“The first place Milwaukee Brewers” rings as odd to me as “the rebuilding Astros.” But it’s true: the team that defined mediocrity for 15 or 20 years leads the league, and not just in the arm tats category, leads the NL Central, three games ahead of the Cardinals, and even further ahead of the sliding Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincy Reds. The Brewers’ offseason trades have given them a combination of pop and pitching that justifies their confident air, led by Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, as dynamic a duo as there is in baseball. Those two elite players, who keep Houston baseball interesting despite itself, offer Astros fans a vision of a possible future filled with, say, Jonathan Singleton and whatever hitter we draft with the first pick next year.
Against Zack Greinke, one of the aforementioned acquisitions, there seemed little chance that the Astros would crack their 0-5 record against the first place Brewers. As a result of his early season injury playing basketball, I believe that he’s been overlooked as an elite NL pitcher, though his ERA and WHIP have hovered around 1 since the All-Star Break. Looking at his arsenal, the amateur Greinkeist sees a pretty good sinking fastball, a tight slider, and a big curveball that he really likes to bury in the dirt. In fact, Greinke felt little reason to spend much time in the strike zone at all against the Astros, typically starting an at bat with a strike, and neglecting the edges altogether while our side flailed at his array of ins and outs.
Against leadoff hitter JB Shuck1 and company barely fazed Greinke, who also made a nice play in the field, drove a fly ball to deep center for an out, and laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt, begging the question: is there anything he is bad at? Who’s up to challenge him to a game of Scrabble?
For the second game in a row, Prince Fielder turned on an inside slider and hit a grown-up home run to right field, with singular flourish. Jim Deshaies, Bill Brown, and the FSN Houston team did a fine job illustrating just how similar the pitchers from Brett Myers the night before and Bud Norris on Sunday were, by placing the two side-by-side and playing them simultaneously. Not only were we privy as the TV audience to two equally deliberate and misguided breaking pitches, but we also had the chance to see, in stereoscopic glory, two swings from a left-handed slugger who rivals Cowboys vs. Aliens for explosiveness.
The two-run deficit Fielder established in the first inning would multiply several times before the night was up, thanks to the lesser known hitters batting behind the prince in Kotsay and Betancourt, rather than Ryan Braun batting ahead of him. Those typically punchless two combined to go 6 for 10 with more runs driven in than the Astros would score on the night. We lose 7-3, without ever casting any doubt on the eventual outcome.
It’s not easy to distinguish a great Bud Norris start from a bad one, except in the final tally. When he’s throwing well, the sharp low 90s fastball is well-located, and his slider stays in the bottom of the zone and below. But even when his slider is effective, it’s got a tight, small break, so a bad slider and a good one don’t look too different. In the end, as is often the case with pitching at this level, it comes down to location. The slider to Prince Fielder was too high, and though it was inside Fielder has already proven that his bat was quick enough to find a breaker in that spot.
The Astros’ second and third place RBI leaders this year are currently in the minor leagues.
In the third inning, Carlos Lee discovered another way to prove his awkwardness in the field, spearing a sharp, low line drive from Prince Fielder. El Caballo, however, slung his first basemen’s mitt upward with the effort, and slung the ball into shallow left field like a lacrosse player. Fielder reached and Lee, as is not unusual, found himself lying on the ground in the field.
With a full count and two outs, Clint Barmes was picked off of second base. I’d be more upset if he wasn’t making very solid plays in the field.
I’d like to see the total number of minutes that MLB have historically spent at bat throughout MLB history. I’d wager that the Astros are challenging for least ever. The number of quick innings this post-Pence/Bourn team tacks up keeps these games easy on the grandfather clock.
Brian Bogusevic hit a bloop single in the top of the 8th, and the crowd cheered like it was a double in the gap. When there’s nothing else, you cheer for a bloop single. Fortunately, Jose “Turtle” Altuve hit a single, and Caballo picked up his pre-Pence/Bourn trade form and drove them both home. On his way home, Altuve ran through a stop sign from third base coach Dave Clark, and grimaced guiltily after popping up from his slide at home. As Altuve barrelled in, Clark had to literally get out of his way after being ignored, side-stepping him like a matador.
- yes, in his third major league game, the kid is hitting leadoff, though I’ll admit he has a pleasing, Tony Gwynn-esque singles swing ↩