WEEK IN REVIEW – APRIL 9-15
ASTROS (2-4, 10-6 overall)
Monday, April 9 – Astros 2, Twins 0
Tuesday, April 10 – Twins 4, Astros 1
Wednesday, April 11 – Twins 9, Astros 8
Friday, April 13 – Astros 3, Rangers 2
Saturday, April 14 – Rangers 6, Astros 5 (10 innings)
Sunday, April 15 – Rangers 3, Astros 1 (10 innings)
The Astros got four great (or better) starting pitching performances this week – Justin Verlander times two, Gerrit Cole, and Charlie Morton combined for a 1.61 ERA in 28 innings – but were only able to convert two wins and one winning decision for Verlander. Good pitching efforts getting wasted is going to happen, but it sucks that it happened all in one week behind some really strong outings.
If there’s one purpose this week served, it’s to keep expectations in check. This lineup will score runs when it gets in gear, and it took a little while for things to click last year, but several guys are really struggling right now. There is perhaps none so painful as Gattis, who has an average below the Mendoza line and an OPS less than .600 – absolute murder in the DH slot.
Houston still owns MLB’s second-best ERA at 2.74, one of only three sub-3 team ERAs left. But the Astros have seen themselves fall to the middle of the pack in many offensive categories. Hopefully the upcoming week against some high-ERA teams will give them a shot in the arm.
Nods approvingly at… the punchouts. Astros starters notched 58 strikeouts in six starts this week. (Honorable mention: the comeback in Minneapolis. Even if it was a losing effort this time, coming all the way back from an 8-1 deficit is noteworthy.)
Looks down nose at… the bullpen, which took home three losses in the 9th inning or later this week. (Dishonorable mention: letting all 623 wobbly, gooey pounds of Bartolo Fucking Colon take a perfect game against you into the 8th inning. That’s what happens when you go into your ABs with a shitty approach and find yourself down in the count early.)
ELSEWHERE IN THE AL WEST…
The Angels (13-3) ran the table against the Rangers (6-11) and Royals, falling one win shy of a 7-0 week only because of a freeze-out in Kansas City on Sunday. They’re also the MLB leaders in runs scored (103). Although the Angels have a three game division lead, they’ve played 13 of their 16 games against the Rangers, A’s, and Royals (combined record of 14-31). They have series against the Red Sox, Astros, and Yankees before the month is out, so we’ll see how they fare against better competition. Also, they have already used nine starters this season and Matt Shoemaker will be on the shelf until at least May.
Not unlike the Angels, the Mariners benefited from playing the Royals and A’s, turning in a 4-1 week. Very unlike the Angels, they have only used four starters so far, although three of them – including Felix Hernandez – have ERAs of 5.74 or higher.
I’ve already shat on the A’s a couple of times in this space, but it’s worth noting that they split a two-game series against the Dodgers, including a 16-6 win.
ELSEWHERE IN MLB…
Weather wreaked havoc on the schedule as ten weekend series games (and six on Sunday alone) throughout the midwest, north, and northeast were postponed.
The Red Sox (13-2) and Mets (12-2) both finally lost a game, but are still the best teams in their respective leagues. The Mets have the least runs allowed in the NL and the second-least in MLB, second to (surprisingly) the Twins.
The Diamondbacks (11-4) are looking pretty damn salty too, with MLB’s third-best staff ERA (2.90) and 6th-best run scoring offense.
The Pirates (11-4) lead the NL Central. Former Astro Colin Moran is hitting .310/.383/.429.
Yu Darvish faced some early jams against the Braves in his first Wrigley start, then later came unglued in the 5th inning after a balk call. Former Astro Preston Tucker finished him off with a three-run homer.
THE WEEK AHEAD – APRIL 16-22
Astros @ Mariners – April 16-19
or, “Admit it, you really missed the west coast start times”
The Mariners just got Nelson Cruz back from the DL after he Moises Alou-ed his ankle on the dugout steps after a home run during opening weekend. I couldn’t find video of it, but I did find video of the celebratory butt slap immediately following the homer and immediately preceding the dugout steps. Robbie Cano flew a little too close to the sun, if you know what I mean:
Outside of the cheek, dude.
Schedule and Probables
Monday, April 16, 9:10pm CDT
Dallas Keuchel (0-2, 4.20) vs. James Paxton (0-1, 5.74)
Tuesday, April 17, 9:10pm CDT
Lance McCullers Jr. (1-1, 7.71) vs. Ariel Miranda (2017: 8-7, 5.12)
Wednesday, April 18, 9:10pm CDT
Gerrit Cole (1-0, 1.29) vs. Mike Leake (2-0, 3.50)
Thursday, April 19, 2:40pm CDT
Charlie Morton (2-0, 1.00) vs. Marco Gonzales (1-1, 8.25)
Seattle’s 5.14 ERA is dead last in the AL, and they are kept out of last in MLB only by an awful Cincy staff that is nearly a full run worse. It ticks upward quite a bit for just the starters, whose 5-3 record belies their 5.79 ERA, less than 2:1 K:BB ratio, and 1.467 combined WHIP.
Paxton had decent outings against the Royals (quality start including 10 Ks in 6 IP) and Twins after blowing up against the Indians in his first start of the season. Leake is the owner of the other two quality starts, and the team has won every game in which he has pitched despite his having more walks (9) than strikeouts (8). Gonzales started the season well enough against the Giants, but his more recent starts against the Royals and A’s have seen him bounced in the 3rd and 4th innings, respectively. Miranda started the year in the minors, where he logged a combined 4.00 ERA in two starts split between AAA and A-Advanced, and will be making his first big league start of the year.
Of the M’s pitchers we’ll see in this series, only Paxton and Miranda faced the Astros in 2017. Paxton was Seattle’s best starter in that regard, carrying a 1.69 ERA in four starts. Miranda was…. not as good, with an 0-2 record and 4.70 ERA. Conversely, Keuchel, McCullers, and Morton all posted a sub-4 ERA against the Mariners in 2017, with Keuchel (1.31) leading the pack. Cole, being in the NL, didn’t face Seattle last season, but M’s hitters have a combined career .636 OPS against him, largely due to the fact that in 63 plate appearances they have only three extra-base hits and no homers.
Astros @ White Sox – April 20-22
or, “Do they actually play baseball in Chicago?”
The Sox had damn near all of their four-game series in Minneapolis snowed out this past weekend. The city of Chicago didn’t fare much better while they were away, and they’re still expected to get rain and snow while the Pale Hose are in Oakland during the early part of this week. But the weather gets better just in time for this series, with positively balmy high temps in the 40s by Friday. Thanks, Obama.
Schedule and Probables
Friday, April 20, 7:10pm CDT
Justin Verlander (2-0, 1.35) vs. James Shields (1-0, 4.15)
Saturday, April 21, 6:10pm CDT
Dallas Keuchel (0-2, 4.20) vs. Lucas Giolito (0-2, 5.50)
Sunday, April 22, 1:10pm CDT
Lance McCullers Jr. (1-1, 7.71) vs. Reynaldo Lopez (0-1, 0.69)
The White Sox (4-8) are your third place team in the AL Central. Nice division, brah. If you’re looking for something that they’re good at, it’s not pitching; their 4.92 ERA is 4th worst in MLB. Shields is their second-best starter in ERA, and 3-5 have ERAs of 5.50 (Giolito), 5.59 (Carson Fulmer), and 8.68 (Miguel Gonzalez). Of course, these are all still small sample sizes, but it stands in stark contrast to the Astros, who have three starters with an ERA of 1.35 or less. Things look a little better on the offensive side; although the White Sox have only scored 48 runs (7th worst in MLB), they have a team OPS of .743 which sits just outside the top ten.
Shields was Chicago’s Opening Day starter and has had a decent start to the season. Despite just one strikeout in his first two starts, he put up six Ks against the Rays in his most recent start. He would’ve been slated to pitch against the A’s on Monday, but with Sunday’s postponement it looks like they’re going to skip his slot in the rotation and throw Lopez (Sunday’s scheduled starter) on Monday. If that holds up, Shields will face the Astros on eight days rest. Lopez has been their best starter so far: in two starts he has allowed only four hits and one earned run. In three starts, Giolito has been good for about six innings and about 3-5 runs each time. Walks are a big problem right now for him, as his 8:12 K:BB ratio is tilted to the wrong side of the scale.
Shields and Giolito both took losses against the Astros in 2017 despite a combined 3.65 ERA against the team. Keuchel’s worst start of 2017 came in August against the ChiSox, allowing eight earned runs in just four innings. He rebounded against them in September, but still took two losses for the season. Verlander, still with the Tigers, did pretty well against Chicago, with a 3.52 ERA in three starts. McCullers has not pitched against the White Sox since 2015.