Collin McHugh (6-3, 5.08) versus David Hale (2-1, 4.56)
The Astros were tasked with finishing off strongly in a series that has seen them play solidly against the Colorado Rockies. A lot has gone right - for sure - but the Astros have also played well, riding solid pitching and scoring runs early to pretty much double up the Colorado squad. Scores of 6-3, 8-5 and 8-4 are in the books, and the Astros again doubled up the Rockies today to win by score of 8-4 for the second consecutive day. That extends the win streak to five games, and now the Astros have won six of their last seven - a stretch where they have scored runs in the first inning in all the games they won.
On the Mound:
Collin McHugh, was the last Astros starter to record a loss, when he got knocked around for eight runs against the Mariners on Saturday. McHugh started badly again today, allowing three runs in the first frame on a double, a walk, a strikeout, and a home-run sequence to the first four batters. The home run was on a good pitch - a breaking ball down and in against Carlos González, but CarGo went down and got it (and not for the first time in the series), and he hit a hard line-drive shot to RF to score three runs. It was very obvious that McHugh ensured that González received a steady diet of high fastballs after that pitch, resulting in one walk and one strikeout in the next two at-bats.
So at this point, I was starting to get flashbacks to McHugh's last few starts, worsened by the additional knowledge that his ERA was around 10 when he was pitching for the Rockies. McHugh seems to have struggled mostly out of the stretch this year, so perhaps for the rest of his outing I wondered whether he could be effective if he kept runners off base. In the second, a lead-off single to Brandon Barnes ensured that he was working out of the stretch that inning, but no further baserunners were allowed. In the third, a lead-off single to Troy Tulowitzki and a one-out walk to Carlos González preceeded two strikeouts and a fly out - all outs recorded out of the stretch. In the fourth, Brandon Barnes walked leading off, but the rest of the side went in order. The fifth was the first inning where McHugh was able to work exclusively out of the wind up, and the side went in order.
McHugh batted in the bottom of the fifth, and he returned to open the sixth inning. A two-out Brandon Barnes walk was the only blemish in that half-inning, and McHugh's final line of 6IP, 4 hits, 5 walks and 8 strikeouts (for three earned runs on a single swing of the bat) finished looking a lot more positive than it started.
Tony Sipp relieved, and he allowed only a single with two outs. Sipp was the grateful recipient of an impressive diving catch from George Springer to rob D.J. LeMahieu of a hit. Pat Neshek got the eighth, and he scuffled a little bit. He allowed a lead-off double to Nolan Arenado, then struck out the next two batters that he faced before allowing a walk and an RBI single. He bounced back to retire Charlie Blackmon on a fly out to left.
Josh Fields worked the ninth, retiring the side of 11 pitches, with 8 of them thrown to D.J. LeMahieu. Tulo and González were the last two batters of the game, and they were retired on a combined three pitches.
At the Plate:
The Astros scored the opening run of the game on a Preston Tucker home run. George Springer was again leading off, and he singled on a line-drive to CF on the fifth pitch of the game before Carlos Correa GIDP. Tucker then homered on an 0-2 inside fastball that would have been close to off the plate - he turned on it, and the ball barely got out. Tucker avoided getting jammed somehow, and the Astros took a 1-0 lead. He looks great against low pitches.
The Astros entered the top of the second down 3-1. Only a Marisnick single prevented the side being retired in order in the second, but in the third inning the Astros mounted a rally that tied the game at three. Collin McHugh led off with a hard single to RF that nearly went all the way to the wall, but CarGo cut it off to keep him to a single. Springer sent him to second on a single to CF - a seeing-eye grounder right up the middle. Two consecutive groundouts scored McHugh, before Carlos Correa stole third, then scored on Chris Carter's single to LF. Carter took a 2-1 fastball that was well in, and he fisted a grounder through the shift to bring Correa home. That inning involved some BABIP luck - something that the Astros have lacked for long periods this year.
The Astros were retired on three strikeouts in the fourth (only a González single up the middle prevented them from going in order) before they added two runs in the fifth. They blew a chance to score more, because they had runners on a corners with one out, but Castro and Marisnick struck out to strand the runners. Prior to that, Carlos Correa walked, stole second, and scored when Preston Tucker laced an RBI double to RF. The pitch was a low 3-0 fastball away. Tucker then scored when Chris Carter laced the next pitch (another low fastball inside) down the LF line for another double.
Carlos Correa led off with a double in the sixth: another pitch waaaay inside that he kept just fair. He then stole third for his third steal of the game (and second steal of third in the game) before Carter and Valbeuna stranded him there with a pair of strikeouts. In the eighth, Jason Castro led off with a double before Marwin González walked with one out. Domingo Santana then took a breaking ball that hung in the middle of the plate, and he hammered it to the RF-CF gap for a three run home run - the first of his major-league career. Springer and Correa then stuck out swinging to end the frame - the latter on the tenth pitch of the at-bat.
The Astros struck out a hefty 17 times - a Colorado Rockies nine-inning record. Luis Valbuena (1-5) was one of the chief offenders, going down on strikeouts four times, while Jason Castro (1-4) struck out three times. George Springer (2-5); Carlos Correa (1-4, BB, 2B, 3xSB); Preston Tucker (2-5, 2B, HR), Chris Carter (2-5, 2B) and Marwin González (1-3, BB) were all on base twice. Domingo Santana mashed an opposite field home run to end his major-league drought.
The fifth inning could have been so much more for the Astros, but as it was, it still represented the inning when Houston took the lead for good. After a first-pitch Springer fly out, Carlos Correa walked on five pitches. He stole second before Preston Tucker nailed a 3-0 fastball into the RF corner. On the next pitch, Chris Carter laced one down the LF line. Both were doubles, and both scored runners, so the Astros went from a 3-3 tie to a 5-3 lead.
Man of the Match:
Carlos Correa has been awesome... today he become the second youngest player in 100 years to steal three bases. Rickey Henderson - who some of you may remember - was the youngest. Correa stole third twice tonight, which is impressive in itself. He has given the Astros a very impressive offensive and defensive boost, and the infield alignment when Jed Lowrie returns is going to be very interesting if he keeps playing like this.
Goat of the Game:
Valbeuna and Castro struck out a combined seven times, but both of them had a hit. So, no goat.
Off to Seattle. As loyal and handsome reader Chaz R recently commented, it seems like the Astros and the Mariners have been meeting each other a lot in the first half of the season. This upcoming three-game series represents games 11 to 13 of the 19 games between the Astros and the Mariners in 2015. So while the Astros v Mariners games have been weighted toward the beginning of the season, the two teams don't meet again until late August. The Astros see a lot of the AL East through to the end of July and a mix of teams in August, including some against the AL West and some against the NL West.
Anyhow... Lance McCullers Jr (3-1, 2.00) versus Roenis Elias (3-4, 3.67).
The Astros may make a move before tomorrow. Both Altuve and Marisnick expect to be out with hamstring injuries - perhaps for a few games. I have heard no word on when Rasmus is back, but both Marisnick and Altuve are righties, and Elias is a lefty. The Astros may call on Jonathan Villar or Robbie Grossman to take an outfield spot, or perhaps Evan Gattis starts in left and Domingo Santana starts in right. Springer slid over the CF when Marisnick left the game earlier today, so he may get a start there tomorrow.
10 Eastern, 9 Central.