April 19, 2013
Astros 3, Indians 2
Chapter 15: Double the pain
Now we're getting to the point where the offense is losing games. Before we could point at the awful pitching as the primary scapegoat, and be largely correct. But last night, with the Astros only scoring three runs, there was no other facet of the club to hide behind for the offense.
Playing the Houston Astros this season is a no-win proposition. If you win, the reaction will "well, you were supposed to win." And if you lose, the reaction will be "how could you lose to the Astros." The Houston Astros are in the midst of as total a rebuild as has been seen in MLB for a long time. Their payroll this year is less than your average New York Yankees player, and that's by design; Houston is one of the larger media markets in the country, and although I'm not familiar with the finances of ownership, there's no reason why Houston can't have a top-10 payroll once the rebuild is complete. One of the main reasons I believe the Astros are approaching things the way they are is that they are borrowing a strategy from the NBA; be bad for a couple years, draft very well, and a rebuild will work. As has been discussed many times on this site, the Indians were able to rebuild in the early-to-mid 00s despite drafting poorly because of several trades. The Astros are going to try the reverse, although I'm sure they're land some key pieces via trade.
The Astros have brought in a couple true free agents, but for the most part most of the players on their roster are players with less than 3 years of major league service time. Because the current front office started with one of the worst farm systems in baseball, and the major-league players either (a) weren't valuable enough to bring back top prospects, or (b) had contracts that prevented the Astros from receiving top prospects back, they're having to rebuild their system almost entirely through the draft; there was no Bartolo Colon to trade. Their 2012 draft was outstanding, but it's going to take several years for that talent to get to the major-league level, and until that happens, the Astros are not going to have a competitive baseball team.
The Houston offense has been fairly good this season despite making the Cleveland lineup look like a bunch of contact hitters; Astros hitters have struck out 156 times in 16 game, averaging about 10 strikeouts a night. But they've also hit 17 home runs, which is more than Boston', Texas', and Detroit's lineup have. So throwing Brett Myers at this team wasn't as easy a proposition as you might think, for Myers to this point in the season was far and away the AL leader in home runs allowed, with 10 given up in just three appearances. So it was not a surprise that he would give up two home runs; both came in the second inning. First J.D. Martinez hit a two-run homer, then Rick Ankiel follow with a solo shot.
(Ankiel is an interesting player for several reasons, but his batting line is the one interesting thing that I want to look at. Through 31 at-bats, he's batting .194/.194/.613 with 21 strikeouts. Yes, two-thirds of his at-bats have ended in strikeouts. But he's hit 4 home runs and a double, and that's given him a 113 OPS+. )
Myers was done after five innings, having otherwise kept the Astros off the board, so while our feelings about Myers aren't warm and fuzzy, he did keep the Indians in the game. The bullpen, led by Cody Allen, kept Houston off the board. So this was a game that the Indians should have won, especially when you consider that they reached base 14 times (8 hits, 6 walks). The team hit, but they just score any runs; they went 0-7 with runners in scoring position and hit into three double plays. The most crucial of the double plays came in the eighth inning; Nick Swisher doubled into the right-center gap, and Carlos Santana worked a walk. LGFT Hector Ambriz was pitching, part of an Astros bullpen that so far this season has been horrible. Jason Giambi then popped up the infield. Then Mark Reynolds got ahead 2-0 against Ambriz, and did this....
My apologies for the crudeness of this, but it's my first animated .gif, and I'm still figuring things out.
The pitch probably would not have been called a strike, but even if it had, it's not a pitch Reynolds should be swinging it. He should have been looking middle-in for something that he could pull. Unfortunately he got just enough of it to put it into play, and the Astros turned their third double play of the evening. The Indians went meekly in the ninth.