Thursday, July 23, 2015

From the Office of the County Clerk - G96: Astros versus Red Sox

Collin McHugh (10-5, 4.35) versus Joe Kelly (2-5, 5.67)

The Astros appear to have struck the Red Sox at the right time.  The Sox had a tough series against a suddenly-unbeatable Angels outfit.  That series concluded with a Monday night double-header after an extraordinarily rare Sunday night rainout.  The Sox have been scrambling around for starting pitching most of the season, and last night they started a rookie with a middling pedigree.  We know what the Astros are capable of doing against poor pitching, and we know how rubbish they can look against good pitching but they got into the Red Sox 'pen last night, and scored enough runs to win most games.

Just yesterday, I was musing about how long it seems since an Astro had a multi-home-run game.  What made me think of that was a segment during the game which featured Jeff Bagwell hitting two home runs against Danny Graves and the Reds - his 399th and 400th home runs.  I couldn't recall the last time an Astro had two home runs in a game, so I checked.  Chris Carter did it June 3 against Baltimore, Luis Valbuena has done it three times (April 20 versus Seattle, June 16 versus Colorado, June 23 against the Angels), George Springer homered twice against Colorado on June 15 and Evan Gattis also knocked two round-trippers on May 3 against Seattle.  So it has happened a fair bit this season, but it doesn't stop me from taking some credit by gently nudging the karmic gatekeepers.

This game sealed a series win against the Red Sox, who are suddenly reeling off a seven game losing streak.  Preston Tucker powered the Astros with a couple of mouth-watering home runs.  All four Astros runs scored on home runs.  Collin McHugh continued his solid bounce-back, and the Red Sox were again (like yesterday) only able to score in one frame.  Astros win, 4-2.

On the Mound:
Collin McHugh has pitched much better of late, as detailed in the game recap from his last start.  He added a solid night tonight, was in serious trouble in only one inning, but he bounced back to record some vital outs and restrict the damage.  Twice, he had two runners on with no outs, but he was able to prevent runs from scoring both times.  McHugh went seven solid innings, allowing seven hits (four in one inning and two in another, and quite a few of them bloop hits), walking one and striking out four.  All strikeouts were swinging at the curveball, which is a good sign, because he has had trouble getting hitters to swing at that pitch this year.    He allowed two earned runs.

McHugh was in serious trouble in the sixth.  He entered that frame with a 4-0 lead, and he immediately allowed a fisted single to CF off the bat of catcher Blake Swihart, a double to the bullpen wall to Dustin Pedroia (his 0-fer was going to end sometime, after all), a single to Brock Holt! (just past a leaping  and shifted Altuve) and another bloop single off the end of the bat that dumped just fair into RF off of Xander Bogaerts.  Two runs scored, and runners were on first and second with no outs.  But McHugh enticed David Ortiz into a pop out, struck out Han-Ram on a nasty curve away and coaxed De Aza into a fly out.  With one out, both runners had advanced when Castro plain missed catching a breaking pitch for a strike, so the latter two outs were with two runners in scoring position.

McHugh conceded a single and a hit-by pitch (breaking ball to the foot) leading off the fifth, and a pair of singles leading off the seventh, both times putting runners on first and second with no outs.  In the fifth, the frame ended with a double play.  In the seventh, a fielder's choice bunt got the lead runner at third, and a foul out / strikeout sequence ended the frame, stranding both runners.

For the first four innings, McHugh was just nasty.  He retired the side in the first, third and fourth.  He allowed only a one-out walk in the second.  He looked strong, and he managed to record a handful of swinging strikes.  This bodes well for the future, perhaps.

Pat Neshek got the eighth, and he walked David Ortiz with one out, but retired the remaining two hitters without Ortiz advancing, including a strikeout of Xander Bogaerts that was 18 inches off the plate away.  Neshek is deceptive.  Luke Gregerson retired the side in order on 11 pitches to record his 20th save.  Gregerson now has 10 consecutive scoreless appearances, dating back to June 13.  The longest he has gone in those outings is 1.1 innings pitched, and the most pitches he has thrown is 16.

At the Plate:
As mentioned above, the Astros scored all four of their runs off of home runs, and they didn't wait long to start the damage.  The second batter of the game was Preston Tucker, and he hammered a pitch off the wall to the LF side of Tal's Hill.  The ball didn't beat the yellow line by much, but it was still an impressive home run going slightly the other way.  The pitch was a 3-2 fastball that was meant to be inside, but ran over the plate, and Tucker used that level swing of his to nail it to the Phillips 66 sign underneath the ledge where the gas pump is located.

That put the Astros ahead 1-0.  In the second, the Astros got Colby Rasmus to third base on a one out line drive single over the shift, a stolen base and a throwing error (second in two nights from a Red Sox catcher).  Handsome Jake popped up a bunt for the second out, and Jason Castro went down looking to end the frame without Rasmus getting to advance.  More un-clutch offence.

Jose Altuve was hit by a pitch leading off the third inning, but he was also caught stealing second for the third out of the inning.  In the fourth inning, Evan Gattis mashed a low home run with one out on a breaking pitch - the pitch hung in the middle of the plate.  Gattis hammered a low shot that just got into the first row of the Crawford Boxes.  In the fifth inning, Joe Kelly got the first two Astros hitters without problem (both strikeouts) before Jose Altuve singled into shallow left - a pop up off the end of the bat that Bogaerts got his glove to heading into the outfield, but couldn't catch.  Preston Tucker made the Red Sox play for not converting the out by taking a 1-0 two-seam fastball down in the zone that again leaked over the plate and depositing it in the RF stands.  It was a towering fly ball with a lot of backspin.  The Astros led 4-0 at that point.

Sadly, that was it for the Astros' offence, at last in terms of scoring.  Jon Singleton doubled to deep left in the sixth, just missing a home run to the CF side of the Crawford Boxes.  The Astros are certainly giving Singleton a chance to impress.  In the seventh, the Astros got the first two hitters on with a single and a reached-on-error, but a fielder's choice and double play ended that inning with a whimper.  They went in order without a baserunner in the eighth.

The Astros were powered by Preston Tucker, who went 2-4 with two home runs.  Jon Singleton was also on base twice, going 1-2 with a walk, and a long double to left field.  Evan Gattis was the architect of the only non-Tucker RBI, with a 1-4, HR night.  Altuve and Castro went 1-3, and Correa and Rasmus went 1-4.

Turning Point:
I talked a little about Altuve's fifth inning single off the glove of Xander Bogaerts, and how that brought Preston Tucker to the plate, who promptly drove the both of them in.  However, I like how McHugh was in trouble with two on and no outs in a 4-2 game in the seventh.  He had just given up an excuse-me single down the RF line to Shane Victorino, and a jam shot on a curveball inside to Mike Napoli dropped into left.  Anyhow, runners on first and second, no outs, and Blake Swihart tried to bunt the game-tying runner into scoring position.  Only he bunted it back toward the mound, and McHugh pounced on it, and fired to third to get the lead runner.  A foul out, and a strikeout swinging on a curveball inside to the lefty Holt! ended the threat, and McHugh held the Red Sox to only two runs over seven innings.

Man of the Match:
Preston Tucker.  If you are reading this and wondering why he may be the MoTM, then you probably haven't read what is written above.  I advise a re-read.

Goat of the Game:
Valbuena has continued his struggles, going 0-3 with two strikeouts tonight.  He was pinch hit for by Marwin Gonz├ílez against the lefty reliever late in the game.  Jason Castro went 1-3, struck out twice, and allowed two passed balls - one of them a shocker.  And Handsome Jake remains handsome, but he also went 0-3 with a K.  He needs to start hitting the ball hard again.

On the Morrow:
Lance McCullers (4-3, 2.52) versus lefty Wade Miley (8-8, 4.49)

The Astros punt for the sweep, and try and make ground on the suddenly unbeatable Angels.

8 Eastern, 7 Central.