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Series Preview #21: Houston Astros @ Texas Rangers

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The Astros (38-25, 2nd in AL West) head to Arlington for a 4 game division face off against the hapless Rangers (27-37, 5th in AL West)

Houston Astros  v Texas Rangers Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

Recency Bias

The Astros stroll into Arlington after a series split against the Mariners where pitching would stumble, but was saved by a Big Inning in the final game. The offense was effectively shut down by Paxton in Game 1, but a Gattis bomb, some Tony Kemp hitting, and timely Altuve magic would get the job done in the rematch. This last part was very much appreciated as the Astros had been having trouble finding the big hit, grounding in to 5 double plays in the series and struggling with runners in scoring position. Another big hero lately has been Yuli Gurriel, who is on a 12 game hitting streak, with 5 multi hit games. He would also drive in the Astros’ final 2 runs to seal the the victory in Game 2 against Seattle. Unfortunately, Correa would leave the second game with soreness in his side after swinging the bat, and his status is still not clear as of this writing.

The bullpen held its own in the two game series. Peacock would surrender a hit in 1.1 innings of work, but keep runs off the board. Devo allowed an inherited runner to score when a pick off throw to 1st got away and Heredia moved all the way to 3rd before being driven home by a 2 out single off the bat of Segura. It was Devo’s first error committed as a big leaguer. Smith appeared in both games and surrendered the only ER given up by the pen. Smith has been on a roll as it was his only hit allowed in his last 6.2 IP. As good as Smith has been, Hector Rondon has been better, and was called upon to get the final four outs of game 2 and his first save in an Astros uniform.

The Astros will look to beat up on the Rangers and start chasing down the Mariners as they begin a nice, soft part of the schedule.

Meanwhile, the Rangers were able to handle the A’s in their own two game set and had a mini sweep against Oakland, which was their first series win since facing the Yankees on May 23rd. They had an offensive explosion over the last two games against Oakland, plating 15 runs. They did it with a display of power, slugging 9 long balls across both games. Profar in particular had a great couple of games, mashing 3 of those home runs and driving in 6 runs. Shin Soo Choo and Gallo got in on the derby as well and join Profar and Mazara as Texas’ four hottest hitters in the past week. After that the rest of the lineup has been a little cold recently, though Beltre is always dangerous and contributed to the Oakland shelling.

Bannister definitely has some solid bullpen arms that he can call upon, and the pen was able to deliver against the A’s. Claudio would give up a run, but that was it across the pen’s 7 innings of relief work. Jesse Chavez, who has bounced around as a starter in the AL West for the last few years, is their long man and his having himself a decent year. You can expect to see Diekman or Claudio out to protect a lead as well, but LeClerc is their secret weapon and having a fantastic 2018 campaign. Keone Kela is their closer and has actually been pretty impressive on the year except for two appearances where he got lit up for 7 combined ER in 1.1 IP. Beyond that they have few worthwhile options available to effectively hold leads.

The Rangers will try to keep up their offensive outburst and play spoiler to the Astros as they pursue Seattle.

Pitching Match Ups

Game 1: Gerrit Cole, RHP (6-1, 2.20 ERA) vs. Cole Hamels, LHP (3-5, 3.63 ERA)

Cole has been a little more human lately, getting tagged for 3 ER in 3 of his last 4 starts, and 2 ER in the other. He’s given up a home run in each game with 9 ER coming via the long ball. His starts have been strong though, as he’s kept base runners to a minimum and limited the home run damage. Part of his success is a continuing high strikeout rate, sitting at 12.78 K/9. He’s seen the Rangers twice this season in 2 of his first 3 starts and going 7 innings in each. He would dominate in both of those games, only allowing 5 base runners in each with 1 and 2 ER, respectively.

Hamels comes in to this game on a string very strong outings except for a recent start against the Royals where he surrendered 5 ER, but went 6.1 IP. He sandwiched two strong starts around that game, however, facing the Yankees and Angels and going 7 IP with 2 ER in both of those games. The Astros did do damage against him on opening day with 3 ER, including Springer’s season leading off homer. Hamels would win the next round, with 6 shutout innings in Houston the next time they met. Though he’s had a strong 2018, his BABIP is 31 points below his career average and a 5.31 FIP does suggest some smoke and mirrors might be going on.

Hamels has been running strong lately, but I think have more faith in Cole versus the Rangers’ strikeout prone lineup.

Game 2: Justin Verlander, RHP (7-2, 1.24 ERA) vs. Doug Fister, RHP (1-6, 4.13 ERA)

Verlander would continue his stellar 2018 against the Red Sox his last time out, twirling 6 innings of 2 run ball. He would bookend the outing with runs surrendered in the 1st and 6th, but was mostly cruising through the start. Like Cole, Verlander has shoved against the Rangers with 6 shutout innings to open the season and an 8 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 11 K masterpiece that was a tough luck loss to immortal vampire Bartolo Colon. You could say that Verlander is due for some struggles as he is currently running a ridiculous .209 BABIP, but his 2.20 FIP says it won’t be a crash landing.

The Rangers counter with Doug Fister, who has put together a nice chunk of good to decent starts in spite of being a junkballer these days. He has a couple of clunkers, notably against the Yankees and Boston, but has mostly staved off opposing offenses. His last couple of starts were against Seattle and the Angels, where he managed to give a good performance. He went 6 IP in both games and gave up 3 ER in one and 2 in the other. He’s not striking out a ton of guys with a 5.61 K/9 and a FIP of 5.13 shows that there’s still room for error on his season.

Verlander has the edge, not even close on this one.

Game 3: Charlie Morton, RHP (7-1, 2.84 ERA) vs. Mike Minor, LHP (4-4, 5.76 ERA)

Morton will come into this game off the worst start of his Astros career. He would get shelled for 6 ER across 5.1 innings of work and give up 2 HR, the second straight game he’s given up that many. Morton has had success against the Rangers this season though, with a 6 IP 2 ER 12 K showing his first time up and a dominant 7 IP 1 ER 14 K performance the last time he faced them. Morton’s 3.66 FIP suggests that his recent struggles may be a part of natural regression and that we may see a little more as he comes down to earth from a stellar start to 2018.

Meanwhile, Mike Minor will toe the slab for the Rangers and has been pretty much what we saw in his last start against Houston. He’s surrendered between 3 to 6 ER in each of his last 7 starts and only managed more than 5 strikeouts against the White Sox. He’s been susceptible to the long ball, surrendering a homer in each of his last 6 starts. His one start against the Astros was a 5 IP 5 ER stinker where he would only manage 2 strikeouts. Though he’s been fairly awful this season, his peripherals suggest that he shouldn’t be as bad as he’s been performing.

The Rangers should make for an easy bounce back game for Morton and give him the advantage over Minor, who inspires no confidence.

Game 4: Dallas Keuchel, LHP (3-8, 4.13 ERA) vs. Matt Moore, LHP (1-5, 7.47 ERA)

Dallas continued his up and down season with more of the down in his last start against the M’s. He would go deep in the game at 6.2 IP, but allowed 7 ER with all but 1 coming off 3 homers. He’ll look to bounce back against a Rangers team that he handled quite easily the last time he saw them. He went 7 strong innings of 3 H, 0 ER ball while striking out 8 with 1 walk. While Keuchel has had mostly good starts, he has not been as sharp as we’ve seen in the past. He especially struggles in the first inning and was having command issues to open the Mariners series.

Pile of human wreckage Matt Moore has easily been the Rangers’ worst starter. He’s only had one start where he hasn’t given up a run and is averaging slightly more than 4.1 IP per game. He did turn in his lone quality start of the season in his last game though, going 6 IP with 3 ER while walking and striking out 2 against Oakland. He did struggle in his 2 starts against Houston, going 4 IP with 4 ER his first time and only 3 IP with 3 ER the second. His numbers suggest that he’s due for some good luck, but that’s not surprising with a .385 BABIP and 7.47 ERA.

It’s not so much that Keuchel has the advantage here as almost every pitcher has the advantage against Moore.

Fun Fact

If the Astros pull off a sweep then they can win the season series against the Rangers. I don’t know how often that happens with division opponents in mid June, but feels early.

Up For Discussion

Assuming his value keeps rising, who is the Astros’ most likely playoff rival to trade for Hamels, and how does it affect Houston in the playoffs?

For Your Viewing and Listening Pleasure

Game 1: Thursday, June 7th @ 7:05 pm CDT
Listen: Astros - KBME 790, La Ranchera 850 AM / Rangers - 105.3 The Fan, KFLC 1270
Watch: Astros - ATT SportsNet-SW / Rangers - FSSW / MLB.TV

Game 2: Friday, June 8th @ 7:05 pm CDT
Listen: Astros - KBME 790, La Ranchera 850 AM / Rangers 105.3 The Fan, KFLC 1270
Watch: Astros - ATT SportsNet-SW / Rangers - FSSW / MLB.TV

Game 3: Saturday, June 9th @ 7:15 pm CDT
Listen: Astros - KBME 790, La Ranchera 850 AM / Rangers 105.3 The Fan, KFLC 1270
Watch: FOX / MLB.TV

Game 4: Sunday, June 10th @ 2:05 pm CDT
Listen: Astros - KBME 790, La Ranchera 850 AM / Rangers 105.3 The Fan, KFLC 1270
Watch: Astros - ATT SportsNet-SW / Rangers - FSSW / MLB.TV

Poll

Who wins this series?

This poll is closed

  • 21%
    Astros Sweep 4-0
    (16 votes)
  • 65%
    Astros Win 3-1
    (48 votes)
  • 8%
    Series Split 2-2
    (6 votes)
  • 2%
    Rangers Win 3-1
    (2 votes)
  • 1%
    Rangers Sweep 4-0
    (1 vote)
73 votes total Vote Now