TEXAS RANGERS (21-13) VS HOUSTON ASTROS (10-25)
MINUTE MAID PARK IN HOUSTON, TEXAS
The Texas Rangers are coming off of a loss to the Chicago Cubs in a makeup game, and a split with the Milwaukee Brewers in a two game series. After a hot start to the season, they have gone .500 in their last twelve games. The Rangers’ pitching staff has been strong so far this season. Their starters have the fourth best ERA in baseball at 3.39 and the third lowest FIP at 3.12. More surprisingly, the Rangers’ bullpen has a combined 2.85 ERA, which is seventh best in baseball. After losing Mike Napoli, Michael Young and Josh Hamilton during the offseason, you would think that the Rangers’ offense might take a hit. To this point in the season, there really hasn’t been much of a drop-off. They currently rank fourth in the American League with a .751 OPS and are fifth in batting average (.263).
The Houston Astros are coming off of their first series win since the Seattle Mariners’ series that took place on 4/22-4/24. Since doing some shuffling to the roster, the team has been more exciting to watch and the outfield has definitely improved. The key for this series will be the Astros’ starting pitching. The Astros are given the task of taking on the American League West’s best with no Bud Norris or Lucas Harrell. They last played the Rangers in their opening series, losing two of three at Minute Maid Park.
Alexi Ogando has been a dependable starter for the Rangers so far. His one bad start of the season (2.1 innings, 6 hits, 5 earned runs) came at Wrigley Field, against the Cubs, on a wet and windy day. In his last start against the Astros, Ogando went 6.1 innings and allowed just four hits while striking out ten. Ogando has only thrown more than 6.1 innings once this season and hadn’t reached 100 pitches in a start until his last appearance on May 4th, against the Red Sox.
Dallas Keuchel will be making his first start of the season for the Astros. In six relief appearances this season, Keuchel has thrown 16.1 innings and allowed three homeruns. He made his Major League debut last year on June 17th against the Rangers in Arlington. During that start, Keuchel threw five innings and allowed four hits and just one run. This is the perfect opportunity for Keuchel to prove that he belongs at the Major League level.
Can the Astros just forfeit this game? That’s my “expert” analysis on this one. Yu Darvish has become the Ace that the Rangers needed. So far this season, he looks as if he has stepped into the elite class of American League pitchers with Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander. Darvish has made one start against the Astros already this season, and was nearly perfect until Marwin Gonzalez came up and Dikembe Mutombo’ed him with two outs in the ninth. Darvish is flat-out nasty and his pitches range anywhere from 60 to 98 mph. Good luck with that!
It was recently announced that Erik Bedard would be moved to the bullpen, and everyone in Astrosland rejoiced (except for the fans that were wondering why he wasn’t just released). After Philip Humber struggled again in his last start against the Tigers, the Astros had to figure out what route to take with their starting rotation. Much to our surprise, Bo Porter gave Bedard the nod instead of moving Jose Cisnero, Paul Clemens or Travis Blackley out of the bullpen. I believe that four innings is a realistic goal for Bedard, and then either Cisnero, Clemens or Blackely will get the opportunity to eat up some innings.
Rookie Nick Tepesch had a great April, making four appearances and putting up a 2.53 ERA in 21.1 innings. His May has not been so hot, giving up ten earned runs in his two starts against the White Sox and Cubs. When he is effective, his sinker/slider combination keeps hitters grounded to the tune of a 55.3% ground ball rate. We will see if Tepesch continues to struggle or if can bounce back and prove that it is only Chicago-based teams that hurt him.
Jordan Lyles has done exactly what the Astros hoped he would do since being brought up. He has given them five innings and allowed three runs or less in each of his starts. Thanks in part to his improved velocity and a small sample size, he has seen his strikeout numbers go from 15.8% of batters faced in 2012, to 27.3% through his two starts this season. In his last start on May 7th against the Angels, Lyles allowed four hits and three runs while striking out six hitters. Hopefully we will start to see him stretch it out a bit, but if he only goes five innings again, expect to see one of either Cisnero, Clemens or Blackley in this game as well.
- The Astros are one of only two teams with a negative pitching WAR at -1.1. The only pitching staff with a worse WAR is the San Diego Padres (-1.4).
- Jason Castro continues to improve right before our eyes. He is currently fourth amongst AL catchers in batting average (.265) and is tied for first in doubles (11) with Joe Mauer. Against righties he is batting .291 with an .814 OPS for the season.
- Erik Bedard is 0-2 with a 9.98 ERA as a starter. As a reliever he has a 1.42 ERA in 6.1 innings.