Astros: Previewing four-game split series against Rockies

HOUSTON, TEXAS - AUGUST 11: Brandon Bielak #64 of the Houston Astros pitches in the second inning against the San Francisco Giants at Minute Maid Park on August 11, 2020 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TEXAS - AUGUST 11: Brandon Bielak #64 of the Houston Astros pitches in the second inning against the San Francisco Giants at Minute Maid Park on August 11, 2020 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /
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The Houston Astros will play the next four games against the Colorado Rockies.

Fresh off a three-game sweep of the Seattle Mariners, the Houston Astros will face a much tougher test against the Colorado Rockies. They’ll play two games at Minute Maid Park on Monday and Tuesday and then shift to Denver for two more games on Wednesday and Thursday.

The Astros are 11-10 on the season and in sole possession of second place in the AL West. The Rockies are also in second place in the NL West, sitting at 13-8 on the season. Houston has a plus-18 run differential on the season, while Colorado is at plus-23. The Astros have been much better at home in this young season, while the Rockies have been marginally better on the road.

Monday’s opener will begin at 8:10 p.m. CT, while Tuesday’s Houston finale will begin at 2:10. The first game in Colorado on Wednesday will be at 7:40 p.m. CT, and Thursday’s finale will be at 2:10. All games will be broadcast locally on ATT SportsNet SW, with Tuesday’s game being shown nationally on MLB Network.

Pitching Matchups

Rookie Brandon Bielak will take the mound tonight against lefthander Kyle Freeland. In two starts and two relief appearances, Bielak is 2-0 with a 1.76 ERA after giving up two runs in five innings in his last start. The 27-year-old Freeland seems to be back on track with a 2.45 ERA in four starts this season. He went 17-7 with a 2.85 ERA in 2018 but had a ghastly 6.73 ERA in 22 starts last season.

The Astros will send Zack Greinke to the hill on Tuesday to take on righthander Antonio Senzatela. Greinke continues to baffle hitters at age 36 and is 1-0 with a 2.53 ERA in four starts after tossing 6.1 innings of one-run ball last time out. Senzatela is 3-0 with a 3.91 ERA this season but gave up five runs in six innings in his last start.

Starters have not officially been announced for the two games in Denver for either team. For the Astros, Framber Valdez would be in line to start on Wednesday with Cristian Javier going on Thursday. Valdez has a 1.90 ERA in three starts and one relief appearance, while Javier is 2-1 with a 2.91 ERA in four starts and one relief outing.

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For the Rockies, Ryan Castellani would be in line to start on Wednesday. He has a 1.04 ERA over two starts this season, allowing one run in 4.2 innings on Friday. German Marquez would be due to start on Thursday after giving up three runs (two earned) in six innings on Saturday. He has a 2.25 ERA in five starts this season.

Players to Watch

There are plenty of candidates for the Rockies, but keep an eye on Charlie Blackmon. After going 2-for-3 with two walks on Sunday, he’s hitting .446 with a 1.152 OPS this season. He’s also raked against lefthanded pitchers so far, so there’s no platoon advantage for Dusty Baker to exploit. The Astros will have to figure out how to pitch to the hottest hitter on the planet.

For Houston, the one to watch is Yordan Alvarez. We can presume he’ll be the DH in at least three of the games this series, if not all four, provided his knees hold up. He’s made his presence felt in the two games he’s played this season after a bout with COVID-19, and the Astros will need him in order to keep up with the slugging Rockies.

Astros Expectations

Against a good team, with two at home and two on the road, the Astros should expect no less than a split. Taking three of four would be wonderful, but don’t get your hopes up for a sweep. The Rockies have a deep lineup with Blackmon, Nolan Arenado, Trevor Story and Daniel Murphy, so the Houston pitching will be tested.

The Rockies have also gotten solid pitching this year, so the Astros offense will need to do better than it did for all but one inning of the Mariners series. With Michael Brantley on the Injured List and Alvarez still getting acclimated and battling his knees, the bats will need to be better.

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