Astros Series Preview: Adventure into the Frozen Tundra of Minnesota

HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 03: Justin Verlander
HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 03: Justin Verlander /

The Astros thought they left the bitter cold behind in mid-February when they arrived at West Palm Beach. They were wrong.

As the Astros finished off the Padres over the weekend to improve to 8-2 on the season, the team now makes the journey to still cold Minnesota to take on the Twins.

Yes, the projected high today in Minneapolis is 38 degrees. That is, um, cold. Well, by this Texan’s standards. Call me weak or whatever, I am not used to the cold. I know my limitations. I am not sure about the Astros, though.

Anyway, there is a three-game series between the Astros and the Twins to start the work week. Let’s take a look at the scheduled starters.

Game 1: RHP Justin Verlander (1-0, 2.31 ERA) vs. RHP Lance Lynn (0-1, 11.25 ERA)

Verlander gets the nod for the first game between the Astros and Twins. This start will be Verlander’s 35th of his career against the Twins. He has faced only three teams (Indians, Royals, White Sox) more times in his career than Minnesota. The former Tiger has a 17-9 record with a 3.15 ERA against the Twins for his career. Out of all the current Twins’ hitters, only two have more than 14 at-bats against Verlander: Brian Dozier with 27 and Joe Mauer with 77. Mauer, in particular, has had success against Verlander for his career with a .974 OPS.

Lynn will start the series off with the Twins, who is in his first season with Minnesota. The former Cardinal was a late addition in Spring Training when he agreed to a one-year, $12 million contract for the 2018 season. His acquisition helps bolster a Twins’ rotation looking to claim a postseason berth for the second year in a row. In his career, Lynn has seen the Astros only six times (five starts) with a 2.18 ERA in 33 innings. Of course, the last time Lynn faced the Astros was in the 2013 season. Needless to state, the Astros are entirely different than they were five seasons ago.

FYI: Monday’s game may carry some historical interest.

Did I mention how cold it will be for the game?

Game 2: LHP Dallas Keuchel (0-1, 3.27 ERA) vs. RHP Jake Odorizzi (0-0, 2.61 ERA)

Keuchel will look to earn his first win of the 2018 season on Tuesday as he pitches opposite of Odorizzi. This start will be Keuchel’s fifth appearance (fourth start) against the Twins. In those previous four appearances, Keuchel has posted a 2-2 record with a 4.05 ERA in 20 innings. The bearded southpaw did not square off against the Twins last season due to his time on the disabled list.

Like Lynn, Odorizzi is in his first season with the Twins following a long stint with the Rays. The age-28 pitcher has been quite effective against the Astros for his career over three starts. In 19 innings, the right-hander has a 0.47 ERA with six walks compared to 24 strikeouts. However, Odorizzi has not faced the Astros since the 2015 season, so he may not experience previous success this Tuesday.

Game 3: RHP Lance McCullers (1-1, 3.48 ERA) vs. RHP Kyle Gibson (1-0, 0.87 ERA)

To close out the series on Wednesday, the Astros will have McCullers on the mound. For his career, McCullers has seen the Twins only twice before. In those two starts, the age-24 pitcher has a 2.77 ERA in 13 innings. In what seems to be a running theme in this series besides Verlander, McCullers hasn’t faced off against Minnesota since his major league debut season in 2015. In fact, Logan Morrison, an offseason acquisition by the Twins, has the most at-bats with nine out of all of the current Twins’ hitters.

For the Twins, they will be sending out Kyle Gibson, a former first round draft pick in 2009. The age-30 pitcher has a 3-1 record over five starts in 29.1 innings. In those five starts, he has posted a 2.76 ERA against the Astros. Most of the success, however, came against the Astros prior to last season. In his lone start — and appearance — against Houston last year, Gibson surrendered four runs and six hits over six innings. The Astro hitter with the greatest success against Gibson is Jose Altuve, who has a .733 OPS in 15 at-bats. Small sample size, but still kind of relevant. Marwin Gonzalez has 10 at-bats against Gibson, yet has yet to record a hit.

Next: George Springer was removed as a precaution

Looking ahead, this series should be a fun one to watch. The Astros are 8-2 with plans on capturing a second consecutive AL West title this season. The Twins are currently leading the AL Central with a 4-3 record, and hope to return to the postseason again in 2018. The Twins remain the most likely foil to the Indians in their quest for another AL Central title.

**Statistics and information courtesy of Baseball Reference and ESPN**