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Series Preview #42: Houston Astros @ Los Angeles Angels

The Astros (77-50, 1st in AL West) conclude their West Coast farewell tour against the Angels (63-65, 4th in AL West)

89th MLB All-Star Game, presented by Mastercard Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Recency Bias

Astros

Sup, everyone. Scott filling in for CK as we preview the three-game series pitting the Houston Astros against another divisional foe, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (hate that name). Before we dive into this weekend’s matchup against the Angels, a quick recap of the previous series:

After losing two of three contests to the Oakland Athletics, the Astros needed a series victory as they traveled to Seattle to begin a three-game set on Monday. Houston took an early 4-2 lead in the first game, and with Gerrit Cole on the mound things looked promising. Seattle made Cole—who tossed 99 pitches in five innings—work hard, however, and the Mariners clawed back to tie the game in the sixth. Familiar archnemesis Robinson Cano blasted a 3-run homer off Collin McHugh late to give the Mariners a 7-4 win and make it a sleepless night for the Astros and their fans.

Houston Astros v Seattle Mariners Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

Game 2 was a bit of an oddity in that it was a “bullpen” day for each team. With Lance McCullers still recovering from a forearm strain that occurred during an at-bat in interleague play, the Astros used a starting pitcher who wasn’t a member of their original rotation for the first time all season. Brad Peacock got the start as the “opener”, but it was rookie Framber Valdez who gave the Astros an unexpected boost in his major-league debut. The lefty, who was called up earlier in the day from Triple-A Fresno, flashed a pretty curveball and twirled 4.1 outstanding innings of one-run ball in relief of Peacock. The bullpen was able to maintain a slim lead the rest of the way for the Astros and Valdez earned the win in a 3-2 (one-run!) victory. The game also marked Jose Altuve’s return following a 21-game absence due to knee soreness, a stretch in which the Astros went 8-13. Despite the win, the Astros grounded into a franchise-record six double plays on the evening and have hit into 125 this season (as of Thursday). Houston is on pace to surpass the all-time record for GIDPs in a season (174, set by the Boston Red Sox in 1990).

The Astros’ offense had a big day in the series finale, hammering out 17 hits—their most since a 12-6 victory over the Chicago White Sox on July 7, and second-most hits in a game this season—and built an 8-run cushion on separate occasions. Charlie Morton was fantastic through five innings, but he faltered to begin the sixth and the Astros’ comfortable 9-1 lead was suddenly in peril. Mitch Haniger’s two-run homer capped a five-run sixth inning for the Mariners and brought the M’s within two runs. The Astros bullpen stifled the Mariners from there, however, and Roberto Osuna collected his first save with Houston in a 10-7 triumph. With the victory, the Astros reclaimed sole possession of first place in the AL West, improved to 3-3 thus far on their nine-game road trip, and moved to .500 for the month of August (9-9). It was nice to see the Astros win a series against an upper-echelon AL West opponent this week, and we got to witness this gem:

Heroes get remembered, but legends never die.

Tyler White has remained hot this week, posting a .333 batting average with a double, triple, and home run over the past seven days. White has arguably been the Astros most productive hitter since the All-Star Break. In 19 games since the MidSummer Classic, White has six home runs and 14 RBI (both tied for tops on the team), is batting .348, and has hit with authority (.727 SLG). White hit cleanup in Wednesday’s offensive outburst, which is something we may see more of down the stretch for the Astros.

Just as impressive, and maybe even more surprising, has been Martin Maldonado’s offensive explosion. The Astros’ recently-acquired backstop has hit .467 with a 1.333 slugging percentage in the last week. Maldonado has three homers over that span and has been a hit away from the cycle twice in the past two series. Combine Maldonado’s recent numbers with his defensive prowess and excitable/encouraging nature, and the Astros have some nice options at catcher with the impending return of Brian McCann.

Marwin Gonzalez (.304/.333/.609, 2 HR, 4 RBI) and Alex Bregman (.348/.444/.609, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 4 BB) have continued to provide offense over the past seven days for the Astros, and Tony Kemp (.417/.500/.667, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 2 BB) had a nice week as well.

Most importantly, the Astros are starting to get healthy. Obviously, Altuve’s return restores the reigning American League MVP back into the lineup, but it also seemed to invigorate the team. The Astros reeled off six consecutive hits at one point in Wednesday’s game, and Altuve was right in the middle of it; he even stole a base late in the game. The length he adds to the Astros’ lineup inspires confidence the offense can return to the form we saw earlier this season and for much of 2017.

Houston Astros v Seattle Mariners Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

Injury Update: George Springer is expected to return to the Astros’ lineup Friday night in the opener of the series with the Angels. Springer has missed the last three games with soreness in his left quadriceps, which surfaced shortly after his return from the 10-day disabled list following a sprained knuckle on his thumb. Brian McCann and Chris Devenski have each joined the Astros’ Double-A affiliate, the Corpus Christi Hooks, as they continue their rehab assignments.

The Astros’ bullpen, after a couple disappointing performances in Oakland, was mostly good against the Mariners. Excluding McHugh’s outing on Monday night, Astros relievers allowed three earned runs against the Mariners in nine innings of relief. Valdez was the hero with his performance that saved the bullpen and helped Houston get the victory in Game 2 against the M’s. Reports seem to indicate Cole will be pushed back from his scheduled start in the finale of the series against the Angels (setting him up to start the opener of a huge three-game set against the A’s in Houston). If true, Valdez has certainly earned the opportunity to be considered for the spot start in Cole’s place, and maybe even future starts depending on McCullers’ status.

During the series against the Mariners, AJ Hinch said most of the ninth-inning save opportunities will likely go to Osuna the rest of the season; the same night Hinch said that, Hector Rondón converted the save with a scoreless ninth inning. Then the next day, Osuna recorded the save by setting down the side in order and striking out Kyle Seager swinging to secure the win. So it looks like Hinch will go with the matchups moving forward with the bullpen, whether it’s closing or earlier in games. Regardless, it’s nice to see consecutive saves opportunities successfully converted.

Angels

The Angels are scuffling heading into this weekend’s series with the Astros. Los Angeles was just swept by the Arizona Diamondbacks in a two-game set and lost three of four to the Texas Rangers prior to that. The Angels have averaged 4.67 runs per game over their past six contests but the pitching staff has allowed at least four runs in every game during that span. Los Angeles is 63-65 on the season and has slipped out of playoff contention, falling 14.5 GB of the Astros in the AL West and 13 GB of Oakland in the Wild Card race. Nonetheless, the Angels will be looking to play spoiler against the reigning World Series champs and should get a boost this weekend with the expected return of perennial MVP candidate Mike Trout, who has been on the 10-day disabled list with a sore right wrist. Trout also experienced a family tragedy when his brother-in-law died last week.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

Even with Trout missing, the offense hasn’t been much of a problem for the Angels lately. Since being shutout by Oakland on August 11, the Angels have averaged 5.1 runs per game—a 10-game stretch in which they have been without Trout. Granted, Los Angeles has played San Diego and Texas a combined seven times during that stretch, and those two teams rank in the bottom five for runs allowed within their respective leagues.

Although Trout should return this weekend, the Angels will be without four-time All Star Justin Upton, who was placed on the 10-day disabled list Tuesday after he lacerated his left index finger on a wine glass. Upton had it rolling prior to his injury and was a big part of the offense in Trout’s absence. He’s hit .318 in 107 at-bats since the All-Star Break with 7 HR and 20 RBI. Upton is eligible to return from the disabled list August 30 when the Angels begin a four-game series in Houston.

Another big part of the Angels’ offense has been outfielder Kole Calhoun. Calhoun had a miserable start to the 2018 season, but he has improved dramatically since July. Calhoun hit 10 home runs in 23 games during July and has slashed .305/.385/.593 with 8 HR, 24 RBI, and 27 runs scored in 30 games since the All-Star Break—nearly equal to his totals in homers, RBI, and runs in 75 games before the All-Star Break. Calhoun’s resurgence is likely related to him being more selective at the plate. He has 15 walks since the All-Star Break, compared to only 18 walks prior, and is hitting .320 when ahead in the count versus .177 when behind. Calhoun, who has been shuffled around the Angels’ lineup quite a bit this season, has resumed hitting in the leadoff role, and is doing so with great success. He’s batting .318/.374/.618 in the leadoff spot with 11 HR, 29 RBI, and 33 runs scored in 32 games. If the Astros are able to contain Calhoun in this series, they should be in a good position to limit the Angels’ offense.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Even with Trout’s anticipated return, expect to see a relatively inexperienced lineup from the Angels this weekend. Rookie David Fletcher has been a pleasant surprise for the Angels, batting .474 with 6 RBI in his last five games. Fletcher has played five positions for the Angels this year and has been the primary second baseman since the trade of Ian Kinsler to Boston. Francisco Arcia and Jabari Blash should see playing time for the Angels during the series, and, of course, rookie sensation Shohei Ohtani will be in the middle of the lineup.

The Angels pitching hasn’t been good lately. The starters just haven’t been going deep into games for Los Angeles, and that’s forced the team to play from behind often; the Angels’ bullpen may be a little beleaguered as a result.

Blake Parker has been the closer for the Angels this season. Parker is 2-1 with a 3.21 ERA and 12 saves for the Angels. He has 61 strikeouts in 56 innings this season and has been generally reliable for the Angels.

The Angels also have some veteran options in their bullpen. Jim Johnson has been decent for the Angels recently, throwing three innings in the last week and allowing one run on three hits. Cam Bedrosian has been good since the All-Star Break (2-1, 3.00 ERA, 11K in 12 innings), though he allowed a walk-off hit against the Diamondbacks on Tuesday night. Conversely, Noe Ramirez (0-1, 6.60 ERA in 15 innings) has struggled since the All-Star Game. If they can get into the Angels bullpen early, that should portend good things for the Astros’ chances at victory.

Pitching Matchups

Game 1: Dallas Keuchel, LHP (9-10, 3.59 ERA) vs. Andrew Heaney, LHP (7-7, 4.11 ERA)

Keuchel will look to get back to .500 for the third time this year when he returns to the mound for the Astros to start the series. The lefty didn’t have a good showing in his last start, giving up 5 runs and six doubles in 5.2 innings of a 7-1 loss to Oakland. It’s been an up-and-down year for the former Cy Young-winner, who hasn’t been over .500 this year but went 4-1 with a 1.65 ERA in July. In his only start against the Angels in 2018, Keuchel took a no-hitter into the seventh inning of a 3-1 Astros victory. Keuchel is 11-2 (3.41 ERA) in his career against the Angels, and 7-1 (3.33 ERA) overall at Angels Stadium.

Heaney has not been over .500 this season, either. In his most recent start, he went 5.2 innings and allowed six runs on 10 hits against the Rangers. The lefthanded Heaney has beaten the Astros twice this season but inconsistency has been an issue for him. In his career, Heaney is 2-0 with a 1.08 ERA in four starts against Houston.

Keuchel had been really good until his most recent start, but Heaney has been a problem for Astros in the past. Keuchel should have a slight edge over Heaney, but this should be a tight game.

Game 2: Justin Verlander, RHP (12-8, 2.65 ERA) vs. Jaime Barria, RHP (8-7, 3.41 ERA)

Verlander, newly-minted member of the 200-win club, has been fantastic this season. He went 5.1 innings in his last start, giving up four runs and three homers against the A’s. The Astros ace has struggled of late, particularly due to troubles with the longball. Verlander has surrendered 26 home runs in 2018—third-most in MLB—including eight in four starts (5.57 ERA) this month. But the strikeout numbers are still there for Verlander and he has been really good against the Angels since joining Houston. This year, he is 3-0 (0.99 ERA) in three starts against Los Angeles. Verlander is 11-8 (2.99 ERA) in his career against the Angels, and 5-5 (4.09 ERA) overall at Angels Stadium.

Barria, who tossed 5 innings of one-run ball against the Rangers his last time out, has bounced back in August following a subpar July. He’s 2-0 (2.18 ERA) and has only allowed five earned runs in four starts this month. Barria has seemed to have a shorter leash from Mike Scioscia as the season has progressed; he’s averaging about five innings per start since June. Barria has faced Houston once in his career, going seven innings with four hits allowed and seven strikeouts in a no-decision earlier this season.

Although Barria has been solid for the Angels this season, Verlander is on the short list of AL Cy Young candidates. I fully expect Verlander to figure out his woes and because he’s had so much success against the Angels since joining Houston, the edge goes to the Astros in this one.

Game 3: TBD vs. Felix Pena, RHP (1-3, 4.53 ERA)

The Astros have yet to announce who will make the start Sunday. Typically, this would be Cole’s turn in the rotation, but Hinch seems to be considering pushing him back a day for the Oakland series. I like the idea, especially because Cole has been so important for the Astros this year and could benefit from the extra day. In terms of a starter for this game, Framber Valdez seems a likely candidate given his sterling performance Tuesday night against the Mariners. Hinch may prefer to “open” with another reliever, as he did Tuesday with Brad Peacock. Either way, the Astros may need a bevy of relievers to make an appearance in this game.

In his last outing, Pena pitched six innings and allowed four runs on seven hits at Arizona. He struck out a career-high 12 batters, including eight of the final 11 he faced. He hasn’t faced Houston before, and is 0-2 with a 6.52 ERA in eight career appearances (six starts) at Angels Stadium.

Just like last week’s bullpen day, it’s hard to give the edge to one team or the other at this point.

Fun Fact

The Astros will play 10 games—seven in Houston—against the Angels over the next month and are 5-4 against their AL West adversaries this season.

Also, the series against the Angels is Players’ Weekend, during which the Astros will feature self-selected nicknames on their jerseys.

For Your Viewing and Listening Pleasure

Game 1: Friday, August 24th @ 9:07 pm CDT

Listen: Astros - KBME 790, La Ranchera 850 AM / Angels - KLAA 830

Watch: Astros - ATT SportsNet-SW / Angels - FS-W / MLB Network (out-of-market only), MLB.TV

Game 2: Saturday, August 25th @ 8:07 pm CDT

Listen: Astros - KBME 790, La Ranchera 850 AM / Angels – KLAA 830, KTMZ 1220

Watch: Astros - ATT SportsNet-SW / Angels - FS-W / MLB.TV

Game 3: Sunday, August 26th @ 3:07 pm CDT

Listen: Astros - KBME 790, La Ranchera 850 AM / Angels - KLAA 830, KTMZ 1220

Watch: Astros - ATT SportsNet-SW / Angels - FS-W / MLB.TV

Poll

Who wins this series?

This poll is closed

  • 36%
    Astros Sweep 3-0
    (26 votes)
  • 56%
    Astros Win 2-1
    (41 votes)
  • 5%
    Angels Win 2-1
    (4 votes)
  • 1%
    Angels Sweep 3-0
    (1 vote)
72 votes total Vote Now