Tuesday, May 10, 2016

From the Office of the County Clerk: G33 - Astros versus Indians

Corey Kluber (2-3, 3.35) versus Mike Fiers (2-1, 5.35)

Apologies, AC fans, but the County Clerk Office was unmanned for the Mother’s Day pink-out, mostly because we were all too busy celebrating Mother’s Day.  Myself, I think that it is such an important celebration of motherhood.  I feel proud to say that I was keen to support some mother-child bonding, so I cleared out of the home, talked about mothers with some other dads at a local bar, and also spent some time comforting women who weren’t mothers, also at the local bar.  By the time I got home, Mother’s Day was well and truly over, but my lovely wife seemed a little grumpy for some reason.  I guess all that celebrating motherhood took it out of her.

But, on a more serious note, the Astros played perhaps their best game of the year with pink bats yesterday.  Collin McHugh looked fabulous aside from one Robinson Canó at-bat, the Astros scored some timely runs, led by Luis Valbuena and Tyler White, both of whom had a couple of doubles.  The final result - yesterday - was a 5-1 win, so the Astros split a four-game series against the Mariners, and quietly have managed a 4-3 home-stand to this point.

And woodnchaknow, effective starting pitching and bottom-of-the-order hitting are infectious!!  The Astros knocked Corey Kluber out of the game before he got through the order the second time, carding a five-run third inning and sending ten batters to the plate in the process.  Mike Fiers had his best start in a while, allowing five baserunners while pitching seven strong frames.  Ken Giles had a scoreless inning!!  And the Astros even played some 'D', with solid defence especially from the middle infielders.  All of a sudden, we have a season-equalling win streak (2 games!), and the Astros are showing signs of life.  Astros win, 7-1.

On the Mound:
Mike Fiers was perhaps the leading candidate to get bumped from the rotation by Lance McCullers, given his ERA and his stamina difficulties at or around 90-odd pitches.  However, tonight Fiers held the Indians down for seven strong innings, allowing three hits, one run/earned run, two walks and striking out four.  

Fiers was assisted by two wonderful defensive plays in particular.  Jose Altuve, ranged across to his right toward the middle of the diamond, made a barehand play on a slow roller, and threw out Michael Brantley for the lead out in the second inning.  The pitch was a big overhand curveball, and Altuve nailed him by a step.  Opening the third frame, Lonnie Chisenhall hammered a line drive up the middle and to the right-field side of second base, and a shifted Carlos Correa stretched out to make a great grab on a ball above his head and to his glove side, then flopped onto the outfield grass to record the first out of that frame.  Those two runners reach, and goodness knows what may have happened.

But Fiers was also great in his own right.  He set the side down in order on 11 pitches in the first, and allowed one of two doubles on the night as the only baserunner with two outs in the second.  The side went down in order in the third, then a leadoff walk got all the way to third, and watched as Mike Napoli struck out swinging on a pitch in the dirt to end the frame in the fourth.  The Indians continued the trend of going down in order in odd-numbered innings in the fifth, and in the sixth a leadoff double from the speedster Rajai Davis resulted in a run on two grounders that advanced him.  A third grounder ended the frame, and a one-out walk was the only imperfection in the seventh, ending the odd-numbered-inning streak.

Ken Giles relieved to start the eighth, and he was immediately the victim of poor D to open the frame.  Lonnie Chisenhall grounded to the right side, and MarGo (fielding at first) initially broke to the ball, then back to the bag as he realised that Altuve was right behind him and would easily make the play.  Altuve fielded and threw to MarGo, but with Ken Giles also having broken for first, MarGo may have thought that Giles was going to field the throw, and he withdrew his glove.  The ball headed to the screen in front of the Astros' dugout, Chisenhall headed to second, and Giles had to pitch around a runner in scoring position to open the frame.

But Giles did well.  He enticed Rajai Davis into a grounder to third base, and Carlos Santana into a grounder to first.  Chisenhall was on third after the second out, and Giles bounced back to strike Jason Kipnis out with a slider away to the lefty to confirm the scoreless frame.

Scott Feldman relieved for the ninth, and he was typical bullpen Feldman - striking out two in a perfect frame.  Feldman looks like a swingman at this point of the year.  So, yeah, great pitching all round, a couple of defensive plays, and perhaps the Astros are coming right on the run-prevention side of the ball.

At the Plate:
Corey Kluber looked alright early.  Like strike-out-the-side-alright in the first, including a fabulous slider to Carlos Correa that he struggled to get his bat within the same postcode of.  Boom.

MarGo walked in the second with one out, but three batted-ball outs meant that inning didn't trouble the scorers.  Things changed in the third, however.  Luis Valbuena continued to show signs of life, with a leadoff single over the shift into RF.  Jason Castro followed with a broken bat double down the third-base line, against the shift.  That put two runners in scoring position, and Altuve drove them both in with a double to LF on a sinking fastball down and in.  George Springer walked on four pitches (with first-base open), then Carlos Correa hit a line drive through the 5.5 hole that advanced both runners one base.  Colby Rasmus (1-4) then hit a line-drive single into RF on a mid-thigh fastball that missed up a little, and two runners scored - with Springer (0-2, 2BB) managing a magnificent slide into home to beat the throw.  Correa (1-4) advanced to third, then MarGo grounded one down the first base line that Kluber fielded, tagging MarGo, but Correa scored.  Tucker followed with a near-identical out for the second out, then Carlos Gómez walked and stole second, but Luis Valbuena struck out for the last out (against lefty Kyle Crockett, who has all sorts of funky delivery that would be murder on lefties).

So that was the ball game, pretty much, especially with the mood Mike Fiers was in.  The Astros managed a run off Joba Chamberlain - who is having a good season - after a one-out Luis Valbuena double.  Valbuena then advanced to third on a throwing error when Yan Gomes (the Cleveland catcher) tried to throw behind him into second base, and the ball got away.  José Altuve (1-4, 2B) hit a fly-ball to the RF warning track to record the sac-fly.  To complete the scoring, the Astros scored once in the eighth on a Preston Tucker double to the RF bullpen wall (on a low fastball) and a Carlos Gómez single that wisely he didn't try to turn into a triple.  

So a solid all-round effort from the Astros, especially the bottom of the order.  The last four of Tucker (1-4, 2B), Gómez (1-3, BB), Valbuena (2-4, 2B, 2R) and Castro (1-3, BB, 2B) all had solid nights, with at least two bases each.  In fact, every Astro reached base, and FINALLY they are stringing together at-bats, and not trying to hit 6-run home runs every time up.

Turning Point:
I know the bottom of the third was the biggest inning of the game, but I wanted to point out the importance of lead-off outs.  Altuve made a great play on a slow grounder in the second, Correa on a hard-hit line-drive in the third.  Both recorded the lead-off out.  When Rajai Davis did reach on a lead-off double in the sixth, he eventually scored on a couple of grounders.  Ken Giles gets credit for working around a lead-off error that instantly put a runner in scoring position.  Perhaps Giles is finding some form??

Man of the Match:
Mike Fiers.  Solid start.  None of the offensive players were standouts, but all contributed.  Fiers dominated, however.  Excellent work.

Goat of the Game:
Everyone did pretty well.  So perhaps Luke Gregerson.  Who didn't pitch, hit, or steal any bases.  Sorry, Luke.

On the Morrow:
The Astros have the opportunity to blow past their previous win-streak record, record a winning home stand, and take the series against the Indians.  Good match-up on paper, too, but I remember Trevor Bauer dominating the Astros last year in the opening series.  So perhaps not as good as the below numbers suggest.

Trevor Bauer (2-0, 5.14) versus Chris Devenski (0-1, 1.46)

8 Eastern, 7 Central.