Sunday, June 21, 2015

From the Office of the County Clerk - G70: Astros in Seattle

Dallas Keuchel (8-2, 2.04) versus Taijuan Walker (4-6, 5.00)

The Astros entered this series with kind of a weird streak going.  They were 28-0 in games when they hit home runs more than once.  The first game of this series saw that streak end - they homered twice yesterday, and lost.  Oddly enough, the same thing happened today.  The Astros homered twice - in the same inning, as well - and again lost by a score of 6-3.

This was an odd game in a number of other ways.  Keuchel was very un-Keuchel-like: a fact that does not help the nagging fear deep in my gut for this rotation.  I wondered if one of McHugh or Keuchel may struggle this year because both have a relatively short track-record of success, and both have struggled immensely at other points of their career.  Putting aside Keuchel and McHugh, it seems unlikely that McCullers and Velasquez are in the rotation for the long haul - they will probably bump up against inning limits before the year is out.  Feldman will rejoin the team as a fresh arm, which may help - but he is also pretty marginal at times - and Obie continues to have a nice bounce-back campaign.  Those six are the rotation as it currently stands - Sam Deduno isn't going to start any time soon, and everyone likes Roberto Hernandez better as a long-man than as a starter.  Dan Straily seems like he may get a look later in the year.

But this team has an offence, defence and bullpen that can carry them for stretches, so file this in the "bears watching" bin for now.

On the Mound:
I previously said that Keuchel was un-Keuchel-like, which may be understating the case somewhat.  He had a very odd outing.  In the first, he started very strongly, retiring the side in order.  He entered the second inning with a 2-0 lead, and that is when odd things started to happen.

Keuchel walked Nelson Cruz on five pitches leading off, then Kyle Seager singled into left field on an 0-2 count, advancing Cruz to second.  Mark Trumbo followed with one of his patented slow grounders that earned him three RBI's yesterday, but on this occasion he hit it right to third base, where Valbuena fielded it standing on the base for the force out.  The ball was hit too slowly for a serious attempt at getting Trumbo running down the line.  Logan Morrison then followed with a hard grounder to first base, and Chris Carter made a clean play and got the force at second for the second out.  That left runners on the corners and two outs.

Kuechel then did something I haven't seen him do before - he walked the next three hitters.  Zunino walked on a full count to load the bases, Brad Miller walked on a fastball that missed above the zone, and Austin Jackson walked on five pitches on a tailing fastball away.  The latter two walks forced the runners in that tied the game.  Keuchel ended the inning by getting lefty Seth Smith to ground to short.  At this point, he looked like he was struggling to locate pitches, which he normally does exceptionally well.

The game wasn't tied for long, because Nelson Cruz homered with one out in the third.  The pitch was meant to be a fastball in, but it missed down and over the plate, and Cruz hammered it out the LF power alley for a no doubt shot.  Since the beginning of 2014, Keuchel has allowed less than 0.5 HR/9 (15 in just over 301 innings pitched), so home runs - much like walks - are not something that we normally associate with him.  The next scoring play was also a home run: leading off the fifth, Dallas Keuchel missed arm-side and up with a fastball away, and Seth Smith hammered it just to the right side of CF.  And, because Keuchel is a generous man who hates seeing a guy like Mark Trumbo hit lame infield grounders, he allowed another solo home run to Trumbo leading off the sixth.  The pitch looked like a change-up that cut a wee bit.  It was meant to be away, but it leaked over the plate at the knees, and Trumbo went down and got it, driving it just out to the left side of the batting eye.

I warned you that Keuchel's like would look weird.  He went six innings (103 pitches), and allowed 5 hits and 4 walks while striking out seven.  He allowed five runs, two of which scored on bases loaded walks, and three of which scored on solo home runs.  Those are two things that we don't normally associate with him.

Anyhow, Sipp started the seventh, and he walked the lead off hitter (Austin Jackson).  After James Jones popped up a bunt, Sipp allowed Jackson to advance on a wild pitch.  He scored on a Robinson Canó grounder which was a clean single through the right side after Sipp missed back over the plate.  Josh Fields relieved, and he retired the last two hitters without incident.  Chad Qualls pitched an uneventful eighth inning, allowing a one-out single.

At the Plate:
The Astros were retired in the first inning on two strikeouts.  In the second inning, Evan Gattis took the first pitch of the frame - which was a high fastball away - and deposited into the first row of the stands just inside the foul pole.  Walked bounced back to strike the next two hitters out, but then Luis Valbuena pounded a 1-0 fastball that missed in the heart of the plate deep into RF for a second solo home run.  At this point, the Astros lead, 2-0.  Marwin González struck out to end the frame - the Astros had struck out five times in the first two innings.

The Astros managed one baserunner (a George Springer single) the second time through the order.  The next runner in scoring position was Carlos Correa: he hammered a pitch to the base of the wall in RF for a double.  That occurred with one out in the sixth, but Correa was unable to advance because Preston Tucker struck out on a high fastball, and Evan Gattis fouled out down the LF line.  A fan tried to catch it, but the umps correctly ruled fan interference.  Hinch argued and got tossed, but I think he was just trying to motivate his team.

In the seventh, the Astros managed a third run against Walker.  Colby Rasmus reached on an infield single before Chris Carter struck out.  Vidal Nuño relieved for some lefty-on-lefty action, but all he did was pour petrol on the fire: Nuño walked Valbeuna on five pitches, then Marwin González singled, scoring Rasmus.  Fernando Rodney retired the last two hitters without incident, leaving two runners stranded in scoring position.

In the eighth, the Astros again managed to get some traffic on the bases.  With one out, Preston Tucker then Evan Gattis singled to shallow left.  Rasmus struck out against the lefty Furbush before Carter struck out against Carson Smith for the last out of the frame.  Smith stayed on for the ninth, and he retired the side in order, on eight pitches.

So not a great effort from the hitters tonight, with 9 baserunners (8 hits and one walk) against 15 strikeouts.  They managed an early lead, but Keuchel was unable to hold it.  They also laid the foundations for a late comeback, but the Mariners 'pen did enough to mostly keep the Astros off the scoreboard.  Evan Gattis (2-4, HR) and Luis Valbeuna (1-3, BB, HR) were the only two hitters to reach base twice.  Springer, Correa (2B), Tucker, Rasmus and González all went 1-4.

Turning Point:
Dallas Keuchel's odd loss of control in the second inning was the turning point.  He was staked to an early lead thanks to home runs from Gattis and Valbuena in the top half of the inning.  But then he allowed the Mariners to draw level on an inning that involved one lone hit (a single) and four walks, including three walks in a row.  Keuchel bounced back, but missed with three more pitches that were deposited into the crowd for solo home runs.  Before this game, Keuchel had allowed four homers and 26 walks on the year.  Now he has allowed seven homers and 30 walks.

Man of the Match:
Evan Gattis, who attacked the first pitch in the second, hitting a fly ball that just snuck out down the LF line.  He added another single later in the game.

Also, Luis Valbuena, who hit his 17th home run on the year, also in the second inning.  He added a walk - against a LOOGY, too - later in the game.

Goat of the Game:
It would have been Dallas Keuchel, but Chris Carter pipped him at the post after he earned himself the Golden Sombrero with an 0-4, 4K night.  Carter just missed a home run down the RF line, but the box score is blind to long strikes.  Carter wins the Goat.

On the Morrow:
Big sporting weekend in Seattle, as the eyes of the golfing world turn to Chambers Bay to watch the best golfers in the world play like five handicappers, thanks to the wonderful slopes of a course carved out of an old quarry.  Chambers Bay is a course grassed entirely with fine fescue, which does not grow well in the summer, so it looks brown and burnt off.  The greens are the same grass as the fairways, so it is hard to tell on TV where one starts and the other ends.  Recent Poa Annua infestations have meant that the greens are little bumpy late in the day, mostly because the fescue tends to dehydrate and fall flat as the day goes on, whereas the Poa grows and stands up.  The golf will be very interesting tomorrow.

Back to baseball, the Astros finish the series against Seattle, before heading off to Anaheim for three against the Angels.

Vincent Velasquez (0-0, 4.66) versus ex-stro J.A. Happ (3-3, 3.79)

4 Eastern, 3 Central.