That was a good baseball game: a 3-1 pitcher’s duel that featured two of the best starters in the game and arguably the two best left-handed starters alive right now (sorry, Chris Sale, but hardware counts in this narrative).
Here’s why the Astros’ loss in Game 1 is okay.
First, it’s hard to fault an offense for getting buzzsawed by Clayton Kershaw, who to my eyes is the best pitcher that the Astros have faced this season. You saw the game. His command was a 90 on the 20/80 scale, and his curve ball broke so hard that MY knees buckled as I sat on my couch watching.
Here we have the least striking-outingest club in baseball striking out twelve times. That happens when you’re facing the best pitcher alive.
There we have zero walks from a team that is pretty patient. That happens when you’re facing the best pitcher alive.
According to talk radio this morning, which has never steered anybody wrong ever, Kershaw was getting strike calls on nearly 50% of pitches below the zone, and Astros’ starter Dallas Keuchel was barely getting 20%. The umpire was definitely calling the zone differently among the pitchers.
That’s not on the umpire. And I don’t believe it’s on the catchers either, despite that Austin Barnes has been successful* at framing pitches this season.
Personally, I think Kershaw is just great at fooling umpires because his command is so ridiculous. Also, I don’t think it’s any easier for umpires than it is for batters to track a curve ball that has the second-deepest break in the major leagues.
*I can’t help wondering if Barnes’ framing numbers are influenced by Kershaw’s command and breaking pitch. His Kershaw vs. Non-Kershaw framing stats might be interesting to look at.
For the Astros’ side of things, Keuchel pitched great. The bomb he served up to Justin Turner in the sixth inning wasn’t even that bad of a pitch, nor was it sequenced poorly.
The third pitch was a ball below Turner’s knees that actually induced a strike from the umpire. Keuchel followed that up with an up-and-away cut fastball that Turner reached for and belted. Good pitching, good hitting.
The only reasonable gripe an Astros fan can have is over George Springer’s woeful day. 0-4 with four strikeouts is not an ideal outcome. Springer looks frustrated, and looks like he is pressing to make up for it.
This is not the Springer we need. Even if Springer continues to reek at the plate, the Astros need cheerful silly Springer. He’s the captain. The guy who jollies everybody. The Astros need that guy to be himself, and that will make everybody better.
Speaking of batters, how about Alex Bregman? He had a great game. His home run was great, yes. But his fly out in the first inning was placed in such a way that it had an 87% chance of being a hit instead of an out. These things happen, but he was the Astro who had the most effective night at the plate. And Bregman’s home run was only one of two barrelled hits of the evening.
Speaking of hit percentage chances, the ball that Turner bashed for a home run in the sixth inning had only a 13% chance of even being a hit; like I said, it was a great pitch and not a mistake pitch. Sometimes batters do that, but it wasn’t an indictment of Keuchel’s evening.
So to sum up:
- The Astros got blown away by arguably the greatest left-handed pitcher of all time, a guy who could retire before age 30 and still walk into the Hall of Fame five years later.
- Keuchel matched Kershaw pitch-for-pitch, and only allowed one really bad hit all night, same as Kershaw did.
- The Astros get Justin Verlander tonight, and then are coming home for three games, where they are undefeated this postseason.
I ain’t even mad. Game 1 was good October baseball, and the Astros came out with the slightly-shorter stick while playing on the road against a ridiculous pitcher.