WEEK IN REVIEW – APRIL 23-29
ASTROS (3-3, 19-10 overall)
Monday, April 23 – Angels 2, Astros 0
Tuesday, April 24 – Angels 8, Astros 7
Wednesday, April 25 – Astros 5, Angels 2
Friday, April 27 – A’s 8, Astros 1
Saturday, April 28 – Astros 11, A’s 0
Sunday, April 29 – Astros 8, A’s 4
Keuchel had another bad outing, Morton finally looked human, and Joe Smith coughed up a four-spot. Other than that, the pitching was pretty good this week, holding opponents to eight runs in the other four games. Verlander, McCullers, and Cole all pitched very well, although Cole took a tough-luck loss and tough-luck no-decision.
Offensively, the frustrating Jekyll-and-Hyde routine continues. Getting shut down by Sean Manaea is understandable, but their game against Tyler Skaggs was reminiscent of a similar shutout performance he tossed against Houston last September. At the same time, though, they handed Shohei Ohtani his worst start of the season, teed off against two A’s starters that have been off to decent starts. Altuve hit his first two home runs of the season, and Marwin and Springer showed signs of pulling out of their funks.
Nods approvingly at… Marwin Gonzalez, who drove in five runs this week and raised his average 39 points. (Honorable mention: Derek Fisher, who went yard twice in just ten ABs this week. Also George Springer, who hit .375 and raised his average 28 points.)
Looks down nose at… Smith, who was responsible for seven earned runs on eight baserunners in just 2.2 innings.
ELSEWHERE IN THE AL WEST…
The Mariners (16-11) charged into second place in the division after going 5-2 against the White Sox and Indians. This included winning three out of four in Cleveland, and outscoring them 22-8 on Saturday and Sunday.
After leaving Houston, the Angels (16-12) got swept in the Bronx, including a 11-1 shelling on Saturday.
The Rangers (11-18) dropped their early week series to the A’s (11-11), then won two out of three in Toronto.
ELSEWHERE IN MLB…
The Yankees (18-9) are winners of nine straight, running the table in seven games against the Twins and Angels this week. Guess who’s coming to dinner (see below). Meanwhile, the Red Sox are looking a little more beatable, going 3-3 on the week against the Blue Jays and Rays.
Every team in the AL Central has a negative run differential. The Indians have allowed the third-fewest runs in the AL, yet have scored the third-fewest; at the time of this writing they don’t have a single qualified hitter hitting above .260.
The Diamondbacks (19-8) have the biggest division lead – five games – so far this season.
Checking in on a couple of anticipated NL contenders: the Dodgers (12-15) are seven games back of Arizona and have a +12 run differential despite being three games under .500. Similarly, the Nationals (12-16) are six games back of the Mets (17-9) and have a +3 run differential. Poor bastards, all.
The famously tanking Miami Jeters aren’t even the best at that: four teams (Reds, Orioles, Royals, White Sox) are worse than their .333 winning percentage.
THE WEEK AHEAD – APRIL 30 – MAY 6
It’s a big week, with seven games against playoff contenders that are playing very good baseball as the season’s first month draws to a close.
Yankees @ Astros – April 30 – May 3
or, “The Rematch”
Reminiscent of the 2017 ALCS, the defending American League Not-Champions come back to Houston for four games. The Yankees’ last trips to Minute Maid were chock full of highlights, and this four game set between early powerhouses shouldn’t disappoint.
Schedule and Probables
Monday, April 30, 7:10pm CDT
Sonny Gray (1-1, 7.71) vs. Charlie Morton (3-0, 1.86)
Tuesday, May 1, 7:10pm CDT
Jordan Montgomery (2-0, 3.76) vs. Justin Verlander (4-0, 1.36)
Wednesday, May 2, 7pm CDT
Luis Severino (4-1, 2.61) vs. Dallas Keuchel (1-4, 4.00)
Thursday, May 3, 1:10pm CDT
Masahiro Tanaka (4-2, 4.37) vs. Lance McCullers Jr. (4-1, 3.71)
The Bronx Bombers are bombing alright, leading MLB in runs scored (163), home runs (41), OBP (.346), extra-base hits (107), and are near the top in a number of other categories. This becomes a little scary when you factor in the fact that Giancarlo Stanton is hitting .239 with only five homers, and Brett Gardner and Gary Sanchez, who combined for 54 home runs in 2017, have collectively left the yard just once this year.
So where is the production coming from? Aaron Judge should be obvious, hitting .317 with seven home runs, although he is already on pace for 234 strikeouts. The real monster at the plate has been Didi Gregorius, who is hitting .340/.436/.766, tied for the MLB lead in homers with 10, and on pace to obliterate just about every career mark he’s got. Of course, the law of averages states that Stanton and friends will heat up while Gregorius comes back down to earth, but Gregorius has also steadily improved with each season he’s spent in New York. A .300/.350/.500 (or better) season for him isn’t too far fetched, and if he gets anywhere close to that and the others start to contribute up to expectations, fans in the outfield may need to start wearing protective gear.
Gray is not off to a great start – he’s only completed the fifth inning once in five starts, sports a bloated 2.14 WHIP, and has just 19 punchouts to go against 16 walks. Montgomery is following up a good rookie campaign with a solid April, usually good for 5-6 innings and a couple of runs. Severino has been their early workhorse, pitching into the seventh or later three times and only once allowing more than three runs. Tanaka has been a mixed bag: in four starts he allowed six runs in 25 innings, but in two other starts he allowed 11 earned runs in just 10 innings. All four pitchers are known quantities to the Astros and last season was not especially good to them (2017 regular season ERAs vs. Houston: Gray 9.00, Montgomery 5.56, Severino 10.57, Tanaka 43.20).
Astros @ Diamondbacks – May 4-6
or, “If you love good pitching, this is your jam”
Schedule and Probables
Friday, May 4, 8:40pm CDT
Gerrit Cole (2-1, 1.73) vs. TBD
Saturday, May 5, 7:10pm CDT
Charlie Morton (3-0, 1.86) vs. Zack Grienke (2-2, 4.80)
Sunday, May 6, 3:10pm CDT
Justin Verlander (4-0, 1.36) vs. Matt Koch (1-0, 1.93)
After hosting a midweek series against the Dodgers, the D’Backs invite the Astros to town. Last year’s NL Wild Card winners split a pair of two-game series with Houston in 2017. This year’s Arizona team has been largely buoyed by excellent pitching, as evidenced by their 2.89 ERA (leads the NL and second only to the Astros). In particular, their 1.70 bullpen ERA comfortably leads MLB; the nearest team is a half-run higher.
Offensively, the Snakes are pretty average at best, firmly middle of the road in runs and home runs, while being #25 in MLB with a .230 team batting average. While they do have three players with an OPS north of .900 (A.J. Pollock, David Peralta, Paul Goldschmidt), the dropoff after that is fairly precipitous, with only two other regulars above .700. (By comparison, the Astros have one over .900 and five others over .800.)
Friday’s game would have normally seen Robbie Ray slotted against Cole, but at the time of this writing Ray “likely” appears headed to the DL with an oblique strain suffered in the second inning of his start this past Sunday. Stay tuned on that as the situation develops throughout the week. Greinke has had his ups and downs in 2018; while he’s only allowed three walks on 32 strikeouts, he has allowed at least one home run in each of his starts, and he’s given up four runs or more three times. Greinke pitched 6.2 scoreless innings against Houston in 2017. Rookie Koch has taken the place of Taijuan Walker (shelved for Tommy John surgery) and has performed admirably, going six innings and allowing two runs or less in each of his two starts.