The Houston Astros will host the rival Texas Rangers this weekend at Minute Maid Park.
This should be an exciting weekend as the Astros look to revenge the series in Arlington where the Rangers swept a three-game set. The clubs seemed to have flipped momentum for this upcoming series, as the Astros appear to be rounding into form, coming off their first road series win, and the post-brawl Rangers have lost three in a row since their fight with the Blue Jays.
Here are a few noteworthy mentions for this series. The Rangers expect to have outfielder Shin-Soo Choo back from the DL this weekend, and Rougned Odor is still in the appeals process stemming from his suspension, so until that is completed, he will be in the lineup. The Astros will have a couple of new players facing the Rangers for the first time. OF Tony Kemp and 3B Colin Moran both made their debuts in Chicago. Kemp doubled in his first at-bat as a major league player and is 2/6; Moran is 0/3 with a walk.
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The Astros are 10-10 at home this year, and the Rangers are 8-12 on the road. Last year’s head to head matchup in Minute Maid saw the Rangers win the season series 5-4. The Rangers have also won 13 of the last 15 overall games against Houston.
This series has more on the line than just divisional wins and losses, this is a matter of pride and defending home turf. The Astros are in need of a winning home stand, not only to gain ground in the AL West in which they are seven games back from the division-leading Mariners but to also boost the fan support that has been quieted by a disastrous April.
Lewis has had an excellent 2016. His ERA and WHIP are as low as they have ever been, and he is throwing an even slower fastball this year, which averages 87-mph. It has always baffled me how a pitcher in the majors can get away with a high school pitcher’s stuff. It’s not like Lewis is Greg Maddux, with different arm angles and incredible movement on his pitches. Sure he does have to locate pitches well, which he does, but this Fangraphs article, http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/the-thing-that-colby-lewis-does-better-than-anyone-else/, by Eno Sarris, does an excellent job of illustrating what he does best, and that is getting pulled grounders and opposite field fly balls. Statistically, pulled grounders are less productive than opposite field grounders, and opposite field fly balls are less productive than pulled fly balls. So keep note of this trend as the game unfolds tonight.
Over his career at Minute Maid, Lewis has pitched exceptionally well, going 6-0 in six starts with a 1.31 ERA. Current Astros are batting .260 combined against the right-hander, with Carlos Correa hitting .444 with two home runs in nine at-bats, and George Springer batting .300.
McCullers will be making his second start of the season. In his first, after returning from the DL, McCullers pitched well except for one inning against the Boston Red Sox. He gave up five runs in the second inning but pitched scoreless innings the rest of the way before getting pulled in the fifth. He did struggle a bit with his control, and will look to rebound in tonight’s game against the Rangers. His velocity was slightly less than last year’s average, down from an average of 94-mph to 93-mph on his fastball, but it was his first start coming back from injury.
McCullers did have his worst outing of the season last year against Texas, which saw him give up six earned runs and only getting one strikeout before getting pulled in the first inning. McCullers was shortly demoted to AAA following that performance and came back to throw a better game against the Rangers in September, giving up three runs in six innings, but still recording the loss. Current Rangers are hitting .444 against McCullers in the small sample of plate appearances, with Mitch Moreland hitting a home run off him, and Adrian Beltre hitting a double and a triple.
**Stats from Baseball-Reference.com & Fangraphs.com**