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Game No. 103 Preview: Houston Astros vs. Los Angeles Angels

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The Astros and Angels face off for the third straight day, and the Astros are eying a series sweep and looking to extend their reclaimed AL West lead to two games.

With eyes on the playoffs, Scott Kazmir will take the mound against a familiar foe in his hometown for the first time as an Astro
With eyes on the playoffs, Scott Kazmir will take the mound against a familiar foe in his hometown for the first time as an Astro
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Houston Astros (57-45) vs. Los Angeles Angels (55-45), Jul 30, 2015 7:10 PM CDT

TV: Roots Sports SW, MLB.TV

Radio: KBME 790 AM, KLAT 1010 AM

Angels SB Nation Blog: Halos Heaven

Pitching Matchup

LHP Scott Kazmir (6-5, 2.24 ERA, 1.05 WHIP) vs. RHP Matt Shoemaker (5-7, 4.55 ERA, 1.27 WHIP)

Preview

The Houston Astros will send out their newly acquired top tier left handed starting pitcher to the mound Thursday evening in an attempt to capture a series sweep of a very good Los Angeles Angels team.

No, not Cole Hamels.

The reference is, of course, to Scott Kazmir - the lefty starting pitcher the Astros targeted via trade who actually wants to be in Houston on a first place team.

Joking/faux bitterness aside (this writer has long been opposed to any potential Astros trade for Cole Hamels), Astros fans are all clamoring excitedly for their first chance to see Scott Kazmir pitch as a member of the Astros in his hometown.  He enters the game with a 3-1 record in his last seven starts, 45.2 innings pitched (including an abbreviated one in which he pitched only three innings against the Yankees before leaving with forearm tightness that ultimately proved trivial) and a 1.38 ERA.  In that stretch, he has fanned 37 batters and walked only eight (for a K/BB ratio of 4.63) while posting a 0.83 WHIP.

When taking a peek at the Angels' success against Kazmir, it jumps off the page immediately that several Angels players have had good to very good success against him in their careers.  Notably among these are brand new Angel David DeJesus, who has the most career at bats against Kazmir of any Angel and is 8-21 (.381) with a .409 OBP, two doubles, three RBI and a walk, Mike Trout (3-8 for a .375 average and a .444 OBP), Daniel Robertson (also 3-8 with a .375 average and .444 OBP, but with a double whereas Trout has managed three singles), Erick Aybar (7-11 to the rich tune of a .636 batting average with two doubles and three RBI), and Kole Calhoun (4-7 with a .571 batting average and a .667 OBP).  Kazmir has never allowed a home run to any current Angels player, but the entire team combined is 34-110 lifetime against Kazmir with a team batting average of .309 and a team OBP of .377.  Notable players in the lineup who have struggled against Kazmir in their careers, however, include another new Angel (and frequent nuisance of the Astros pitching staff) David Murphy (2-14, .143 batting average with 3 strikeouts) and Albert Pujols, who is just 1-9 in his career with a .111 batting average and two walks lifetime against Kazmir.

Looking at the opposite side of the equation, it looks a bit more grim for the Angels.  Jose Altuve is 4-7 lifetime against Shoemaker with a double and a home run, Chris Carter is 3-6 with a double and two home runs, Colby Rasmus and Jon Singleton are each 1-3 with a home run, Jake Marisnick is 2-2 against him, and Jason Castro is 2-4 against him.  As a team, the Astros are 16-41 against Shoemaker, to the tune of a .390 batting average and a .444 team OBP.

There is another notable factor playing into the storyline of this game - injuries, and players returning.  Mike Trout has missed the first two games of this series nursing a minor wrist injury sustained while diving for a ball, and the Angels have been sorely missing his presence in the lineup.  If he is back in the lineup for this game - of which there is a good chance - then the Angels lineup will certainly appear to be quite formidable.

However, the Astros will finally get infielder Jed Lowrie back after his April 27th thumb injury caused him to require surgery and miss three months of the season.  Prior to his injury, Lowrie was clearly the heart and soul of the Astros offense, posting an outstanding 172 wRC+ and providing veteran leadership, consistency, strike zone management and good bat control.  He will clearly not be returning to the shortstop position that is now manned by Carlos Correa, but will instead be starting at third base - which will relegate Luis Valbuena to more of a platoon/utility role going forward, assuming he remains with the team.  Several writers who focus on the Astros, this writer included, have likened Lowrie's return to a trade deadline pickup except that it costs no young, minor league talent leaving to acquire.

Shoemaker and Kazmir both come into this game fresh off dominant starts, Kazmir blanking the Royals over seven innings of work while allowing only three singles and one walk and Shoemaker having pitched perhaps his finest outing of the year with six innings of two hit, shutout baseball while striking out ten batters against the Minnesota Twins.

With the career batter vs. pitcher numbers for both teams, and with both pitchers riding a wave of momentum coming into the game...and with AL West supremacy on the line...anything can happen in what looks on paper to be an incredible, electric match up in one of the biggest games of the season.

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