Welcome back to the Weekend Preview!
This time we’ll look at an organization that trusted in its process to field a team that currently leads the AL West. Strangely, they also measure things in Altuves. For the first time on the Weekend Preview, here are the Houston Astros.
Houston Astros – Current Record: 47-34 – Projected Record: 87-75
The Astros have raced out to best record in the American League, backed by great performances by Dallas Keuchel, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and Will Harris. However, George Springer’s broken wrist has taken the young outfielder onto the disabled list, forcing the Astros’ best position player out of the game for roughly six weeks. Nevertheless, the Astros have power in spades. Luis Valbuena is 17th in the league in ISO (.242) despite a .197 batting average. Chris Carter? He’s 30th in the league (.213) with a .198 average. If the Astros make good contact on anything, it’s going a long, long way.
Dan Straily vs. Justin Masterson, Friday, 7:10 p.m. EDT
Straily first appeared on most everyone’s radar back when he was in the Athletics’ system and striking out 11 batters per nine innings. He’s yet to bring those same numbers to the bigs, as he’s scuffled for most of his major league career. Straily is hurt by the fact that he walks a lot of batters and doesn’t get grounders so his defense can’t help him out. Earlier in his major league career, he allowed too much contact and didn’t get enough whiffs. Now the swinging strikes are trending back up, and batters are making much less contact in the zone than they used to. He’s been solid in the minors this year, and with Brett Oberholtzer going on the DL, he’ll get a chance to stick in the rotation with his start on Friday.
Justin Masterson still throws slow fastballs. Sure, he had a bit of an improvement in his first start back against the Rays, but that fastball barely reached 91. It would help if he could get whiffs despite the lack of velocity, but his swinging strike percentage is the lowest of his career. Contact has spiked, he can’t throw first pitch strikes, and he still walks too many guys. He’s a time bomb. One can only hope he’s on a different team when he goes off.
Collin McHugh vs. Clay Buchholz, July 4th, 1:35 p.m. EDT
McHugh, like Masterson above, has a pretty meh fastball. It doesn’t have amazing velo and it’s as flat as a board. However, he gets his strikeouts from all of the other pitches he uses, such as his fantastic slider. He’ll use it to attack both right- and left-handed handed batters and get out in front of them, as he gets a first-pitch strike over 60% of the time. After a season in which he kept the ball in the park with regularity, McHugh has had some trouble with the homer this year, as he’s given up 1.14 of them per nine innings. His peripherals are fine, but McHugh’s has regressed since last year.
The ERA just continues to plummet for Clay Buchholz. In April, he had a 5.76 ERA. Now, it’s 3.48, and his 2.66 FIP says he’s pitched far, far better than what that shows. He’s gotten less contact on his pitches, especially his fantastic changeup, which almost never stays in the zone, but batters still swing and miss anyway. Speaking of whiffs, he’s getting the most since his first season in the bigs, and he’s back to getting grounders 50% of the time. This Clay could be here to stay.
Lance McCullers vs. Eduardo Rodriguez, May 10th, 1:35 p.m. EDT
McCullers is an Astros farm product who got rave reviews on his curveball in the minors, which is undoubtedly nasty. He’s got a good two-seamer to throw off hitters from his flat four-seam fastball, and a changeup that made the jump from fringy to legitimate offering, giving him three good pitches with which to go after MLB hitters. However, what may torpedo a good rookie year is his command. His 3.04 BB/9 is decent, but if it creeps up to the 4.2 marks he had in the minors, he’s gonna have a rough going of it in the majors. Despite those fears, he’s still racked up a 2.19 ERA and a 2.66 FIP, so he’s done well. There’s just some reason to worry going forward.
Eduardo Rodriguez’s main issue lately was tipping his pitches while in the stretch. He looked good against Toronto, but still got hit hard pitching from the stretch, and that seemed related to his tipping problems. Nevertheless, he’s been great in the majors so far this season, giving the Red Sox some much needed talent in the rotation. This start against the Astros and the next one against the Yankees will be his toughest yet, and if he can get past those, he’ll be one of the Sox’ best pitchers – if not players – going forward.
With Springer out, the Astros will need to reshuffle their lineup, but that doesn’t make the top of their starting nine any less imposing.
Jose Altuve – 2B – R – .298/.342/.421, .273 TAv
Carlos Correa – SS – R – .287/.309/.543, .295 TAv
Evan Gattis – DH – R – .239/.269/.446, .260 TAv
Luis Valbuena – 3B – L – .197/.277/.439, .267 TAv
Chris Carter – 1B – R – .198/.314/.411, .271 TAv
Colby Rasmus – LF – L – .247/.321/.485, .301 TAv
Preston Tucker – RF – L – .243/.312/.414, .261 TAv
Domingo Santana- CF – R – .243/.300/.459, .256 TAv (in 40 PA)
Jason Castro – C – L – .214/.277/.375, .235 TAv
There’s a lot of power in this lineup, even without their star right fielder. Colby Rasmus has quietly had a very solid year, and doesn’t even have a platoon split to be seen despite being a left-handed hitter. However, of all the players above, Carlos Correa might be the one to fear the most. He’s hitting everything very hard and very far. Exit velos are through the roof. He’s a dangerous one.
The Sox have won five of their last seven games, and the Astros have won four straight and are coming off a series sweep against Kansas City. Both teams are hot, and if the Red Sox can somehow shut down the Astros’ power bats, they’ll stand a chance against the best of the AL West.
Photo by Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports Images