HOUSTON ASTROS (7-18) VS NEW YORK YANKEES (15-9)
YANKEE STADIUM IN THE BRONX, NEW YORK
The Houston Astros are coming off of a four game sweep by the Boston Red Sox, and cannot be feeling good about themselves. Their starting pitching has been absolutely horrendous and their hitters continue to strand runners in scoring position while striking out at a record pace. So far this season it seems like for every one positive that I see, there are two or three more disturbing negatives. I keep waiting for the Astros to start to play like I thought they would this season, but it looks like the so-called “experts” may have been correct with some of their predictions about the team. I have been unpleasantly surprised with how awful the few veterans on the team have looked, as well as how little progress the young guys on the team are making. Since the Astros’ rotation only has one Major League caliber starting pitcher throwing in this series, if they cannot win game one then you can probably expect another series sweep in New York.
The Yankees enter the start of this series fresh off of a four game sweep of the Toronto Blue Jays. Many (including me) thought that the Yankees were either too injured or too old to be able to compete in the AL East, but they continue to prove the naysayers wrong. They have won five of their last six series and will look to embarrass the Astros to finish a strong month of April. Impressively enough, the Yankees have been able to cruise through the first month of the season without their team captain (Derek Jeter) or a host of other starters, including Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and Alex Rodriguez.
Lucas Harrell has notched back-to-back wins versus the Indians and the Mariners, with his last start being his best of the season (7 innings, 6 hits, 1 run and 5 Ks). He has allowed two runs or less in four of his five starts this season. Walks have been an issue for Harrell so far, but being the groundball wizard that he is, he has been able to limit the damage. Lucas Harrell has been one of the Astros few bright spots this season and consistently gives them their best shot to win.
Astros fans should be very familiar with the Yankees’ Game 1 starter. Andy Pettitte pitched in Houston from 2004 to 2006, and was a major part of Houston’s only World Series team. Since coming out of retirement last season, Pettitte has been sensational. He went 5-4 with a 2.87 ERA in 12 starts last season and tied his career high in strikeout percentage with 22.8%. This season Pettitte has been even better, putting up his best swinging strike rate since his Astros days, while going at least seven innings in three of his first four starts. He is coming off of his first loss of the season at the hands of the Rays, though he did strikeout ten in six innings.
Philip Humber has not been fun to watch lately. He started off the season looking like he may be able to help the Astros’ youngsters by being an on-field leader as well as an inning-eater. Now he looks like a 6’3″ waste of oxygen. In fact, in his last two starts he has gone a combined 4.2 innings and given up 15 runs. I guarantee you that’s worse than most slowpitch softball pitchers’ lines.
Hiroki Kuroda has been great so far this season. In his last four starts he is 3-0 with a 2.28 ERA, including a complete game shutout over the Baltimore Orioles. So far this season Kuroda is holding right-handed hitters to a .163 average and only a .192 OBP. Between his splitter, sinker and slider, Kuroda is able to keep the ball on the ground and frustrate hitters. Bo Porter would be well advised to load the lineup with lefties and just hope that Kuroda does not have his best stuff.
One pitcher that is nearly at the same level of suck as Humber is Erik Bedard. Bedard’s best appearance of the season came in a relief role on Opening Day. I’m convinced he should return to the bullpen for good as he has yet to throw more than four innings in any of his starts. It’s been frustrating enough to have to watch the Astros get clobbered in one four-hour game after another; but to have to watch washed-up veterans like Bedard get hammered start-after-start has been unbearable. If he is not able to fare any better in this start, it may be time for him to trade roles with Paul Clemens, Jose Cisnero, Travis Blackley or one of the Minute Maid Park custodial staff members.
David Phelps will be making his first start of the season, taking the place of the injured Ivan Nova. Last season with the Yankees, Phelps made eleven starts and ended the season 4-4 with a 3.34 ERA. Phelps is a good strikeout pitcher, striking out 29% of the hitters he has faced this season. He features a fastball that averages around 90 mph, a slider, a curveball and a changeup. Last season he did give up 14 homers in his 99.2 total innings pitched, so it may be possible for the Astros to use the longball to get to Phelps (if they can manage to make contact at all).
- Like most teams in the Majors, the Yankees have several players on their roster that have had success versus Philip Humber in their careers. Brennan Boesch, Robinson Cano, Travis Hafner and Kevin Youkilis have combined for five homeruns in 29 at-bats.
- Jose Altuve was held hitless for only the second time in his last fourteen games. His season average dipped from .340 to .327 with his 0-4 day.
- This series will have the largest disparity of payrolls in all of baseball. The Yankees had an Opening Day payroll of $228,106,125. The Astros’ payroll is at $26,105,600 (and of course less than Alex Rodriguez’s yearly salary).