The Astros continued their series with the Mariners with a Saturday afternoon game and a Sunday lunchtime game. Heading into the Saturday game, they were 7-1 on the year against the Mariners, after an away 2-1 series win, a 4-game home sweep and a pummelling of King Felix. For the weekend, the pummelling of the starting pitchers continued, except on Saturday, the Astros were the recipient of the pummelling, and on Sunday, the Astros administered the pummelling for the second time. The overall result was a 2-1 series win, after an 8-1 loss on Saturday, and a 13-0 win on Sunday.
What Went Right (Saturday):
As Collin McHugh lasted only three innings, Roberto Hernández was called upon to make his debut in long relief. And he did well, throwing 4 scoreless innings (63 pitches), allowing 4 hits and striking out five. One of the hits was a double, and the other three were singles. That included two singles leading off Hernández's first inning of relief, but both runners went nowhere due to a strikeout and double play. Solid effort from Roberto.
The rest of the 'pen also did well, including a perfect innings from Chad Qualls and Luke Gregerson. Qualls and Gregerson carry ERA's of 5.06 and 4.32 respectively, although Gregerson has been mostly effective despite allowing runs. Regardless, good to see two perfect frames with only 25 pitches thrown between them.
George Springer and Jason Castro both had two hits, plus they combined to score the Astros' only run. Springer went 2-4 from the leadoff spot (Altuve sat because of his hammy) and Castro went 2-3 with a walk. Both players doubled in the fifth inning, which resulted in Castro scoring the only run for the Astros.
Colby Rasmus also doubled, and both Rasmus and Chris Carter went 1-3 with a double and a walk.
What Went Wrong (Saturday):
Here at Astros County, we have been questioning the effectiveness of Collin McHugh for the last month or so. He has struggled to get the opposition to swing at his low breaking pitches, meaning that his curveball normally needs to be thrown in the zone to get strikes. Swings at the breaking stuff also seem to be turning into hits. Plus, he seems to have lost some fastball velocity this year.
This start didn't do much to inspire confidence. McHugh allowed hits early and often, and was victimised by Logan Morrison multi-run home runs twice. His final line was 3IP, with 11 baserunners (nine hits and two walks), and 8 runs (all earned) against two strikeouts. A Game Score of 8 is the worst I have seen for a while.
The offence as a whole again was a little average. Another lefty starter held the Astros down for six innings, allowing only one run. They had a few baserunners (6 hits, 3 walks) but were victimised by four strikeouts and two double-plays. The Mariners bullpen took over, and they allowed only two walks in three otherwise perfect innings.
More RISP problems. One for seven, to be exact.
Carlos Correa is no longer errorless in the Major Leagues. Send him back down already!!
The Dallas Rangers and California Angels both won. The Astros led the division by a slim 1.5 games at the conclusion of the evenings baseball.
Man of the Match:
Now on to Sunday's game...
What Went Right (Sunday):
The Astros, for the second time in the series, jumped on a Mariner's starter in the first frame, scoring only three runs this time. But they scored two more runs in the third, and had Roenis Elías in trouble in the fourth, hanging three of the five runs scored in that frame on him.
The first inning was solid: walk, line out, single, HBP (loading the bases), 2-run single, line out, run-scoring error, groundout. In the second, the Astros went in order. But in the third, the Astros went single, fly out (runner advancing), walk, line out, RBI ground-rule double, walk, bases loaded walk, fielder's choice. That all adds up to a lot of baserunners in the first and third frames (nine baserunners, excluding the error) for a healthy five runs scored. Elias was having trouble locating, and the Astros did well to wait him out while pouncing on hittable pitches.
Speaking of trouble locating, Lance McCullers had an interesting night, to put in mildly. He was all over the place, with he kindest thing that could be said being that at least he wasn't missing in the middle of the strike zone. His pitches had a lot of arm-side run, and he had trouble spinning his breaking pitches into the locations that he wanted. Effectively wild, some would say: he walked the leadoff hitter in three of the five frames that he pitched.
A.J. Hinch acted as the Fun Police, and removed him after five frames.... with a no-hitter going!! Credit to Hinch, for not putting himself in the position where he was faced with a harder decision - like whether or not to remove McCullers after 7 hitless frames with 110 pitches on the clock. McCullers was taken out after five scoreless innings, but he had already thrown 90 pitches, with only 48 strikes, allowing 4 walks and striking out 4. Tony Sipp promptly blew the (now combined) no-hitter, allowing a double to the second batter that he faced in the sixth frame.
Despite Tony Sipp's generosity, the Astros Bullpen was again solid. Sipp, Thatcher, Harris and Fields combined to allow 2 hits and one walk over 4 frames, while striking out 6. Harris still has an ERA below 1 (0.91) and Thatcher's and Fields' ERA's both hover around two.
Some hot hitters played today. Evan Gattis went 4-5, with 3RBI. Colby Rasmus and Luis Valbeuna both went 2-4 with a walk, with Valbeuna hitting a home run. Marwin González walked and hit a home run in a 1-4 night. Hank Conger and George Springer both went 1-4 with a walk as well. Chris Carter went 0-2, but walked twice.
The Astros were a healthier 5-15 with RISP, but also walked twice with the bases loaded. All up, the Astros were very disciplined, walking seven times, and getting 13 hits. Boom.
The Rangers and Angels both lost. The Rangers were beaten when the winning run was scored by the most recent top-prospect call-up, Byron Buxton of the Twins. The Angels were just beaten. The current standings point to a 2.5 game lead over the 33-30 Rangers, and a 3.5 game lead over the 32-31 Angels. Despite going 2-8 in their last 10 games, the Astros still sit comfortably above .500 (36-28).
What Went Wrong (Sunday):
Very little. Lance McCullers showed that he sometimes has no idea where he is throwing the ball, but he was handed a big lead and kept the game scoreless. Jose Altuve sat again with a tender leg. Carlos Correa went a measly 1-6, but he turned a cool double-play in association with Marwin Gonzalez.
Man of the Match:
Evan Gattis had one of his best nights as an Astro, driving in 3 runners with a 4-5 night (all singles).
On the Morrow:
The Astros welcome our odd-year Natural Rivals, the Colorado Rockies to MMP to start a home-and-home four-game series. In even years, they have a heated rivalry with the Arizona Diamondbacks. The first two games are at MMP. On the bump are Dallas Keuchel (7-2, 1.90) versus Chad Bettis (2-1, 3.05)
8 Eastern, 7 Central.