Astros Buckle Down, Hold Off A’s To Take 2-0 Series Lead

I, personally, have never hit a home run in Dodgers Stadium. After the past two days, however, I might be one of the few baseball-adjacent people who can’t say that. The A’s and Astros engaged in another slugfest in the early innings today, launching five home runs in the first five frames of Game 2 of the ALDS. Combine those with the six they hit yesterday, and it’s a bad time to be a cardboard cutout in the Chavez Ravine outfield.

Khris Davis got the party started in the second by pouncing on a hanging curveball. He got under it a bit, and George Springer camped where he expected the ball to land. That worked out like this:

He needn’t have worried, however, because Dodgers Stadium gave to both sides today. With a runner aboard in the top of the next inning, Springer got a belt-high curveball of his own and didn’t miss:


Neither of these teams were particularly homer-happy during the regular season. Oakland popped 71 home runs in their 60 games, narrowly ahead of Houston’s 69 — good for 18th and 19th in baseball. Their pitching staffs were similarly stingy; Houston gave up 70 long balls, the 10th-lowest tally in the majors, while the A’s allowed 69. Their 10 contests this year featured a combined 19 home runs.

After the Astros scraped together a run in the top of the fourth — without a home run, believe it or not — Chad Pinder replied with a blast of his own in the bottom half of the inning. Fortunately for Houston, the bases were empty, which left the score 4-2 after Framber Valdez escaped the inning.

The game didn’t stay tight for long, because the Astros went back to work in the top of the fifth. Martín Maldonado, not exactly a fearsome power hitter, somehow guided one out to left center. Bob Melvin had seen enough. He pulled starter Sean Manaea immediately, turning to his trusty bullpen to keep the game within reach. No lead is safe when the baseball is carrying like it was today, but keeping Houston to three runs would be ideal for the short-handed Oakland offense. Yeah, about that:

No fly ball felt safe. Yusmeiro Petit was welcomed to the game by Springer’s second homer of the game, and the Astros took a 5-2 lead. But that’s merely two walks and a ball in the air away from a tie game. Could no one stop the madness?

As it turns out, the Astros could. Valdez came back out for the bottom of the fifth inning and set Oakland down in order, sandwiching two grounders around a painted sinker that caught Ramón Laureano looking. After Mike Minor pitched a clean sixth, Valdez mowed down the top of Oakland’s order; a weak flyout preceded two more grounders.

When Valdez came out for his last inning, he looked as strong as ever. He coaxed two more grounders and a weak fly ball out of the A’s, his last sinker topping 95 mph, the same velocity he’d shown in the first inning. Want to avoid a sad upward glance and rueful shake of the head while your opponent flips their bat and celebrates wildly? Just don’t let them put the ball in the air in the first place.

Valdez threw 103 pitches today and faced 24 batters. Exactly six of those batters hit a ball in the air, which I’ll define here as a ball hit with a 10 degree or higher launch angle. Two were hit hard; those became home runs. He simply didn’t give the A’s many chances to leave the yard.

He also didn’t give the A’s many chances to take a slow walk to first base. He walked only one batter; Marcus Semien drew a two-out free pass in the third. Grounders are no way to build an offense, particularly without a heaping helping of walks to juice the basepaths, and the A’s weren’t up to the task tonight.

With Valdez’s night done, it seemed like Oakland might finally find daylight. Their bullpen had, after that one hiccup from Petit, returned to form; Minor, Joakim Soria, and Lou Trivino held the Astros hitless for the balance of the game. They, too, kept the ball on the ground, and Houston’s bats were just as cold without the benefit of the long ball.

Instead of daylight, however, Oakland only found more frustration. Enoli Paredes, who threw 21 pitches of excellent relief yesterday, came back for more today. He coaxed a popup off the bat of Sean Murphy, made Laureano look foolish with a perfectly-placed slider, and — okay, Robbie Grossman hit the ball on a line, but without much mustard, and also directly towards Springer.

Paredes certainly wasn’t going to pitch a second inning, which meant the ninth fell to Ryan Pressly. Pressly, like Valdez, succeeds by keeping the ball down, which meant Oakland would probably need to hit it in the air to succeed. Semien led off by flaring a ball to left for a clean single. Could this finally be Oakland’s time?

It was not. Tommy La Stella hit one short of the track in right center, and Pinder ended things a batter early by grounding into a classic 6-4-3 double play. A game that felt like it might be determined by who clubbed more homers turned into a bullpen duel with little warning, and the A’s, being down already, were out of luck.

With two games in the bank, the Astros released a bit of bad news. Zack Greinke won’t start tomorrow; he’s experiencing soreness in his throwing arm. Jose Urquidy will take the hill instead, a decision no doubt made easier by the 2-0 series lead. An Oakland team that struggled to score late in the year will have one more chance to figure out that particular puzzle, with their greatest rival the beneficiary if they can’t crack the code.





Ben is a contributor to FanGraphs. A lifelong Cardinals fan, he got his start writing for Viva El Birdos. He can be found on Twitter @_Ben_Clemens.

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Cave Dameron
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Cave Dameron

Love seeing the Astros battle this postseason amidst all the adversity. True grit from true gamers.

baubo
Member
baubo

If the Astros were any other team they’d be a Cinderella story of the postseason. Lost the top 2 AL Cy Young pitchers. Lost their best pure hitter. Lost their closer. Most of their pitching staff made up of unheralded prospects. And one game away from being in the ALCS.

But they are the Astros so their wins are only met with hatred and dismay.

hombremomento
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hombremomento

I really appreciate people being fair. Being mad at the Astros? That’s fair. Seeing the Astros play actually decent baseball outside of their ballpark and accepting it? Fair too.