Houston Astros vs. Minnesota Twins Series Preview (May 2-4)

Sep 6, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve (27) is tagged out by Minnesota Twins third baseman Trevor Plouffe (24) during the sixth inning at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 6, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve (27) is tagged out by Minnesota Twins third baseman Trevor Plouffe (24) during the sixth inning at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports /

The Houston Astros are 1-0 in May, and that’s all this team needs to think about going forward.

Forget about the dreadful month of April, and only look forward.  Stepping into May, the Houston Astros open up a long home stand against the Minnesota Twins (7-18), Seattle Mariners (13-11), and the Cleveland Indians (10-12).

The Astros very well could have won their second series of the season against Oakland, had the bullpen not faltered in game one.  The Astros finally received good starting pitching for an entire series from Mike Fiers, Chris Devenski, and Doug Fister, who surrendered a combined five earned runs over the three-game set.  The bats were held quiet by the A’s pitching staff, but somehow the Astros squeaked out a win in the final game with only two hits, one of which was a leadoff home run by Jose Altuve, who now has seven long balls on the year.

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The Twins come to town on a four-game losing streak.  Record-wise, they are the worst team in the American League, beating out the Astros by only one game to claim that title.  Minnesota is 1-10 on the road this year, and their team batting average for away games is a lowly .220.  The reliable Joe Mauer leads the Twins offense, hitting .337 on the year.  Byung Ho Park leads the team with six home runs, and Miguel Sano and three others are tied with three long balls.

As far as pitching goes, Minnesota has already sent two of their starting pitchers, Kyle Gibson, and Ervin Santana, to the 15 days DL.  Their respective replacements Jose Berrios and Alex Meyer will be pitching in this series against Houston.  Their bullpen has been decent, but their closer Kevin Jepsen has had his issues, already blowing three of five save opportunities this season.

GAME 1: Jose Berrios (0-1, 11.25) vs. Dallas Keuchel (2-3, 4.41)

The 21-year-old, former first round pick Berrios will be making his second career start in Houston.  He will look to have a better showing than his debut at home against the Indians where he gave up five earned runs in only four innings of work. The right-hander features a low to mid 90’s fastball with a curve and change-up to boot.  His change-up is regarded as a plus pitch and is a clear second pitch which has enough fade to work against both lefties and righties.  Berrios will look to keep the ball lower in his next start, as he got only four ground balls from Cleveland hitters.

His strikeout potential was on display as he fanned five batters, but Berrios’ main issue against Cleveland was not able to get lefties out.  He held right-handed batters hitless, but left-handers hit him well, good enough for a .500 average.  Look for A.J. Hinch to load up his lineup card with left-handed hitters like Preston Tucker and Marwin Gonzalez.

Keuchel’s Korner will be in effect Monday night. Astros pitchers have fared much better at home than on the road this year, and ace Keuchel is no different.  His lone home start this year resulted in an eight-inning shutout performance.  Minnesota has hit for a significantly less batting average against southpaws this year, so that also works in Keuchel’s favor.  Keuchel needs a good performance to put his last two in the rear view mirror.  He has given up a total of 11 earned runs in his last two starts and has not near resembled the Cy Young award winner of a year ago.

His control has not been as precise, and hitters are laying off more of his pitches outside the zone.  In his career against Minnesota, Keuchel is 2-1 with a 2.30 ERA and has pitched well against current hitters, especially the powerful Miguel Sano.  Sano has struck out all four at-bats against Keuchel.

Game Prediction: Astros 6 – Twins 3

GAME 2: Alex Meyer (0-0, 18.00) vs. Collin McHugh (2-3, 6.65)

Another former first-rounder, Meyer, will be making his first big league start against the Astros.  Thus far in his young career, he has totaled three relief appearances and has been hit hard in all of them.  His 2016 debut was on April 30 versus Detroit.  In that outing, he gave up five hits, two earned runs, and one walk in just one inning of work.  Minnesota is in their rebuilding phase and acquired Meyer from the Nationals in 2012 for Denard Span.

The hope was that Meyer could be a piece of the rotation for the future, but his stock has fallen a bit and now is battling for a spot in the Minnesota bullpen.  Meyer is a six-foot-nine right-hander with a powerful fastball that averages around 95 mph.  His main issue has located his fastball and giving up too many walks.

McHugh got his second victory of the rough 2016 season in his last start against Seattle.  McHugh went five innings giving up only two earned runs on five hits, striking out three and walking one.  McHugh has been hit hard this season, and opponents have a cumulative .367 batting average against him.  A worse number that needs to be pointed out is that when McHugh has two strikes on hitters, the batting average rises to .421.  In fact, when McHugh has hitters on a 0-2 count, they are batting .500 against him.

Astros starters have struggled to put together a string of good starts, but if McHugh wants to build off his last performance, he will need to make better pitches in two-strike situations.  Current Twins batters are hitting a combined .250 against McHugh with Joe Mauer (.500) having the most success.  McHugh has held Brian Dozier hitless in 10 plate appearances.  Over his career, McHugh is 2-0 in three starts against Minnesota with a low 2.00 ERA.

Game Prediction: Astros 7 – Twins 3

GAME 3: Phil Hughes (1-4, 4.45) vs. Mike Fiers (2-1, 4.97)

The veteran Hughes will toe the rubber in the series finale.  Hughes uncharacteristically has struggled with his control early on.  The last two seasons Hughes walked only 16 batters in each, in 2016 he has already walked 6.  He is a serviceable pitcher that won’t pitch any gems, but will keep his team in games.  He has struggled to get much run support this year, getting an average of 2.36 runs from his offense.

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He has only two starts against Houston in his career, with the last one occurring in 2014.  He is 1-1 with a 7.71 ERA and has never pitched at Minute Maid Park.  Historically a fly ball pitcher, Hughes will have to avoid giving up routine fly balls to left field that can find their way into the Crawford Boxes.

Fiers has been the most consistent Astros starting pitcher so far.  He is 2-0 in his last three outings and has given up only two runs in each of his last two games.  His best outing of the season came in his last start against Oakland, where he left the game after seven innings, in line for the win, only to see the bullpen blow the lead and lose the game.  Also a fly ball pitcher, Fiers inevitably will get tagged for home runs.  This year he has already given up seven and is on pace for his highest HR/9 rate since 2013.

If Fiers can keep the ball in the park, he should always give the Astros a chance to win.  Although his strikeouts are a bit down from last year, he is not giving up near as many walks this year, as his BB/9 rate is only 0.9.  Fiers has pitched well against Minnesota going 2-1 with a 1.65 ERA in four appearances.

Next: Astros Start off May With a Win on Two Hits

Game Prediction: Astros 6 – Twins 2

The is a critical series for the Astros to make a statement.  They can put a disastrous April behind them with a solid series against one of the weaker teams in the AL.  However, another poor showing at home could cause some serious shake up.  Look for the Astros to get it together, and hopefully, use this series as a rallying point for a string of victories.

**Stats from MLB.com and Baseball-Reference.com**