyhow, what happened after that was bad too.  Gregerson happened to bury a pitch in the dirt against the next batter (Collabello) at the exact time that the Jays decided to double-steal.  Both runners advanced safely, and the Astros brought the infield in (with the tying run on third).  Callabello then singled off the very end of the bat up the middle - Gregerson flailed at the ball, nearly completing the catch, and the ball neatly bisected the middle infielders.  Both runners scored, and the Astros blew a ninth inning lead for the first time in forever.  Gregerson was hung with his first loss of the season - it was as interesting one because although he got hit hard, a bunch of balls were hit to peculiar places - like one yard to the right of second base, for example - which was vital in the final wash-up.

The Astros now have had their lead shrunk to 3.5 games over the Rangers and 5.5 over the Angels.  Despite this four game slide, they continue to have the most wins in the AL, but the Twinkies have a slightly superior win percentage.  The Astros head to Chicago to play the White Sox, who are on a 2-game losing streak themselves.  The White Sox again are likely to throw three lefty starters at the Astros - a strategy that resulted in a series win in Houston recently.

The matchup in the opening game of the series is mouth watering:

Lance McCullers (2-0, 1.88) versus Chris Sale (5.2, 3.27)

Plus, Happy Carlos Correa Day!

8 Eastern, 7 Central.