Cesar Ramos (0-2, 4.32) versus Mike Fiers (3-1, 4.63)
When the expectations were low for the Astros, I found myself always commenting that people should tune in, because at least you get to see one good team play. Occasionally, in the dark most-of-decade-after-2005, the Astros were the team that was fun to watch. Mostly, however, they managed to make opposing teams look like the '27 Yankees on offense, or the... uh... 2005 Astros in the pitching department.
It is no secret that the 2016 Astros are not playing very well. They also seem to have a similar vibe from yesteryear about them: they can make any opposition starter look like Cy Young. This was the third consecutive night that they managed to lose by a score of 2-1, making junk-balling lefty Cesar Ramos look like dominant Chris Sale in the process. If anything, Ramos was even better than Sale, as he allowed only 2 hits and one walk in six frames, allowing only a solo home run to MarGo. This is the third consecutive game where the Astros lost by a score of 2-1, the fifth consecutive one-run loss for the Astros (dating back to the loss after the shelling in the first game of the Boston series). Their record over the last seven games is 3-4, with a run differential of zero.
Again, if you want a team that somehow manages to be less than the sum of it's parts, this is it. This is a bad time for the Astros to go on an offensive swoon - for the first time this season the top of the order is struggling as a unit, and the bottom of the order has not managed to consistently hold up its end of the bargain for more than a game or two at a time. The Astros' 2016 season could be done by the Rule 4 draft, incredibly. A stunning swoon to start the first six weeks of the season... y'know, the season in which we had, like, expectations. Sigh.
On the Mound:
I would classify Mike Fiers as a tough-luck loser tonight, because for the most part he was fairly effective. His problem all season has been home runs, and that cost him again tonight. However, he went deep into the game (seven frames), managed a WHIP of less than one (six hits, no walks), struck out six, and allowed only two earned runs. Handsome Jake helped him in CF a bit, and Rougned Odor TOOTBLAN'd for an assist as well, shortly after driving in a runner from second.
I missed the first inning, because somehow I queued yesterdays game, and watched Lance McCullers for a few pitches before I realised that I was watching the wrong game. However, Fiers set the side down in order without problem. In the second, the first two batters were retired without incident before Elvis Andrus took a 3-2 changeup that hung a little, a deposited it into the third row of the Crawford Boxes, picking out the only Rangers fan there. The Fox broadcast was all over the exit velocity (92mph), which was the fifth softest-hit home run hit all year, but the short porch in left giveth and taketh away, to tonight it cost the Astros exactly one run - the eventual losing margin.
Two consecutive hits - both with one out - plated another run for the Rangers in the third. Bryan Holaday - the Rangers' catcher du jour - hammered a pitch into the LF power alley that hit the wall about a yard or two below the yellow line at it's highest point. He cruised into second, and scored when Rougned Odor hit a line drive on a 2-2 curveball, driving it off the RF wall a foot or so below the yellow line. Odor stumbled out of the box, and bizarrely tried to head for second despite not running that hard after the stumble, but he was out by miles. Fiers stuck out Desmond to end the frame.
The fourth inning resulted in no runs being scored, largely thanks to Handsome Jake, who started in CF. Prince Fielder hit another 0-2 curveball just over the head of a leaping Altuve for a leadoff single, and he was joined on base when Fiers clipped a leaning Mitch Moreland with an inside pitch with one out. Elvis Andrus then hit a deep fly ball to the RF side of CF, which Marisnick ran down on the warning track for the second out. Nomar Mazara then hit a line drive that Marisnick made a nice diving play on coming in. Handsome defensive work from Handsome Jake.
Another Holaday one-out double was the only action in the top half of the fifth, and a Beltré single with one out was the only action in the sixth. Fiers came out for the seventh, and he retired the side on a ground-out, a pop-out and a fly-out to medium left. Giles got the eighth and he struck out the top two hitters in the Rangers' order on six pitches (Odor on a back-foot breaking ball and Desmond on a high fastball away) before busting Prince Fielder with a fastball that resulted in a fly out to LF. Giles has looked good his last few appearances, and his presence in the 'pen makes the Astros look a lot more solid. Luke Gregerson did his bit, too, setting the side down in order, including a strikeout of Mitch Moreland. So the pitching - again - wasn't the problem, with both the starter and the bullpen getting out without getting shelled.
'Twas the bats that was the problem...
At the Plate:
Boy, this won't take long. Down in order in the first, on six pitches to boot. Down in order in the second, this time on 11 pitches. The third was remarkable for the first hit of the game for the Astros, and it was a deficit-halving solo shot to Marwin González, who got the start at third base. MarGo got an 0-2 elevated fastball that was meant to be inside, but it ran back over the plate. The ball wound up getting just out, just to the LF side of Tal's Hill. Not a cheapie, for sure, and MarGo (1-3, HR) continued to push his case for a firm platoon role against lefties (which he pretty much gets anyhow).
In the fourth, George Springer looked to make some noise with a lead-off single to CF - a clean line drive up the middle. Carlos Correa followed with a six-pitch strikeout - he flailed at a breaking ball down and away that was a solid pitch for a 1-2 count. With Evan Gattis at the plate, Springer was going on first move, and the relay via first base nailed him at second. Gattis struck out on a low fastball down the pipe for the final out.
A Rasmus walk was erased by a González GIDP to end the fifth, and the side went down in order in the sixth. Matt Bush got the seventh - he looks like he has an amazing arm that hasn't been affected by nearly three years in prison. Bush ran into some trouble, walking Evan Gattis (0-2, BB, but who put together some very solid at-bats tonight) with two outs, resulting in perhaps the most promising matchup of the night for the Astros. Rasmus (1-2, BB) was up against a power righty who likes working low in the zone, and I had thoughts of Clay Buchholz or Craig Kimbrel from a few weeks ago. Rasmus was able to manage a base hit - it was a line-drive to RF on a breaking pitch inside, which sent Gattis to third. However, with runners on the corners Tyler White (0-3) could only manage a harmless groundout to shortstop to end the frame. Best chance wasted.
In the eighth, the Rangers brought on power-lefty Jake Diekman. He set the side down on order, although Handsome Jake (0-3) was a little stiffed, taking four pitches - none of which were in the strike zone. The result - thanks C.B. Buckner - was a 2-2 count, and the Handsome one was retired on a fly-out to RF on the fifth pitch, instead of standing on first. Buckner's strike zone was poor at times - inconsistent, especially to righty hitters..
The ninth was short and sweet. Sam Dyson was assigned the save for Texas, and on the first two pitches, he was the recipient of near-identical ground-outs off the bats of José Altuve (0-4, end of his 12-game hit streak) and George Springer (1-4). Carlos Correa (0-4) battled him to a 2-2 count, but he went down swinging on the fifth pitch of the at-bat to cap a poor night.
Pick any of the Astros' weak at-bats. They pop up a lot - the Fox commentary team noted that they were dependant on walks and fly balls, and as a result, they are a poor team when it comes to putting rallies together. Which is why I think some different looks from the hitters would be interesting. Contact guys like Tony Kemp and the old Tyler White (the one from the minor-leagues, not the one we have seen lately) could provide an interesting contrast. The Astros seem too reliant on the home runs, and if the opposing pitcher is locating and keeping the ball down, their offense could struggle for quite long periods. As we have seen lately.
Man of the Match:
I dunno. Rasmus got on base twice. Giles retired the side on eight pitches, getting two K's in the process. MarGo hit a home run. Pick one from those three.
Goat of the Game:
Carlos Correa - 0-4, 3K.
The final game of the Rangers series. 2-1 scoreline, anyone??
Cole Hamels (4-0, 3.10) versus Dallas Keurhel (2-5, 5.43)
2 Eastern, 1 Central.
Then a day off. Then the Orioles head into town for three.