Let’s see if the Astros can finish the weekend on a positive note Sunday with a victory over the Texas Rangers.
The Astros are reeling after experiencing three consecutive 2-1 defeats, two of which came via Colby Lewis and Cesar Ramos of the Rangers. They are also the first AL team since the 1991 Milwaukee Brewers to lose three consecutive2-1 games.
The Astros have also received five quality starts in a row following yesterday’s game. This is encouraging when considering that the rotation was the primary issue earlier in the season. But now it is the lineup that has stopped producing. The bottom half of the lineup has not produced much as of late, and the top half has struggled to make up the difference. The question now becomes what will manager A.J. Hinch do with his lineup configuration heading into today’s finale with the Rangers and their upcoming bout with the Baltimore Orioles this week.
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The finale against the Rangers features a battle of the southpaws between Cole Hamels and Dalls Keuchel. Hamels, the former Philadelphia Phillie, started off the year strong in 2016 by winning three of his first four starts. However, Hamels has now collected three no-decisions in his last four starts that also included a win against the Detroit Tigers. Hamels has had success against the Astros in the past as he has a .244 batting average against the Astros current roster (per Baseball Savant). Thus far in 2016 Hamels has faced off against the Astros only once on April 20th, but earned his third win of the season on 6.2 innings of one-run baseball.
Unlike Hamels, Keuchel has struggled to begin the 2016 season. Since starting the season with a 2-1 record, the Astros bearded southpaw has went 0-4 while allowing 50 hits and 29 earned runs over 35.2 innings pitched. And one of Keuchel’s worst starts in 2016 came via this same Rangers team on April 21st when he allowed six runs on 13 hits in six innings of work. The Astros eventually lost that game 7-4 in Arlington.
To be successful in today’s start, Keuchel will need to first improve his strikeout-to-walk ratio as he is currently posting an 18.9% K% and 10.0% BB%. The same can be said of ground ball rate (55.5%). But one issue with improving those numbers is the lack of calls that he has experienced the past two seasons from the home plate umpire. This will be an important part of the game to pay attention to today. The lack of strike calls at the plate have clearly hurt Keuchel and he will need to find a way to work around that issue if this doesn’t change soon.
The lineup configuration against Hamels will be another key to the game as the Astros attempt to jumpstart their struggling offense. As you can see below, the Astros top three remains the same as usual with Jose Altuve, George Springer, and Carlos Correa. Evan Gattis is hitting clean up with Jake Marisnick getting the start in center. Colin Moran and Tony Kemp remain on the bench against Hamels today.
Starting off the season 0-6 against a division rival is definitely not ideal, especially against a team like the Rangers. A loss today would drop the Astros to 17-28, which is precariously close to the Astros record in 2005 before their miraculous run. However, this isn’t the 2005 Astros so who knows what will happen. Anyway, this game could be the start of a swing in momentum for the Astros if things go their way in MMP this afternoon. If it doesn’t then the road back to the playoff contention in 2016 just became a bit more difficult.
**Statistics provided by Baseball-Reference, Fangraphs, and Baseball Savant**