Series Preview: Atlanta Braves (38-37) vs. Houston Astros (33-44)


After a disappointing 1-5 performance on the road in DC and Tampa Bay, perhaps a long home stand will see the Houston Astros return to their form from May. But the competition is certainly some of the best in baseball as the Atlanta Braves and Detroit Tigers are coming to town.  Tuesday through Thursday will feature the Braves’ first visit to Minute Maid Park since the Astros transition into the American League.

Jose Altuve


George Springer

(Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports)

Current hits leader Jose Altuve remains the talk of the town. George Springer has hit 13 homers thus far in his rookie year. Jon Singleton has experienced a rough transition to the major leagues hitting just .200 in  65 at-bats. Singleton has struck out 25(!) times so far this season. But he has shown tremendous power with four home runs. Dexter Fowler is the lead-off hitter that Jeff Luhnow envisioned when trading for him last December. The 1-4 in the lineup will likely be solid for the rest of the season.

The other bats in the lineup have really been struggling lately. Even Fowler had not been immune to the o-fer’s that Brian McTaggart noted prior to Sunday’s loss in Tampa.

Those bats may or may not heat up. The pitching in the last 30 days has certainly done their job. In fact the Astros have the MLB 4th-best ERA among starters in the last 30 days while the Braves have actually had the 8th worst (3.17, 4.11).

Here are the probables for this series:

Game 1: Tuesday, June 24th 7:10 PM CDT

ATL: Aaron Harang (5-6, 3.83 ERA)

HOU: Scott Feldman (3-4, 3.95 ERA)

Harang’s last outing against the Philadelphia Phillies is certainly not how he intended to pitch. The veteran right-hander allowed 13 hits and 9 runs with 8 of them being earned. He also gave up 3 free passes while striking out 4 batters in five innings of work. Prior to that outing, however, Harang has done a fairly good job as he has thrown 6+ innings in all but three starts this season.

This game will feature a pair of tall starting pitchers as both Harang and Feldman stand in at 6′ 7″ in height. Scott did not factor into the decision of the game in his last outing against the Nationals. He was able to survive just five innings while allowing two runs to score. Feldman has struggled since returning from the disabled list and will need to facilitate some ground ball outs for a successful start. Perhaps a sign of good hope is that the Braves offense has mustered just a .244 batting average thus far this season.

Game 2: Wednesday, June 25th, 7:10 PM CDT

ATL: Alex Wood (5-6, 3.43 ERA)

HOU: Collin McHugh (4-5, 2.76 ERA)

McHugh has been very impressive this season. Originally slated to make a spot start in place of an injured Scott Feldman, he earned a spot in the Astros rotation. A blister in Minnesota plagued his outing a few weeks ago. While he has not been as dominant as he was earlier this season, he is still consistently recording some strikeouts and allowing few runners to score. The Astros offense has been unable to back him up and he has lost his last two starts.

Do not let a 5-6 record serve for deception. Alex Wood has been a valuable asset for the Braves this season. He began the 2014 campaign as a starting pitcher prior to being moved to the bullpen. But Wednesday will see him start with a fresh slate. Wood has a career minor league ERA of 1.68 in 123 1/3 innings pitched as a starter in the Braves minor league system. I am assuming the injury to Gavin Floyd is the reason why Wood is starting Wednesday at Minute Maid Park.

Game 3: Thursday, June 26th, 1:10 PM CDT

ATL: Mike Minor (2-4, 4.20 ERA)

HOU: Jarred Cosart (7-5, 3.78 ERA)

Minor dominated the Nationals for 7 innings at Nationals Park in his last start. He has actually appeared to be very sharp except for a trio of games this season. In order for the Astros to take this day game, perhaps their offense will have another parade of 11 hits. Minor’s three shortest outings this season have all been caused by yielding 11 hits in each of those outings.

Cosart will get the ball at home in front of a hometown crowd for him. Surprisingly his splits are not quite as good at home as on the road. In six starts at Minute Maid, Jarred has a 3-2 record with a 4.04 ERA. Cosart is pretty underrated this year because of that one start in Oakland that is still plaguing his ERA. Aside from that brief hiccup, Cosart could be in all-star talks along with Keuchel and McHugh. His last start in Tampa Bay saw him post 8 scoreless innings. Hopefully he will be able to continue that success against the Braves.

Some tidbits…

  •  Jose Altuve is the MLB leader in hits following results of play on Sunday (6/22). He went 1×3 with a walk to extend his current hitting streak to 6 games. Altuve is now batting .336 on the season.
  • Braves’ C Evan Gattis had a 20-game hit streak snapped on Sunday vs. the Nationals. Gattis had hit 8 homers while batting .386 prior to an 0x3 game. Chris Johnson extended his hitting streak to 8 while Andrelton Simmons went 0x4 to snap his 5 game streak.
  • Fowler now has 9 career home runs to lead off a game.
  • Houston has a 17-20 record at home while the Braves are 18-19 on the road in 2014.