Feb 052011

This was written and sent to some email friends 12/13/2010. I am in the process of doing the writeup on the Astros, and I came across these games, and remembered the previous summary. I reproduce it here to 1) remind those who read it months ago and 2) offer it to any who may have joined us since. I will reference it in the main Astros article, but obviously this is described in MUCH greater detail than it will be in that post.

By pretty much any measure, the Houston Astros did not have a good year in 2010. Their 76 wins were “good” for fourth place in the NL Central, but only because they share a division with the Pirates, who lost 105 games, and the Cubs, who won one game fewer in a disastrous season. By season’s end they had parted company with the last of the killer B’s (Lance Berkman), their best hitter, and also with Roy Oswalt, clearly their best pitcher. (TRIVIA QUESTION: Oswalt’s 142 wins as an Astro is NOT the franchise record. Who has 143?). Two regulars had offensive seasons that were among the worst in baseball (Catcher Humberto Quintero had an OPS+ of 59 in 88 games, and second-baseman Jeff Keppinger had an OPS+ of 47 (!!) in 137 games, 575 plate appearances!). Pedro Feliz chipped in an OPS+ of 52 in 304 PA himself. Ugh!

But, I have recently discovered, there WAS a ray of sunshine in the Astros season, and I propose to highlight it at unconscionable length, just because I can. You don’t HAVE to read it, of course!

On August 10, JA Happ started for Houston, his second start since arriving in the Roy Oswalt trade. Happ was great, pitching into the 7th inning, allowing only 1 hit in 6 innings, but the game was still scoreless when he took the mound in the seventh, and he was pulled after allowing walk, strikeout, walk, single scoring a run. Lopez came in, got Melky to hit into a DP, and Happ had a GS 62 which was 69 after 6 innings. The Astros rallied for 2 in the 8th to take Happ off the hook, and Lindstrom came in to save it. Unfortunately, his idea of a save turned out to be single, home run, strikeout, groundout, home run and the Astros lost 4-2.

On August 11,  Wandy Rodriguez started and threw 7 strong innings, allowing 5 hits and 2 runs, only one of them earned. He left, however, trailing 2-1. Amazingly, the Astros tied the game in the bottom of the ninth off Wagner on single, single, sac fly, taking Wandy off the hook. Lyon, who had pitched a perfect 9th, was a bit less perfect in the top of the 10th, as the Braves inning went flyout, walk, pickoff (error at 1B, runner to second, sigh), intentional walk, double, intentional walk, single, new pitcher Fulchino, home run. Now 8-2 Braves, the Astros did not have another comeback in them.

Bob: THIS is a ray of sunshine?? Wait for it.

On August 13, now hosting the Pirates, Brett Myers started for the Astros. He pitched 7 innings, allowing 7 hits and one run (GS 66), but unfortunately left trailing 1-0. The Astros got a one-out single, a walk, and a 3-run HR from Carlos Lee, then three more singles to score 4 runs in the eighth inning to win in 4-1.

On August 14 Bud Norris started for Houston. His start was a tad shaky, as McCutchen led off with a triple, and Jones followed with a HR, and Tabata got on with an Error. Realizing he had to do this himself, Norris struck out the next 3 and pitched very well, allowing only 3 further hits and no runs through 7 innings, though he left the game trailing 2-1, though he struck out 14 (!) and had a game score of 72. The Astros rallied for 2 runs in the seventh, though, and he was credited with the 3-2 win.

On August 15, back to Happ, the Astros actually scored first! Happ gave up a pair of runs in the fourth, coughing up the lead, but 4 runs in the 6th (and 3 thereafter) made Happ a winner, 8-2, with a game score of 59. It was the first game in this stretch that the Astros starter failed to record a Good (60-69) or better game score, though only by the thinnest of margins.

Now the Mets came in to Houston for a 4-game series.

On August 16 Wandy pitched 7 innings, allowing 4 hits and 1 run, GS 68, but he left with the score 1-1. Lindstrom had another 9th inning meltdown, out, single, single, wild pitch triple (by Francoeur) costing the Astros the game.

On August 17 the Mets scored in the first off Nelson Figueroa, but the Astros amazingly got 3 back off Johan Santana. Figueroa allowed another (unearned) run and left after 5 innings, with a GS of 54 (still Decent) and a 3-2 lead. The Astros pen blew the lead (Melancon, from the Yankees in the Berkman deal, gave up the tying run) but the Astros got an eighth inning run off Santana (bullpen, what bullpen?) and won 4-3. (side note: Wilton Lopez recorded his first save)

On August 18 the Astros started Myers and the Mets countered with Dickey. The game was scoreless after 6 IP but NY broke through with 2 in the seventh off Myers, reducing his GS to 56 in a 7-inning outing. Three singles in the 8th got a run back and a Geoff Blum HR tied it in the ninth. With the starters long gone, the Mets turned three walks (one intentional) off Chacin and a sac fly into a run and a 3-2 win in 14 innings.

On August 19 Norris pitched 7 innings of 2-hit ball. Unfortunately one of the hits came in the same inning with a walk, a HBP, and two slow rollers to short, resulting in 2 runs, and he left with a GS 67 but trailing 2-0. Singles by Sanchez and Pence in the eighth inning were followed by a HR by Carlos Lee, though, to take Norris off the hook and give Houston a 3-2 win and a series split.

The 9 games above were all played at home, and the Astros got a quality start in all 9 games. The TEAM was only 5-4 in those games, but the STARTERS were 3-0 with 6 ND. Time to go on the road: the next 10 games are to be in Florida, Philadelphia and New York.

On August 20 Happ goes 6 innings, allowing 5 hits and 3 earned runs, striking out 6 for a GS 54 and the Astros’ tenth consecutive quality start (by any definition, not just my GS version). The Astros don’t score, though, so he leaves losing 3-0. To forestall any possible comeback, the Marlins score 4 in the seventh and 2 in the eighth off the bullpen, and win 9-0. But still a quality start, even though the starters took their first loss of the stretch.

On August 21 Wandy starts, and the Astros spot him a 2-0 lead before he takes the mound. He pitches 5 scoreless innings, but the Marlins start the sixth with single and an error, as they fail to get the forceout at second. After a strikeout, back-to-back triples account for 3 runs (2 earned) and Wandy leaves after 6 innings trailing 3-2, though with a GS 57. Again the Marlins pound the Astros’ pen, and a late run that could have taken Wandy off the hook merely makes the score 6-3.

On August 22 Figueroa pitches very well, allowing 3 hits and no run while striking out 7 in 5 2/3 innings, and sporting a 1-0 lead. Unfortunately Sanchez hits a 2-out HR in the 6th to tie the game, and he is hit for in the 6th with the score 1-1. Houston does not score and so he has a GS 66 but no decision. Houston does actually win on an 8th inning HR by Pence.

On August 23 Myers faces his old mates, the NL defending champion (and eventual best record in MLB) Phillies, in Citizen’s Bank Park, a great place to hit (not so good for pitching, though). He gives up 9 hits but only 1 walk and strikes out 9, allowing 2 runs in 7 innings for a GS 59. Blanton is better (GS 70) and after 7 the score is 2-1 Phils. But the Astros get to Ryan Madson (rare event) and pull out a 3-2 win, Myers getting the win.

On August 24 it is Norris facing Hamels. Norris pitched very well, allowing 5 hits and one run in 6 innings (GS 59) and left the game with a 2-1 lead even though Hamels pitched very well too (GS 66). But Lopez blew the save in the ninth on a Jimmy Rollins HR, and the Astros eventually won it in the 16th on a classic Houston rally: out, single, HBP, wild pitch, intentional walk, weak ground ball that no one can make a play on, ground out that the Phils fail to turn 2. 4-2 Astros.

On August 25 Happ faces HIS old teammates, hooked up with Roy Halladay (what luck!). Hunter Pence gave Houston the lead with a 4th inning HR, but Jason Werth tied it with a HR in the 5th. Bourn hit another HR to retake the lead in the top of the 6th, but two singles and a double retied it in the bottom of the 6th. Houston again took the lead in the seventh. When the bottom of the seventh started single, force out, Happ was pulled and Lopez gave up a single, but Byrdak and Melancon got an out each and the seventh ended with the score 3-2 and Happ escaped with a GS 57 and (eventually) a win.

On August 26 Wandy took the mound against Kendrick (the Astros dodged a bullet and did not face Oswalt in the 4-game set) and Wandy was great, going 7 innings allowing 5 hits and 1 run, GS 68. For once the Astros got him some runs, scoring 4 off Kendrick and another off the bullpen, for a 5-1 win and a FOUR-GAME SWEEP of the Phillies, in Philadelphia!

On August 27 Figueroa pitched very well, allowing only 3 hits and 1 ER (1 unearned also, unfortunately) for a GS 62. Unfortunately, the Astros did not score at all off Pelfrey (GS 72) and the one run they got in the ninth fell short 2-1. Figueroa took a tough loss, 2-1.

On August 28 the Astros got 2 in the first off Johan Santana, and Myers made it hold up, pitching 7 scoreless innings (GS 70), while the Astros got 2 more off Santana for an eventual 4-1 win.

On August 29 Norris broke the string, which had by then reached 18 games, allowing 5 ER in 5 2/3 IP (GS 35 Bad) and losing to Dickey (GS 61) and the Mets by a score of 5-1. Quite a run, though, and it wasn’t really over yet.

Interrupting a long road trip with a 3-game home series against the Cardinals, on August 30 Happ started against Westbrook, and he was brilliant: a complete-game, 2-hit shutout (GS 86 Outstanding) and Houston won 3-0.

On August 31 Wandy was almost as good, pitching 7 innings of 2-hit, shutout ball (GS 76) as the Astros beat Chris Carpenter, also by a score of 3-0.

On September 1 the Cardinals broke through against Figueroa with 2 in the first, and while he allowed nothing further his GS was only 45 (he left after 5 innings) but the Astros by then had rallied to score 4 against Suppan and Houston won 4-2, sweeping the Cardinals and dealing a serious blow to their postseason aspirations. Note that at this point the Astros in this stretch are 7-0 against the Phillies and Cardinals 7-8 against everyone else!

on September 3, after an off-day, they are back on the road in Arizona, where Myers allows 3 runs in 6 IP (a quality start by the original definition) but a Mediocre (47) game score. He leaves in a tie game, but the bullpen blows it and the Astros lose 4-3.

On September 4 the streak seems over, as Bud Norris lasts only 4 2/3 allowing 5 ER for a GS 30, the first time in a month that the Astros have had back-to-back not quality starts (by the GS method). They take him off the hook, however, rallying to win 6-5 (the loser is former Met great Aaron Heilman).

On September 5 Happ turns in another solid performance, 7 IP and 2 ER, GS 62 and the Astros win 3-2.

On September 6 in Chicago Wandy is spotted a 4-0 lead, and pitches well (GS 58) but his defense deserts him (THREE unearned runs) and he gets a no-decision with Wilton Lopez taking the 5-4 loss.

On September 7 Nelson Figueroa allowed 3 ER but a GS only 47 as Houston beat the Cubs 7-3.

On September 8 Brett Myers pitched 3-hit, no-run ball for 7 innings (in Wrigley field, no less!) for a GS 78 and a 4-0 Astros win.

On September 9, back home against the Dodgers, Norris delivered a 6-inning, 3-hit, 1-ER (and 1 unearned) performance, worth a GS 63 and a 3-2 win.

On September 10 Happ allowed 7 hits and 4 walks in only 5 IP, but only 1 run for a GS 52 and a 4-2 win.

This was the best 30-game stretch by the starting pitching of ANY ML team in ANY 30-game stretch all season, measured by GS OR by ERA. And it was compiled by the Astros.

The streak actually continued for a bit:

September 11 Wandy 62

September 12 Figueroa 40

September 13 Myers 70

September 14 Norris 70

Just thought I would share. The hero of the stretch was probably Happ, but all 5 starters pitched very well. In fact, if Happ is going to pitch like THIS, the Astros won’t miss Oswalt much, at all!

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