Collin McHugh (11-5, 4.25) versus C.J. Wilson (8-7, 3.59)
Apologies, loyal readers, for missing the last couple of games of the Royals series. The Astros lost both - one on a bloop hit into short RF in extras, and one on an un-Keuchel like performance in the first inning. They (and the Angels) had yesterday off, so both teams had time to prepare for an important series. Hinch has been keen to downplay the importance of this series which kind of fits with his modus operandi - have the Astros play every game hard, and accumulate as many wins as possible. He is clearly keen to have his young team used to all situations, with less emphasis on whether the situations are big or small. Makes sense, really.
Anyhow, the Astros were down early after McHugh was scored on early, but they came back strong to double up the Angels, winning by a score of 10-5. That brings the teams into another virtual tie, but with the Angels having played two less games, they remain on top of the AL West due to a slightly better win-loss percentage. The Angels have also traded for a bunch of outfielders recently - they are clearly trying to establish a platoon in one of the outfield corners, so the Astros may get to have a look at that tomorrow.
On the Mound:
McHugh continues to struggle with his feel. He had little control of his fastball early, and his breaking ball lacked snap and bite. His final line was not good - 5IP, 7H, 5R/ER and 4 walks versus three strikeouts, but it could have been so much worse. We know he can be better than this, so I am guessing that Astros fans are crossing fingers and hoping he gets his mechanical issues sorted out soon. He has, after all, shown flashes of dominance recently.
In the first inning - not good. Three walks, two groundouts that advanced runners, and one extra base hit meant that the Angels scored two runs, and left two runners stranded. The inning was most remarkable for two things - Pujols' bizarre bat-flip on a walk that sent the radio guys crazy, and McHugh nearly escaping the inning with only one run scored on a double-play attempt that was a bang-bang play at first.
The second inning - not good. Bunt single from Victorino leading off the frame. With one out, two singles, with the second one scoring a run. With two outs, Albert Pujols singled through the 5.5 hole, scoring another run. Erick Aybar flew out on the next pitch to end the frame.
The third inning - slight improvement. Only a Chris Ianetta home run into the Crawford Boxes polluted the frame for McHugh. McHugh retired the side in the fourth, then struck out Shane Victorino in the fifth with two on (on a single just out of Correa's range into CF and a walk) for the third out. Despite allowing five runs, McHugh left with the lead.
The bullpen was nails. Fields faced the minimum. Harris allowed a single to left, leading off, and retired the next three without the runner advancing past second. Chad Qualls allowed only an infield single with two outs in the eighth. Tony Sipp set the hitters down in order in the ninth, including a fly-out to CF by Albert Pujols to end the game. So the 'pen combined to allow two singles in four scoreless. Oddly, they only struck out one, but they also didn't walk anyone.
At the Plate:
The Astros banged out 14 hits and drew 4 walks. Six of the hits were for extra bases. They tagged C.J. Wilson for six runs, and touched up Mike Morin for another four. They managed four baserunners in the final three innings, but didn't score.
Again, the baserunners were clustered at the top and the bottom of the order. The top three of Altuve (3-5, 2B, 5RBI), González (1-2, 2BB) and Correa (3-4, BB, HR) combined to go 7-11 with three walks, a double and a home run. At the bottom of the order (7-9 spots) Hammerin' Hank (2-3, 2B), Cheesy Colby Rasmus (2-4, 2B) and Handsome Jake (1-3, BB, SB) all managed to get on base twice. Chris Carter hit another long home run the other way, again seducing us with his power. Evan Gattis hit another triple - his seventh of the season and as many triples as the Angels team has combined for 2015. And Luis Valbuena reached on a hit-by-pitch, but otherwise went 0-3 and looked generally frustrated at the plate. Jed will be back soon, too - I wonder if Valbuena hears footsteps behind him.
The Astros faced Wilson in the top of the first with a 2-0 deficit. Carlos Correa cut that in half when he took a mid-thigh fastball outside, and stuck it 6 rows back into the RF bleachers, just to the CF side of where the groundsman's access to the ballpark is, about 8 yards fair. It was a wonderful flat swing, and the ball fair cracked off the bat - the sound was something to behold. Correa is something special, and I am stunned with how his defence and his bat have looked during his brief time in the major leagues.
In the second, Wilson had a 2-2 pitch get away on him, and it ran arm-side until it hit Valbeuna in the hip or upper thigh. Valbuena looked unimpressed, and Wilson looked downright exasperated. Anyhow, Carter drove Valbuena in on the next pitch - he took a first pitch fastball that was low in the zone and over the middle of the plate, and mashed it to the CF side of the Astros' bullpen in RF. It was quite a hit, and looked totally effortless.
The Astros weren't finished there. The next batter was Hammerin' Hank, and he wore a fastball inside on the left (his front) knee. Wilson indicated to the umpire that he thought that Hank had flexed his knee into the line of the pitch, but that wasn't true. Conger instead took his stride, then declined to move his knee when he saw that the ball was hurtling toward it. Rasmus followed with a strike out, then Marisnick grounded Conger to second base. With two outs, Jose Altuve singled into shallow LF, off the glove of the shortstop Aybar, who was ranging to his right. Conger scored, but Altuve was tagged out at second. The game was tied at 4-all at this point.
In the third, the Astros drew back-to-back walks against Wilson to open the frame. However, the inning ended with a hard-hit line drive right at first baseman C.J. Cron, who had Correa hung out to dry for a twin killing. In the fourth, the Astros scored two runs on a one-out Conger single, a two-out Marisnick walk, and an Altuve single into CF. The throw from Robertson in CF went to the plate to try and nab Conger trying to score, but it was cut off, and Altuve was hung up between first and second. Marisnick had advanced to third. The Angels did their best to muff the rundown, with the initial throw from the cutoff man to the man covering first behind Altuve nearly getting away. Anyhow, Marisnick kept running, and he scored while Altuve was in the run down, sending the Astros into the lead for the first time in the game.
The Astros ended Wilson's night in the fifth inning. González led off by drawing a walk, then Correa blooped a single into short RF against reliever Mike Morin that Giavotella muffed trying to glove the ball cleanly. González took off for third, and runners were on the corners with no outs. But no one scored after due to a Gattis strikeout, a Valbuena pop out, and a Karter K.
In the sixth, the Astros extracted their revenge on Mike Morin, who prevented them scoring in the previous frame. Hammerin' Hank doubled to the base of the wall in the LF-CF gap. He scored when Rasmus took a breaking pitch that was under the strike zone, and he golfed it the other way into the same gap. Handsome Jake then reached on a footrace to the bag against C.J. Cron after a grounder to first - the Angels appealed, and Marisnick just got his hand to first before Cron's foot hit the bag. Then Altuve doubled just to the CF side of the Crawford Boxes, scoring both runners. Altuve later scored on Evan Gattis' triple, which bounced 90% of the way up the wall, below the yellow line at it's highest point in the LF-CF gap. The Astros peppered that area of the ballpark in that inning, and it yielded them 4 runs.
And that was all for the Astros offence for the evening - at least in terms of scoring. In the seventh, Colby Rasmus singled into RF with two outs. Marwin González walked with one out in the eighth, followed by a Correa single. But a double play ended that frame with a whimper.
Marisnick scoring from first on Altuve's single in the fourth inning gave the Astros the lead. Conger was on second, Marisnick on first, and Altuve was at the dish. Altuve barrelled up (doesn't he always!) a low-insde cut-fastball, slicing it back up the middle, bisecting the second baseman Giavotella and shortstop Aybar. Robertson attacked the ball from CF, and he threw to the plate to try and get Conger. Marisnick headed to third. Cron cut the throw off at the pitcher's mound, ran toward Altuve - who by this point was between first and second - then lobbed a limp throw behind Altuve to the second baseman Giavotella, who had to sit down and to his right to catch the ball. At this point, Marisnick had kept running, and he scored, with Altuve eventually being tagged out by the shortstop Aybar. Marisnick is fast.
Man of the Match:
Big props to the bullpen, but Jose Altuve gets the MoTM. He seems to barrelling the ball up consistently, after weak contact through May and June. His 3-5, 2B, 5RBI night nearly makes up for his getting thrown out twice at or near second base. The dude is a kamikaze baserunner sometimes - there is a fine line between aggression and stupidity, after all - but Altuve's bat (not legs) gets the MoTM tonight.
Goat of the Game:
Luis Valbuena went 0-3, and now has a bruise on his tight. With González's bat getting hot, and Jed arriving back shortly, Valbuena may struggle for playing time.
On the Morrow:
Garrett Richards (10-7, 3.25) versus Lance McCullers (4-3, 2.60)
8 Eastern, 7 Central.