Saturday, May 21, 2016

From the Office of the County Clerk - G43: Astros versus Rangers

Colby Lewis (2-0, 3.12) versus Lance McCullers Jr (0-0, 9.64)

The Astros were looking to start a home stand on the right note against a Rangers team that struggled getting swept by the Oakland A's, seem cool offensively, and have a bullpen in tatters at the moment.  Plus, the Rangers were starting a righty junkballer on the mound who struggles to pump gas anywhere in the 90's, with occasional home run difficulties.  Plus, the Astros were starting their own righty pitching phenom, who has the stuff to strike out any player in the game, with a wicked breaking pitch that he can add or subtract on, and a riding fastball that occasionally nears three figures on the gun.  Recipe for a great Friday night, huh??

No, not really.  Best laid plans going to waste and all of that.  The Astros pretty much replicated last nights' efforts against Colby Lewis, who I definitely undersold above, and that is without considering that he turns into Cy Young against the Astros.  Lewis sliced through the Astros again, recording multiple outs on weak contact, painting the corners, and never really being threatened at any point in the game.  The Ramgers didn't exactly score many runs themselves, so this game was over in just over two-and-one-half hours, with the result being not what the Astros wanted, a 2-1 loss.  The game wasn't long, and neither will be this recap...

On the Mound:
Lance McCullers made his second start of the year, and I gained the distinct impression that he still has some improving to do.  Not that he wasn't good in the final wash-up - his line was 6IP, 8 baserunners (5 hits and three walks) against seven strikeouts.  He allowed two earned runs, both on one swing of the bat.  However, he scuffled early with his fastball command, and seemed to be best able to throw his breaking pitch for strikes.  Later in the game, he seemed to throw the fastball in better spots, but frankly he got away with too many pitches in the middle of the plate.

As a case in point, McCullers' first three pitches were balls: to Shin-Soo Choo, who later walked.  However, the next three batters went down in order to strand Choo at second base.  In the second, Rougned Odor singled against the shift to open the frame, then Mitch Moreland went down on a nasty back-foot breaking pitch for the first out.  On the following batter, McCullers looked to have a strike-'em-out-throw-'em-out DP to end the frame, but the second base umpire apparently called a balk just prior to the 3-2 pitch that was called a strike.  Confusion reigned, and Alan Ashby was apoplectic, but McCullers had come to a stop with his glove at his belt, then come to a stop again in a high set, and this seemed to be the basis on which the balk was called.

Gosh, I thought, this is going to matter, and Odor is again in the middle of it (having been tagged out on the 'steal').  But no - Mazara grounded to second, and Bobby Wilson popped up to end the frame.

The third inning was the deciding inning of the game.  McCullers opened the frame by enticing Elvis Andrus to fly out to CF.  Then Choo walked on a full strike count - McCullers throw a fastball or changeup that ran just off the plate.  Ian Desmond singled to CF to put runners on first and second, bringing Prince Fielder up for the second time.  Alan Ashby hinted the first time that Fielder was up that the new "book" on him was to hammer him inside with hard stuff, and he kind of couldn't believe that McCullers hadn't done that in his first at-bat.  Well, McCullers made Ashby look like the Oracle, because Fielder lined a fastball down-and-away the other way, just to the CF side of the Crawford Boxes.  Tony Kemp was there, but his jump was in vain, and the ball got over his head.  Choo scored, and Desmond would have been dead-to-rights at the plate had the relay play not sailed (and Ian Desmond ran through the stop sign anyhow) so Fielder pulled into second with a double.  Kemp's throw from the wall was also a little weak, and in this case, two bad throws combined to pretty much cost the Astros the game.

Adrian Beltré then struck out on three pitches (all breaking balls) for the second out, and Rougned Odor flew out to the LF power alley, with Rasmus (starting in CF) completing a fine running catch to keep the remainder of the inning scoreless.

In the fourth, the Astros successfully completed a relay throw to erase a runner (Nomar Mazara) at the plate.  Mazara was on first with Elvis Andrus at the plate, and Andrus hit a hard grounder down the LF line on a low breaking pitch from McCullers.  Kemp got to it in the corner, relayed to Correa, and Correa made a good throw to a well-positioned Castro, who got the tag on Mazara about three yards before the plate.  McCullers then settled down, allowing only a two out walk to Prince Fielder and retiring the side in order (with two strikeouts) to close the sixth, and end his night.

Michael Feliz took over, and he shut the Ramgers down for the last three innings.  Nine up, nine down, six strikeouts.  Three perfect frames.  Five K's on his fastball, one on a back-foot breaking pitch.  Feliz looked great, although he was ably assisted by Rasmus coming in and making a diving catch in CF on a Prince Fielder bloop.

At the Plate:
Lots of weak contact was the story of the night for the Astros, who were also often hacking early in counts.  Lewis was locating well - lots of pitches just off the plate - and the Astros were doing a good job of locating fielders when they were making hard contact.  The Astros managed only six baserunners - all hits - and two of those occurred in the ninth frame.  This wasn't their most impressive offensive performance, that is for sure.

George Springer (1-4) reached on an infield grounder in the first (Lewis tried to make a behind-the-back grab but missed), but he went nowhere as Carlos Correa grounded into a fielder's choice, and Colby Rasmus struck out swinging.  The side was retired in order on eight pitches in the second, with the TV guys wondering whether the open roof knocked down Colin Moran's fly-ball the other way, leading it to be caught on the warning track just in front of the scoreboard.  Jason Castro (1-3) singled leading off the third on a hard-hit liner to CF, but he was erased on the next pitch as Tony Kemp (0-2) GIDP'd.  Carlos Correa singled to CF - a dropping line drive - with one out in the fourth.  He then stole second, and all that did was give him a better view to watch Rasmus K and Gattis pop up on the first pitch to retire the side.  Lewis faced the minimum in the fifth and sixth as well.

Some drama in the seventh - Carlos Correa (1-4) opened the frame by hitting a clean line drive up the middle.  The ball caught the back of Colby Lewis' head, rebounded high into the air, and was caught in shallow CF to complete the out.  Lewis wasn't even staggered, and after a couple of warm-up tosses, he got back to work to record another scoreless frame.  He may have been pulled for precautionary reasons (after 93 pitches) to open the eighth, because Jake Diekmann came out and set the side down in order.  In the ninth, a José Altuve (1-4, 2B) double down the RF line to lead off was followed by a two-out Rasmus (1-4, RBI) single resulted in the only run of the game.  Evan Gattis (1-4) made it interesting by engaging in an 8 pitch battle with newly anointed closer Sam Dyson, but he struck out with the tying run on first to end the game.

Turning Point:
Perhaps the relay throw from the unknown Astro in the third inning.  Tony Kemp had the ball get behind him on a line drive the other way off the bat of Prince Fielder.  He eventually rescued the ball from the corner between the Crawford Boxes and the visiting bullpen.  Kemp didn't get much on the throw but he seemed to hit the cut-off man.  The relay was way too high - I didn't see who threw the relay, but I am pretty sure it was an Astro.  The ball sailed, got away from Castro, and Ian Desmond (who ran through a stop sign) scored without a play.  Sigh... little details again cost the Astros.

Man of the Match:
Michael Feliz, especially given no one did anything offensively.  He retired nine hitters in order, six on strikeouts.  I wonder about a tandem start with Feliz, Devenski and Feldman all getting three innings each.  Hmmmm...

Goat of the Game:
Any Astro holding a bat.  Lewis deserves some credit, but watching the Astros hack away was painful for the second game in a row.  At least you can see how Chris Sale dominates.  A couple of weeks in an offensive slump, and the Astros' 2016 could be gone.

Up Next:
versus the Ramgers for Game 2 of the series.

Cesar Ramos (0-2, 4.32) versus Mike Fiers (3-1, 4.63)

7 Eastern, 6 Central.  

The game is televised nationally on Fox.