Last night’s series finale in Kansas City wasn’t a must-win for the Astros. But a win to help ease the sting of losing Dallas Keuchel is definitely helpful.
The Astros should thank their lucky stars that they built a large lead in the AL West. After all, it is difficult for most teams to contend when three-fifths of their Opening Days rotation now resides on the disabled list.
To be fair, though, the Astros are good at the game of baseball. Their offense is downright legit with talent, grit and great hair. The pitching staff, though, is hurting with Dallas Keuchel, Joe Musgrove and Charile Morton on the disabled list. And Collin McHugh has yet to throw a pitch in the majors this year. But let’s forget about the rotation issues for a brief moment and let’s discuss how last night’s win was possible.
In case you didn’t notice, all of the pressure was on the de facto ace, Lance McCullers, last night. His performance would dictate the usage of a tired Astros bullpen. Well, the young right-hander stepped up in a major way.
6/8/17 Pitching Line: 7 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 8 SO, .246 WPA
While the pitcher win is an overrated statistic, it was rather unfortunate that McCullers did not earn the win as the score was tied at one apiece when he departed. He did his job to put the team in a position to win a ballgame. But that is baseball for you; the game doesn’t care about your feelings or dreams.
The statistic that caught my eye was WPA (Win Probability Added), and last night we saw both starters post the same WPA. Ironically, they both allowed one run in seven innings of work. Jason Hammel faced only more batter (25) than McCullers (24). Both only allowed four baserunners during their appearance. They were essentially the same pitcher when it came down to results. Well, minus the four extra strikeouts that McCullers had over Hammel. It was fun pitching performance to watch.
Anyway, McCullers pitched incredibly well and he was also efficient with his pitches. Through seven nearly no-hit innings, the Astros starter threw only 91 pitches. This was arguably his best in this regard in roughly one month. His curveball, in particular, helped him notch seven strikeouts.
I know this may sound blasphemous, but do I dare say that McCullers may unseat Keuchel soon as the team’s best pitcher?
The key point of the game came in the top of the ninth inning with Josh Reddick on-base following his leadoff walk. Jose Altuve was due next and the Astros needed someone to step up at the plate as the team only pushed one run across through the previous eight innings. Sure enough, the diminutive second baseman stepped up when the team needed a jolt following a rather bleak 24 hour period.
Please use any sound a ball makes off the bat that makes you giddy inside.
We witnessed with our sight, hearing or both, that the Astros would at least enter the bottom of the ninth with a lead as Altuve clobbered his ninth home run of the season. In fact, it was his hardest (106.3 MPH) and longest home run (430 feet) of the season per Daren Willman of MLB Statcast and Baseball Savant. By the way, you should follow him on Twitter if you haven’t already done so. Your baseball lives will be so much better for it.
The Astros would eventually score three more runs in the inning, which basically clinched the game for the hometown boys. However, the Royals are always capable of making a comeback in the later innings. I don’t want to remind you about the acid reflux that was caused by their actions against the Astros earlier this week and a certain playoff game in 2015.
41.8% win expectancy
Before Jose Altuve’s home run in the ninth inning off Kelvin Herrera, the Royals held a 41.8% win expectancy. Sure, the basic math then tells us that the Astros held a 58.2% win expectancy at the same point in time. But you never know for sure in baseball who will come out the victor and reap the spoils of war.
Herrera is one of the league’s more exciting bullpen arms. While his results this season (5.50 ERA/5.20 FIP) have not looked good, his arm is simply electric. There weren’t many teams that can overcome him when he is on top of his game, the Astros included. But like I stated earlier in this paragraph, his results have not been optimal this season. And the Astros are one reason for this development. Let’s just say that his slider has costed his team twice in their seven games against Houston. And this wasn’t the case in years past.
I am not sure if I should be more impressed with Herrera before this season or the Astros offense. I will give kudos, though, to Houston’s offense as it is not easy to best Herrera’s slider not only once, but twice in a two-month period.
**Statistics and information provided by Fangraphs, MLB.com and Statcast**