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2019 Series Preview #23: Toronto Blue Jays @ Houston Astros

The Astros (46-23, 1st in AL West) conclude their eight-game homestand with a three-game set against the Toronto Blue Jays (25-43, 4th in AL East)

Toronto Blue Jays v Houston Astros Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Recency Bias


The Houston Astros are coming off a split in their brief two-game series against the Milwaukee Brewers. The first contest turned out to be a slugfest. After Milwaukee jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead in the first inning, Tyler White responded with his second homer of the season to give the Astros a 2-1 lead.

The Brewers tied the game in the third when Christian Yelich unloaded for his 25th home run of the season. Yuli Gurriel gave the lead back to the Astros, one they wouldn’t relinquish, when he connected on his fifth homer of the season—a two-run shot—in the bottom half of the inning.

Yordan Alvarez made club history when he became the first Astro to homer in his first two MLB games.

The homer by Alvarez stretched the Astros’ lead to 8-3 in the fifth inning. Another homer, the Astros’ fourth two-run blast of the night, gave Houston a 10-4 lead after seven innings and it looked like the good guys would cruise.

But Milwaukee got a run in the eighth and a three-run homer from Yasmani Grandal in the ninth to trim the Brewers’ deficit to two. Despite giving up the bomb to Grandal, Chris Devenski struck out Eric Thames and the Astros mercifully won, 10-8.

Brad Peacock (6-3, 3.42) earned the win for Houston, allowing four runs on seven hits to go with four strikeouts in 6 13 innings. Hector Rondon got into trouble late in the game for the Astros, though he was bailed out of a bases-loaded jam by Ryan Pressly.

The Astros fell behind early again in the second game of the series. Justin Verlander surrendered solo homers to Ryan Braun and Grandal in the first two innings.

Robinson Chirinos brought Houston within a run with an RBI single in the fourth inning and Tony Kemp followed with a two-run double to give the Astros their first lead of the night.

Verlander looked invincible once handed the lead. At one point, he sent down eight straight Brewers, seven via strikeout en route to a career-high 15 K’s—12 years after Verlander tossed his first no-hitter, no less.

Unfortunately, another solo homer ended the string of consecutive outs for Verlander and tied the game, 3-3. The blast came after Verlander jumped ahead of Eric Thames 0-2 and felt like it might be the sort to make it a long night.

The homers have been a minor problem for Verlander this season. He’s allowed 17 longballs—fourth-most in the Majors—already this season, though 15 have been of the solo variety.

The Astros’ ace had a brilliant night, nonetheless, tossing seven innings and allowing three runs on just four hits to go with his ultimate strikeout performance.

As for the rest of the game, well, all you need to know is the Astros endured another extra-inning affair but lost for the first time in such games this year, 6-3.

Along the way, the club made history a few different ways Wednesday night. The Astros struck out 24 batters, the most in a single game in franchise history. Verlander also became just the second Astro to strike out 15+ batters without surrendering a walk.

Verlander joined another illustrious group as well with his performance against the Brewers.

And created one all to himself.

For the season, Verlander is clearly the early leader in Cy Young voting. A couple stats that stand out:

The only Astros hitting over .300 in the past week is Garrett Stubbs, and he’s had just 3 at-bats. Gurriel leads regular position players in hitting over the last seven days with a .273 (6-for-22) batting average and also leads the club with 5 RBI. Though Alvarez has only nine official at-bats (14 PAs), he leads the Astros with two homers, a .500 OBP, and a 1.389 OPS in the past seven days, and ranks second with four RBI and five walks.

Milwaukee Brewers v Houston Astros Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Michael Brantley and Alex Bregman have hit a cold stretch, hitting .158 and .125, respectively, in the last week and have a combined one RBI (though Bregman leads the club with seven walks and still has a .417 OBP in that span). The Astros will need their No. 2 and 3 hitters to heat up again while their three All-Star regulars recover and rehab on the injured list.

The Astros’ bullpen has been a mixed bag of late. The relief corps nearly gave away a six-run lead late in Tuesday’s game against the Brewers, necessitating Roberto Osuna to get warm in the ‘pen. They tossed six scoreless innings the next night before Cionel Perez allowed three runs in the 14th. The main cogs in the ‘pen seem to have overcome brief struggles. Will Harris, Josh James, Roberto Osuna, and Ryan Pressly are all unscored upon over the last week. The quartet has thrown a combined eight innings during that time and allowed just four hits to go with nine strikeouts.

Houston Astros v Seattle Mariners Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Rogelio Armenteros was promoted from Triple-A Round Rock on the off-day Thursday and should provide a fresh arm to help alleviate the workload required by three extra-inning games in the past week.

Injury Update: Max Stassi went 1-for-4 with a double Thursday night in the first game of his rehab assignment with Round Rock. Jose Altuve should join Stassi on his own rehab assignment this weekend, if all goes according to plan. Brian McTaggart shared updates on George Springer, Aledmys Diaz, Collin McHugh, and Joe Smith as well in his article Tuesday.

Team Notes: On Wednesday, the Astros officially signed their first-round pick in the 2019 draft, catcher Korey Lee.

Lee is the first catcher the Astros have drafted with their first pick since Jason Castro in 2009. He began his professional career Thursday night with the Astros’ Single-A Short-Season affiliate, the Tri-City ValleyCats. Our own Spencer Morris shared his thoughts on Lee last week, shortly after the selection.

Derek Fisher was optioned to Round Rock in the corresponding move to recall Armenteros. The Astros will have 13 pitchers on the roster as they enter a stretch of 10 games in as many days.

Blue Jays

Toronto is in a rebuilding/development mode this season, sitting at 25-43 with the fourth-worst record in baseball. The Blue Jays are tied for the lowest team batting average (.222) and OBP (.289) in the Majors and are the AL’s worst in SLG (.383). OPS (.672), and stolen bases (18). That doesn’t mean the Blue Jays are without talent, however; they just have a lot of fresh faces, many of which possess Big-League pedigrees.

Toronto is led by 6’2”, 250-pound, third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who ranks fourth amongst rookies with seven homers in just 39 games played. Guerrero Jr. also ranks in the Top 10 of rookies receiving regular playing time in hits (40), doubles (8), RBI (19), walks (14), batting average (.268), OBP (.329), SLG (.463), and OPS (.792). The Blue Jays’ 20-year-old centerpiece was born in Montreal, Canada and is the son of Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero, who played 16 MLB seasons. Guerrero Jr. has hit .400 (8-for-20) over the past seven days and has five home runs in his last 25 games.

Toronto Blue Jays v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images

Lourdes Gurriel Jr., brother to Yuli, has been Toronto’s best hitter for most of the season. The Blue Jays’ leftfielder is hitting .280 for the season—his second in the Majors—and had a scorching-hot May in which he batted .393 (11-for-28) with four doubles and four homers in just seven games played to produce a 1.378 OPS and 252 sOPS+. The 25-year-old Gurriel Jr. has 10 hits—four for extra bases—in the last seven days, to go with 6 RBI.

Toronto Blue Jays v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

First baseman Rowdy Tellez, another Blue Jays’ rookie, had five homers and 16 RBI in the first month of the season. Though he ranks second amongst rookies with 10 longballs and 29 RBI, Tellez has cooled in June, batting just .158 (3-for-19) with a 24 sOPS+ during the month. Tellez, who is in his age-24 season, has wicked home/road splits. He has produced a bit more power at home but has been a better hitter on the road this season. Tellez, a lefty, is slashing .269/.317/.441 with a 104 sOPS+ in 101 plate appearances away from home versus .185/.242/.424 and 74 sOPS+ in Toronto.

Another rookie getting meaningful at-bats for the Blue Jays is second baseman Cavan Biggio, son to Craig. Prior to last night, Biggio was only 14 games into his MLB career but had an odd slash line in June.

Last night, he produced his first multi-homer game in the Majors with two solo shots in the Blue Jays’ 12-3 win over Baltimore. Although the lefthanded Biggio—who grew up in Houston—is hitting only .158 (8-for-45) in his young career, he has a .351 OBP.

Toronto Blue Jays v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images

Randal Grichuk and Justin Smoak are tied for Toronto’s team-lead with 12 homers apiece. Smoak paces the Blue Jays with 34 RBI, 42 walks, and a .366 OBP. Surprisingly, Eric Sogard has produced the most bWAR (1.1) amongst Jays position players, though he is closely followed by Guerrero Jr. (0.8 bWAR).

Former Astro Teoscar Hernandez has struggled for the Blue Jays in his second full season with the team. A year after slugging 22 homers and delivering a 109 sOPS+, Hernandez has just four round-trippers and a 63 sOPS+ through 46 games in 2019. He had a wretched May in which he batted .114 (4-for-35) but has been better in the last seven days with a .292 average (7-for-24).

A final rookie, catcher Danny Jansen—who has hit just .184 in 49 games this year—is in the regular lineup for the Blue Jays. Jansen has been better recently, posting a .357/.438/.429 slash in his last seven days, including a 3-for-5 with three runs scored and two RBI against the Orioles Thursday night.

The Blue Jays starting pitching hasn’t been very good this year, outside of Marcus Stroman. Toronto’s starters allow about five runs per game and have received quality starts in only 27% of its games—fourth-worst in MLB. Stroman has been Toronto’s best starter, going 4-8 with a 3.18 ERA and producing 1.6 bWAR—tops amongst all Jays--in 15 starts this season, though the Astros won’t see him this weekend. Matt Shoemaker began the season 3-0 with a 1.57 ERA but made only five starts before being lost for the season to a torn ACL. He still ranks third on the club with 1.1 bWAR.

Arizona Diamondbacks v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

Closer Ken Giles has been really good for the Jays this season but was recently placed on the 10-day Injured List and won’t play in this series. Overall, Giles is 1-1 with a 1.08 ERA and 42 strikeouts in 25 innings (15.1 K/9, 6.0 K/BB ratio, and a 413 ERA+). Batters have hit just .207 with one home run against Giles in 2019 and he has converted 11 of 12 save opportunities for the Blue Jays to place him second on the team with 1.5 bWAR.

Toronto Blue Jays v San Francisco Giants Photo by Robert Reiners/Getty Images

In Giles’ absence, the Jays used Daniel Hudson to close Wednesday’s win against the Orioles. Hudson is 3-2 with a 3.30 ERA and one save on the year and has struck out about a batter per inning. Sam Gaviglio, Joe Biagini, and Tim Mayza (LHP) are trusted options out of manager Charlie Montoyo’s bullpen.

Pitching Matchups

Game 1: Gerrit Cole, RHP (5-5, 3.72 ERA) vs. Aaron Sanchez, RHP (3-7, 4.25 ERA)

Cole was really good his last time out, striking out 14 over seven innings in a no-decision against Baltimore. He’s struggled a bit with consistency and longballs this season but looks to be returning to the form we saw most of 2018. Cole actually has a lower FIP (3.12 vs. 3.54) and more K/9 (13.8 vs. 11.2) than Verlander, though his results haven’t been as stellar. In his last five starts, Cole is 1-1 with a 3.41 ERA and has allowed just a baserunner per inning. He has 44 strikeouts in 29 innings during that span. Cole has faced the Blue Jays just once in his career and that was over five years ago when he was still with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Sanchez surrendered five funs on six hits and four walks against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Saturday. After starting the season 3-1, Sanchez has lost six straight decisions and is winless since April 27. He had an ERA over 5.00 across six starts in May and that has ballooned to 6.75 in two June starts. Sanchez has been worse on the road than at home this season across all pitching categories. He has made five career appearances (3-1, 3.66 ERA) and three starts against the Astros. Sanchez last faced Houston in 2017, when he gave up eight runs on seven hits and four walks in a 12-2 loss.

Game 2: Framber Valdez, LHP (2-2, 2.73 ERA) vs. Clayton Richard, LHP (0-2, 7.04 ERA)

Valdez was as good as ever in his last start for the Astros. He allowed one run across a career-high seven innings and struck out seven without a walk but didn’t record a decision in Saturday’s loss to the Orioles. Valdez, who will make just his second start of the season for Houston, has never faced Toronto in his brief Big-League career.

Richard has made four starts for the Blue Jays this season. He allowed seven runs on seven hits with two walks in 2 23 innings against the Diamondbacks Sunday. The 35-year-old Richard has played for four teams in his 11-year MLB career. He’s 1-1 with a 4.79 ERA in three starts against the Astros in his career.

Game 3: Wade Miley, LHP (6-3, 3.14 ERA) vs. Trent Thornton, RHP (1-5, 4.78 ERA)

Miley tossed six scoreless innings in a win his last time out against the Orioles, one of his former clubs. Like most Astros’ starters, Miley has been good over the last month. He’s gone 2-1 with a 2.48 ERA during that span and has recorded 30 strikeouts in 29 innings. Sunday will be Miley’s 11th start versus the Blue Jays, against whom he is 2-7 with a 4.47 ERA in his career. In 13 lifetime starts at Minute Maid Park, Miley is 5-3 with a 2.69 ERA.

Thornton will be pitching against the club that drafted him when he opposes Miley on Sunday. The Jays’ rookie has shown flashes of potential this season, such as the five scoreless innings and eight strikeouts he logged in his Major-League debut and his 10-strikeout performance against the San Diego Padres in late May. Thornton, 25, has gone 0-1 with a 4.73 ERA over his last five starts. He tossed five innings of three-run ball against the Orioles in his most recent outing and has never faced the Astros in his young career.

Fun Fact(s)

The last time the Astros and Blue Jays faced off in Houston, Bregman hit a walkoff, two-run homer with two strikes off Ryan Tepera in a 7-6 victory.

With the split against the Brewers, the Astros still haven’t lost a series since the first week of May, when they dropped three of four to the Minnesota Twins. Houston is 10-0-2 in series and 28-9 overall during that span.

As it currently stands, the Astros only play 36 of their 93 remaining games (39%) against teams over .500.

For Your Viewing and Listening Pleasure

Game 1: Friday, June 14th @ 7:10 pm CDT

Listen: Astros - KBME 790 AM, 94.5 FM, La Ranchera 850 AM / Blue Jays – SN 590

Watch: Astros - ATT SportsNet-SW / Blue Jays – SNET, TVA Sports / MLB.TV

Game 2: Saturday, June 15th @ 3:10 pm CDT

Listen: Astros - KBME 790 AM, 94.5 FM, La Ranchera 850 AM / Blue Jays – SN 590

Watch: Astros - ATT SportsNet-SW / Blue Jays – SNET, TVA Sports / MLB.TV

Game 3: Sunday, June 16th @ 1:10 pm CDT

Listen: Astros - KBME 790 AM, 94.5 FM, La Ranchera 850 AM / Blue Jays – SN 590

Watch: Astros - ATT SportsNet-SW / Blue Jays – SNET, SNET-1, OMNI, TVA Sports / MLB.TV


Who wins this series?

This poll is closed

  • 41%
    Astros Sweep 3-0
    (41 votes)
  • 51%
    Astros Win 2-1
    (50 votes)
  • 6%
    Blue Jays Win 2-1
    (6 votes)
  • 1%
    Blue Jays Sweep 3-0
    (1 vote)
98 votes total Vote Now