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A fan’s observations of last night’s game


Thanks to my good friend, Charlie from my church choir, I got to watch the second game of the Tom Lawless era (yes, it may be a one month era) in the comfort of some great seats in the club level just to the 3rd base side of home plate. So – what did I observe in the 4-1 win?

Before the Game

At one point it seemed that there were more people on the field than in the stands. There were Astros PR people herding the cats, the Pearland Little Leaguers (who played so well and fell short), a large group from Methodist Hospitals, a group from Charming Charlies and no less than 3 first pitch(ers). A doctor from Methodist, someone from Charming Charlies and most importantly, a 97 year old WW II veteran, who is the father of a season ticket holder all got to toss a ceremonial first (second and third) pitch to new Astro Nick Tropeano, who no doubt none of them knew. But then again they were all thrilled by the honor. Hey, we would all love to be vertical at 97 years old, but the veteran put on a little show by shaking off Tropeano’s “signs” a couple times. Great fun.

In-Game Pluses – Carter, McHugh Altuve and Lawless

Chris Carter was one of the two big stars of the show going 3-for-4 with two dingers and three RBIs. Frankly, both his single and his lineout to the outfield were struck more sharply than either of his home runs. His two home runs were marvels. Carter’s 2nd inning solo shot was a very high moon scraper that carried to the back of the Crawford Boxes. His two-run opposite field homer that sealed the game in the eighth inning was amazing to watch. Off the bat I thought it was a lazy fly ball to right field, but RF Kole Calhoun kept drifting back until all he could do was watch it plop into the second row. Carter now has 35 HRs and 82 RBIs and my immense respect in his improvement and strength.

McHugh was the other star this game, slicing and dicing a tough Angels lineup with 8 K’s and no walks in 7 2/3 IP. He consistently kept his pitch count down and left the game after only 96 pitches. More on that later. He also should not have given up an earned run …. more on that later too.

Even with an announced crowd of 16,949 (as the old joke goes – 10,000 of whom were disguised as empty seats) there was an audible buzz when Jose Altuve came to bat. He did something early in the game that is unusual for him: he struggled to get a solid strike on any of crafty (how else would you describe a 15 game winner with an 87 mph fastball?) Jered Weaver‘s tosses and made fairly meek outs his first three times up. But against reliever Fernando Salas in the key eighth inning he whacked a first pitch double and rode home on Carter’s blast.

New (temporary? interim? lame duck?) manager Tom Lawless made what I thought was a fascinating double switch not involving the pitcher for all you lovers of NL ball. In the seventh inning he sent Alex Presley up to hit for Jonathan Villar (more about him later) and rusty Alex Presley popped out for the second out of the inning. He then sent Presley out to the field for Robbie Grossman and inserted Marwin Gonzalez in the field for Villar, which allowed Gonzalez to lead off the eighth along with getting Villar away from any chance of commiting an error in the field.

In Game Minuses – Villar, Singleton, the Crowd and Lawless

I totally admit I missed Villar starting the game at SS, but he came front and center in the third inning. With runners on first and third and one out, Mike Trout hit a grounder very sharply and right at Villar, who did what he likes to do on easy grounders, let it roll up his arm and allowed the runner to score. You can’t anticipate a double play, so the run was earned, but even with Trout running this would have been an easy way out of the inning.

Jon Singleton struck out his first two times up to sink even deeper below the Mendoza line and then stung a single to right in the seventh. Unfortunately, a few minutes later he fell asleep at 2nd base and was picked off in a call that was blown by the ump but quickly and correctly fixed by the crew in New York.

OK – I have a goofy complaint about the crowd. Isn’t it time to quit booing Albert Pujols every time he comes up for a dinger he hit almost a decade ago? On the other hand I have no problem with cheering and cat-calling him when he got upset over two called third strikes.

It worked out in the end, but I had a bad feeling when Lawless went out to pull the dominant McHugh (after 96 pitches) with two outs and nobody on in the eighth inning and brought in up-and-down Jose Veras to face Trout with a one-run lead. Maybe there is some big stat where Trout can’t hit Veras, but I was worried until Trout skyed out to Marwin G, on the eighth pitch he saw from Veras.

So, it was another solid win for the Astros as they send the Angels packing with two losses I’m sure the contenders did not expect. After a 6-3 home stand things get a lot tougher as the Astros end the season with 15 of 23 games on the road. We shall see how long Tom Lawless upholds his perfect record.

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About Dan P

Dan Peschong is a full time engineer and a long time Astros lover from the days of Joe Morgan to the days of Jose Altuve.

62 comments on “A fan’s observations of last night’s game

  1. Dan P
    September 4, 2014

    Forgot to mention the final score (4-1 Astros) – duh!

    Like

  2. Dan P
    September 4, 2014

    One other kudo here for McHugh. After Villar booted the easy ground ball double play and left McHugh with guys on first and second with one out (instead of back in the dugout) – McHugh stiffened and got Pujols and Hamilton to stem the threat. That was a key to this game as we’ve seen many an Astro pitcher melt down rather than pick up their errant fielder. It was very impressive.

    Like

    • BrianT
      September 4, 2014

      Getting those next two after Villar’s goof was indeed key to the win. People keep talking and writing about McHugh like he’s come out of nowhere. But with video and modern-day advanced scouting, teams no exactly what to expect out of McHugh. Heck, the Halos have seen him, I think, four times now.

      And still he dominates. And I mean DOMINATES.

      Anyone who thinks he’s a fluke is a flake. Somewhere, Collin McHugh learned how to pitch, and now he’s a solid No. 2 type starter, maybe a top-flight No. 3.

      Will he regress a bit next season? I don’t know. He’s not doing it late this season. His only bump in the road period came from nagging injuries.

      I think he and Keuchel along with Feldman (a No. 3 starter if there ever was one) can really anchor this rotation. Add in Obie, and we’re looking at some solid pitching … at least through the sixth inning.

      Like

    • Dan P
      September 4, 2014

      The critical thing for McHugh to progress is more games like yesterday where he goes 7+ IP. That is why Keuchel is very valuable and why (at times) Feldman is decent.

      Like

  3. rj
    September 4, 2014

    dan, did the team see m to be playing with more energy? i am wondering if maybe porter was the cause of some players having a disinterested demeanor. he seems to maybe have been an albatross around the neck towards the end of his tenure. if the team has perked up and appears to be having fun now, that may be the reason why.

    Like

    • Dan P
      September 4, 2014

      I will be very frank here – I thought the team had been playing fairly well – fairly the same ever since their early April / May swoon.
      I could not tell that big of a difference – we again got a very good starting turn by McHugh, we again won when hitting home runs (we don’t fare well when we don’t hit a homer) and we again limited how much we used the bullpen in a win (1/3 inning by Veras and 1 inning by Qualls).
      Hey, when Carter hit his homers they all came over and gave him high fives and back taps – just like they always do.
      I think that Porter not being on the same page with Luhnow has everything to do with his firing – not that he had “lost” the clubhouse.

      Like

      • kevin
        September 4, 2014

        Agreed on Porter. Have we traded Singleton yet for a Groundskeeper to be named later?

        Like

      • Dan P
        September 4, 2014

        The thing with Singleton – two weeks from today he turns 23. I think they need to sit him down for a series and maybe tell him that like Chris Carter he is plenty strong and needs to work more on contact….

        Like

      • BrianT
        September 4, 2014

        Looking at his minor league history, Singleton usually has struggled for a season when getting a big promotion. I think that’s what we’re seeing here.

        I don’t expect him to be this bad next year. And by 2016, he’ll be even better.

        Now that’s a lot of below-average Singleton between today and April 2016. But I think he starts to figure it out by May or June next year.

        Like

      • rj
        September 6, 2014

        i dunno dan, i think this may be one of the times we look back to and say we turned a corner. and not just because porter is gone, but that (hopefully) his permanent replacement is better. better at lineups, better at handling the bullpen and has a better feel for when to make pitching changes. double switches etc. that at least is what i am hoping for.

        Like

      • Dan P
        September 6, 2014

        Well Lawless us 3-0 against top AL contenders and every move he’s made has worked out so I can’t argue.

        Like

  4. daveb
    September 4, 2014

    That double switch might have confused our last manager.

    I think the club looks exactly the same. On Monday night, we had two dubious base running issues and Fowler, in nonchalanting a fly ball trying to duplicate a Willie Mays basket catch, turned it into a two base error.

    As Dan notes, more of the same last night.

    On the flipside, what if we can expect more of the same from Altuve, Carter and McHugh in 2015?

    Like

    • Dan P
      September 4, 2014

      Dan’s thoughts:
      – Altuve – he has been so good this season, it is hard to imagine him not slipping just a little. But…. as he gets more protection behind him – Fowler, Springer, the new improved Carter in one lineup – he may not slip. I think he will start showing more power too – he has some Crawford Box pop and I think he will increase a bit over time.
      – Carter – I think he gets it now – we can do all the “oh he is who he is and he will slip back into the first part of 2014 – but with every week – he seems to be getting more confident. Even when he has been slumping lately – he keeps slipping in significant hits – two big crucial HRs last night. I think he will be a lot more like the 2nd half than the 1st half of 2014.
      – McHugh – I think all the starters are better because of Brett Strom. I can’t tell you that McHugh will have a sub 3.00 ERA next season, but the way he pitches is not a fluke and maybe we should hand Strom an extension before we hire a new manager.

      Like

      • Dan P
        September 4, 2014

        Brent – not Brett – Strom

        Like

  5. kevin
    September 4, 2014

    I have to say if we end up with 70 wins with all the outside PR bullshit this year etc, that will be a great step forward. If we can get rid of the off field negative crap next year, a good MGR, a couple upgrades, and a few kids Springer, Marisnick, and Moran mature, should get 82 wins. Strom should be runner up for team MVP!

    Like

    • Dan P
      September 4, 2014

      Have to have a bull pen with an ERA at least as good as the starting rotation. The bullpen has given away too many leads. Also the starters would hand over a close game and they would put it out of reach.
      We have a lot of young guys – they all need to mature.
      Yes, Strom has made a significant difference – obviously more visible on the starters. I just think there are too many deer in the headlght folks in the bullpen.

      Like

      • kevin
        September 4, 2014

        We all know the bullpen sucks , but what he has done with our rotation amazing!

        Like

      • Dan P
        September 4, 2014

        Agreeed

        Like

    • Devin_
      September 4, 2014

      There are players on this team we really like and want to watch. I hope ‘The Plan’ has progressed to the stage where they focus on getting those players the help they need on the major league roster.

      Also, that single from Carter on Tues night in the first inning was a rocket. Woe be the third baseman who gets in the way of one of those. I got more excited seeing that than I had been about many of his HR. I would like Singleton try to put the fear into shortstops around the league in a similar style.

      Like

      • Dan P
        September 4, 2014

        It was great to see Carter go 4 ABs and have good contact and no K’s 4 times. I was listening to a little of Lawless’ press conference after the game and he talked about how they have been working with Carter to recognize that he should get 3 solid swings in an at bat (less looking at borderline pitches or strikes).

        Like

    • Steven
      September 4, 2014

      Oh goodness please not Marisnick. Willy T was a gazelle in the field too but OF’ers gotta hit.

      Like

  6. Steven
    September 4, 2014

    It will NEVER be time to stop booing Pujols.

    TBH – I bet it brings a smile to his face as he probably remembers that moonshot. At this point its almost a sign of mutual respect.

    Like

    • BrianT
      September 4, 2014

      Respect indeed. I can say “Pujols” without spitting like I do with the Yankees (spit!).

      Like

    • Dan P
      September 4, 2014

      I respected and still respect Pujols – he was one of the greatest hitters I have ever seen. I never felt like St. Louis was a rub your face in it organization – I always thought they did things the right way and built great teams the right way.

      Like

  7. Mr. Bill
    September 4, 2014

    Thanks for sharing, Dan P. Good stuff! So, out of curiosity, how did the Angels seem to react to getting swept out of the Juice Box when they were looking to pad their lead in the Division?

    Like

    • Dan P
      September 4, 2014

      The biggest frustration factor I saw was Pujols giving guff to the umpire after getting called out on strikes twice in a row. They are a very veteran club so I think they know that this can happen even when you have the better club.
      I’m betting it was quiet in their clubhouse. Except for the sound of Pujols and Hamilton and Wilson and Weaver, etc. counting thier millions…..

      Like

      • BrianT
        September 4, 2014

        I hate to tell Albert, but he watched strike three twice.

        Like

  8. Dan P
    September 4, 2014

    Brian T – I was at an angle behind the batter so I could not see the strike zone, but it looked like pitches that were being called – look like they may have stated inside and broke over the plate.

    Like

    • Dan P
      September 4, 2014

      started not stated

      Like

  9. Astro45
    September 4, 2014

    Not that it makes any great difference today, but lets not forget that September 2012 with the call ups was about .500 ball. September 2013 with Porter was terrible. So taking Sept 2014 away from him might guarantee 5-6 more wins.

    Like

    • Dan P
      September 4, 2014

      Well this 9 game west coast swing thru Oakland, Seattle and LA (Anaheim) will tell the tale of whether Mr. Lawless makes a damn bit of difference.

      Like

      • rj
        September 4, 2014

        he cant be much worse in his handling of the bullpen and feel for when pitching changes need or need not be made, than the previous guy.

        Like

      • Steven
        September 4, 2014

        A couple of hitters can get (or in Carter’s case stay) hot, and make him look like a genius, and you won’t know. I truly believe managers can only be evaluated like defensive stats, at the very highest macro level, it takes hundreds of games to actually KNOW if they are better than what they replaced or their peers.

        Like

      • Dan P
        September 4, 2014

        Well like I said – I did not agree with Lawless taking McHugh out last night but it worked. Your handling of the bullpen often depends on how much bull**** the relievers are tossing.

        Like

  10. Tim
    September 4, 2014

    The discussion on whether to start Marisnick or Grossman in the OF next year depends on where they start Marisnick. In CF, he saves about 25 more runs defensively than Fowler and that is huge. However, if they are going to start Fowler in CF, I would assume Marisnick in LF and Springer in RF then the difference is not as big. In this case, they may be better off with Grossman in LF. Of course, this is assuming Grossman improves his offense and Marisnick regresses as mentioned above. Marisnick should be in CF.

    Like

    • Dan P
      September 4, 2014

      If Marisnick can improve his offense and grow his bat into his body size – he would be a good outfielder – if not then he is a backup. But he is really young.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Tim
        September 4, 2014

        When you say improved what do you mean? In the long run, yes, but if Grossman and Marisnick have the same numbers they have now you have to start Marisnick. Grossman has to improve and perform like his 2nd half the entire season. I think he can, but we can’t have another first have like this year.

        Like

      • Dan P
        September 4, 2014

        For Grossman – he came into this season with approx. 250 mlb ABs under his belt – so I’m not going to say he has an early season trend – he only had about 100 ABs early in 2013. He is headed towards being a backup also as his best weapon is getting on base.
        For Marisnick – he obviously has only 150 ABs coming into this season and he is so young. But he will have to do more than just field and beat out infield hits to have a starting job.
        Right now – I would take Grossman over Marisnick just because he has more offensive tools and we need his offensive tools right now – he has a bit more pop, but it is not some big gap between them.

        Like

      • Tim
        September 4, 2014

        We will have to agree to disagree on starting Grossman over Marisnick based upon offensive production so far. Marisnick provides so much more in saving runs. Now, if Grossman produces like his minor league numbers, which he very well may, then I would agree, but I need more consistency out of him before he should be a starter over Marisnick.

        Like

      • Dan P
        September 4, 2014

        Agreed Tim. I like the kid and I hope he develops an offensive game to match his defensive game.

        Like

    • Devin_
      September 4, 2014

      How many more runs created would Fowler produce than Jake from State Farm? What about Grossman? How much of those defensive saves would be negated by Springer in RF…or are we saying Jake would take away some defensive chances from him?

      Like

      • Dan P
        September 4, 2014

        The defensive side of the formulais tough to figure – an OF might not get a chance to save a run for games at a time. Then he might save 3 runs with one play.

        Like

      • Tim
        September 4, 2014

        I would never advocate start Jake from State Farm over Fowler. Fowler is so much the superior offensive player it is not worth the difference in runs saved by Marisnick. Ideally, if they are going to start Jake he should be in CF. That is where he is best defensively. The problem is that is Springer’s best position also. If it was up to me I would go Fowler in LF, Jake in CF and Springer in RF with Grossman getting adequate playing time by starting every 3rd or 4th game, but that is just me.

        Like

      • Dan P
        September 4, 2014

        The pitcherrs would sure love those 3 behind them

        Like

      • Dan P
        September 4, 2014

        Looked at a box score from our losing streak at the end of last year and our outfield was Carter, Brandon Barnes and Trevor . This would bebetter huh?

        Like

      • Dan P
        September 4, 2014

        Trevor Crowe

        Like

  11. Billy Castillo
    September 4, 2014

    Is Springer done for the year?

    Like

    • Dan P
      September 4, 2014

      That is the million dollar question. He was supposed to come back – got re-injured and is working his way back. I bet two things:
      1) He won’t come back unless he is absolutely 100%
      2) if he is not 100% in the next week they will just shut him down.

      Like

    • Dan P
      September 4, 2014

      Yes George Kris Springer Bryant ….

      Like

    • Devin_
      September 4, 2014

      Cubs are also likely aware that a large number of teams are pushing towards the top of the draft and don’t want to create meaningless wins as well as starting his clock.

      As a serious question, how should we feel about prospectively getting into the second quartile of the first round? It could happen with a strong month.

      Like

    • Dan P
      September 4, 2014

      My feeling is if they have a strong month with a very tough 23 games mostly on the road and mostly against good teams I would not mind it – I think it would show real progress. Hey who is to say that the 8th pick is worse than the 5th pick. The baseball draft is a crap shoot.

      Like

      • Billy Castillo
        September 4, 2014

        As long as they don’t draft another high school pitcher with their first pick, I’m good.

        Like

      • Dan P
        September 4, 2014

        I would bet they don’t

        Like

      • Tim
        September 5, 2014

        I agree completely. As much negative press that the Astros have had this year I think it would be great to have a strong finish and give us long suffering fans some real hope for next year.

        Like

  12. 1oldpro
    September 4, 2014

    Tri City swept their best 2 of 3 series against Connecticut. They wait to play the winner of the other semifinal. Finals to start Sunday. Also 2 out of three for the NY/Penn League Championship.

    Like

    • Dan P
      September 4, 2014

      Thanks for the update oldpro – good to see the young guys succeeding.

      Like

  13. 1oldpro
    September 4, 2014

    The Twins and the Bosox both lost tonight. Astros now tied with both of them in the standings. Next two teams on the Astros list to catch and pass in the standings would be the Cubs and the Chisox.

    Like

    • Dan P
      September 4, 2014

      On a roll – the juggernaut not last place Astros

      Like

  14. Dan P
    September 5, 2014

    Interesting series this weekend for the Astros against the A’s. First glance, playing a playoff contending team on the road would seem daunting, but the A’s are in free fall. They have lost 7 of their last 10 and are 7-16 since August 9th.
    Did the Lester trade kill their mojo?
    Will this weekend be the medicine the A’s need to get back on their way or will the Astros hammer in a couple more nails in the coffin?

    Like

  15. BrianT
    September 6, 2014

    If the Astros can win just three more games on this road trip, there’s a path to 73 wins — and only 89 losses.

    Like

    • Dan P
      September 6, 2014

      Well they are winning some games that we did not count on. If they can come out of this road trip on an upswing they can end on a high note.

      Like

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