McHugh, Carter lead Houston Astros back home to face Indians tonight

Collin McHugh

(David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports)

After an exhausting nine-game road trip, the Houston Astros will return home to face the Cleveland Indians tonight at Minute Maid Park in the start of a four-game series. The team is looking to tie a season-high with their fifth straight win at home and have now won 13 of their last 19 in Houston.

In last night’s road victory, Dallas Keuchel pitched 7+ innings and gave up only three hits and one run while striking out four. He was Greg’s Star Performer of the Week and the Astros snapped the Angels 10-game winning streak. Offensively, the team had five different players collect multiple hits and were led by Gregorio Petit (home run, double, 3 RBIs), Jake Marisnick (three hits), and Jose Altuve (franchise-record 62nd multi-hit game).

Collin McHugh (Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports)

Tonight, the Astros will send Collin McHugh to the mound to face Zach McAllister (3-6, 5.97), who is making his first start since July 31st. McAllister has gone 0-6 with a 7.89 ERA in his last 10 starts, but allowed one run over five innings in his only game against the Astros on September 20th. The Indians (76-72) were recently swept by the Tigers and are quickly falling out of playoff contention. Meanwhile, McHugh has made a very strong case to be Rookie of the Year this season. Check out his numbers:

"McHugh in 2014: 9-9 with a 2.79 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, .209 batting average, 144 strikeouts, 40 walks, 108 hits against in 142 innings and 23 starts."

The Astros right-hander has been terrific all year and on quite a run lately. In his last start, against the Mariners, McHugh allowed one run and two hits over eight innings. Since the beginning of August, McHugh has made eight starts and hasn’t allowed more than two runs in any of them. Only four other pitchers have ever had eight-game streaks of that type in Astros history: Larry Dierker, J.R. Richard, Nolan Ryan, and Mike Scott, per Elias Sports Bureau.

Since August 1st, McHugh has a 5-0 record and a 1.69 ERA, which is good for third in MLB during that span. His 2.79 ERA on the season would rank sixth in the AL if he had enough innings to qualify (just ahead of Keuchel’s 3.00 ERA). Overall, the Astros are now 27-24 in games stated by Keuchel or McHugh this season and just 39-59 in games started by anyone else. McHugh allowed two runs over 5.1 innings in his only meeting with the Indians this season, but did not earn a decision.

Chris Carter

(Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports)

The player to watch on offense tonight is Chris Carter, who comes in red hot and on a career-high 12-game hitting streak. Carter is batting .368 with three home runs and seven RBIs in September. He also has 10 home runs and 24 RBIs in his last 17 home games and the slugger is is 4 for 7 with a home run and a triple against McAllister this year.

"Carter in 2014: .238/.315/.517 with 36 home runs, 85 RBIs, 20 doubles, 1 triple, 111 hits, 165 strikeouts, 49 walks, 66 runs scored, and 5 stolen bases in 466 at-bats."

Carter has been on base via a hit or walk in 19 straight games, which is the longest streak by an Astros players this season. However, he hasn’t hit a home run since September 5th against the Oakland A’s, so I expect Carter to hit one tonight off McAllister. I also think McHugh will have no problem against an Indians lineup that has been struggling recently, so the right-hander should be able to lower his ERA even more and lead the Astros to another victory.

A few other important things to remember throughout this series: 1. Jose Altuve is just five hits away from Craig Biggio‘s single-season franchise record (210 in 1998), 2. the Astros are four wins away from 70 on the season (which would be the first time they have won 70 since 2010), and 3. Chris Carter is just four home runs away from 40 on the year (he would be the first Astros player with 40 in a season since Lance Berkman hit 45 in 2006). The franchise record for HRs in a year is 47 set by Jeff Bagwell during the 2000 season.