Astros: Pitching will be tested against the Yankees

Jun 29, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Astros relief pitcher Brad Peacock (41) has a meeting on the mound during the fourth inning against the Oakland Athletics at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 29, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Astros relief pitcher Brad Peacock (41) has a meeting on the mound during the fourth inning against the Oakland Athletics at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports /

As the Astros welcome the Yankees to town, the pitching staff will be the main focus of the series. Will the Astros’ arms rise to the occasion?

Houston has the third best team ERA in the majors (3.82). The Astros’ pitching staff has been a key component in their success this season. Even so, the starting rotation has been in shambles all season, with eight different pitchers starting games for the Astros. And with a key series this weekend against the Yankees, the starting rotation will be in the spotlight.

The Yankees are also a little tired, arriving in Houston at 6 AM today after a late game last night.

Yankees bring vaunted offense to Houston

The New York Yankees have been one of the better teams in the AL this season. They sit one game back of Boston in the AL East and have compiled a 42-35 record. Their offense has driven their success, with the third best team batting average in the majors (.268), second best on-base-percentage (.346) and third best slugging percentage (.458).

The Yankees also have the AL ROY and AL MVP leader in Aaron Judge. His 196 OPS+ is proof of his monster season, as he has been the catalyst of the Yankees’ offense. But it doesn’t stop there. The Yankees are projected to run out five players with 10+ home runs this season. That type of power can be lethal for any lineup.The Astros’ pitching staff could have their hands full all weekend.

Evaluating the Astros’ pitching staff

With such a high-powered offense coming into Houston this weekend, it will be a great opportunity for the Stros to evaluate their pitching staff. Lance McCullers will take the mound on Friday night and has been the Astros’ ace with the injury to Dallas Keuchel. But McCullers has certainly earned the title of ace, with a 7-1 record and a 2.53 ERA. His performance on Friday could have an enormous impact on the bullpen. If McCullers can give skipper A.J. Hinch a substantial number of innings, it could save the bullpen for the rest of the series.

And the Astros may need it. After McCullers, the starting rotation is basically a toss-up. Francis Martes is predicted to get the ball on Saturday and will bring his 5.51 ERA to the mound. While Martes is one of the top pitching prospects in the Astros organization, his struggles this season have hindered the Astros. The starter for Sunday is still in question, as it is still to be determined who will take the mound.

The starting rotation will have a massive impact on the outcome of this series. Not only will they be relied on to give the Astros strong outings, but they will also be under the microscope. This could be the last opportunity for starters like Martes to prove they can be the answer for the Astros. With so much hanging in the balance, this series will definitely influence the Astros’ strategy for the remainder of the season.

Series impact

Some may question the true impact of this series. After all, it is just three games out of 162. But with the way the Astros’ season has gone and their struggles in the starting rotation, it feels like more than that. With a World Series title well within reach for both teams, this has the feel of a playoff series. And if the Astros were to enter the playoffs with the rotation they currently have, they would be at an extreme disadvantage.

But that notion could change with this series. Pitchers like Francis Martes have a perfect opportunity to turn their season around with a strong performance. If Martes can overcome his struggles and have a good outing against the Yankees, it could spark him for the remainder of the season.

Astros starting pitchers logged 14.2 innings in their three-game series against Oakland this past week. The bullpen pitched 12.1 innings across eight different relievers. That kind of strain on the bullpen highlights the ineffectiveness of the starting rotation.

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If the starters can show signs of improvement against a potent Yankees lineup, it could ease the pressure on the bullpen and start to answer some questions in the starting rotation. Don’t forget to listen to Talking Stros on Sunday after the Tenth Inning Show on SportsTalk 790.

***Stats from Baseball-Reference, Fangraphs, and***