Sunday, April 17, 2016

From the Office of the County Clerk - G12: Astros versus Tigers

Justin Verlander (0-1, 8.71) versus Collin McHugh (1-1, 6.14)

Gosh, and I thought being an Astros fan would be an easier proposition this year.  The Astros continued their frustrating lack-of-clutchiness - this time lack of clutch defense and pitching - and eventually it cost the Astros the game.  The Tigers are a good offensive unit, so they did well to put pressure on the Astros, and eventually it told.  However, the Tigers baserunning also cost them a couple of runs, so perhaps I am being a little rough on the Astros here.  The Tigers could have won by a few more, but the Astros made too many mistakes, and opened the door for them too often.

So the Astros lose by a score of 5-3 and drop to 4-8 for the season.  They set up their third rubber game of the young season, which happens tomorrow.  I know 12 games is early in the season, but no number of MS Paint diagrams pointing that out is able to quell my concern.  They need to be hunting, but they look like they are the hunted, and while I am sure they will have periods of clutchiness over the course of the year, they need consistent clutchiness to get to and go deep into the postseason.

At the Plate:
Collin McHugh had a tough assignment tonight, and for the large part, he did a good job.  He wasn't helped much by his defense, and a critical play / terrible break gifted the Tigers an run, but a nice piece of hitting on a good pitch eventually swung the game toward the Tigers.

McHugh started great, retiring the side in order in the first, including a strikeout of Justin Upton, and a warning track fly-out for Miggie Cabrera.  The second inning was not quite as good, with three doubles resulting in only one run.  Victor Martínez hammered the first of his two extra-base hits to CF leading off the frame (Gómez couldn't quite make the play running across, and the ball rolled up Tal's Hill).  Then J.D. Martinez struck out looking before McHugh made a mistake pitch to Nick Castellanous, who doubled over the head of Colby Rasmus in left.  The ball became lodged in the padding against the visitors bullpen, but Rasmus - instead of throwing his hands up and calling for the umpire - retrieved it, hit the cut-off man (Correa), and Castellanous was out digging for third.  Saltalamacchia then hit the first of his two extra-base hits down the RF line - a ground-rule double that bounced into the stands - and Anthony Gose finished the inning by striking out swinging.  Rasmus' play / crappy baserunning saved the Astros a run in that inning.

More traffic in the third, with two singles (one of them leading off) in a scoreless frame.  Another one out single in the fourth, but McHugh struck out the side on filthy curveballs to record a scoreless frame.  The fifth was the critical inning - Jose Iglesias doubled to the LF gap leading off, then Ian Kinsler flew out for the next out.  McHugh enticed Justin Upton into an easy ground ball to third base, and Luis Valbuena fielded it cleaning and made a strong throw to Tyler White.  The throw may have been a little too strong, as it broke White's glove, and bounded off into the camera well beside the Astros' dugout.  Both runners advanced, Iglesias scored, and the Astros' lead was narrowed to one.

The Astros got another ridiculous break later in the inning.  With Justin Upton on second, Miguel Cabrera doubled off the wall to deep right.  Springer played the carom well, but not well enough to stop Cabrera cruising into second base.  Justin Upton somehow found a way to only advance to third, however, and McHugh worked his way out of the inning by getting V-Mart to pop up, and striking out Julio Daniel for the third time of the night.  More awful baserunning gifted McHugh an opportunity to get out of the inning, which he did.

The Tigers took the lead in the sixth.  Nick Castellanos singled to left, leading off the frame.  Salty, after being well-fooled earlier in the at-bat on a changeup away, appeared to get jammed on a 2-2 cutter running up and in.  He must have gotten some of it, however, as the ball peppered the foul pole for the second time in the game.  Quite good hitting, as McHugh seemed to throw the ball where he wanted it, but Salty was up to the task.

Pat Neshek relieved McHugh after the next batter Anthony Gose grounded out.  McHugh's final line was five-and-one-third, 10 hits, four runs (all earned) and seven strikeouts.  He was pulled just shy of 100 pitches.  Neshek closed the frame without problem, then Giles pitched a scoreless seventh, Harris allowed two hits in a scoreless eighth, and Josh Fields allowed an earned run on Miguel Cabrera's single and V-Mart's second double of the night (which Gómez took a gosh-awful route on and it went over his head).  Sigh.

At the Plate:
The first inning was gold.  José Altuve (1-3, BB) hit a clean single to LF leading off the game, then George Springer (3-4, HR, 2RBI) pounded an inside fastball off the LF foul pole for a line-drive home run.  The ball was hit very hard - the second hardest homer of the year according to Statcast, and the Astros took an early 2-0 lead.

After Correa (0-3, BB) and Rasmus (0-4, 3K) struck out, Tyler White (1-4, HR) took a fastball that Verlander tried to throw down-and-it (but missed glove-side and up) and he drive it off the façade above the Crawford Boxes for his fourth of the season.  Impressive blow there, and White leads the Astros in home runs, which I am not sure even Tyler White boosters would have picked with approximately 8% of the season gone.

The second inning was remarkable only for the side being retired in order.  In the third, the Astros missed an opportunity to score.  José Altuve led off with a walk, then he was promptly picked off before George Springer saw a pitch.  Altuve's left foot slipped trying to dive back, the first-base ump initially ruled him safe, but the Tigers appealed, and the call was overturned.  Altuve's mistake was magnified when Springer singled and Correa walked, but a fielder's choice and a strikeout looking (the ball was six inches inside, too) ended the frame with Springer stranded on third.

Carlos Gómez (1-4) singled into the Bermuda Triangle behind second base with one out in the court, then stole second, but strikeouts of Valbuena (0-2, 2K, on high heat) and Castro (0-3, 2K) ended that inning.  That would be the last time an Astro touched second base.  Springer singled in the fifth, Tucker (1-4) in the sixth, and González (1-1) in the seventh, but that was all the Astros could muster against Verlander (who pitched six innings) and the Tigers bullpen, who allowed only the lone baserunner in three frames.  Double sigh.

Turning Point:
White's glove break was a big moment, but Salty's fine piece of hitting after being jammed by a cutter gave the Tigers the lead.  McHugh struck out seven, but also allowed 10 hits, but his night would have been worse if the Tigers baserunning was up to scratch.

Man of the Match:
George Springer, for his 3-4, RBI performance, and reminding us that when he makes contact, the ball often goes a long way.

Goat of the Game:
Gómez, Valbuena and Castro combined to go 1-9 as the bottom third of the order.  A couple more base hits could have really made a difference, because George Springer was on fire.

On the Morrow:
Anibal Sanchez (2-0, 3.38) versus Mike Fiers (0-1, 6.55)

2 Eastern, 1 Central.

Cockroach will cover the rubber game, Monday's day off, then the Ramgers series while I take the family away for a few days of mountain biking.