Phil Hughes (1-4, 4.45) versus Mike Fiers (2-1, 4.97)
Let's not beat around the bush, Astros fans. This was a banner night in a thus-far disappointing 2016 season. Finally a night where the Astros put it all together - solid pitching, shut-down bullpen, efficient defense, hot bats and some damn luck. Hits and walks all up and down the lineup, two players vying for the Astros' first cycle since Brandon Barnes managed the feat in July 2013, plus the Astros scoring 14+ runs at home for the first time since September 2007. So it's party time in Houston, finally someone outside the top 4 of the batting order is actually, like, hitting, and perhaps this season isn't lost after all. The bipolar nature of 2016 continues... the high as the Astros manage a two (TWO!!) game win streak for the first time this year is unbelievable!!
Astros win, 16-4
To cap the perfect evening, the Ramgers bullpen was tagged with another loss as well.
On the Mound:
Mike Fiers. We talked a little last night about the return of Lance McCullers and the fact that Joe Musgrove seems to be kicking the door down to get to Houston. Who stays in the rotation?? Who goes?? Mike Fiers was a little unlucky tonight, but he also struggled to dominate. His line (4.2IP, 9H, 4R/ER, BB, 4K, one home run allowed, but needing 95 pitches) was not strong, and truthfully he was a little unlucky to give up a home run into Jason Castro territory (1 row deep into the Crawford Boxes - really a pop-up), which cost him three earned runs. But he also didn't dominate, struggling to consistently throw quality strikes.
Fiers started ok: strikeout, grounder, grounder in the first, side retired on seven pitches. Two two-out singles threatened in the second, but John Ryan Murphy - whose batting average begins with a zero, dammit, struck out to end the frame. And you guys hate Jason Castro. In the third: double, single (could have been an error on MarGo, who failed to field a grounder on a hard-ish play), home run halved the lead for the Astros (the score was 6-3 after the homer), but Fiers faced four more hitters in the frame, allowing only a single. In the fourth: a single and double was sandwiched around a strikeout, but with runners on the corners, a groundout allowed the fourth run to score.
So heading into the fifth, Fiers carried a lead of five runs, but he couldn't get out of the frame. A lead-off single, a groundout, a fly-out then a walk meant the night was over for Fiers. Josh Fields relieved, and he walked the first batter to load the bases (of course he did) before retiring the guy-with-a-batting-average-that-starts-with-a-zero on a fly-ball to medium depth in LF to end the frame. Gotta love John Ryan Murphy coming up in that spot, but sadly, that is how opposing teams have felt over the last few weeks when ANY Astros hitter in the 5th to 9th slot in the order has come to the plate with RISP.
Fields didn't come out for the sixth inning because the Astros led 14-5 at that point. Scotty Feldman relieved and he needed 20 pitches to slice through two perfect innings of work, striking out one. The fact that he only threw 20 pitches means he will be available again quite soon, if needed. Michael Feliz got the assignment for the last two frames, and he was also perfect, also striking out one. Immediately after the game, Feliz got his plane ticket for Fresno, with the Astros opting to recall Handsome Jake and carry only 12 pitches for the next while.
At the Plate:
Well, this is where the action is, and I am not going to bother recapping in detail. It is certainly worth a watch on the Astros' website, or the At-Bat app, if you didn't see the game. But the Astros were awesome early, wiping out Phil Hughes in two innings (six earned runs) then getting deep into the 'pen. Four crooked numbers in the first five innings. This one was over after five.
First inning - another Altuve lead-off homer on a high fastball that ran back over the plate, and Altuve went the other way, getting enough to send it out into the RF power alley. Springer (1-4, BB) followed with a walk, Correa with a double and advance-to-third on the late throw home, then Rasmus scored Correa with a productive out (gasp!). Another three runs in the second: Castro walked, Altuve singled, then George Springer hammered it to the base of Tal's Hill on the left side of CF to drive both runners home. Springer scored later in the frame on Rasmus' bloop single.
Two runs in the third: Luis Valbuena singled with two outs, then Jason Castro homered. Yes, you read that right. Second in two nights. Another mammoth shot into the second row of the Crawford Boxes. The man is swinging a hot bat right now. Altuve - the bum! - grounded out for the third out.
Carlos Correa hit his first home run since the opening series in the fourth - typical Correa homer to RF - low, flat line-drive, hammered on an 0-2 fastball away, just high enough to get out. Good to see Correa rewarded - he has looked better at the plate in the last few games as well.
The game broke open for good in the fifth. Evan Gattis (1-3) singled up the middle, MarGo followed with a walk, and Luis Valbuena sac-bunted (really, a drag bunt for an attempted hit) with a 5-run lead. Hmmm. Jason Castro walked to load the bases, then Jose Altuve (3-5, 2B, HR) doubled to the RF power alley, with the ball hitting mid-way up the fence in front of the Houston bullpen. Two runs scored. After Springer flew out, Carlos Correa (3-5, 2B, HR) singled into LF, scoring another, then Colby Rasmus (1-4, BB) walked to load the bases for Carlos Gómez who hit a ground ball up the middle that rebounded off second base into short RF. Two runners scored, Gómez (1-5, BB) went to second on the cheapest double ever, and the Astros took an 11-run lead.
The remaining runs scored in the eighth, when the Twins recorded the first two outs without problem on strikeouts (Gómez and Gattis). But MarGo (0-3, 2BB) and Valbeuna (1-3, BB) walked, and Jason Castro hammered a line-drive that split the gap perfectly to score both players. Ryan Pressly, clearly frustrated at a long night and his inability to retire Castro (he's a bum, donchaknow) jawed at the umpire on his way off the mound, got tossed, and soon had company when Paul Molitor was tossed as well. All a bit unnecessary from the umps, really.
Shocking development, as the Astros managed a 6-13 record with RISP. Overall they walked seven times and recorded 14 hits, eight of which were for extra-bases. This was a nice bounce-back for a beleaguered Astros offense, but they seem calmer and more patient at the plate (and have done since they won with two hits in Oakland) and seem to be putting better at-bats together.
The first inning was huge. Five pitches in, and the Astros had a 1-0 lead. But they didn't stop there, with George Springer drawing a full-count walk, Carlos Correa hitting a line-drive into the LF corner on a 2-2 curveball, and Colby Rasmus getting enough to bring Carlos Correa home from third. For the second night in a row, the Twins starter was gone before the third inning was complete, and the Astros had a second chance to rummage around in the Twins bullpen. Carnage.
Man of the Match:
I asked for "Castro is a bum" comments last recap, but didn't get any. C'mon! So I have to up the ante. MoTM for Castro tonight, who is now raking to the tune of .210/.347/.403. Raking!! His night was plenty good: 2-3, 2xBB, 2B, HR, 4RBI. Perhaps we should trade him for John Ryan Murphy, whose batting average starts with a zero.
Goat of the Game:
I still have plenty of worries about the Astros (Gómez, DH's, corner infielders, starting pitchers) but this game does not warrant a goat tonight.
On the Morrow:
So the division leading Mariners roll into town for a four-game set. They currently lead the Ramgers by 1.5 and the Astros by 6.5. Chance to make up some ground, guys.
Wade Miley (2-2, 5.06) versus Chris Devenski (0-1, 1.45)
8 Eastern, 7 Central.