After a 6-4 homestand, the Astros came back down to earth yesterday when they were beat 11-1 by the Boston Red Sox at Fenway.
Dallas Keuchel, the 2015 Cy Young Award winner, continued to struggle in his 2016 campaign as he gave up eight earned runs on ten hits and two home runs through his six innings pitched. Josh Fields, who ended up being optioned to Triple-A Fresno after the game, didn’t help Keuchel’s cause, giving up three runs, one earned, on four hits in 2 innings pitched.
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Offensively, the supposed small ball offense that showed up some in the Mariners and Indians series missed the flight to Boston. Even though he came into the game struggling, as was Keuchel, Red Sox ace David Price had no trouble carving through the Astros lineup. Through 6.2 innings, Price gave up one earned run on six hits and struck out 12. The Astros were 0-7 with runners in scoring position and had only one extra-base hit, a double by Erik Kratz. (Yes, that Erik Kratz).
The Astros will go into game 2 of this four-game set with a record of 14-22, eight games back of the American League West-leading Seattle Mariners. The Red Sox, however, continue their early season success, tied atop the AL East with the Baltimore Orioles with a record of 22-13.
Friday’s game against the Red Sox brings the return of two important Astros to the major league club, Jason Castro, who has returned from paternity leave, and Lance McCullers, who is making his 2016 debut after missing most of Spring Training with a sore right shoulder.
McCullers was an important piece of the Astros rotation last season. In 22 starts, he went 6-7 with a 3.22 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP. He also brings something that is lacking in the Astros rotation to start 2016, velocity. On average, McCullers threw his four-seam and two-seam fastball at 94.2 and 93.6 miles per hour respectively. Throwing these fastballs 53.8% of the time, he struck out 9.24 batters per nine innings last season.
McCullers pitched twice against the Red Sox last season. In his two starts, he gave up 13 hits and three earned runs in 10 innings pitched, not recording a decision in either start. Something the Astros should be worried about though is that he recorded only five strikeouts in those ten innings pitched last year. However, with a starting rotation averaging a fastball in the high 80’s, the change in velocity will be something new for these Red Sox hitters that will give McCullers the advantage. McCullers will need all the help he can get with who the offense is facing.
Right-handed knuckleballer Wright has been stellar for the Red Sox so far in 2016. In 6 starts, Wright is 3-3 with a 1.52 ERA and 0.99 WHIP. He has struck out 38 batters in his 41.1 innings pitched.
Wright has already faced the Astros once this season. On April 22nd, he gave up four hits and one run, not earned, and struck out 6 in his 6.2 innings pitched in a 6-2 Red Sox win at Minute Maid Park.
The game plan tonight should be similar to what it was April 22nd. In that game, Wright walked five batters on 116 pitches. He threw only 62.1% strikes that game, so the Astros offense took advantage of the pitches outside of the zone. If the Astros want to succeed against Wright, they have to be patient, as they did in his last start, and not like they did last night against Price as they walked only once in his 6.2 innings.
This is going to be another tough game for an Astros team that struggles on the road. However, we McCullers returning to the rotation, this could be a turning point game if the Astros can win this ballgame.
***Stats from MLB.com, Baseball Reference, and Fan Graphs***