Monday, June 20, 2016

From the Office of the County Clerk - G70: Astros versus Reds

Mike Fiers (4-3, 4.76) versus Brandon Finnegan (3-4, 3.91)

Apologies, loyal readers (if we still have any left!) for the lack of activity over the last few days.  Woodenchakno it, the Constable took off on holiday with the keys to the Astros County office in the glove-compartment of his Porsche.  Also on the key-ring - the keys to the Office of the County Clerk.  Many Houstonians wonder whether that happens at the Chronicle all the time, I am told, but the Chron seems to have and emergency plan involving chimps hammering on typewriters banging out stories when no humans are around.  Or that is what it looks like from afar.

Bad jokes about being suddenly absent aside, the Astros have made some quiet progress since my last game recap.  They lost a tight-fought series to the Rays, then swept the Cards in a two game series.  That brought them hope to meet the Reds after a 4-5 road trip, and after a ding-dong battle in Game One of this series, lost to the Reds' awesome terrible bullpen in extras.  It was extra-innings in Game Two of this series as well, and the Astros eventually won out in another tight affair after the Red levelled the scores on a last-strike two-run shot off Ken Giles.  Prior to Giles being in the game, Keuchel again had trouble keeping the ball down - I know the various commentary teams are harping on about how much Keuchel is improving, but I don't see it.  He is missing mid-thigh too often, way below the zone at other times, and having entire innings when he can't seem to consistently throw the ball at the knees.

Anyone, one win and one loss brings us to a rubber game today.  Mike Fiers against Brandon Finnegan.  Finnegan is the third lefty starter from the Reds in a row, all traded from Kansas City in the same trade (for Johnny Cueto, last year).  That has to be some kind of record.  Which brings us to the righty-heavy lineup - Danny Worth at second, Jose Altuve DH'ing, all RH outfield of Gómez, Marisnick and Springer, Gattis catching, MarGo at first and Valbeuna the sole lefty hitter at third base.  Recap in the evening after a day-game means bullet points, sorry:

  • Mike Fiers!!  He was good.  One-out single in the first, side retired in order in the second, two-out double in the third, side retired in order in the fourth.  The fifth was complicated - HBP leading off, followed by a one-out single, then a Reds TOOTBLAN with a caught stealing of third, then a strikeout for the third out.  The sixth was also complicated - walk, groundout, K for two outs, then Jay Bruce hit a hard grounder up the middle that caught Fiers on the inside of the left leg, just above the knee.  He left the game with an injury.  His final line: five-and-two-thirds, 5 baserunners (4 hits, 1 walk) versus 5 strikeouts.  Importantly - no runs.
  • "The Dragon" Devenski relieved.  With runners on the corners, he got the last out of the sixth, then stayed on to retire the side in order in the seventh and eighth, and allow only a leadoff single in the ninth.  For those counting at home - three-and-one-third, one hit, two strikeouts.  Plus, his first ML save, and not a cheap one, either.  Devenski has quietly been an awesome swingman in the Astros' 'pen.
  • Offensively, the game didn't start well.  The Astros went down in order in the first on six pitches.  All strikes thrown in the inning were put in play, and all resulted in outs.  Ouch.
  • But things changed in the second.  Finnegan clearly had little idea where the ball was going early on, and walked Carlos Correa leading off the second.  Carlos Gómez was having none of that - he GIDP'd to clear the bases.  But then: single, double, single scored two runs (Worth, Gattis, Valbuena, with solid at-bats from Gattis, who doubled deep into the RF gap, and Valbuena who fought off a tough inside pitch for his broken-bat liner up the middle) before Valbuena tried to steal second, and was thrown out easily.  May have been a blown hit-and-run on a 2-2 count.
  • Valbuena's awful baserunning happened with Handsome Jake at the plate, so he led off the third frame.  A dump into the Bermuda Triangle behind first-base resulted in a lead-off double. But then... bad Astros offense (in contrast to the last inning).  Springer (0-4) followed with a deep fly ball into the RF corner that advanced Marisnick to third with one away.  But MarGo (0-3) hit a hard grounder that got to Brandon Phillips too fast, José Altuve was HBP, and Carlos Correa grounded out for the final out, all unable to score Handsome Jake.  I would love to see the scoring-from-third-base-with-less-than-two-outs conversion percentage sneak up a few points.  Like 50 points.
  • A Valbuena lead-off home run in the fifth was the next serious action.  Fastball down the pipe on the first pitch of the inning, Valbeuna (2-3, HR) put a sweet uppercut swing on it, and the ball landed six or so rows back just to the RF side of the home bullpen.  Boom.  Off a lefty, too.  A hot Valbuena would do a lot for this team.
  • More runs later in the fifth.  After Valbuena's HR, Handsome Jake walked, but was erased on a fielder's choice at second (Cozart dropped the ball, blowing the DP).  Springer stole second on a ball that got past the catcher anyhow, then went to third on another wild pitch before MarGo walked to put runners on the corners with one out.  José Altuve was up, and he hit a hard fly ball to deep CF into the RF gap.  Well, with any human patrolling CF, there is a RF gap, but with Billy Hamilton - part cheetah or something - he ran it down, making a sprawling, very impressive catch.  Springer trotted home on the sac-fly, but started running hard when he saw MarGo was going to be doubled off first, and scored prior to the force.  Four-nil at this point.
  • Evan Gattis hammered a long home run off J.C. Ramirez leading off the seventh.  0-2 back-up slider on the inside part of the plate, and the next thing the ball touched was the wall above the Crawford Boxes, just above the lucrative advertising community leaders signs.  Evan Gattis The Catcher (2-4, HR, 2B) is an offensive beast.
  • Carlos Gómez followed with the final RBI of the game.  An Altuve (1-2, SF, HBP) single, then Correa's second walk of the night (0-2, 2xBB) put runners on first and second.  Gómez hit a 2-1 pitch - a well-placed 95mph fastball down-and-away - down the RF line, into the corner.  Kind of surprised Correa didn't score, but I am guessing that the Astros were starting to take it easy with a six-run lead.  No reason to risk your star shortstop on a play at the plate in the last inning to try and extend the lead to seven.  That would be silly.
So that wraps up G70, which was a 6-0 Astros win.  The way the last five games have gone, the Astros probably still wish they were in the NL Central, where they would be giving the Cubbies a run for their money.  But not really - the Cubs are a juggernaut.  The Astros are merely trending in the right direction, now sitting two games under .500 (34-36) and 11 (eleven!!) back of the Rangers, who again touched up the Cards 'pen to win their sixth in a row.

On the Morrow:
The Angels head into town.

Joules Chacin (3-4, 5.00) versus Doug Fister (7-3, 3.26)

Fister has been the best of the Astros' starting pitchers this year.  Chacin is waiver-bait.  May mean something, may mean nothing.

8 Eastern, 7 Central.