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2019 Series Preview #30: Houston Astros @ Texas Rangers

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The Astros (57-33, 1st in AL West) raise the curtain on the second half with four against the Rangers (48-42, 3rd in AL West)

MLB: Houston Astros at Texas Rangers Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

First Half Bias

Astros

Houston opens the second half of the season after ending the first on a high note. After one of their worst losing streaks in years, they stormed back to go 7-1 in the final three series of the first half. Those victories once more put the team into a healthy lead in the division after things had looked a little shaky, and was done on the backs of a few hot players and some excellent pitching. They’ll look to continue pushing the Rangers down in the division and hopefully gain some ground on the A’s, who went on a hot streak coming into the break. The opening game of the series will also be the only game played tonight, so there will be a bit of a spotlight on this Texas rivalry.

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Houston Astros Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

When talking about the hottest bats on a team I don’t usually like to use players with small sample sizes, but the biggest part of the recent excitement for the Astros has been Yordan Alvarez. In just 19 games he’s already muscled 7 homers and 7 doubles while driving in 25 runs. He’s not just power either with a .342 average and 9 walks in 73 ABs,

Of course that’s just excitement from the new shiny, as the old guard had quite an excellent first half as well. Though Springer and Correa are also on a short sample due to injury, they joined Bregman as the other three Astros with an OPS north of .900. Michael Brantley was pretty much right there with an .893 mark, but he was in a bit of a funk as the team went into the break.

While Yuli Gurriel may not be in that club he has been absolutely blistering hot in the last couple of weeks, capturing AL Player of the Week honors right before the ASG. Hopefully the break won’t affect his rhythm and he can help the Astros throw some dirt on Arlington’s season.

It’s not just the top of the lineup though as there has been solid contribution all up and down Houston’s roster in the first half. Reddick especially has had some timely hot streaks so far in 2019.

As a unit the offense ranks second in the league for OBP, SLG, and OPS, and 4th in average. They also have the least amount of strikeouts for any team, and are 6th in the league for walks.

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

As for the relievers, Pressly had the strongest opening half of the season, though he did wobble a little near the end of it. He not only got his first All Star nod, he also etched his name in the MLB record books with 40 straight scoreless appearances. He’s joined by Astros closer Roberto Osuna and a resurgent Will Harris as the most dangerous arms out of Houston’s bullpen.

Collin McHugh has been circling that status as well as he continues to settle back into a relief role. In his 11 innings out of the pen he has only given up 2 runs, both of which came before his return from the IL. Héctor Rondón has performed admirably so far this season as well, though he’s not quite on the upper tier as some of the others.

Unfortunately there is a bit of a disconnect when it comes to the rest of the pen after that. Josh James and Chris Devenski have seen the most work of anyone else, but they remain volatile. While both have put together nice stretches, neither have been able to make them last for very long.

The Astros’ pen has been a strength so far this season but it also has its weaknesses. Joe Smith should be close to returning to the fold though, so hopefully he can provide a little bit of stability.

Rangers

The Rangers represent one of the more surprising stories for the 2019 MLB season. After being left for dead by most of the league, they’re in the midst of a competitive run for the Wild Card and were even sniffing the division for a hot minute a couple of weeks ago. They’ve turned their fortunes around so much in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year that they are now looking around for help for their rotation. Expect them to be looking to make up some ground on not just the Astros but the Oakland A’s who have supplanted the Rangers for second place in the AL West.

MLB: All Star Game-National League at American League Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The Rangers’ offense has been led by explosive All Star Joey Gallo, who is a product of the three true outcomes. Gallo has 20 homers, 49 walks, and 95 strikeouts in 207 ABs. He also has 14 doubles and a triple under his belt so far this year.

While Gallo might be Arlington’s elite hitter, there’s still plenty of production from Shin-Soo Choo, who continues to be a stable component of the Rangers’ lineup. He’s joined by Willie Calhoun as one of their better hitters, who has been flashing real talent after getting to spend some serious time at the MLB level.

Danny Santana has also been a dangerous force for the Rangers, which is a surprise considering that he’s been somewhat unimpressive in his last 4 seasons in the majors. However, his performance is not completely unprecedented, as he had similar numbers during his rookie 2014 season.

There is also a chance that Hunter Pence could return to the lineup during this series, and he has definitely been having a bit of a renaissance for himself playing for his hometown team. It’s too bad he was forced to miss the ASG with that injury, but in true Hunter Pence style he declined to lament that turn of events due to having already experienced so much luck in life.

While the rest of the team has decent on base skills, there isn’t a whole lot to get excited about concerning stats. Elvis Andrus and Logan Forsythe are steady with a slightly-above-average OPS, but things begin to get pretty mediocre after that.

Though they do have some explosive bats, the Rangers’ offense has been closer to the middle of the pack this season in most offensive categories. They do hit a lot of double as a team, but that’s pretty much their brightest point on the year.

MLB: Texas Rangers at Minnesota Twins David Berding-USA TODAY Sports

The Rangers’ bullpen is currently anchored by Shawn Kelley in the 9th, who took over the role from the previous heir apparent, Jose Leclerc. Kelley has done a good job, successfully converting 11 of 15 opportunities this season.

Chris Martin has been the other big arm out of the bullpen for Arlington, and has been Kelley’s setup man. He currently owns the team’s best WHIP, sitting at 0.99 on the year. and also has 5 of the Rangers’ 2019 saves.

As I said earlier, Jose Leclerc was ticketed to be the club’s ace reliever, but has stumbled rather spectacularly this season. Though he actually has the best BAA with a .204 mark, he’s also got one of the worst ERA’s at 4.86 during relief appearances. The Rangers have begun to explore the use of an opener, with Leclerc serving in that role three times so far this year.

Brett Martin and Jesse Biddle serve as JAG’s in the Rangers pen so you can expect to see them if the game devolves into garbage time.

Pitching Match Ups

MLB: Houston Astros at New York Yankees Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Game 1: Framber Valdez*, LHP (3-4, 4.57 ERA) vs Lance Lynn, RHP (11-4, 3.91 ERA)

Framber will make this start after getting sent back down to the minors following a couple of disastrous outings. Though Valdez had been doing quite well up until being placed in the rotation, two straight starts of less than 4 innings and more than 5 runs saw him working on some things back in Round Rock. While he’s done a good job of patching the hole in the rotation, I expect a trade coming in the next couple of weeks will see Valdez either back in the bullpen, with the Express, or pitching for another team.

A big part of the Rangers’ surprise success has been the over-performance of its pitching staff, and a big part of that has been Lance Lynn. While Lynn has had a run of good to excellent seasons, last year’s under-performance and his age had people whispering that he was on his way out. A couple of clunkers have kept his stats from showing a complete rebound, but Lynn has managed to toss a quality start in 14 of his 18 games this year. His most impressive game of 2019 came in his penultimate start of the first half, where he twirled 8 innings of scoreless ball against the Rays and struck out 10. Lynn faced Houston once this season and did well against them, giving up 3 runs in 7 innings.

*The Astros have yet to confirm the first starter for this series as of this writing, but numerous reports have said that Framber will return to the rotation for this game. Therefore I’ll be covering him for the purpose if this preview.

Game 2: Gerrit Cole, RHP (9-5, 3.09 ERA) vs Jesse Chavez, RHP (3-4, 3.30 ERA)

Cole rolls into the start after ending the first half on a pretty dominant note. After struggling somewhat in the month of May, Cole would put it into another gear and close out the first half with 8 straight quality starts. He didn’t give up more than 2 earned runs in any of those and logged double-digit strikeouts in 4. Cole has been absolutely ridiculous with the strikeout numbers this season, averaging above 13 K/9 for pretty much the entire year. He’s faced Texas three times this year with mixed results, getting lit up in one of them while doing well in the other two.

When last the Astros played the Rangers, Chavez was pitching out of the bullpen as a longman. Since then he’s been moved into the rotation to take over the spot previously stunk up by Drew Smyly. Chavez does have experience as a starter so the move made sense and started out quite well with the Rangers before slowly going downhill. He’s only made three starts so far, but in that time would give up 0, then 3, then 4 earned runs. Of course that’s better than Smyly, who had a 7.90 ERA as a starter.

Game 3: Wade Miley, LHP (7-4, 3.28 ERA) vs Mike Minor, LHP (8-4, 2.54 ERA)

Miley makes this start after the Astros announced that they will use the veteran southpaw to break up Verlander and Cole. Miley had an excellent first half of the season and has really brought stability to the Astros rotation. He would toss 10 quality starts in the first half, including his final two before the break. Miley has only faced the Rangers once in 2019 and tossed 6 innings against them while only surrendering 2 runs and striking out 7.

Mike Minor is another one of the Rangers’ pitching surprises, having turned in bona fide ace numbers for Arlington. Minor is flashing some of the best stuff of his career and is a big part of the reason why the Rangers are thinking playoffs this year. He’s had a dominant start against the Astros where he held them scoreless through 7, but would get chased after five his last time facing them after giving up 3.

Game 4: Justin Verlander, RHP (10-4, 2.98 ERA) vs Ariel Jurado, RHP (5-4, 4.23 ERA)

Verlander makes this start after opening up the 2019 All Star Game with a clean inning. JV currently leads the majors in WHIP at 0.81 as well as in home runs at 26. While he’s had some things to say about the juiced balls this year, he’s still managed to continue dominating in the face of all the homers. Like Cole he’s faced Texas three times, with two of those being dominant outings and one best left forgotten.

Jurado’s second season as a big leaguer has gone slightly better than his first one in 2018, but not by much. He’s done a decent job in his second year, but there have been some pretty bad moments for the young righty. Jurado’s command is not that best as he doesn’t strike out a ton of guys and gives up more walks than I’m sure the Rangers would like. He started the season in the bullpen before being moved to the rotation, where he’s seen the most damage this year. He faced Houston twice this season as a reliever, and got lit up for 4 runs in 1.2 innings during one of those outings.

Fun Fact

For Your Viewing and Listening Pleasure

Game 1: Thursday, July 11th @ 7:05 pm CDT
Listen: Astros - KBME 790 AM/94.5 FM HD-2, La Ranchera 850 AM / Rangers - 105.3 The Fan, KFLC 1270
Watch: ESPN

Game 2: Friday, July 12th @ 7:05 pm CDT
Listen: Astros - KBME 790 AM/94.5 FM HD-2, La Ranchera 850 AM / Rangers - 105.3 The Fan, KFLC 1270
Watch: Astros - ATT Sportsnet-SW / Rangers - FSSW

Game 3: Saturday, July 13th @ 7:05 pm CDT
Listen: Astros - KBME 790 AM/94.5 FM HD-2, La Ranchera 850 AM / Rangers - 105.3 The Fan, KFLC 1270, KKDA 730 AM
Watch: Astros - ATT Sportsnet-SW / Rangers - FSSW

Game 4: Sunday, July 14th @ 2:05 pm CDT
Listen: Astros - KBME 790 AM/94.5 FM HD-2, La Ranchera 850 AM / Rangers - 105.3 The Fan, KFLC 1270
Watch: Astros - ATT Sportsnet-SW / Rangers - FSSW

Poll

Who wins this series?

This poll is closed

  • 12%
    Astros Sweep 4-0
    (22 votes)
  • 63%
    Astros Win 3-1
    (109 votes)
  • 21%
    Series Split 2-2
    (38 votes)
  • 1%
    Rangers Win 3-1
    (3 votes)
  • 0%
    Rangers Sweep 4-0
    (1 vote)
173 votes total Vote Now