Series Preview: Houston Astros at Tampa Bay Rays, July 10-12, 2015
The Astros continued to struggle, losing three of four in Cleveland after dropping two of three in Boston to run their record on the current road trip to 3-5. Houston's record now sits at 49-39 as the Astros struggle to get over the 50 win hump. Fortunately for the Astros, the Rays have been playing even worse with a 1-9 record in their last 10 games.
The Rays are coming off of a four game sweep at the hands of the Kansas City Royals. Tampa currently has a 43-45 record in the closely contested AL East where a charging Red Sox team has made it a true five team race for the division crown.
Game 1 - RHP Collin McHugh (9-4, 4.54 ERA, 1.30 WHIP) vs. RHP Erasmo Ramirez (7-3, 3.80 ERA, 1.13 WHIP)
Game 2 - LHP Dallas Keuchel (11-3, 2.14 ERA, 0.99 WHIP) vs. RHP Jake Odorizzi (4-5, 2.47 ERA, 1.02 WHIP)
Game 3 - RHP Lance McCullers (4-2, 2.16 ERA, 1.10 WHIP) vs. LHP Matt Moore (0-0, 8.00 ERA, 2.11 WHIP)
McHugh will kick off the series for the Astros and look to get back on track after giving up four runs over 5 1/3 innings during his last outing in Boston. Prior to his rough outing in Boston McHugh had strung together three straight quality starts and was beginning to look more like the McHugh of 2014. In two career starts versus the Rays, McHugh has a 2.45 ERA and 12 strikeouts in 11 innings pitched.
In the second game of the series, the Astros will hand the ball to their resident ace and all-star in Dallas Keuchel. After two straight shutout outings, Cleveland got to Keuchel for three runs in six innings. Keuchel will have a chance to get to 12 wins and match his career high from last year before we even reach the All-Star break. Not sure what else there is to say, as Keuchel looks to wrap up what has been a truly impressive first half.
Lance McCullers, a Tampa native, will take the mound in the final game of this three game set. With his return home, McCullers will look to continue his stellar rookie campaign. McCullers, who has pitched to a 2.45 ERA through his first ten starts will look to lower his pitch count and be more efficient on the mound against a struggling Tampa lineup. McCullers needed 101 pitches to get through five innings in his last start.
From the Rays perspective the Astros luck out in avoiding Tampa staff ace Chris Archer who has pitched to a 2.74 ERA on the year. In game three look for Matt Moore to be more effective than his 8.00 ERA suggests, as he is working his way back into the starting rotation after missing 2014 due to Tommy John surgery. Moore will be making his third start of the season having failed to make it out of the fifth inning in either of his first two starts.
Much like McCullers, Preston Tucker, who was born in Tampa, will be returning home for the first time as a major leaguer. Tucker will look to continue his hot streak at the plate in his return home, as he has gone 8-25 over the last six games for a .320 average with only three strikeouts.
While Tucker has been hot at the plate, the rest of the Houston lineup has sputtered, hitting .170 over the last three games. Even Altuve has struggled to a .240 average over his last six games. Look for Altuve and company to get back on track in Tampa as they close out the first half of the season.
Amazingly Tampa has fallen below the Astros in batting average, now sitting at .241 as a team just below the Astros .242 mark. The Astros have shown that batting average isn't everything, riding a MLB leading 122 home runs to an above average offensive output on the season. Tampa on the other hand has coupled a low batting average with below average power (77 HR) to only muster 3.66 runs per game.
The Astros add to the Rays struggles by taking two of three behind strong pitching from the front end of the rotation and a big homecoming for McCullers and Tucker.
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