Saturday, April 9, 2016

From the Office of the County Clerk: G4 - Astros in Milwaukee

Scotty Feldman against Chase Anderson.

Well, loyal Astros fans and Astros County readers, there is going to be some discussion about how this game ended.  More on that below.  The sum total of the game, however, was that the Astros' starter again struggled, the bullpen gave up a couple of insurance runs, and a late comeback fell short by virtue of a controversial call.  Milwaukee has not historically been a lucky place for the Astros, and tonight that continued.  As a result, the 'stros drop to 1-3, and really need to make some progress in the next couple of games to avoid starting the season in a horrible hole.

Astros lose, 6-4.

On the Mound:
Scotty Feldman looked ok, but he allowed runs in his first two innings, and ended up getting pulled just short of 80 pitches, after four frames.  There didn't appear to be anything wrong with him, but it did appear that A.J. Hinch was dying to pull a double-switch in an NL ballpark, so he was pinch-hit for in the top of the fifth.

Feldman was lacklustre early on.  He just didn't look sharp to start with.  After striking out leadoff hitter (and ex-Stro) Domingo Santana, Feldman immediately gave up a long home run to Scooter Gennett.  Feldman was meant to hit a target outside with a fastball running away from the left-handed hitting Gennett, but he missed glove-side and over the plate, and Gennett showed surprising pop, sending it into the second deck in the RF power alley.  Ryan Braun followed with a walk, and Jonathan Lucroy hit a hard grounder up the middle that rebounded off Feldman's leg into no-man's-land between the mound and first, and suddenly the Brewers has two on with one out, and one run already in.

The Brewers got generous, however, and tried to pull off a double-steal.  Castro's throw was perfect, as was Valbuena's tag, combining to nail Braun at third base.  The good feeling from that caught-stealing lasted all of one pitch, however, as ex-Stro Chris Carter pounded an elevated breaking-ball into dead CF for a massive two-run shot.  Three runs in the first - not the start the Astros needed.

The troubles continued in the second frame.  Ex-Stro Jonathan Villar singled to open the frame, but he was also caught stealing (on another pin-point Castro throw), which cost the Brewers another run. With one out ex-Stro Santana pulled another breaking pitch that missed a foot or so high down the LF line, just out of Rasmus' reach, and Keon Broxton - the nine hitter who walked (and remember, this is an NL team, so he batted behind the pitcher), scored easily from second.  Sigh.

That was another theme of Feldman's night, too.  Three times, on full counts, Feldman strangled the pay-off pitch, sending it nowhere near the strike zone.  He looked a little frustrated.  Also, after two frames of this game, it should be noted that non-Keuchel Astros' starters have been scored upon in 7 of the 8 innings they have thrown this year.  Feldman's third and fourth innings, both being scoreless, meant that the game ended with 7 of 10 scored-upon innings from non-Keuchel starters.  I get that it is really early in the year, but this was always the weak spot for the Astros heading into the season, and it is starting to worry me.  Feldman's final line: 4IP, 4ER, 3BB, 5K, 2HR allowed.

I hope the Astros have a solution for this.  One possible solution came running out of the bullpen to start the fifth inning.  Chris Devenski got his chance in long-relief, and he looked good, pumping gas around 93, and throwing a nasty change-piece.  I didn't see much evidence of a breaking ball, but his changeup looks filthy.  Devenski struck out four in three frames of work, allowing only one hit.  He only threw 38 pitches, but was pinch hit for leading off the eighth by Preston Tucker.

Josh Fields got the eighth, and his command-troubles in the zone continued.  He walked Gennett, then went 2-0 to Ryan Braun.  Braun isn't the steroid-buffed monster he was, but he still has some pop in his bat, and he proved it when Fields missed arm-side on a low fastball that was meant to be away.  Braun hammered it just to the RF side of the batting eye for the third HR of the game for the Brewers.

Fields bounced back to strike out the side, but the damage was done.  That home run from Braun proved to be vital, despite the score being a comfortable 6-0 at the time.

At the Plate:
Crickets... at least until the ninth.  No quite, but certainly the Astros lacked for effective offensive output in the first eight innings.  Chase Anderson allowed 4 hits (two doubles) in his five innings of work, while striking out five and walking one.  José Altuve led off the game with a single and stole second with one out, but he was stranded.  Tyler White doubled to deep left in the second with one out.  Gómez doubled with two outs in the fourth.  Tyler White led off with an infield single in the fifth, setting a record for the most hits by an Astro (8) in his first four major-league games.  He would later add another.

In the sixth, Carlos Correa dumped a flare into short-RF, and legged out a double, again with two outs.  In the eighth, Colby Rasmus walked.  That brings us to the ninth.

Ex-Ranger, Sam Freeman (who was plucked off waivers by the Brewers) got the assignment to start the ninth, and Carlos Correa responded with a single on a grounder through the 5.5 hole.  After a Valbuena fly-out, Carlos Gómez eeked out an infield single to second, putting two on for Tyler White.  Freeman came on a 2-2 count with a fastball down-and-away - not a bad pitch, perhaps not a lot of movement on it, but he didn't miss his mark, and Tyler White got under it and belted it just out, in the RF power alley.  Impressive hitting, I thought, and that propelled White to a 3-4, triple-short-of-the-cycle day, with 3RBI.

I don't have any stats to back this up, but the thing that I have been most impressed with from White is his two-strike hitting.  He seems to have the rare ability to hit the ball hard when he has two strikes on him, and I can think of four hits this year that he has managed with two strikes.  He will be fun to watch.

The Astros were't finished, either.  MarGo pinch hit for Jason Castro, and he walked on four pitches.  MarGo then scored all the way from first on Preston Tucker's double that dropped in the LF power-alley, beating a diving Keon Broxton.  That ran the score to 6-4, and the go-ahead run arrived at the plate in the form of José Altuve, after a Rasmus walk.  I was watching the game with my Dad, and I commented at that time that walking the lefty Rasmus with first base open may not have been the worst idea in the world, as it meant the double-play was in order.  Prophetic words.

Turning Point:
What happened next was the controversial bit.  José Altuve hit a slow grounder to the right side, which was fielded cleanly by Scooter Gennett.  The Brewers second-bagger fired to second for the force - a wise move, as it kept the go-ahead run out of scoring position.  Villar completed the force, but seemingly had no intentions of firing to first to attempt to complete the double play.  Rasmus slid wide and past the bag, and that was enough for the umpires to call Altuve out on Rasmus' now-illegal slide.

The "Chase Utley" rule got some press over the offseason, but it is not until now that the implications of it have been seen by most fans.  When the Rays-Jays game ended in a similar manner earlier in the week, it seemed reasonable because the Rays were attempting to complete the double-play when Joey Bats grabbed the foot of Logan Forsythe was he was sliding past the bag.  But in this case, there was no attempt to complete the double-play, Altuve would have been safe if they had tried, and Rasmus didn't make any significant contact with Villar on the slide.  In addition to this, Rasmus could probably have beaten the force on a head-first slide into second as well.

I have no issue with the call, because it was entirely correct given the rule changes that have been made.  MLB wants to stamp out dangerous slides at second and home, so they will not tolerate runners taking the liberty of sliding past or to the side of the bag (or catchers standing in the lane when a runner is approaching).  I don't blame Rasmus - this is a kind of slide that I have seen hundreds of time as a baseball fan, there was no way that Villar was ever going to be injured on the play, and he has years of instinct to undo because of the rule-change.  The Utley rolling block during the playoffs was brutal, and this was not one of those slides.  The wording of the rule allowed the umps no latitude, and the game finished in controversial circumstances.

Where the outrage is going to come from is because of the relatively innocuous play that resulted in Altuve being called out.  It also came at a very high-leverage time, putting the play in even more focus.  But the umps got it right - by the letter of the law - even if it leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of the Astros fans.  It snuffed out a promising rally from the Astros - and one they sorely needed to establish some early-season momentum.

Man of the Match:
Correa-Correa-White-White is how the MoTM's have gone in the four games so far.  As mentioned previously, 9 hits in 13 at-bats, resulting in a line of .692/.714/1.308.  As Steve Sparks may say "if he keeps this up, it will result in a solid season".  Yes, I think an OBP over .700 and slugging over 1.300 would represent a solid season.

Also, HP ump Tom Hallion, for the best strike-three call in baseball.

Goat of the Game:
Josh Fields, and his ERA, which is approaching 20.  Two 2016 appearances.  Twice scored upon.  Not good.  Fields has a history of being terrible for stretches, and hot for stretches.  He has options, so he may have time to work it out in Fresno.  James Hoyt, anyone??

On the Morrow:
Versus the ex-Stros / Brewers again.

Doug Fister (lots of zeros) versus Wily Peralta (0-1, 9.00)

7 Eastern, 6 Central.  The Astros need a good one.