Wednesday, August 19, 2015

From the Office of the County Clerk - G120: Astros versus Rays

Scott Feldman (5-5, 4.17) versus Jake Odorizzi (6-6, 3.09)

The Astros entered the second game of a four game set with the Rays coming off perhaps their most miserable loss of the year.  They have only lost one game this year by more than 7 runs, and on three other occasions have they lost by 7 runs.  So fair to say that G1 of the series was one of the worst losses of the season, even before accounting for the generally demoralising nature of it.

My take on the 2015 Astros is that they are a fascinating team with considerable ceiling that got off to a hot start.  They are probably closer to a 81-win team from a current talent perspective than a 100-win team, and they have essentially played .500 ball since they scaled the giddy heights of 18-7 on May 3.    But what they have done is left themselves with a solid change of making the post season while skipping the wild-card game, partly because of the play of their division-mates.  What they are is one hot streak from putting the division away, and given all the wailing and gnashing of teeth over their sometimes-inept offense, it seems that hot streak could be more likely than a continued cold streak.  But the last 42 games figure to be fascinating, and the most fun last 42 games for the Astros to close the season in nine years.

I don't really mind what they do, but I would definitely prefer them not to crater.  But it is just great to play meaningful August and September baseball.  And to the patient and handsome readers of Astros County - I will be able to cover most games between now and mid-Sept, as well as contribute some further analysis, time permitting.  I am really looking forward to it.

Anyhow, the Astros needed a good win, and today they got it despite continued offensive struggles.  Scotty Feldman kept the Astros in it but left the game trailing.  The Astros broke their consecutive-innings scoreless streak against the Tampa 'pen (it was around 13 innings) to tie the game, before they won on a walk off in extras.  Astros win, 3-2.

On the Mound:
Scotty Feldman has been a solid since his return from knee surgery.  In the five starts since being activated from the DL, he has gone 5.2IP/4ER, 7.2IP/1ER, 5.1IP/3ER, 6IP/2ER and 6IP/0ER.  He does not look pretty on the mound, but his fastball seems to have gotten a mile-or-two an hour more giddy-up.  Bill Brown was musing about him perhaps having more arm strength than normal at this point of the season by virtue of the time off through June and July.

Feldman worked around plenty of traffic early.  In both the first and second innings, he logged scoreless frames despite having runners on first and second with one out.  The conclusion to the second frame included a peach of a double-play on a grounder back to the mound - catcher Curt Casali grounded the first pitch right back to the mound, Feldman fielded a simple chance cleanly, and he connected with Altuve (just - his throw sailed a bit) to start the twin killing.

Feldman retired the side in order in the third, and allowed only a Logan Forsythe single in a seven-pitch fourth inning.  Interestingly, the seven-pitch fourth included three balls, and all strikes were put in play, with three of them resulting in outs.  Feldman entered the fifth with a 1-0 lead, and things looked rosy after a Keven Kiermaier grounded out to start the frame.  Feldman promptly got ahead of Curt Casali on two fastballs down and away that caught the edge of the plate, so Castro tried to go back to the well again.  Feldman missed arm-side-and-up, and the result was a belt-high fastball over the middle-third that Casali didn't miss, depositing it somewhere just fair, above the Crawford Boxes to tie the game at ones.

Feldman looked a bit spooked, and the next three pitches were balls.  He bounced back to get John Jaso then Grady Sizemore on routine grounders to shortstop.

In the sixth inning, Feldman again worked around more traffic on the base paths.  Evan Longoria hit a soft nubber that third baseman Jed Lowrie had no chance on.  James Loney then hit a hard grounder to Valbeuna, who fielded and spun to throw to second to nail the lead runner.  Carlos Correa - covering second - nearly lost it through the wickets, but the out was successfully recorded.  A Logan Forsythe single then put runners on first and second with one out for the third time in six innings, but Feldman set the next two batters down on a pop out and a ground out to maintain the tie.

In the seventh, Feldman was in trouble from the get-go.  Kevin Kiermaier singled to start the frame, then Curt Casali hit a pop up into shallow CF that Correa retreated on, and Gómez attacked coming in from CF.  Correa seemed to have it covered, but he pulled away at the last moment, possibly hearing Gómez approaching at considerable speed.  As a result, Correa didn't glove the ball cleanly, and it rebounded toward RF, and was eventually picked up by Marwin González, covering from left field.  Gómez's shin slid into the inside of Correa's right ankle, rolling it out a little bit, which would have sent the Astros staff into an absolute spin - the guy they traded for taking out the most valuable player on the team... not great.

Anyhow, that put runners on second and third, in a tie game, with no outs.  Feldman bounced back to strike out John Jaso for the first out, then Grady Sizemore walked.  With one out and a force at every base, Feldman enticed Evan Longoria into a routine grounder to short.  Correa came up with it cleanly, but his throw to Altuve sailed a little bit toward first base, and Altuve was pulled off the bag and he had to return to the bag to confirm the out at second.  Because Altuve's momentum was heading away from first base, he had no chance to try and get the final out of the inning at first.

So the run scored on the blown double play - Correa was involved in a couple of missteps that inning from a defensive perspective, and I point that out because we simply aren't used to seeing many mistakes from him.  Feldman kept his composure, and he retired James Loney on a grounder to second to end his night.  At this point, the Astros trailed 2-1.  Feldman's night ended with seven innings pitched, nine hits and two walks, two earned runs and two strikeouts.  He threw 106 pitches.

Will Harris took over for the eighth, and he set the side down in order.  Luke Gregerson got the assignment to cover the ninth, and when he retired the side on twelve pitches (including two strikeouts), he also got the call for the tenth.  More excellence - Gregerson retired the heart of the order on six pitches.  With 18 pitches under his belt, I wonder whether he would have come out for the 11th, but it was a moot point, because of... well, read on.

At the Plate:
The Rays have the makings of an excellent rotation.  I love watching Chris Archer pitch nearly as much as I enjoy listening to him speak - he strikes me as a bright guy.  Not far behind Archer in pitching excellence is Jake Odorizzi, who has been very solid this year, aside from the time he missed with an injury.  Odorizzi is the victim of the second-fewest runs scored per game in the AL when he starts, and if you have read to this point, you may see that that continued tonight for him.

Anyhow, Jose Altuve led off by singling on a 2-2 pitch to left field.  González immediately sac-bunted him to second, but the next two hitters grounded out to end the frame.  In the second, Carlos Gómez worked a lead-off walk, but he was erased on a strike-em-out-throw-em-out double play.  Evan Gattis grounded a 3-1 pitch to third for the final out.

The Astros scored the first run of the game in the bottom of the third.  Luis Valbuena led off by flying out to LF, but ex-CF Grady Sizemore made a wonderful jumping play against the out-of-town scoreboard.  Jason Castro singled to right with one out, then Jose Altuve hit a hard bunt down the third-base line.  Evan Longoria made a fabulous barehanded play coming in, but Altuve was just fast enough to beat the throw.  The initial call was out, but it was overturned on review.

That put runners on first and second with one out, with Marwin González up to bat.  He was quickly in an 0-2 hole, but the next pitch was an elevated fastball that González hit off the fists into LF.  The ball dropped about 12 yards short of the LF scoreboard, about 4 yards fair.  Castro scored, and Altuve went to third, with González cruising into second.  With two runners in scoring position and one out, the Astros were looking to add on... but nope.  Carlos Correa and Jed Lowrie went down swinging for the next two outs - Lowrie worked a 3-2 count, but he swung at one up and out of the zone, which annoyed him immensely.

An Evan Gattis double in the fourth was the highlight of that frame, but it was with two outs, and the three Astros hitters surrounding him all went down on strikes.  More strikeouts in the fifth (two) and sixth (one), with the latter being after Carlos Gómez stole second after hitting a dribbler through the right side with two outs.  They went in order in the seventh, including a lead off strikeout of Evan Gattis on a pitch above the zone.

The Astros entered the eighth trailing 2-1, with Jake McGee on the mound.  McGee has had a good season, but in his last appearance, he wore the loss against the Rangers.  Anyhow, he was immediately in trouble - Jose Altuve stung one up the middle, the Marwin González singled to left field to put runners on first and second with no outs.  On a 1-1 count, Carlos Correa took a cutter down and in, and turned on it, hitting a soft line drive into left field over the third baseman.  The ball didn't go awful far, but it wasn't a bloop either, and it was always going to get down.  Correa connected on a very tough pitch, too.  Altuve scored, González went into third, and Correa took second, putting two runners in scoring position, and no outs.

But the Astros being the Astros, they weren't able to get either of them home.  Jed Lowrie struck out for the first out, then Carlos Gómez was intentionally walked to set the force up at every base.  Colby Rasmus was left in despite the lefty being on the mound, most likely because he has had some previous success against McGee (that success included a home run).  On the first pitch of this at-bat, Rasmus hit a hard grounder to James Loney at first, who came home for the force, then got himself back to the bag in time to receive the throw for a 3-2-3 double play, ending the inning.

In the ninth, Jason Castro worked a two-out walk, which ended his night as he was immediately pinch-run for.  Jose Altuve flew out for the last out of regulation.  That set the stage for Marwin González, who, leading off the tenth, found himself in a 3-2 count, facing the fourth Ray's pitcher of the night, Brad Boxberger.  Casali, the catcher, set up low in the zone and away, Boxberger missed glove-side-and-up, and González, who was sitting fastball, turned on it, and mashed a hard line-drive 10 rows back into the RF bleachers.  The ball got out in a hurry - it was in no way a hanging fly ball - but it was a no doubter, and González had the first walk-off home run of his career.

At the top of the order, Altuve and González both had three hits.  Altuve went 3-5, and González 3-4 with a double, a home run and two RBI.  Carlos Gómez was also on base thrice - he went 1-2 with 2 walks, which is his best night for a while as an Astro.  Jason Castro had a solid night - 1-3, BB.  Evan Gattis and Carlos Correa both went 1-4 with a double.

Turning Point:
I haven't mentioned Carlos Correa's diving stop in the first yet.  On a 1-2 count, and runners on first and second with two outs, Logan Forsythe was looking to protect the zone.  Feldman threw a low curveball, and Forsythe hit a hard grounder to short, toward the 5.5 hole.  Correa dove, the ball took a bit of a hop, but he was good enough to get his glove up during the dive, and his throw was in time.  The out was recorded despite Valbuena backing up, and catching the ball on the dugout-side of first base.  Not really a turning point, but definitely worth mentioning.  Correa is a freak.

Man of the Match:
Marwin González, who got the start in LF.  Very nice night.

Goat of the Game:
Jed Lowrie - 0-4 with 2 K's, and both K's were with two runners in scoring position.  I like Jed, however, and he gives this lineup solid balance.  Needs to be playing most days.

On the Morrow:
Nathan Karns (7-5, 3.53) versus Dallas Keuchel (14-6, 2.36).

Break out the orange T-shirts and fake ginger-tinted beards.  Keuchel's Korner is open for business!

8 Eastern, 7 Central.