Astros Series Recap: The Mariners at MMP


Jun 14, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Astros third baseman Luis Valbuena (18) celebrates with teammates after defeating the Seattle Mariners 13-0 at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Friday night brought the Seattle Mariners to Houston to face the 34-27 Astros.

The Astros were riding a seven-game losing streak coming into the series and the sight of the great Felix Hernandez on the mound for the Mariners. He is many people’s pick to win the AL West this year, would have given the struggles experienced over the previous seven games: a batting average of .201, runs per game of 2.3, hits per game of 6.6, ERA of 4.87 and a bullpen ERA of 7.41.

The losing streak hadn’t been quite as dramatic as many external observers might have thought, as Jose de Jesus Ortiz pointed out in this article in the Chronicle. An Adam Jones solo homer in the eighth inning against Baltimore set things off. However, had Jonathan Villar, now in Fresno, not dropped a popup on June 7 against Toronto, the slide could have been halted there and then. The appearance of Carlos Correa on Monday June 8th raised spirits somewhat. The shortstop has looked every inch the elite prospect we’ve all been hypothetically raving about for so long with some great play on both sides of the ball.

Correa’s first appearance at Minute Maid Park drew 32,173 people for the largest crowd of the season to date.

On Friday, Hernandez came into the game 9-2 with an ERA of 2.51 from his twelve starts. He had recovered somewhat from the battering he took against the Yankees on June 1 when he gave up six hits for seven runs and his second loss of the season. He pitched seven innings against Tampa Bay and striking out six for his ninth win. The battering he took against the Yankees was dwarfed by that doled out by the Astros. Hernandez lasted a full 1/3 of an inning, tied for his shortest ever start though his April 18, 2007 outing against the Twins was cut short by injury.

That 1/3 inning is worth revisiting given the man on the mound, one of the greatest pitchers in the game today. After getting Jose Altuve to foul off for a 0-2 count, Altuve singled, then reached second on a Preston Tucker walk. George Springer came up and doubled, bring home Altuve before the Evan Gattis at bat that summed up King Felix’s night. After Gattis had reached on a fielder’s choice to pitcher, both Tucker and Springer scored, with Gattis reaching second on Hernandez’s throwing error. Colby Rasmus had walked before Correa struck out. A Valbuena home run scored two on a Chris Carter single and Carter scored on a Jason Castro home run.

As ESPN noted, it was only the twelfth time a pitcher has handled eight earned runs or more without getting at least two outs.

For the Astros, Brett Oberholtzer was on the mound, with the lefty struggling to get some form after missing most of May with a blister. He earned his win throwing 108 pitches in eight full innings and a 2.25 ERA for the season, the shutout helping drop it from 3.75. With the struggles that one of his fellow starters seems to be enduring, Oberholtzer’s return to form, though he has only four starts to his name this season, would be welcome.

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On Saturday, 36,762 people turned up and, for the visitors, Mike Montgomery was on the mound for the visitors, squaring off against Collin McHugh. McHugh’s form had dipped somewhat after his electric 4-0 start to the season though the signs were there in that fourth win as his ERA crept over 3.00. Indeed, his sixth start did not bring him a decision and his seventh represented his first loss, to San Francisco. In a game where he gave up eight hits for seven runs, all earned, which raised his ERA to 4.33.

This outing did McHugh’s ERA no favors at all, as he gave up nine hits for eight runs in only three complete innings. It now sits at 5.08, and you have to go back to September 2013 to find it any higher than that. Eric explored “what’s McWrong with McHugh” on this site very recently and asked if the Astros might want to think about seeking out a new starting pitcher. Roberto Hernandez, in relief, managed to level things out a little, but the Astros couldn’t come up with the offense to get back into the game and fell 8-1.

With Dallas Keuchel having pitched an MLB-leading 94.2 innings (he pitched exactly 200 last season in 29 starts) already this season, McHugh’s struggles might indeed concern management.

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On Sunday, the series finished with Roenis Elias facing Lance McCullers. The performances of rookie right-hander McCullers may have drifted somewhat under the radar thanks to the explosion of Correa’s arrival. However, his 2.32 ERA and 36 strikeouts have impressed many who might have suspected his call-up from Triple-A Fresno. Though it was more like a call-up from Double-A Corpus Christi, so quick was McCullers’ turnaround in Fresno. McCullers threw five hitless innings to lead the Astros to a shutout of the Mariners again.

The most important thing coming into the Mariners series was halting the slide, stopping the rot, turning the ship around, whatever you want to call it. It was crucial that the Astros get a win, and the two they achieved in the series were emphatic. A huge win against Felix Hernandez on Friday was particularly encouraging given how badly the Astros struggled against the last top-quality pitcher they faced in Chris Sale. Or, to go a little further back, Garrett Richards and Jered Weaver.

The return to form will be particularly welcome with a home-and-home against Colorado leading into a road trip to Seattle and Anaheim coming up before the Yankees visit Minute Maid at the end of the month.

Next: The Astros Exorcised Their Demons Against the King

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