Dallas Keuchel (6-11, 4.86) versus Martín Pérez (7-7, 4.22)
So the Astros have struggled since July 24, when they beat up on the Angels, 13-3. Since then, they have gone 2-8, scoring 1, 3, 4, 6, 2, 0, 2, 1, 1, and 1 runs in the process. The Astros scored 5 runs in the Blue Jays series, with the TV announcers talking about the size of the strike zone throughout that series. Brooks Baseball isn't super convinced that the strike zone was as bad as Alan Ashby was describing - I think that it would be more accurate to say that the Astros have had a stars-and-scrubs offense all year, that Springer, Altuve and Correa have been consistently fabulous, and they have been surrounded by guys who have had hot streaks, but have generally been bad. Injuries to a hot Luis Valbuena and MarGo haven't helped, either, so cold streaks from the core and a couple of injuries seem to account nicely for the struggles in the Tigers and Blue Jays series. Throw in a couple of awful starts, and that seems to be the formula.
The Astros needed a bounce-back performance from the offensive side. Dallas Keuchel also needed a bounce-back performance after his poor performance against the Tigers five days ago. This series, after all, is pretty darn important. Both of those bounce-backs happened, too as the Astros rode a shutout by Keuchel to a 5-0 win. This was the second complete game by an Astros pitcher this year. Martín Pérez was pretty solid as he was scored upon in only two innings as this game flew by - done and dusted in only 2 hours, 14 minutes. Let's start the recap with the...
The turning point was the bottom of the third inning. Handsome Jake was leading off, and he reached on a single to LF. Gorgeous George (Springer) followed with a line-out to CF - itself a hard-hit ball. Attractive Alex (Bregman) worked a walk as a result of Pérez losing control of the strike zone, missing low and away a bunch of times in the at-bat. That put runners on first and second for José Altuve, and he took an elevated cut fastball inside, hitting a hard ground ball down the LF line. The ball eluded the glove of a diving Adrian Beltré, and skittled into the corner for a double, scoring Handsome Jake, and putting runners on second and third. Carlos Correa followed with a line drive into RF on a fastball down-and-away, scoring both runners (including Alex Bregman, who scored his first ML run). After Evan Gattis singled to LF (Correa had to stop at second, because it was hit so hard), Tyler White followed with a single through the 5.5 hole that scored Correa easily (despite DeShields' throw). Still only one out, but MarGo, who managed to string together a truly horrible set of at-bats in this game, GIDP'd to end the frame. Five straight reached against Pérez on a walk, a double and three singles. If MarGo hadn't of GIDP'd, the Astros may have found themselves knee-deep in the Ramgers bullpen shortly afterward.
Let's move on to looking at the Astros' offense as a whole...
At the Plate:
The Astros managed nine hits and three walks overall, but also erased runners via two double-plays in the process. Things looked ominous early, after Keuchel struggled through the top of the first, and Pérez cruised through the bottom half of the first on seven pitches. The Astros were obviously up there hacking early, and when Pérez kept the ball down, the results were soft grounders early in the count. However, from the second and third innings (the latter of which is discussed above), the Astros started to work some walks and get some decent contact. A Correa (1-3, BB) walk led of the second, then Evan Gattis followed with a single on a line drive into RF. Tyler White (1-4) grounded back to the mound - Pérez fielded and went to third to get the lead runner - then MarGo struck out swinging on three pitches. Gómez grounded out to end the second.
An Altuve walk accounted for the only baserunner in the Astros' halves of the fourth, fifth and sixth. In the seventh, the Astros scored their other run. Handsome Jake (1-3) was safe on an Adrian Beltré throwing error, and he advanced to second when George Springer singled on a sinking line drive to LF. A Bregman (0-3, BB) bunt that was popped back to the mound - Marisnick was caught in no-man's land and doubled off - threatening to kill the inning. But then José Altuve (2-3, 2x2B, BB) took a fastball down-and-away and hammered it to the RF power alley, bouncing off the bullpen fence. George Springer was off to the races, and he scored without a throw for the fifth run of the game.
The only remaining hit was an Evan Gattis (3-4, 2B) double leading off the eighth. He didn't advance, however, because the Astros are the Astros, and they manage to string together some awful at-bats at times.
On the Mound:
Also, Man of the Match Dallas Keuchel was pretty darn good. He struggled in the first inning, perhaps leaning on sequencing to avoid giving up a run. Shin-Soo Choo singled past Altuve to lead off the game, but then Ian Desmond grounded it right to Altuve, who erased the leadoff single with a 4-unassisted-3 double-play. Carlos the Jackal then doubled down the LF line - at this point, Keuchel had left a couple of pitches up, and seemingly couldn't locate down in the zone, with perhaps some squeezing from the HP ump. With first base open, Keuchel walked Beltré on five pitches (all the balls were low), and after a wild pitch advanced both runners, Rougned Odor grounded to first base for the last out.
Whatever Keuchel worked on between innings worked. He retired the side in order in the second, needing only 10 pitches to do so. Four of the next seven innings were decided on 10 pitches or less, including seven pitches in the fourth, nine in the sixth and eighth, and 10 in the ninth. He set down 11 in a row before walking Robinson Chirinos in the fifth, and even that was with the help of the HP ump who missed two callable strike-three pitches (one which was clearly in the strike zone). The next batter to reach was in the seventh, on a strikeout, when Rougned Odor whiffed on a slider that Evan Gattis let escape between his legs. After that, only an Adrian Beltré two-out double into the LF power alley caused any concern for Astros fans, but he was stranded when Rougned Odor rolled over one to the right side, grounding out to that side for the third time in the game.
So a 111-pitch complete game shutout, with three hits (two in the first inning, one in the ninth), two walks and seven strikeouts. Keuchel kept the ball on the ground at an impressive rate: 19-2 on the night. This was a performance sorely needed by both him and the Astros, and after a gimpy first inning, it was a joy to watch.
Goat of the Game:
MarGo put together four of the worst at-bats I have seen this year. Granted, he is a little rusty, but man, he was awful tonight. In four plate appearances, he GIDP'd and struck out three times.
His at-bat in the second inning typified his night. With runners on first and second, MarGo watched a fat back-door breaking ball that was elevated sail past in the strike zone. He whiffed on the next two pitches - the second a back-foot slider, and the third a slider in the dirt. He just didn't look comfortable at the plate, and seemed to have a lot of trouble picking up the breaking ball. It was ugly.
On the Morrow:
Another big game against the Ramgers. Not quite a season-definer, but starting to get close. And, to sweeten the deal, ex-Stro Lucas Harrell makes an appearance at MMP for the first time in a while. The matchup is:
Newly minted father (and congrats, BTW) Doug Fister (10-7, 3.56) versus Lucas Harrell (3-2, 3.57)
Battle of the sinkerballets. Expect lots of lefty hitters on both sides.
7 Eastern, 6 Central.