BALTIMORE ORIOLES (32-25) VS HOUSTON ASTROS (21-37)
MINUTE MAID PARK IN HOUSTON, TEXAS
The Baltimore Orioles come into this series winning nine of their last 15 games, and three of their last four series. They have MLB’s best offense, ranking number one in team WAR, slugging, home runs and all while having the league’s lowest strikeout percentage. They are also first in fielding WAR and second in hits, stolen bases and average. Longview, Texas native Chris Davis is currently leading the world with 20 home runs. He is hitting .357, but you can expect to see that average start to fall if pitchers can figure out a way to keep him in the park, as his batting average on balls in play is a ridiculous .398. The Orioles weakness is their pitching staff. They rank 27th in pitching WAR and are leading only the Astros in FIP. The bullpen, which was a major strength in 2012, is currently ranked 26th in FIP with a 4.27.
The hottest team is baseball is…The Houston Astros! I don’t think anyone saw that coming. They head back home after sweeping their six-game road trip versus the Colorado Rockies and LA Angels, and they’ve won ten of their last 16 games. The sweep of the Angels was highly unlikely because it had looked as if the Angels were starting to turn things around before Houston came to town. They had won ten of their previous twelve games and had a streak of eight in a row during that span. The Astros pitching staff has made all of the difference of late. Over the past week, the staff is fifth in MLB in team ERA at 2.43. During that time, the Astros pitchers have gone 6-1 with five saves. Good pitching, timely hitting, and some lucky breaks have added up to one fun ride! Let’s see if the Astros can continue their hot streak during their short, three-game homestand.
Chris Tillman struggled mightily in his last start. Tillman allowed six runs to the Washington Nationals in just 4.2 innings. He has to be excited that he won’t have to face Ryan Zimmerman anymore. Tillman allowed four home runs to the Nattys, and three of them came off of Zimmerman’s bat. Despite Wednesday’s struggles, Tillman ended up having a solid May going 3-1 with a 3.83 ERA. When pitching away from Camden Yards, he is 3-0 with a 2.59 ERA.
Lucas Harrell is coming off of the worst month in his MLB career. He was 1-4 with a 7.53 ERA for the month of May, and finally collected his first win in his last outing against the Colorado Rockies. Walks and long balls have plagued Harrell in 2013. His HR/FB ratio is 15.7% this season (up from 9.5% in 2012) and he is walking 12.5% of batters he faces (up from 9.4%). Harrell has publicly complained about the shifts being used by the Astros so far this season, but there is no defense to solve walks and bombs. Minute Maid Park has not been friendly to Harrell this season as he is 2-4 with a 7.15 ERA in seven starts.
Freddy Garcia is off to a good start for 2013, but he has been very fortunate to this point. While on the surface his numbers look very good, if you look at his 5.31 FIP and his BABIP of .209, you can see that he has had luck on his side. I don’t, however, want to take anything away from what he did in his last start. Garcia managed to shutout the tough National’s lineup through eight innings while allowing only three hits. The long-time veteran and former Astros’ farmhand has done a great job of not giving free passes, and that alone can be the difference in success and failure (see Lucas Harrell).
Dallas Keuchel had his best start of the season on Friday. He went seven innings and allowed six hits and just two runs to the Angels. Despite the success Keuchel had his last time out, opponents are still hitting .307 with an .830 OPS. Righties have feasted on him this year, hitting six of his seven homers allowed. In fact, in Keuchel’s five 2013 starts, he has allowed one home run in all but one — Friday’s start. Like Harrell, most of Keuchel’s success has come on the road. He is 1-2 with a 6.30 ERA at Minute Maid this season.
In Miguel Gonzalez’s last start, he threw six innings and allowed five runs to the Detroit Tigers while receiving a no decision. He was hurt by the combination of three walks and two long balls. The right-hander has been tough on lefties, holding them to a .214 average and a .565 OPS. All eight homers that Gonzalez has allowed this season have come against righties, who have a .939 OPS against him. Bo Porter would be well-advised to stack the lineup with righties Thursday afternoon.
Over Bud Norris’ last three starts, he is 1-0 with a 0.95 ERA in 19 innings. It looks like he may have finally stepped up to become the top-of-the-rotation starter that he has been capable of being. He managed to shutout the Angels lineup for six innings while allowing four hits on Saturday. Over seven home starts, Norris is 3-1 with a 2.03 ERA. Norris was 4-1 with a 1.71 ERA at Minute Maid Park last season. If he continues to dominate at home during this game, Jim Crane may decide to change the name of the ballpark to David Stefan Norris Stadium.
- After going 14 games and 55 plate appearances without a home run, Chris Carter has now hit three homers in his last five games. Only four of Carter’s twelve home runs have come at home.
- Chris Davis is killing right-handed pitchers this season. He is hitting .393 against righties with a 1.332 OPS and fifteen homers.
- Jose Veras recorded a save in three of the four wins against the Angels. During that time he threw three innings, allowing no runs and striking out five. Veras is 11-14 on converting save opportunities this season.