Houston Astros: Red Sox Series Preview

Jul 23, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Astros left fielder Colby Rasmus (28) hits a home run during the seventh inning against the Boston Red Sox at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 23, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Astros left fielder Colby Rasmus (28) hits a home run during the seventh inning against the Boston Red Sox at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports /

The Houston Astros look terrible.

Simply terrible.  There are about 40 different reasons why the Houston Astros have lost games this year, and they just got embarrassed in Arlington, where the Rangers have won 10 games in a row versus Houston. The Astros can’t get hits when they need hits, batting an AL-worst .175 RISP. Base running mistakes have happened in almost every game, including one by Carlos Gomez which took away a bases loaded situation with less than two outs.  Pitching has been great when there is no run support, and terrible when the bats are connecting. Fielding has become the latest mockery by the club that was picked by many to win the World Series this year. Pop-ups were dropped by Tyler White and Jason Castro, and young stud Carlos Correa has looked unusually shaky on some grounders hit to him.

What’s worse, is that the in-state rival Rangers have shown they are superior to the Astros, and not just by gameplay. Front office moves have panned out well for the Rangers, such as the trade to acquire Cole Hamels. The Astros traded for Scott Kazmir, and he gave us a good few months before tailing off in the post-season, and inevitably leaving the club. Jeff Luhnow also made a trade for Gomez, who has been a complete let down, and sending Vincent Velasquez and Mark Appel to Philadelphia for Ken Giles, at the moment, does not look rewarding. The Rangers signed Ian Desmond, who has had a slow start, but demolished some of Dallas Keuchel‘s pitches this past series, as well as throwing out Jose Altuve at second base while he was trying to stretch a single into a triple. Houston made a similar off-season signing with Doug Fister, and although he pitched well against the Rangers, his other starts have left much to be desired.

It’s mid-April, and I may be overreacting, but the Astros better pick it up quick, as they are now 5-11, and now five games back of the division-leading Texas Rangers. It won’t get any easier, as the hot-hitting Boston Red Sox come to town.

Fans going to the games this weekend should expect to see a lot runs on the scoreboard. Both teams fill the bottom (worst) two spots in team ERA in the American League.  Boston leads the league in runs scored with 74 and have the third highest team batting average at .265. Houston is second in the AL in both home runs and strikeouts. Boston and Houston’s pitching have allowed 19 and 23 home runs respectively.

GAME 1: Steven Wright (0-2, 2.13) vs. Collin McHugh (1-2, 6.39)

The knuckleballer Steven Wright opens up the series at Minute Maid Park on Friday night. Wright, who in the past has filled the role of both starter and reliever, has started two games thus far in 2016.  In those starts, he has pitched very well but has a 0-2 record to show for it due to lack of run support. So far, the biggest difference in Wright’s pitching is that he is getting more batters to swing and miss, specifically on pitches outside the strike zone.

He is also landing more first-pitch strikes, which has forced batters to hit behind the count, with more of a defensive approach. Wright has minimal history versus current Astros hitters and has only pitched one disastrous inning in Houston back in 2013, giving up three runs in only one inning.

McHugh is coming off his second defeat of the young season. He gave up ten hits in 5.1 innings against Detroit. If the trend of a poor performance followed by a solid outing continues, Astros fans might see the good version of McHugh. Thus far on the year, opponents are batting a cool .356 against McHugh, with lefties hitting .429.

The Red Sox lineup is balanced with hitters from both sides of the plate, with Brock Holt and Xander Bogaerts having the most success versus the Houston righty. McHugh has got to limit the hits, and try to get more ground balls if he wants to get back in the win column versus Boston.

Game Prediction: Astros 6 – Red Sox 5

GAME 2:  Clay Bucholz (0-1, 5.74) vs. Mike Fiers (1-1, 6.48)

The native Texan Buchholz enters this series without a win but had his best outing of the year in his last game against Toronto. He pitched 6.2 innings of shutout baseball, earning a no-decision. Buchholz has always been regarded as a quality arm, but his main issue is staying healthy. Last season ended early with an elbow injury, and before getting hurt, he was having a fantastic year.  So far this season, his main issue has given up the long ball, as he allowed three home runs in his first two games.

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The Astros pose a threat to all pitchers with a home run heavy lineup. However, he has pitched very well against the Astros historically, winning all three of his starts including last year’s complete game victory.  Current Astros batters are hitting .194 collectively versus Bucholz

Fiers has not picked up where he left off in 2015. In three starts, Fiers has gotten roughed up in all of them, and barely escaped with his first victory of the year in his last start, thanks to run support and quality bullpen pitching. His K/9 rate is down considerably to 5.94 from around 9.00 in the previous two seasons, and hitters are connecting on his fastball at a much higher percentage as well.

Fiers will need to work on his location, or possibly incorporate more breaking balls into his game plan.  For this to be effective, he will also need to be able to throw his curveball for a strike. This start will be the first time Fiers has faced Boston in his career and has minimal history versus any of the current players.

Game Prediction: Red Sox 5 – Astros 2

GAME 3: TBA vs. Scott Feldman (0-2, 4.11)

An injury to Joe Kelly has left Boston with a decision of whom to go with. Manager John Farrell has hinted of the possible starter for his team on Sunday.

"Farrell confirmed that Sunday’s starter will be from the PawSox, though he hasn’t disclosed yet whom it will be. Roenis Elias and Brian Johnson are likely candidates, but top prospect Henry Owens has made perhaps the most convincing case of late after some struggles during spring training. In three starts so far this year, the former compensation-round pick is 1-1 with a 1.00 ERA, with 23 strikeouts and 10 walks, holding hitters to a .138 average. – http://espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/id/15282641/joe-kelly-boston-red-sox-sustained-no-further-damage-right-shoulder"

Elias has the most experience versus Houston from his time with the Mariners and has done well, holding Houston hitters to .239 batting average overall. The Red Sox may choose to allow the former first round draft pick, Owens, to make his first start of 2016, after going 4-4 in 11 starts last season.

Scott Feldman again had a serviceable outing, but just didn’t pitch well enough to win against the Rangers. He gave up six hits and three walks in just five innings in his last start, and he appeared to let errors in the field affect his demeanor on the mound for the second straight game. Feldman, like McHugh, is getting killed by left-handed batters, which are hitting .375 against him. Feldman has gotten rocked by Boston batters as well, with current Red Sox hitting .373 against him, including home runs from Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz.

Game Prediction: Astros 5 – Red Sox 4

Next: Astros: Believe it or Not, the Astros are in the middle of pack in LOB

Luckily for Houston, they will miss David Price this time around. The Red Sox lineup is as strong as any, and could put up a lot of runs this series.  A.J. Hinch needs to make some change to alter the bad baseball that is plaguing the Houston clubhouse right now. This writer’s suggestion is bench Gomez and to put Preston Tucker in LF, and move either Colby Rasmus or George Springer to CF. Gomez looks lost in the batter’s box, and on the bases.

**Stats from MLB.com, Fangraphs.com, Baseball-Reference.com**