Atlanta Braves (38-37) at Houston Astros (33-44)
Certain series remind Astros fans that they are far from 'home', that is if you still consider the National League home. There are many cliches about not lingering in the past to use here; especially when you can't change something like 'what division you play in'. But, isn't that an essential part of being a fan? To remember past glories and the devastating loses in your team's past. It's the past that links the Astros and Braves - potential lost and a dream realized. So, I say it's good to see the Braves again, no matter the standings. It feels right and normal in a way.
Much like the Rangers, the Braves were ravaged by injury before this season even started. On March 23, 2014, Braves put Kris Medlen, Mike Minor, Jonny Venters, Gavin Floyd, and Brandon Beachy on 15-Day disabled list - some would be gone for the season and some not. But, almost an entire pitching staff lost for the season or lost for the first few months. The Braves scrapped together a staff that has kept them in the hunt for the postseason with the likes of Aaron Harang and Ervin Santana. Here they are still over .500.
Where is Chipper?
The Braves come in winners in four of their last ten games, and sit two games behind the Nationals in the National League East. They are only a half game ahead of the Marlins, and NL East teams are only separated by just six games.
Chipper is long gone, now manning third is former Astro Chris Johnson. Johnson is showing a side he only showed in flashes in Houston, finishing second in the National League batting title race to Michael Cuddyer. This season Johnson is batting .281 (80-285) with 17 extra-base hits and 20 RBIs.
Taking a look at the Braves offense over the past week, it's no surprise that Atlanta is lead by Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward. The Braves first baseman has .985 OPS over his last 27 at-bats, posting a .370 (10-27) with three doubles and a home run. Heyward has .938 OPS in his last 21 at-bats and he also has three doubles. The Braves receives some good production from their catchers as well, Evan Gattis just had a twenty game hitting streak broken and Ryan Doumit (also playing left) is 3-for-9 with a home run and stolen base this past week.
The Upton Brothers, B.J. and Justin, haven't worked as well and are batting 4-for-35 in the team's last six games. Justin Upton was dealing with a spell of light headiness midweek and has been in and out of the lineup as a result.
Please return Astros offense if found...
The Astros were on a role, so much so that some on TCB's staff starting thinking of the playoffs. Of course, playoff hopes are like gravity - all it takes is a little push to make them come crashing down to earth. Three straight series losses, a 3-7 record in their last ten is that kind of push. One key to this fall is the lack of offense, the Astros have scored just threes runs in their last four games.
The only player really hitting his weight is Jose Altuve at the moment, he is batting .542 (13-24) with two doubles and two stolen bases in the team's last six games. The effects of a hit-by-pitch that sidelined him for a series earlier this month seem long gone. Rookie George Springer and Jon Singleton have come back down to earth, batting a collective 6-for-38 with one home run in their last six games. Jason Castro has turned into a strikeout machine, posting a 'K' in 11 of his last 19 at-bats. Houston is still struggling to find production from their left field position, Robbie Grossman and Alex Presley are 0-for-17.
RHP Scott Feldman (3-4, 3.95 ERA, 1.35 WHIP) vs. RHP Aaron Harang (5-6, 3.83 ERA, 1.38 WHIP )
Scott Feldman the wise and sage-like leader of this ragtag group of pitchers, has had his up and downs this season. He never seem to recover after going on the disabled list for forearm tightness earlier this season, calumniating in a start were he last only 1.2 innings on June 7. But, he has arisen like a phoenix in his last two starts. Feldman has given up four runs over his last 11.1 innings, striking out 11 and walking three.
Justin Upton is 3-for-7 against Feldman with a home run, while B.J. Upton is 1-for-13. Freddie Freeman is 1-for-2 with a walk in his career against Feldman, and Evan Gattis is 2-for-2.
Our old friend, Aaron Harang, has 27 career starts against the Astros with a 14-9 record and 4.13 ERA. He made the Braves look like genius after they signed him off the scrap off the scrap heap as he posted a 3.29 ERA through the first two months of the season. He has since come back down to earch with a 5.32 ERA in June. He is coming off his worst start of the season, giving up eight earned runs over five innings against the Phillies on June 18.
Harang has keep the majority of the Astros' roster he has previous faced hitless including Jose Altuve (0-4), Chris Carter (0-3), Jason Castro (0-4), and Matt Dominguez (0-3). Dexter Fowler and Jesus Guzman are the exceptions. Fowler is 2-15 with two triples and three walks. Guzman is 1-for-6 with a walk.
RHP Collin McHugh (4-5, 2.76 ERA, 1.09 WHIP) vs. LHP Alex Wood (5-6, 3.43 ERA, 1.29 WHIP)
RHP Jarred Cosart (7-5, 3.78 ERA, 1.32 WHIP) vs. LHP Mike Minor (2-4, 4.20 ERA, 1.48 WHIP)
The Rays have some kind of hex over the Astros, Houston gets back on track with the Braves in town. Both teams have moved on from their past lives battling one a another. The key will be the innings the starters put in these three games - Feldman, Doctor McHugh, and Cosart will lead the Astros a series win. Astros win two out of three.