Wednesday, April 27, 2016

From the Office of the County Clerk: G21 - Astros in Seattle

Dallas Keuchel (2-2, 3.71) versus Nathan Karns (1-1, 5.28)

The Astros kicked their road trip off poorly, but were well placed to draw level in the series and force a rubber game tomorrow against the Mariners.  With Dallas Keuchel on the mound and due for a bounce-back, facing a guy with an ERA in the mid-fives, and with an offence that holds three straight Player of the Week awards, this could even turn into a bloodbath, one would think.

And turn into a bloodbath it did!!  The game was tight to start with, then the Mariners plated a solitary run to give them a tight lead, then the Mariners plated a whole bunch more runs to blow the game wide open and run out eventual winners by a score of 11-1.  Erik Kratz was the best Astros pitcher on the night - at least in terms of runs conceded - and the reeling Astros fall to the worst record in the major leagues, barring the rebuilding and toothpick wielding Atlanta Braves.  Sheesh.  This isn't good, and if anyone else says "regression to the mean", "small sample size", "it's only April" or any similar-sounding platitudes, I think I will scream.

On the Mound:
Not good, as I have already mentioned.  In fact, bad.  Keuchel started strongly enough, retiring the side in order in the first two frames, striking out the middle batter in each frame.  In the third, Keuchel worked around a lead-off double from Chris Iannetta (a line drive into LF on a 1-2 slider that Keuchel hung), eventually stranding him at third base to keep the Mariners off the scoreboard.  Another lead-off double bit Keuchel in the fourth, as he allowed a double down the LF line to shortstop Marte, who eventually scored on Nelson Cruz's grounder through the 5.5 hole into LF with one out.  Cruz was eventually the last out of the inning, when he tried to advance to second base on a passed ball.

The next inning - the fifth - was like watching a slow-moving horror movie.  Keuchel started the inning by getting Kyle Seager to ground out, then he walked Chris Iannetta on four pitches.  Slow-moving Dae-Ho Lee followed with a "single" to Carlos Correa - a poor throw pulled Tyler White off the bag toward RF - Correa had lots of time, but chose not to plant his feet.  Should have been an error, and I feel like I have typed that  bunch of times this year about Correa.  His defence has not been good, either in terms of making hard-to-make plays successfully, or finishing relatively routine plays.

So, runners on first and second, one out, then another walk to Seth Smith to load the bases.  A grounder force at home was the second out of the inning (nice play by Tyler White), then Ketel Marte flicked a line-drive single to CF, just short of Gómez.  Robinson Canó followed with a bloop single into shallow LF which Rasmus didn't dive for, which cleared the bases - more awful throwing, this time from Tyler White, and the score was five-nil.  Canó went to second on the error, but apparently all three runs scored on the single.  That put all four runs in the frame on Keuchel's ledger as "earned", which I can't believe.  Nelson Cruz struck out for the third out.

Keuchel retired the side in order in the sixth, with the Astros still trailing 5-0, and was relieved for the seventh after 107 pitches.  His eventual line was 6IP, 6H, 5R/ER, 2BB versus 5K, with Correa's non-play / error looming large.  If Correa makes that play, and the rest of the inning proceeds as it did (note: no guarantee that occurs, of course) Keuchel gives up one earned run through six, and allows one fewer walk and two fewer hits.  Another critical miss by the Astros at precisely the wrong time.  On the up side, it is easy to see how one play and a bunch of soft hits ruined his night, and perhaps his velocity is trending back up to where it has been during his wildly successful 2014 and 2015.

Feliz was summonsed for the seventh, and he struggled.  Single, strikeout, reached on error (throwing error for Correa - actually recorded as an error this time) then a single loaded the bases for Robinson Canó.  Canó managed an epic at-bat, fouling off five pitches before eventually getting a full-count fastball down and over the middle of the plate that he crushed just out to the RF power alley for a Grand Slam.  Steve Sparks and Robert Ford commented at the time that Canó saw 10 pitches, and nine of them were fastballs, so there was perhaps not enough mixing it up.

Feliz then allowed a single to Nelson Cruz, who grounded it through the right side before bouncing back to strike out the next two Mariners, both swinging.  That meant he struck out the side, but the four runs scoring before three strikeouts were recorded was a problem.  With Feliz having thrown 42 pitches, the Astros had Erik Kratz warm up in the 'pen - the first appearance on the mound from an Astros position player since Jake Elmore caught and pitched in the same blowout game in August 2013.

Kratz came with an 82-mph sinking fastball, and a surprise knuckleball.  He allowed three singles - all along the ground through the left side or up the middle - and threw two wild pitches and one passed ball.  One of the wild pitches was comically bad, but when he got the knuckler right, it fluttered nicely.  Anyhow, when we are analysing the backup catcher's appearance as a pitcher, you should know things have gotten bad.  So lets move on...

At the Plate:
... and this won't take too long, either.  The Astros were no-hit through three innings, and only managed five baserunners in seven frames against starter-with-a-mid-five-ERA Nathan Karns.  Two two-out walks put runners on first and second in the third inning, but George Springer grounded out to end the frame.  Rasmus singled (hard line-shot through the shift into RF) and Preston Tucker walked with one out in the fourth, but a runner-advancing ground-out and a fly-out ended that frame with two runners in scoring position.  The side struck out in the fifth, and went in order in the sixth before Tyler White (1-4) recorded the second hit of the night with a single to RF in the seventh.

The Astros actually scored a run in the eighth.  Castro (0-1, 2xBB) led off with a walk - his second of the night - before José Altuve (0-2, 2xBB) also worked a free pass, sending Castro to second.  Castro scored on a George Springer (1-4) single with also sent Altuve to third.  Springer advanced to second on the error as well, so the Astros had two runners in scoring position with no outs!!  Something cooking, right??

You know the story, because I have written it a ton of times this season already.  Carlos Correa (0-4) struck out swinging on a breaking pitch well out of the zone, Colby (1-4) popped up to shallow RF, and Preston Tucker (0-3, BB) grounded a 2-0 pitch to shortstop to end the frame, adding to the collection of runners stranded in scoring position.  This is painful - they are simply an awful situational team on offense - and the ESPN commentary on Sunday night was crapping on about how they are all about swinging for the fences and are trying to keep that free and easy approach.

/smashes head on keyboard

The Astros went in order in the ninth.  Gómez and Valbeuna both went 0-4 on the evening, with Valbuena striking out three times.

Turning Point:
Carlos Correa's non-play in the fifth was vital, I thought.  That put Keuchel in a bigger hole than he could manage, and meant that a bunch of runs scored, ironically on a very soft fly ball.  I know it is an act of treason to say anything bad about Carlos Correa on an Astros website, but his defense this year has been beyond awful.  Perhaps that is a topic for the off day.  Sigh.

Man of the Match:
Uh, no one??  Well, how about Jason Castro and Jose Altuve, as both reached base twice, both on two walks.  Castro also scored the lone run of the game for the 'stros.  His OBP has reached .250 (!!) - higher than Carlos Gómez's .221.

Goat of the Game:
Correa.  Weak strikeout with runners on scoring position, and a couple of vital missed plays.

Up Next:
Hopefully a turn around in fortunes, else I will be joining Cockroach in the Asylum for the Terminally Frustrated.

Collin McHugh (1-3, 7.56) versus Hisashi Iwakuma (0-2, 3.81)

This does not look good.  The Astros have been eaten alive by offspeed pitches that break down and away from the zone in the last two games, and Iwakuma has a nasty splitter.  Alternatively, McHugh returns to the place where it all started, so perhaps he turns things around tomorrow.

10 Eastern, 9 Central.