Saturday, May 9, 2015

Miscellaneous Stuff

Just a couple of little things that aren't worth an article on their own.
  • If you haven't read the Grantland article about the Astros, read it now.  Heavy on the stats, but it explains nicely how the pitchers work inside a philosophy  and what they need to do to be effective.  What is acknowledged in that article is that the team seems to be for real, and there are a number of areas where better performance could come from.
  • Speaking of how the Astro pitchers work, note what Ben Lindbergh says about the down-and-away pitch.  During the Astros' recent poor streak, I kind of lost track of the number of times I typed words to the effect of "leaked back over the plate".  The Astros pitchers don't have the velocity to get away with many mistakes, and perhaps being less effective on that pitch is part of the reason why the Rangers were made to look so good.
  • The article also mentions the vastly improved defence.  But really, is anyone surprised??  Heading into Opening Day, they had a much better defender in CF, a CF playing LF, and a totally re-worked 3B and SS.  Those were consistently the worst positions in terms of defence last year (aside from first base).  Carter and Altuve have been good on the right side of the infield, in fact, Jose Altuve ranks solidly on both Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating (check the graphic), reversing the trend of previous years.  
  • Plus, they shift.  And the shifts seem to be paying off.  So I am not that surprised that their defensive efficiency is up this year.
  • Gregerson is off attending a family matter, and Asher Wojciechowski is up from AAA to act as the long man.  Chad Qualls is the interim closer, but I would like to nominate Will Harris instead.  The guy is awesome.
  • Brett Oberholtzer will assume the fifth spot in the rotation next time around.  The starting pitchers for the next few days are Keuchel (Sat), Feldman (Sun), off day Monday, McHugh (Tues) and Obie (Wednesday).  The "fifth spot" - the one vacated by Wojo and Deduno - was in fact the third spot in the rotation, with McHugh starting the fourth game beginning the year.  Hernandez was in the fifth slot, but I am guessing that the Astros were splitting their two best pitchers to preserve the bullpen, recognising that Feldman and Wojo were the most likely to get knocked out early.  Anyhow, the Astros effectively move the "fifth" slot back a day, so the new order would be Keuchel-Feldman-McHugh-Obie-Hernandez.  I imagine Obie will be limited to 90-odd pitches.
  • I know nothing about football, but I have been watching the Deflategate thing quite closely.  The propaganda and rhetoric is terrible.  In particular, the Tom Brady camp.  The initial ESPN article noted that "Wells said he was hindered by the quarterback's refusal to provide his own emails, texts or phone records".  The phone records and texts that were available were highly suggestive of the fact that Brady knew about and ordered the deflation, and rewarded the perpetrators.  Brady's agent, his father, and Brady himself all noted that there was "no evidence" of his involvement, and the first two attacked the foundations of the report and the writer.  But Brady's actions look like he has something to hide.  If he had forked over his electronic records and there had still been no evidence, then yeah, no evidence.  But the commissioner and the owner are buddies, and the Patriots are famous for pushing the rules to the very limit, so this will all blow over, and people will forget this ever happened.  Sigh.  
  • Update on the above comments:  Roger Goodell apparently is unimpressed by Brady's conduct, as well.  That news broke a few hours after this post went up.  Much of the penalty may be due to his conduct during the investigation, rather than his unprovable actions.
The Astros can at least tie the series from the Angels tomorrow, and run their last-10-games-on-the-road-record to 9-1.  Be sure to watch.

From the Office of the County Clerk - G30: Astros in Anaheim

Roberto Hernandez (1-2, 4.25) versus Jered Weaver (0-4, 6.29)

Didn't see a pitch above 90 all night (from the starters), but it was one of the best pitched games of the year.  Hernandez was solid, but he was the victim of some clustered hits, and a couple of pitches where he accidentally left the ball up.  Weaver worked around some early baserunners, and effectively kept the hitters off balance by working both sides of the plate.  Not much offence from either team - Astros lose, 2-0.

On the Mound:
Hernandez got the start, and he finished one out shy of a complete game.  He gave up six hits - four in one inning - walked none, and struck out three.  He allowed two runs, both earned.

Hernandez outpitched Weaver early.  While the Astros were running into outs on the base paths, Hernandez wasn't allowing any baserunners.  The Angels were retired in order in the first, and Hernandez faced the minimum in the second after a one-out single and double play.  Johnny Giavotella reached on an error leading off the third, but Hernandez retired the next three to record a scoreless frame.  The heart of the order was retired in the fourth on two fly-outs and a grounder, and perhaps that was the first sign the he started leaving the ball up.

The fifth inning was the decisive frame in the game.  Hernandez allowed 4 hits - all singles - and two runs scored on a sac fly and an RBI single by ex-Stro Carlos Perez.  What is it about these ex-Stros killing their former parent club??  First DDS, now Carlos Perez!  The fifth started with two leadoff singles (Freese through the 5.5 hole and Aybar through the 1B-2B gap on a hit-and-run play) resulting in runners on the corners with no outs.  Giavotella grounded in front of the mound, and Hernandez held the runner on third, and threw to first for the force for the first out.  C.J. Cron flew out to 5 yards short of the warning track in right for a sac-fly, and Aybar also advanced to third on the play.  Perez then recorded the hardest hit single of the inning with a grounder up the middle on an 0-2 count: the pitch caught waaaaay too much of the zone, vertically.  Calhoun slashed one the other way into LF, but Perez only advanced as far as second, and Mike Trout popped up for the third out after Hernandez ran one in on the fists.

In the sixth, Hernandez allowed a lead-off single to that Albert Pujols guy, but he was erased on a 4-6-3 double-play.  Villar has a cannon of an arm.  Hernandez retired the side in order in the seventh, and he looked to be cruising in the eighth (thanks to a diving play by Valbuena) when he had Mike Trout at the plate with two outs and a 1-2 count.  However, he ran a fastball a little too up-and-in, and got him on the front arm.  It was a scary pitch, but no damage was done.  Trout took first, Fields relieved, Trout stole second and advanced to third on a throwing error, and Pujols grounded out to end the frame with Trout on third.  A solid performance by Hernandez, but he was annoyed that he didn't finish the game. 

At the Plate:
Jose Altuve led the game off with a nice little bunt for a base hit down the third base line.  David Freese isn't fabulously mobile there, so it was a savvy move, and he reached easily.  What wasn't a savvy move was the caught stealing.  Weaver and Perez combined well - the fastball was up and out of the zone - kind of like a pitch-out, really - and Perez's throw was right on the money.  Altuve was erased on a really, really tight play, which was a pity because Valbuena bounced one up the middle later in the at bat for a single.  The rest of the side went in order.

A Castro single was the only hit of the second frame, after Carter struck out on a perfect pitch down and away - spotted beautifully.  Castro was unable to advance, however, because of a pop out and a fly out.  In the third, Altuve again singled - this time to left on a line drive - and he again was caught stealing.  He was going on first move, Weaver stepped off and looked over, and Altuve was unable to get back in time.  Again, Valbuena followed by singling to the right side - a hard line drive, but Gattis flew out to end the frame.

Altuve was the next baserunner too, leading off the top of the sixth, when he reached on an error.  He stayed put at first, and got to watch the next three hitters go in order.  In the seventh, Carter struck out on another perfect pitch down and away (actually, this one was off the plate).

Near-drama in the eighth.  With two outs, Jose Altuve was down 1-2, when Weaver threw a slider down and away, out of the zone.  Altuve reached out and hit a line drive into RF off the end of the bat, which dropped well short of the fielder.  Weaver threw up his hands in despair.  Valbeuna looked good in his at bat, and he got into the fourth pitch, driving it to deep right.  Calhoun had to head all the way back to the wall to catch it - another couple of yards, and the scores would have been tied.

Five of the six hits were recorded by Altuve (3-4, ROE, 2xCS) and Valbuena (2-4) at the top of the order.  Sadly, Altuve was erased twice for Valbuena's hits.  Castro (1-3) had the other single.  Tucker went 0-3 with a strikeout.  Carter struck out looking twice on fabulous pitches.

Turning Point:
With no outs in the fifth, Hernandez was out pitching Weaver.  Then he got singled to death.  The Freese single was a clean single through the 5.5 hole, but a yard to two either side and it would have been hoovered up.  The official turning point was the hit-and-run afterward that was executed perfectly.  Altuve was heading toward second, and unlike his stop in the third inning (when he dived back toward first to get the ball and throw out the runner when he was covering second), he was unable to get to the hard-hit grounder.  Freese kept running and stopped at third, and only two runners who scored in the game were on base with no outs.

Man of the Match:
Well, it ain't any of the hitters.  Roberto Hernandez was strong tonight.  He left a few pitches up, but aside from one inning, he neutered an Angels lineup and effectively controlled Mike Trout.

Goat of the Game:
0-fers from Gattis, Rasmus, Carter, Marisnick, Tucker and Villar.  Effective pitching from Weaver, but 0-fers aren't good.

On the Morrow:
Dallas Keuchel (3-0, 0.80) versus Matt Shoemaker (2-2, 5.40)

9 Eastern, 8 Central.

Friday, May 8, 2015

PreStros Morning Report: May 7

TL;DR

*Org sweep as the affiliates go 4-0 last night; cumulative record 66-44 record
*Good team win as a 5-run 3rd helps Fresno to an 8-4 win over El Paso
*Lance McCullers struck out nine in 5IP and Correa had another dominating game in a 3-1 win over Midland
*Brian Holmes struck out ten in 6IP and J.D. Davis hit a 2-run homer in a 2-0 Lancaster win
*Kevin Comer struck out nine in 4IP of relief as Quad Cities improves to 22-6.

Fresno (14-13)

A 5-run 3rd inning helped Fresno skate to an 8-4 win over El Paso. Luis Cruz threw 4.2IP, 7H/2R (1ER), 5K:2BB, WP, and 66 of 100 pitches for strikes. Jordan Jankowski struck out three and walked three in 1.1 scoreless IP; Jonas Dufek (K) and Jason Stoffel each threw scoreless innings; James Hoyt gave up 3H/2ER, 0K:2BB, WP in 0.2IP, and Tyson Perez got his first Triple-A save by recording the last out of the game with the bases loaded.

Alex Presley was 2x4 with an RBI; Nolan Fontana and Domingo Santana each had a triple and an RBI, and Max Stassi and Joe Sclafani added RBIs, as well. Jon Singleton was 0x3 with an RBI sac fly, and Andrew Aplin was 0x2 with 2BB.

Man of the Match: Let's give it to Tyson Perez, eh?

Corpus (17-10)

This is almost becoming unfair. Lance McCullers and Carlos Correa teamed up again to dominate the opposition, this time with Corpus defeating Midland 3-1. McCullers threw 5IP, 3H/0ER, 9K:3BB, bringing his season total to 25IP, 15H/2ER, 37K:11BB, 0.72 ERA/1.04 WHIP. In his last three starts, he has 15IP, 9H/2ER, 25K:5BB. Angel Baez allowed 1H/1ER, 2K:1BB in 2.2IP; Mitch Lambson allowed a hit to the only batter he faced (scoring the runner charged to Baez), and Travis Ballew got out of the inning. Jandel Gustave threw a perfect 9th to lock it down.

Carlos Correa had two of the Hooks' six hits, a double and his 7th home run, with 3RBI, a walk, and a stolen base. He needs more time in Double-A. Conrad Gregor (BB), Tyler White (BB), Roberto Pena, and Teoscar Hernandez (SB) added hits.

Man of the Match: Correa and McCullers

Lancaster (13-15)

A two-run top of the 3rd provided all of the runs needed for a 2-0 Lancaster win. Brian Holmes tied a career-high with 10K in 6IP with 2H/0ER and one walk. Chris Cotton struck out five and allowed a hit in 2.2IP, and Frederick Tiburcio walked one in 0.1IP.

J.D. Davis provided all the offense with a 2-out 2-run homer; A.J. Reed was 2x4 with a double, Chase McDonald was 1x3 with a walk, and Jose Fernandez added the JetHawks' other hit.

Man of the Match: Brian Holmes

Quad Cities (22-6)

Make that nine straight wins for Quad Cities after a 4-1 victory over Wisconsin. Chris Lee threw 5IP, 3H/1ER, 3K:2BB and then Kevin Comer came in for 4IP of 3H/0ER, 9K:1BB relief.

Derek Fisher (2B) and Jacob Nottingham (2RBI)  had two hits each, while Alex Hernandez and Jason Martin (2B) added RBI.

Man of the Match: Kevin Comer

From the Office of the County Clerk - G29: Astros in Anaheim/LA

Collin McHugh (4-0, 3.41) versus lefty Hector Santiago (2-2, 3.14)

The Astros slink into Anaheim after coming to earth with a bit of a thud.  A four-game sweep of the Mariners led in to a series against the Rangers, who have successfully discovered the Astros' kryptonite - waiver-wire pitchers.  The Astros bats suddenly when cold against three guys who have been very freely available on waiver wires over the years, and that led to a three-game slide.  

So tonight, the Astros decided to counter with their own waiver-wire pitcher, Collin McHugh.  His is a fabulous turn-around story, as he celebrates his first successful year in the big-leagues.  Around this time last year, he was just hitting the scene, and the more he pitches well, the less he looks like some kind of fluke.  Leading into this game, he had thrown just over 185 innings for the Astros, which have led to 59 earned runs, good for a 2.85 ERA.  He had allowed less than a hit an inning (148), has walked 47, and struck out 183 in that time.  Those look like the numbers of a keeper to me.

Before we launch into the game recap, I just want to present A.J. Reed's line for Hi-A Lancaster: 3-4, 2BB, 3HR (including a grand slam and a three run homer), 5R, 9RBI.  And while we are talking about minor leaguers, Preston Tucker is one no more.  He got the start in this game in left, with Rasmus sliding to right against the lefty Santiago.  Villar got the nod at short, and Valbuena started at third.  The Astros were scoreless for eight innings, but scored enough in the ninth for the win.  Astros 3, Angels 2

On the Mound:
Collin McHugh was strong in this game.  His outing was bookended by run-scoring innings, with Mike Trout hitting a home run to dead CF in the first - the ball came off the very top of the outstretched glove of Marisnick, who nearly made another highlight-reel play going back in CF.  The offending pitch was a fastball that was meant to be down-and-away, and leaked back over the middle of the plate on a 1-0 count.  Give Trout his due - he crushes pitches like that - but missed location was the problem there, and it probably wouldn't have happened if the pitch was located 8 inches to the glove side, where it was planned.

McHugh was strong from there, allowing his next baserunner on a one-out single to RF off the bat of Albert Pujols in the fourth.  But he faced the minimum, as Pujols was erased on a weird double-play.  Matt Joyce was facing Marisnick on an 0-1 count, and he got jammed on a high fastball, popping it just to the right of second base into CF.  Marisnick got a solid jump, and he was the only guy who was going to make the play.  In the end, he caught it comfortably while running in.  Albert Pujols, who wasn't running on the play, must have forgotten the number of outs, or desperately wanted to go first-to-third, or something.  Marisnick had the luxury of recording an 8-unassisted double play when he trotted toward the Astros dugout and touched first base on the way.  Worth a look for it's oddness.

McHugh also faced the minimum in the fifth thanks to another remarkable double play.  David Freese led off with a single, and with one out Johnny Giavotella grounded one up the middle.  The ball was hit hard, and bounced over McHugh.  Villar at short had no chance, but he covered second.  Jose Altuve fielded the ball a couple of yards behind second and slighty to the left-field side, and in a deft move, he flicked it back toward second.  I don't think he even gloved the ball - as Blummer said, he "redirected it" back in the opposite direction.

But the good play didn't stop there.  Villar had to cover second, and he was turned the wrong way with his chest facing the outfield.  Villar had to twist quickly while touching second, and he got a solid throw off to get Giavotella by a step or two.  The crowd couldn't believe it.  Worth a look.

McHugh also faced the minimum in the sixth, when he struck out two.  He was really solid from the second to the sixth inning, and he managed strikeouts on a range of pitches and in a range of locations.  However, the seventh wasn't as kind to him - a 2-out double and a hit-by-pitch had runners on first and second, but Erick Aybar grounded out to second to end the frame.

The eighth was definitely unkind to McHugh.  Johnny Giavotella led off by grounding a squibber just inside the third-base bag for a double.  Colin Cowgill laid down a very decent sac bunt, then Chris Iannetta walked.  At 97 pitches and a lefty (Calhoun) up, Hinch summonsed Joe Thatcher from the 'pen as a LOOGY.  Kole Calhoun responded by lining the first pitch over Villar's head at short for a base hit and an RBI, and the Angels led by two.  Pat Neshek replaced Thatcher, and Neshek got Trout to fly out to CF, a couple of steps short of the warning track.  Pujols then grounded into a batted-ball out when Chris Iannetta was unable to get out of the way of a shot hit toward short and he got hit in the leg.

The Astros started the bottom of the ninth with the lead, and Gregerson had it going on.  He retired the side without allowing a baserunner, and the game was over.  Gregerson looks dominant at times, and he looks to be a very solid investment for the Astros this year.

At the Plate:
Nothing much happened until the ninth.  Jose Altuve led the game off with a single, but Valbuena GIDP to erase him.  The Astros went in order in the second - two strikeouts.  In the third, Preston Tucker popped up in his first ML at-bat, Villar reached on a throwing error, was balked to second, and that led to an intentional walk by Altuve.  Double steal because no one was covering third - the look on Scioscia's face was priceless - but Valbuena struck out to end the frame.  Carter walked in the fourth, and also advanced on a balk, but was stranded at second.  Tucker walked in the fifth, but was the victim of a force out to end that frame.  Rasmus walked in the sixth.  They went in order in the seventh - two strikeouts.  

There were some signs of life in the eighth, when Joe Smith allowed a Villar leadoff single.  Altuve flew out to RF.  Villar then stole on a pitch-out - a genuine bang-bang play, and he was ruled safe.  He went to third on the Valbuena groundout, but Evan Gattis flailed at a slider off the plate for the third out.

The ninth was awesome.  I was in a tyre shop, having the suspension on the family chariot worked on, listening on the radio.  Thankfully, no one else was in the waiting room.  Colby Rasmus led off against Huston Street by dunking one into RF, then Carter hit a broken-bat liner over the shortstop to advance him to second.  Castro flew out for the first out.  Marisnick followed a great at-bat - he was down 0-2 early, fouled off an unhittable slider, then took a low-and-away slider into shallow left for a single.  Rasmus scored on the play, and the Astros trailed by one with runners on first and second, and a guy with no ML hits at the plate.

Handsome Preston Tucker responded to the pressure packed situation by barrelling a grounder just to the right of Pujols (between second and first).  Marisnick went first-to-third, and Kole Calhoun's throw air-mailed the third baseman, and bounced off the dugout fence.  The Angels were lucky that the ball didn't enter the dugout, but instead it bounced favourably back into the field of play.  Marisnick was unable to advance but Tucker went to second on the throw.  Villar was up next, and he had a solid at-bat, walking on five pitches with the go-ahead run on third.  That loaded the bases, and Jose Altuve hit a broken-bat grounder on a 1-2 count to the second baseman Giavotella.  But the ball was a slow roller and although the force at second was well in time, Altuve was safe at first by a step.  Marisnick scored from third.  Luis Valbuena struck out to end the frame - Game Day said the ball was off the plate, but such is life.

Fabulous comeback by the Astros.  Solid batting lines from Altuve (1-4, BB, SB); Rasmus, Carter and Preston Tucker (1-3, BB); Handsome Jake (1-4) and Villar (1-3, BB, 2xSB).  The Big Bats struggled, with Valbuena going 0-5 and Gattis 0-4 in the second and third lineup slots respectively.

Turning Point:
Preston Tucker, veteran of no major league hits, hit a clutch grounder past a diving Pujols to drive in the game-tying run, and send the game-winning baserunner to third base.  It was a first-pitch fastball, low in the zone, and Tucker didn't try and do too much with it.  I hope he gets a start tomorrow.

Man of the Match:
Strong performances from a number of guys, including Tucker and McHugh, but the MoTM goes to the middle infielders, Altuve and Villar.  They batted well, stole lots of bases (including one each at the same time), and turned a filthy double play.  

Goat of the Game:
Valbuena and Gattis have close to identical triple-slashes: .194/.263/.437 and .198/.219/.426 respectively.  They had near-identical lines today: 0-5 and 0-4 respectively.  Only three strikeouts between them, however, so perhaps things are looking up.

Up Next:
Roberto Hernandez (1-2, 4.25) versus Jered Weaver (0-4, 6.29).  Battle of the fire-ballers!  

10 Eastern, 9 Central.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Preston Tucker gets The Call!

Congratulations to seventh-round pick, Preston Tucker, who has hit well at every level of the minors that he has played at.  With a minor league line of .296/.365/.507, and a 2015 line of .320/.378/.650, Tucker has earned his call up.  And he brings some speed - he has one stolen base this year.

So, those of you who read the recent game recaps would have seen that:

  1. George Springer hit the 7-day concussion disabled list on Wednesday.  This DL is not retroactive, so he is on the DL for 7 days from when he was put on.
  2. The bullpen has been worked quite hard this year.  It has been worked extra hard the last few games, pitching 6 innings on Tuesday and 4 innings on Wednesday.  Home blowout losses double-suck because of the extra half-inning the 'pen has to manage.  The Astros just had two of them in a row.
  3. The bench was already short, carrying three guys including one backup catcher.
  4. And, speaking of backup catchers, Hank Conger appeared in left field for the Astros in a fielders' version of mop-up duty.
Tucker is not on the 40-man, so a corresponding move needs to be made.  There are a variety of them, but the most likely is that Jed Lowrie will head to the 60-day DL.  Someone will need to be removed from the 40-man for Jed to be activated again, but that problem is, uh, 60-odd days away.  I recently wrote a little about potential options when L.J. Hoes was sent back down, and in a lot of ways, a little bit of playing time for a couple of the guys in AAA is a good thing.  And Preston Tucker has been the best of the lot this year in Fresno.

And, given the state of the 'pen, this may not be the only move that is made.  

So, I will be an interested observer when the Astros head to Anaheim tomorrow, and it will be interesting to see if Tucker starts against the lefty, Santiago.  But the time zones are in my favour, and with a playoff basketball series going on, some Texans may prefer to sleep.  Regardless, the next few months are going to be interesting, and Preston Tucker is one of the reasons why.

Preston, enjoy your debut (whenever it happens) and best of luck.

(Update:  As the below commentator said, Ronald Torreyes has been DFA'd.  Outcome awaited)

From the Office of the County Clerk - G28: Astros versus Rangers

Colby Lewis (1-2, 3.00) versus Sam Deduno (0-0, 2.70)

Well, that wasn't good.  The Astros lost handily, 11-3 which meant that they were on the wrong end of a sweep, and were outscored 20-6 over the three game series.  Their roster is kind of in tatters after a Springer injury leaving a shorthanded bench, and a couple of ineffective starts heavily taxed an already busy bullpen already short of a long reliever.  If Astros fans needed a reminder of what things were like in 2012, then this series would do nicely.

Stunning turnaround, too.  On Monday morning, the Constable was either channelling Nostradamus or being sarcastic when he wrote:

Really nervous about this Rangers series, you guys... on to the links:
Gah!  And the Astros debuted a new Left Fielder.  Not Preston Tucker, either.  Fans, meet Hammerin' Hank Conger.

/shakes head.


On the Mound:Sam Deduno got his second start of the 2015 season, and he was... not good.  He hung in there for 90 pitches and five innings, but his ineffectiveness was meant that the game was well out of hand when he departed.  He did well to last as long as he did.

Two baserunners in the first - Andrus walked and was easily gunned down by Jason Castro on a kind of pitchout but was probably a missed high fastball.  Then another walk to Prince Fielder, but he went nowhere when Adrian Beltré grounded out to short to end the frame.  


The second was not good.  Carlos Peguero mashed his second home run of the series - a majestic short to the LF power alley with one out.  The pitch was a cutter which started away and cut back over the inside part of the plate - Peguero didn't miss it at all, and he drove the ball the other way which hit the wall over the concourse.  Deduno looked a little annoyed, so he promptly walked Robinson Chirinos, then gave up a single to Adam Rosales (a hard line drive over shortstop), putting runners on the corners with one out.  DeShields grounded out to score Chirinos - Altuve lost the handle on the transfer trying to get the throw off for the double play, which would have been tight anyhow with DeShields' speed.  Choo then hit a high shot into the first couple of rows of the Crawford Boxes on an elevated pitch away for a second opposite field home run in the inning.  If you think that Deduno looked dirty after the first home run, then his look after the second one was priceless.  4-0 Rangers.

Deduno allowed two runs in the second: strikeout, double to the RF-CF gap, looooonnnnngg flyout to the dead CF warning track, run-scoring wild pitch, single, double down the LF line, strikeout.  He retired the side in order in the third, and fourth, then ran into more trouble in the fifth.  Single, single, single to load the bases (all hit hard, but Prince Fielder - the lead runner - is as slow as molasses), sac-fly (just short to the warning track in CF), bases-clearing double (hit hard to the visiting bullpen under the concourse), groundout, single (hard hit up the middle) and that was the end of the night for Deduno.  Joe Thatcher relieved, and he struck out Shin-Soo Choo to end the frame.

Thatcher got the sixth, and aside from a 2-out triple to deep CF to Adrian Beltré that Marisnick nearly gloved a full speed just short of Tal's Hill, the inning was unremarkable.  Marisnick successfully completed a much simpler play to end the frame.  Will Harris relieved to start the seventh, and his scoreless-inning streak ended at 28-and-something frames (26 appearances) when he allowed a lead off homer to Carlos Peguero.  It was a curveball away which Peguero mashed into the Crawford Boxes.  Harris smiled and shook his head, then bounced right back to retire the next six in order, three on strikeouts.  Tony Sipp got the ninth, and he cruised through the side on nine pitches, eight for strikes

At the Plate:Colby Lewis was dominant.  Two Astros struck out in the first, Gattis singled to right to lead off the second but he was promptly erased on a Rasmus double-play grounder to the right side.  Carter walked before Handsome Jake flew out to CF.  In the third, Mike-Bob Grossman hit a long double to the LF-CF gap with one out, but didn't advance.  In the fourth, Evan Gattis hit a hard line drive double over the right fielders' head with one out, but two strikeouts meant that he didn't advance.  In the fifth and sixth, the sides went in order.  In the seventh, Colby Rasmus singled to right, but didn't advance.

And then... some runs!  Jason Castro turned on a high fastball to lead off the eighth, and the ball landed just fair down the RF line.  He cruised into second with the double.  Mike-Bob moved him over with a groundout to the right side, then Jonathan Villar singled over the head of the shortstop to drive Castro in.  Marwin González then organised for Jonathan Villar to be efficiently erased on a 4-3 double-play grounder.

In the ninth, the flow of runs was unable to be stemmed by the hapless Rangers pitching staff (sarcasm alert!).  Luis Valbuena worked a lead-off walk against Spencer Patton, who was clearly having control issues.  After two outs, Chris Carter mashed a thigh-high fastball away into the bullpen in RF, which was a thing of beauty too rarely seen this year.  Then Chris Carter Hank Conger struck out to end the frame (soooo used to typing that Carter struck out to end the frame.  Sorry!!)

Evan Gattis got two hits (2-4, 2B) and Rasmus (1-4), Castro and Mike-Bob Grossman (1-3, 2B), Villar (1-1) and Carter (1-3, BB, HR) all managed one hit.  Luis Valbuena worked a walk.  Ghastly.

Turning Point:
Ummm, the first??  This game was all Rangers from the outset and it is useless to pretend otherwise.  A 4-run first, and with Hinch not going to pull Deduno no matter how ineffective because of the state of his 'pen, this was going to get uglier.  And it did.

Man of the Match:
Will Harris, for ending his streak, but bouncing right back and starting another one.

Goat of the Game:
Sorry, Sam Deduno.  Game Score: 3.  Not good.  Didn't have it tonight, struggled with command, be interesting to see how he bounces back.

Up Next:
Astros in Anaheim.

Collin McHugh (4-0, 3.41) versus lefty Hector Santiago (2-2, 3.14)

I wonder if Preston Tucker will start.  He doesn't have a platoon split this year (.364/.432/.606 in 36 PA's versus lefties, .299/.351/.672 in 73 PA's versus righties), so perhaps he will suit up in LF for his ML debut.  That would allow Marisnick to play CF and Grossman to play right if they want to sit Rasmus, who does have a platoon split.

Tough series.  Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Wednesday Morning Link Dump

Remember that time the Astros were the best team ever and then scored two runs total against Ross Detwiler and Wandy Rodriguez. Me, neither...

*George Springer is undergoing concussion tests after crashing into the wall making a highlight-reel grab, but no roster move has been announced.

*Thanks to this fast start, Jeff Luhnow is willing to add to the rotation in order to keep it rolling in Houston.
You know, I've discussed it with Jim and there are scenarios where we would continue to invest in this team as the year goes on in order to maximize our chances of not just getting to the playoffs, but being better in the playoffs.

*And speaking of playoffs, with last night's loss to the Ramgers the Astros' playoff odds have dipped back under 50%, though they remain the statistical favorites to win both the division and the wild card. But not if they keep losing games to the last-place team in the division.

*Here is a fascinating story from Bloomberg on the Astros, Luhnow/Crane, promoting prospects, and data analysis and features Luhnow being described as "Baseball's Mitt Romney."

*Baseball America's J.J. Cooper asked seven front office execs not with the Astros, Dodgers, or Twins and found that five of them think Carlos Correa is the best prospect in baseball.

*Evan Drellich writes that Correa and Appel are doing well, but Correa is closer to Houston and will likely be promoted to Fresno in May, after he has faced teams multiple times to see how he adapts.

*Collin McHugh talked about the Astros with Doug Gottlieb (video)

*Vincent Velasquez is nearing the end of his lat strain rehab and is likely to join Corpus.

*The Good Phight wonders if the Astros are a good fit for a Cole Hamels trade.

*2014 Astro Kyle Farnsworth is playing semi-pro football and is leading his team in sacks.

*Former Astro farmhand Carlos Perez, traded with Tropeano to the Angels for Hank Conger, hit a walk-off homer last night...in his major league debut.

PreStros Morning Report: May 5

TL;DR

*A Fresno error led to three unearned runs in a 6-3 loss to Jason Lane and El Paso, despite homers from Jon Singleton and Max Stassi, and Preston Tucker's professional baseball-leading 32nd RBI.
*Corpus enjoyed a 5-run 2nd inning to defeat Midland, and Carlos Correa goes off yet again.
*Lancaster got a lead-off homer in the top of the first...and then watched that 1-0 lead turn into an 8-1 loss.
*Quad Cities can't stop won't stop and are 20-6 after Daniel Mengden's strong start defeats Kane County.

Fresno (12-13)

A second inning error led to three unearned runs, which just happened to be the margin in a 6-3 El Paso defeat of Fresno. Handsome Dan Straily allowed 9H/4R (1ER), 2K:1BB, HBP, in 5.1IP; Tommy Shirley gave up 3H/2ER, 0K:1BB in 1.2IP, and Jordan Jankowski allowed just 1H/0ER, 2K:1BB in 2IP.

Preston Tucker was 3x4 with a double and his 32 RBI lead all of professional baseball; Domingo Santana and Andrew Aplin (2B) were each 2x4. Max Stassi hit his 3rd homer of the year, and Jon Singleton hit his 5th - both solo shots.

Jason Lane was your winning pitcher for El Paso, and Brett Wallace got two hits. Because of course.

Man of the Match: Preston Tucker

Corpus (15-10)

A 5-run 2nd inning put Corpus out in front, and they would cruise to a 6-1 win over Midland. Chris Devenski allowed only 2H/0ER and struck out six, but walked five in 5.2IP. Mitch Lambson struck out two of the three batters he faced; Josh Hader allowed 2H/1ER, 4K:3BB in 3.2IP, and Travis Ballew recorded the final out of the game.

Are you ready for this? Carlos Correa was 3x4 with a three-run homer and two stolen bases to push his slash line back to .398/.468/.735, and going 13/13 on stolen base attempts. He has three straight three-hit games, and is hitting .462 with 5K:7BB in his last ten games. Tony Kemp (BB, RBI), Jon Kemmer (HR, RBI), and Tyler White (BB) had two hits each. Tyler Heineman was 0x2 with two walks.

Man of the Match: Carlos Correa

Lancaster (11-15)

Jose Fernandez hit a home run to lead off the game for Lancaster, and then, well, that was it. Stockton defeated Lancaster 8-1. Blaine Sims allowed 5H/4ER, 3K:1BB in 5IP, and Adrian Houser closed it out with 3IP, 6H/4ER, 3K:1BB, 2HBP.

Fernandez was 2x4 with a stolen base and the aforementioned homer; Ronnie Mitchell and Jack Mayfield were each 2x3 with a walk.

Man of the Match: Jose Fernandez

Quad Cities (20-6)

And Quad Cities keeps rolling with a pair of two-run innings for a 4-0 win at Kane County. Daniel Mengden threw 6IP, 5H/0ER, 4K:0BB; Keegan Yuhl allowed 1H/0ER, 0K:0BB in 2IP, and Ryan Thompson threw a perfect 9th inning.

Nick Tanielu was 3x5 with an RBI; Kristian Trompiz was 2x4; Mott Hyde, Sean McMullen (BB), and Jason Martin (BB) each added an RBI.

Man of the Match: Daniel Mengden

From the Office of the County Clerk - G27: Astros versus Rangers

Wandy Rodriguez (0-1, 4.82) v. Scott Feldman (2-2, 4.31)

The Astros have been getting the odd bit of praise in the press - deservedly so for their hot start, and the seven-game lead that they have built in the AL West.  This is a storyline that will certainly add some spice to May and June.  But today was all about ex-Stros, not Astros.  Sadly, one of the ex-Stros was pitching against Houston, as waiver-wire signee and much beloved Wandy Rodriguez wandered to the mound and shut the Astros down.  And ex-Stro Carlos Perez had his first major-league hit - and it was a biggie - after being called up to replace Drew Butera on the Angels' roster a few days ago.  Perez might get some looks with the Chris Iannetta's struggles so far this year... but I digress (and for good reason, because this game recap is best avoided)!!  

Astros lose 7-1.

On the Mound:
Scotty Feldman took the bump for the 'Stros, and he struggled from the get-go.  I don't think I am spilling any state secrets by saying that Scott will never overpower hitters, and he relies heavily on location, throwing his breaking pitches for strikes, and mixing it up.  Some outings he will get lit up, others he may be surprisingly effective.  Tonight was very much the former.

For the second straight night, Shin-Soo Choo led off with a double to left.  Feldman's 2-2 fastball was meant to be inside, but it leaked over the plate and was thigh-high, and Choo did what he should do to pitches like that.  Elvis Andrus then laid down a sacrifice that Feldman circled like it was a live hand grenade, expecting the catcher to make a play on it I imagine.  Andrus reached without the ball being picked up.  Runners on the corners, no outs.  Prince Fielder then slashed another elevated pitch the other way into the LF corner, and both runners scored.   After a Beltré pop out, Kyle Blanks then singled up the middle, and Handsome Jake showed that he rediscovered his throwing mojo overnight, gunning Prince down at the plate from shallow CF.  Blanks took second on the throw, but it didn't matter when Carlos Peguero took a cut fastball that missed glove-side and leaked into the LH hitters wheelhouse down-and-in.  It headed out to RF, three rows into the stands.  Carlos Corporán then singled into right, but wanting to be generous to his old team, he tried to advance on a pitch in the dirt, and was thrown out easily by Jason Castro at second.

In the second, Feldman retired the side in order.  In the third, Elvis Andrus singled, then was ruled to have stolen second.  He was out, but González dropped the ball on the tag.  Andrus went to third on a Fielder groundout, and scored on an Adrian Beltré double into the LF corner (that part of the field took a bit of a hammering tonight) on a low-and-inside fastball that looked pretty flat.  Kyle Blanks then singled to right field to move Beltré - who had been holding on the play in case Springer made the catch - advanced to third.  Springer muffed gloving the bounce, and Blanks went to second.  Carlos Peguero walked after Feldman was at 0-2 on four straight balls to load the bases.  Then our old friend Corp floated one to CF off the end of the bat to score Beltré on a sac-fly.  DeShields struck out on a check swing to end the frame, and Feldman was pulled after 77 pitches.  He gave up nine hits, 6 runs/earned runs, walked one and struck out two.  Texas led 6-1 at this point.

Kevin Chapman did a stellar job, throwing three innings and 46 pitches.  He picked off Rougned Odor in the fourth, and gave up a solo home run to Kyle Blanks in the fifth that hit the wall between Tal's Hill and the Conoco Phillips pump.  The pitch missed glove side for the lefty Chapman and was supposed to be low and away, but was pulled over the plate a little.  Blanks had it just clear the yellow line in deep CF for a solo shot.  7-1.

Fields got the seventh and eighth, and he didn't allow a baserunner, partly because George Spinger ran into the RF wall making a catch on an Adrian Beltré liner.  Springer was removed from the game, and has been assessed for a concussion.  Fields looked ok - I thought his velocity was down a little, and he got into some deep counts, but he often rears back and throws an elevated fastball past someone if he gets in trouble.  Joe Thatcher struck out two in a scoreless ninth.  

At the Plate:
Gosh, this will be short.  Wandy struck out Altuve on a curveball away for the first out, Valbuena took a fairly straight low fastball (leaked down and in, much like Peguero's home run) and pounded it 400 feet into the upper deck in right field, Springer flew out on the first pitch, Gattis flew out for the third out.  In the second, Marwin González singled with one out through the 5.5 hole, then Castro doubled with two outs.  Wandy missed inside, Castro slashed a slicing fly ball down the LF line, it dropped on the line and bounced off the padding of the stand that runs parallel with the LF line.  Marwin cruised into third.  Mike-Bob Grossman worked a walk to load the bases, then Jose Altuve - on a 2-2 count - hit a swinging bunt in front of the plate that Wandy pounced on and fired to first in time to get Altuve by a step.

And, I hate to say this, but Grossman was the last baserunner for the Astros.  They spent the rest of the night flailing at Rodriguez's curveball, and Wandy gave them pretty much nothing elevated in the zone to hit.  Shawn Tolleson got the ninth, and he struck out one while finishing the game in a 13 pitch outing.  Three hits (Valbuena's HR, a double from Castro and a single from Marwin González) and one walk (Grossman) were the only baserunners.

Turning Point:
Feldman was clearly struggling in the first, but with two outs, he missed with a cutter that Carlos Peguero didn't miss on.  Two run home run, and four runs in the first was the end result, and the Astros' suddenly-cold bats were unable to recover.

Man (Men) of the Match:
The non-Feldman pitchers (Chapman, Fields and Thatcher) allowed 2 hits, walked one, and struck out 9 in six innings.  Chapman's 46 pitches will see him need to rest for a while, and I wonder if he gets sent down for, perhaps, Jake Buchanan, who could be up in long relief with perhaps a spot start for a stint.  And while we are speculating on potential transactions, I can't help but notice that Jonathan Villar does not seem to be getting much playing time, including two non-starts at short or third against left-handed pitchers (which he is supposedly better than González against).  

Goat of the Game:
Feldman.  He will probably put together some starts like this from time to time, and he may have an injury that he and the Astros staff aren't talking about.  Time will tell, but he needs to bounce back if the Astros' AL West lead is going to be a lasting feature in 2015.

Up Next:
The Astros have been involved in three straight series sweeps, and tomorrow could herald the fourth. Sadly, it could be the wrong kind of sweep for the Astros on this occasion.  

Colby Lewis (1-2, 3.00) versus Sam Deduno (0-0, 2.70)

After tomorrow's game, the Astros head to Anaheim.  Perhaps for the fun-parks.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

From the Office of the County Clerk - G26: Astros versus Rangers

Dallas Keuchel (3-0, 0.73) v. Ross Detwiler (0-3, 8.66)

The Astros entered this game with an active 10-game win streak, and a 7-game lead in the AL West.  When it all shook down, the streak was over, but the 7-game lead remained intact.  Dallas Keuchel was nails until the eighth frame, the offence was quiet throughout the game, and Chad Qualls gave up a run to wear the loss.  But really, this game boiled down to two throws from Jake Marisnick to home plate, with both throws probably in time, but both yanked toward the first-base side of the plate.  

Astros lose, 2-1.  The Angels and the Athletics also both lost.

On the Mound:
Dallas Keuchel entered this game as the reigning AL Pitcher of the Month due to his strong April, which involved five games, 37 innings, 3 earned runs, and three scoreless outing (including a 9 inning effort, which wasn't a complete game).  In those 37 innings, his WHIP was 1.00 - 11 walks and 16 hits - versus 22 strikeouts.  

And he opened up strong in this game too.  Shin Soo-Choo led off with a hit on the second pitch of the game - a fastball that missed over the plate - and Choo nearly drove it out.  The ball hit just below the yellow line in the LF-CF gap, and rebounded back into play.  Choo ended up being held at second with a stand-up double, and he was eventually stranded at third on an Andrus swinging strikeout and two groundouts.  Inning over, but so nearly could have been a run-scoring inning for the Rangers.

In the second, Keuchel struck out the side.  Kyle Blanks went looking on a fastball away - right where Conger's glove was - Adam Rosales went down swinging on a sinker away, and Robinson Chirinos went on a sinker in.  Those three strikeouts were on ten pitches - 9 strikes and one ball.  Keuchel continued his strikeout-happy ways in the third, sending Martín, Smolinski and Choo back to the dugout all swinging (on a fastball away to the lefty, Martín; changeup down on Smolinski and slider down and away to Choo).  In the fourth, Keuchel was brutally efficient, facing the minimum on six pitches, allowing a lead off single, then getting a double-play, then enticing Adrian Beltré to ground-out to second.

Keuchel retired the side in order in the fifth (including a wonderful Altuve barehanded play on Adam Rosales' grounder), then he allowed a lead-off double to Delino DeShields (replacing Martín) in the sixth.  The pitch to DeShields was a thigh-high fastball away, and he lashed it into the RF corner for an easy, stand up double.  DeShields advanced to third on Smolinski's foul-out (Springer made a fabulous sliding catch right over by the stands), but he wasn't able to score.  Prince Fielder doubled to left leading off the seventh, but he sat on second for the rest of the inning.

The eighth is where the game was tied.  The Astros were leading 1-0 to that point.  Keuchel started the frame by striking Robinson Chirinos out on a change up away, then Delino DeShields walked on a full count.  DeShields advanced to second on an odd play - Keuchel threw a breaking ball in the dirt, DeShields started to go, Conger threw behind him to Carter, then Carter tried to get him at second but he was a fraction too late.  It was misplayed by Conger a little, and that was enough to advance DeShields, which was critical because Smolinski then hit a line drive into shallow CF.  DeShields got a great read and jump, and he scored from second when Marisnick's throw - which was probably in time if it was pinpoint - crept up the first base line a little.  Smolinski slid into second, and the game was tied.  Keuchel ended the frame after a groundout and a walk by getting Prince Fielder to pop up to third.

Qualls came out to start the ninth, and he was in trouble early.  Adrian Beltré jumped on a 1-1 sinker that was thigh-high, and he pounded it to the bottom of the wall underneath the Conoco Pump in the LF-CF gap.  Lead off double, but he was only able to advance to third on a grounder through the hole into LF by Kyle Blanks because he waited to see if the ball was fielded.  Rougned Odor went down swinging on three pitches, then Chrinos took a first-pitch slider that Conger seemed to want in the dirt, and he popped it into mid-CF.  Marisnick settled under the ball - then had to readjust his feet after the catch to make the throw, and his offering to the plate sailed and cut a little up the first-base line.  The throw was in time but was offline, and Conger didn't even make the catch, with the ball going all the way to the backstop.  The Rangers took the lead, and that was enough to win the game.

At the Plate:
The Astros were facing probably the worst starting pitcher during their ten game streak - at least on recent results - so it is only fitting that their offence went quiet and did pretty much nothing all game.  Valbuena, Grossman and Conger got the starts, with González at short.  Ross Detwiler was in trouble in the first, but not really again, as the Astros bats went quiet.

Jose Altuve led off with a walk on a pitch in the dirt on a full count.  He went to second during the subsequent at-bat on a wild pitch, but Valbuena struck out on a low fastball.  George Springer then walked on a full count - that pitch was a sinker that just missed - then Altuve and Springer combined to double-steal third base and second base respectively.  A Gattis bloop off the end of the bat into mid-right field scored Altuve on the sac-fly, with Springer being held at second.  Chris Carter struck out swinging for the final out.  

The Astros went in order in the second, and in the third (with one out) Jose Altuve doubled into the LF-CF gap.  Martín jammed his wrist on the play diving to make the catch - he probably made the catch, but spilled it when his wrist was flexed and his bodyweight roll onto it.  In the fourth, González singled to left with two outs.  In the fifth, Grossman singled to right with one out, but Jose Altuve erased him on a double-play - a wonderful defensive play by Andrus and Rosales.  In the sixth, Evan Gattis doubled into the LF-CF gap with two outs, but Carter struck out to end the frame (how many times have I typed that this season already?).  The Astros went in order in the seventh and eighth.  And in the ninth, Carter struck out to end the frame.  Just for a change.

No baserunners after the sixth inning.  Gah!

Turning Point:
On a 1-0 pitch in the eighth, Kuechel throw a throw in the dirt that Conger corralled easily.  DeShields started to go, then stopped, and Conger threw behind him to first base.  DeShields kept going, and he made it easily into second, when Carter's throw was late.  I guess credit for solid baserunning to DeShields - especially after the initial lunge toward second had him hung out to dry, but Conger probably needed to hold the ball and get DeShields to commit before making the throw.  A weird play, really, but it was vital, as DeShields was able to score from second, and I am not sure he would have gone first-to-third on Smolinski's eventual single or scored from third on Choo's subsequent groundout.  But that is all speculative, as DeShields got to second, and scored the tying run.  His strong game after he replaced Martín would be sweet revenge on the Astros organisation.

Man of the Match:
Dallas Keuchel, for his solid pitching effort.  His line: 8IP, 5H, 1R/ER, 2BB, 8K.  One of the walks, however, scored the tying run.  

Goat of the Game:
Take your pick - Valbeuna (0-4, 2K) or Carter (0-4, 3K).  Neither were good.

Up Next:
The Astros try and keep their 5-series win streak alive.  To do that, they will need to beat Texas tomorrow.  Ex-stro Wandy Rodriguez (0-1, 4.82 on one appearance against Seattle) is the second straight LH starter the Astros will face.  To counter him, Scott Feldman (2-2, 4.31) will head to the mound.  

8 Eastern, 7 Central.

Monday, May 4, 2015

.500 Watch and Divisional Schedules

The Constable recently posted a fabulous article on the first 25 games, so check it out if you haven't already looked at it.  I wondered about doing this article and the associated game recap, because it would also knock the Constable's article off the front page.  It is really worth a read.

A couple of days ago, I presented the record the Astros would have if they played .500 ball for the rest of the season.  I think it is an interesting exercise, because it acknowledges that the Astros probably won't win 116 games (thanks, Constable) by sustaining their current pace, but it accounts for the wins that the Astros have already banked to this point in the season.  These are wins that will not be taken away from them because baseball has a new commissioner it is not allowed in the rules of the game.  The .500 watch puts the Astros' record at 86-75 entering the last game of the season.

I also talked a couple of days ago about how few games the AL West - holders of the Hardest Division in Baseball title - have played against teams outside their division.  No other AL West team currently has a .500 record - the Angels are the next best at 11-14.  All AL West teams have played either 26 (Oakland), 25 (Houston, LA and Seattle) or 24 (Texas) games, so the AL West in total has played 125 games.

With the early season schedule relying heavily on intra-division games, it is important to note that only 23 games have been played by AL West teams against teams outside the division.  The combined record in those games are 7-16.  The Angels haven't won a game against an opponent outside the AL West in six attempts, and the Mariners have also been the victims of an inter-league sweep already this year.  Only the Astros have a winning out-of-division record (4-2), mostly by virtue of a sweep of the Padres.

So some of the unimpressive records of the AL West teams could be due to the intradivision dominance at the hands of the Astros.  But AL West teams are also under performing - at least to this point - against teams outside the division.  What this adds up to is a great situation for the Astros, with an early 7 game lead, partly built by a strong record within the division (14-5 record), and partly built by the weaknesses of the other AL West teams.

And lets face it.  All the AL West teams have significant weaknesses.  The Astros have very limited starting pitching depth.  Ditto the Angels, plus a hole at second base, and a dodgy 'pen.  Oakland perhaps has the best rotation, but their 'pen isn't fabulous, and their lineup lacks a wow factor at the moment.  Seattle is interesting, but globally under performing, and Texas have been the victims of a crippling plague of injuries over the last 18 months, and are having to trial a pack of replacement-level players.  I would think that Seattle is the team most likely to overtake the Astros if the Astros don't win the division, since they still look like the best all-round unit on paper, and have the fewest weaknesses.

So I am thinking of the Astros' hot play not as the expected rate of winning for the rest of the season, but as banking wins in close games.  It is fabulous that this has happened with the core of the lineup not contributing.  If they maintain a perfectly realistic record from here (.500), they will be entering the last game of the season with 86 wins on the board.  That may be enough to take the division because (i) of their early-season dominance inside the division and (ii) the other teams all have significant weaknesses.  But the records of the AL West teams may stabilise quickly, especially as a couple of the stronger teams start to perform better in out-of-division games.  The AL West may start to resemble the solid division it looked like last year once the early season intradivision part of the schedule ends.

Writing about stuff like this sure beats writing recaps in a 90+ loss season, huh?

What do the first 25 games mean, historically?

Keith Law said on Buster Olney's podcast last week - when the Astros were 14-7, I believe - that the Astros' start was not for real, and that you shouldn't put much faith in it. This is something we're used to hearing lately. "Don't get used to it!" "Regression is a faithless lover and a whore that will give you a venereal disease!" Something along those lines. Well, now that the Astros are 18-7, has that opinion changed at all? Of course, I don't *really* believe that the Astros are going to go 155-7. I don't have any statistics to back that up over the last week and a half, mind you. The 2015 Astros *probably* aren't the 2001 Mariners, on their way to 116-46 (though that's exactly what it would be if the Astros played the next 137 games at their current pace), and who were - coincidentally - the last team to have at least a 7-game division lead on May 3.

But this very arbitrary 25 game mark...is there something to leading the division at the 25-game mark that bodes well for the Astros forcing Taylor Swift to move that concert? I looked at the playoff teams from the last ten years to see how they fared after 25 games, and if there were any indicators there. So let's get into it, eh?

First off: What the Astros have done to this point in the season is pretty rare. From 2005-2014 there have only been six teams start the season 18-7. No team in that time frame started off the season 19-6. All six were 18-7 at the 25-game mark. Four of those six went on to make the playoffs.

A couple of notes: I am extremely tired. My daughter was up between 1am-4am this morning and, as a result, so was I. I also spent a lot of energy mocking Mariners fans on Twitter dot com today. There's a decent possibility that I'm overlooking something very important. Also, I kept the close-up look to the last three years, or the 2nd Wild Card Team Era, when an extra team makes the playoffs. A more comprehensive study going back another seven years, or so, would work some of these kinks out. Had I started this a couple of hours earlier, I could have worked that in. So go in knowing these two basic limitations: Time, and intelligence. 

2012-2014 Overview:

Average 25-game record of playoff teams: 14-11
Best 25-game record of eventual playoff team: 2013 Boston Red Sox, 18-7.
Best 25-game record of eventual non-playoff team: 2014 Milwaukee Brewers, 18-7.
Largest Division Lead of eventual playoff team: 2012 Texas Rangers, 4.5 games
Largest Division Lead of eventual non-playoff team: 2014 Milwaukee Brewers, 1.0 games

2014

Average Record (of eventual playoff teams): 14-11
Average Division Lead: 1.8 games
Average Division Deficit: 2.8 games
Best Record: Milwaukee Brewers (18-7)

Of the ten eventual playoff teams in 2014, the average record after 25 games was 13.5-11.5. You could make this 14-11 or 13-12, whatever blows your skirt up. Only three of the ten playoff teams had the division lead outright, and the 15-10 A's were tied with the Rangers for the AL West lead after 25 games. The Tigers had the best record of those ten eventual playoff teams, at 16-9. The 2014 Milwaukee Brewers had the best record of non-playoff teams, at a frighteningly similar 18-7, and the Braves were 17-8.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel had this terrifyingly familiar postmortem in October:
Upon watching the Brewers' free-swinging, all-or-nothing offense in action, each of those visitors inevitably asked the same question: Can the team sustain that kind of unorthodox attack over a full season? By season's end, the answer was obvious: No. Opponents began exploiting the Brewers' lack of plate discipline and dependence on the home run, and the runs dried up.

*Shivers* Moving on.

2013

Average Record: 14-11
Average Division Lead: 1.8
Average Division Deficit: 3.1
Best record: Boston Red Sox (18-7)

In 2013, the best record in baseball at the 25-game mark would belong to the Boston Red Sox, at 18-7, who had a 2.5 game lead on the Yankees. The Braves, at 16-9, led the NL East by 3.5 games; the 16-9 Rangers, who would go on to lose a Game 163 against Wild Card winners Tampa Bay, had a two-game lead on the A's. Only four of the ten eventual 2013 playoff teams had a division lead at the 25-game mark, and the largest one belonged to the Braves. Five of those ten playoff teams were at least 14-11, but none were worse than 12-13. The Red Sox would go on to win 97 games and the World Series.

2012

Average Record: 14-11
Average Division Lead: 3.2
Average Division Deficit: 2.9
Best Record: Texas Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays (17-8)

2012 is not a good sign for our fair Astros. Only three of the eventual ten playoff teams had a division lead at 25 games, and though the Cardinals (3.5 game lead) reached the NLCS, the Rangers (4.5 games would lose the Wild Card game to the Orioles. The 2012 Rays had a one-game lead at 25 games, with a 17-8 record. They would finish the season 73-64, but would get lapped by the Yankees and Orioles to miss the playoffs despite a 90-72 record. Still, of the five teams who were at least 16-9, four would make the postseason.

2005-2011

Four teams between 2005 and 2011 started the season 18-7: the 2010 Rays, 2008 Diamondbacks, and the 2005 and 2006 White Sox. All but the 08 D-Backs made the playoffs.

18-7 teams:
2010 Tampa Bay Rays - made playoffs (96-66)
2008 Arizona Diamondbacks - missed playoffs (82-80)
2006 Chicago White Sox - missed playoffs (90-72)
2005 Chicago White Sox - made playoffs (99-63)

Conclusion:

You only have to look back to the 2014 Brewers to see that a fast start built on home runs is not a guarantee of postseason glory. Hell, Ron Roenicke got fired today, after Milwaukee's late-season collapse continued into a slow start this year. But four of the six teams that started 18-7 made the playoffs, while two won the World Series. All six finished the season over .500, with an average record of 91-71. I didn't think the Astros were a 90-win team...I also didn't think the Astros would win 18 of their first 25 games.

Are the Astros this good? Probably not. But it's at least encouraging that the likes of Jake Marisnick and Colby Rasmus are propping up the bats of Chris Carter, Evan Gattis (who is warming up), and George Springer (who is at least getting on base). Are the Astros World Series contenders? Not remotely, not yet. But this is the discussion we're having right now. We're not having the "Who are the Astros going to trade for prospects" discussion on May 3, and that's a good thing.

Monday Morning Hot Links

Really nervous about this Rangers series, you guys... on to the links:

*Baseball Tonight asks "Are these guys for real?" which is the new "Houston, you have a problem"

*Richard Justice says the Astros themselves believe they're for real.

*Dallas Keuchel, on the 2015 Astros:
The whole tryout period is over. We're past that. We're on to the winning phase.

*Lookout Landing has 52 excellent notes about a 7-6 loss to the Astros.

*Quinton McCracken is going to Corpus for a few days.

*Evan Gattis says this is the most fun he's had on a team (remember it wasn't three weeks ago that Gattis was getting booed in Houston, so let's be grateful he has a short memory).

*George Springer discussed that outfield-assisted inning-ending double play in the 3rd inning.

*ESPN's Christina Kahrl looks at the Astros' power surge, and likes what she sees.

*Ken Rosenthal's video talks about the Astros' grooming of Carlos Correa.

From Astros County

*The Masked Marvel asks if the other four scrub AL West teams aren't just beating each other up.

*I looked at the last ten years of 18-7 teams (hint: there aren't many)

PreStros Morning Report: May 3

TL;DR

*Org affiliates go 2-2 on the day; cumulative 54-40 record
*Fresno avoids a sweep at the hands of Tacoma behind Domingo Santana's two home runs
*Carlos Correa went 3x4 with a double, walk, and two stolen bases as Corpus loses to Frisco
*Lancaster allowed five unearned runs in the 3rd to lose 7-1 to Modesto
*Joe Musgrove dominated and six River Bandits had two hits each in a 10-1 Quad Cities beatdown of Wisconsin

Fresno (12-11)

Fresno and Tacoma traded runs with the Rainiers taking a 4-3 lead in the 7th, and then Fresno got three in the 8th and held on for a 6-5 win, avoiding a four-game sweep against the Mariners' Triple-A team. Asher Wojciechowski threw 6IP, 7H/3ER, 4K:2BB; Jordan Jankowski allowed 2H/1ER, 2K:1BB in 1IP; Tommy Shirley allowed a hit in the 8th, and James Hoyt got his 4th save, but allowed 3H/1ER, 2K:0BB.

Nolan Fontana was 2x3 with 2BB and a stolen base; Domingo Santana was 2x4 with a solo homer and the go-ahead three-run homer in the 8th, 4RBI, and a walk. Max Stassi hit his 2nd HR of the season. Jon Singleton was 1x3 with 2BB, and Andrew Aplin was 1x4 with a walk and a stolen base.

Man of the Match: Domingo Santana

Corpus (13-10)

Corpus had a 3-0 lead heading into the 4th, but Frisco scored four in the 4th and added two in the 9th to beat Corpus 6-3. Kyle Westwood allowed 4H/4ER, 3K:2BB in 5IP, and Aaron West allowed 4H/2ER, 2K:1BB in 4IP.

Carlos Correa was all over the place, going 3x4 with a double, walk, two stolen bases, and committing his first error of the season. At 22 games, he's now hitting .371/.451/.697. Telvin Nash was 1x5 with a two-run homer, Tyler White was 1x3 with a solo shot - his first of the season. Brandon Meredith was 1x3 with two walks and an outfield assist; Conrad Gregor was 1x2 with 2BB.

Man of the Match: Carlos Correa

Lancaster (11-13)

A 5-run Modesto 3rd inning was answered with but a single run as Lancaster gets swept in a 7-1 loss. And all five of those 3rd inning runs were unearned, so Troy Scribner gets a line of 2.1IP, 1H/5R (0ER), 3K:1BB; Chris Cotton gave up 2H/0ER, 2K:0BB in 2.2IP; Ambiorix De Leon allowed 3H/2ER, 2K:0BB in 2IP; and Albert Minnis gets a clean 8th inning in his second game in Lancaster.

Not much doing on the offensive side of the plate. Brett Phillips was 2x4 (now hitting .358/.390/.621), and J.D. Davis (who had a rough two-error game) hit a solo home run. Jose Fernandez was 1x2 with a walk. Danry Vasquez was 1x4 with a stolen base.

Man of the Match: Brett Phillips

Quad Cities (18-6)

So here come the River Bandits, trouncing Wisconsin 10-1. Joe Musgrove threw 5IP, 5H/0ER, 3K:0BB. In his five starts (25.2IP) Musgrove has allowed 22H/2ER, 23K:1BB for an 0.70 ERA/0.90 WHIP. Bryan Radziewski allowed 4H/1ER, 4K:2BB in 4IP.

Six River Bandits had two hits each: Bobby Boyd (2B, 3B, RBI), Jamie Ritches (3B, BB, RBI), Derek Fisher (2B), Mott Hyde (2B, BB, 2RBI), Nick Tanielu (BB, 2RBI), and Kristian Trompiz (3B, 2RBI).

Man of the Match: Joe Musgrove