DETROIT TIGERS (15-11) VS HOUSTON ASTROS (8-20)
MINUTE MAID PARK IN HOUSTON, TEXAS
The Houston Astros are happy to be coming back home after going 1-6 on their road trip to Boston and New York. The Astros pitching struggles continued, giving up 28 runs over the four-game series in Boston. Lucas Harrell gave the Astros a strong start in Game One against the Yankees, and then the other Astros’ pitchers preceded to give up 12 more runs in the final two games of that series. Houston has called up Jordan Lyles and is expected to bring back Dallas Keuchel, so it’s safe to say that the Astros are planning on doing some much-needed shuffling among the pitching staff.
The Detroit Tigers won five straight games against the Atlanta Braves and the Minnesota Twins before dropping the last two games of the Twins series. With the perfect balance of strong starting pitching and powerful hitting, the Tigers were many experts’ offseason pick to be the American League’s representative for the Fall Classic. So far, the Tigers have not disappointed as they lead the league in team FIP (2.68) and team batting average (.282) through just over a month.
Game 1: Thursday, May 2nd at 7:10 CT
Rick Porcello (1-2, 8.84 ERA) vs Jordan Lyles (0-0, -.– ERA)
Rick Porcello has been very Astro-like so far this season. His longest outing of the season came in his last start versus Atlanta, when he went 6.1 innings and allowed three runs and struck out five. In his April 20th start, against the Angels, he gave up nine runs and wasn’t able to get out of the first inning. Sound familiar? The right-hander relies heavily on his two-seam fastball, and has been able to induce a 57% ground ball rate thus far. If he is able to keep the ball down, he could end up giving the Astros fits.
Jordan Lyles will be making his first start of the season. After a rough spring, Lyles was sent to Triple-A Oklahoma City to work out some of his problems. While not exactly dominant in OKC (2-2, 5.32 ERA), he was strong enough in his last start (5 innings, 3 hits and 1 run) to make the Astros think that he could give them a better chance to win than Brad Peacock. Last season Lyles was 5-12 with a 5.09 ERA in 25 starts.
Doug Fister is off to the best start of his career. He has gone seven or more innings and allowed three or fewer runs in his last four starts. The right-hander has been dominant versus right-handed hitters, holding them to a .189 average and a .510 OPS. Fister is basically a better version of Porcello, inducing a 59.6% ground ball rate while only walking 6 batters this season.
Bud Norris is coming off of a quality start against the Red Sox where he received the loss. The Astros always manage to get Norris’ best at Minute Maid Park, so they will hope to get at least six strong innings from him Friday. Norris only has experience against two of the Tigers hitters. Omar Infante has a .222 average in nine at-bats and Prince Fielder is .263 with a home run and four RBI in 19 career at-bats versus Norris.
Game 3: Saturday, May 4th at 6:10 CT
Max Scherzer (3-0, 4.02 ERA) vs Lucas Harrell (3-2, 3.60 ERA)
Max Scherzer is a strikeout machine…and will be going up against a team that Ks more than any other. So far this season, Scherzer has struck out an impressive 13.21 per nine innings. He throws three above-average pitches: a four-seam fastball, slider and changeup. Scherzer has had some recent struggles, allowing eight earned runs in his last 12.1 innings against the Twins and the Royals, so hopefully the Astros will be catching him at the right time.
Lucas Harrell takes the ball every fifth day and gives his team a great chance to win. Harrell’s two-seam fastball has gotten him nearly 60% ground balls, and the combination of Matt Dominguez, Marwin Gonzalez, Jose Altuve and Carlos Pena have been stellar behind him. In nine career innings versus the Tigers, Harrell has allowed one run while striking out seven.
Justin Verlander has been one of the best for several years now, and he doesn’t seem to be slowing down. While his average fastball velocity is down by 1.5 mph from last season, he is as effective as ever. Verlander’s fastballs still have great movement on them and he is throwing his changeup nearly 17% more this season than last. That has been plenty to keep hitters at bay, as his numbers have been consistent with the dominant Verlander of years past. I would be extremely surprised if he doesn’t end up with double-digit strikeouts in this start.
I really cannot believe that I’m doing another series preview that has Philip Humber’s name in it. In Humber’s last start he surrendered four runs in six innings and actually saw his season ERA dip by nearly half a run/9. Every current Tiger that has ever faced Humber has at least one hit against him, and Mr. Triple Crown, Miguel Cabrera, has two homers in six career at-bats versus him. With so many moves being made in the Astros’ rotation, it would really surprise me for Humber to pitch well enough for me to ever have to include him in another series preview.
- Philip Humber is only the second pitcher since 1900 to lose six or more games in the month of April.
- Jason Castro is on a tear at the plate, hitting .421 with four doubles over the road trip.
- Minute Maid Park is Prince Fielder’s favorite road park. He has a lifetime .325 average with 14 homeruns, 38 RBI and a 1.031 OPS in Houston.