I’ve been trying to tell myself to enjoy the last week of this season. Sure, playoffs were a two-day fever dream, this bullpen remains highly suspect, and now Dylan Moore - easily a top-five positive development story of the year - is out with a concussion? That all sucks, but we only have a few of these left until 2021, and even that isn’t a guarantee. So could we please, please have a fun time tonight?
Ljay Newsome was coming off of a pretty rough outing in San Francisco, and opened tonight on the wrong foot thanks to three singles from George Springer, Alex Bregman, and Kyle Tucker, giving the Astros an early lead. Yeah, everything save a deep flyout from José Altuve was on the ground, and Bregman’s hit missed being an excellent play from J.P. Crawford by a few inches, but Ljay managed to get over 90 MPH on his fastball just twice in the first, and as one of the main LLjay stans, I was worried for him after he wiggled out of the frame. The bats would, thankfully, pick him up a bit in the bottom of the inning, with Crawford poking a base hit the other way, and Kyle the Elder driving him home with two outs:
That was Seager’s first extra base hit since a dinger on September 7th, and he chipped in another base hit in the later frames. Despite his walk rate the past couple weeks hovering right around 20%, he’s been mired in a pretty brutal slump, with just three hits in his last 43 at-bats coming into tonight. Positives!
Ljay also settled down pretty nicely after the first. His fastball climbed back to the 91-92 we’re used to seeing, and mixed his curve really nicely the second time through Houston’s order, deploying it to steal first-pitch strikes and grabbing some weak contact. I was particularly impressed by his six-pitch third inning, where he threw four curveballs and a pair of fastballs to grab a pair of pop-ups and an easy flyout. He only went 4.1 innings and got just one strikeout - freezing inexplicable Mariner killer Martín Maldonado on a near-perfect fastball on the lower half of the zone - but stuck to his brand by not walking anyone, and generated five swinging strikes. With a strike zone that was more normal than what the team saw against the Giants, he went back to his game plan of living at the top of the zone, and despite his unspectacular strikeout rate, there’s evidence that suggests he’s getting pretty unlucky in that department:
Meaningless SSS, but Newsome has gotten super unlucky on the strikeout rate. 16%, despite a fastball with 13.33% swinging strikes, change at 14.89% and curve at 9.62%.— Darren Gossler (@Goose1701) September 23, 2020
It’s a shame that this was his final start of the year, because there was a lot here that would be encouraging to follow over a season. Ljay is probably about seventh or eighth on the depth chart headed into next year, but with (hopefully) a full minor league season he can refine his game even more than he already has, and will doubtlessly see some time in the bigs in some capacity.
Aaaaanyway, that was about all the interesting things that happened tonight. Casey Sadler - who has actually been quite good since coming over - needed just three pitches to get the last two outs of the fifth, but things unraveled quickly in the top of the sixth. Michael Brantley “smoked” a 1-0 pitch into the right field seats to open the frame:
A 95.9 exit velocity? An xBA of just .270? Take that shit back to the Crawford boxes where it belongs. Things didn’t get much better for Sadler after that despite retiring Bregman on a flyout, thanks to a single from Kyle Tucker and a walk to Yuli Gurriel. A pair of wild pitches brought Tucker home - in my view, the single most obnoxious way to allow a run, especially in a close game - and after a Carlos Correa flyout and a second walk to Josh Reddick, Maldonado did Maldonado things:
Okay, that was no Crawford Boxes special, I’ll give him that. The rest of the game snoozed on by, with Framber Valdez settling down after the first inning and doing truly unfair things to Mariner hitters with his video game-esque curveball. He got poor Jake Fraley on his first game back on strikes three times! He didn’t walk a soul, and bolstered his sky-high ground ball rate with nine groundouts over seven innings. For as mortal as the Astros looked last night, tonight was an unpleasant reminder that Valdez - among others - are just the beginning of their second wave of talent, and they can’t be totally counted out the next couple years despite several core members departing in free agency come November.
It is truly hard to believe that there are just five games left of this weird, short season. Given how much of a clunker the first couple weeks were, I don’t think any of us expected this team to be technically still in it this late. Alas, though, tonight brought Seattle’s elimination number to a lonely one, and they’re not going to win out. Stop entertaining that thought right now. Instead, try to think about Nick Margevicius capping off a decent year against a future Hall of Famer in Zack Greinke tomorrow afternoon with a win. Playoffs are out of the question, but something that feels good in the moment and for the future? That’s very much still in play.