After a late-game rally against the Yanks that turned a potential ugly 2-4 road trip to an acceptable 3-3 road trip, the Astros return home for the longest homestand of the season. They will play ten games in ten days against the Blue Jays sans, the injured George Springer, the Angels sans, the released Astro killer Albert Pujols and the Rangers sans class (OK, I have to keep stirring that in-state rivalry).
Home was not a warm spot during the Astros initial 1-5 homestand, but things looked a lot better during their subsequent 6-2 hosting at Minute Maid Park. This would be a great time to continue that home-field domination against the Angels and the Mariners at the end of April.
First up are the Toronto Blue Jays in the series that was supposed to bring Astro hero Springer back to the venue of so many of those heroics. This looked like a sure thing a week ago when George returned from the IL to make his delayed Toronto debut. Unfortunately, after playing four games for the Blue Jays, Springer returned to the IL with another soft tissue issue.
The Blue Jays have been performing decently as they sit two games behind the surprise AL East leaders, the Boston Red Sox. Toronto’s offense, led by Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (.330 BA/ 1.057 OPS/ 7 HR/ 22 RBIs) and Randall Grichuk (.306 BA/ .858 OPS/ 6 HRs/ 26 RBIs), has performed just a tad behind the Astros as Houston is 3rd in the AL with 4.87 runs/ game with the Blue Jays just behind them at 4th with 4.80 runs/ game. The Astros starters have outperformed Toronto to this point as they are 9-8 with a 3.72 ERA, while the Blue Jays are 7-9 with a 4.67 ERA. On the other hand, Toronto, behind closer Rafael Dolis and mates Joel Payamps, Tim Mayza and former Astro swingman Trent Thornton, has the best bullpen in the AL with a 9-5 record and 2.40 ERA, while the Astros are below average with a 7-7 record and a 4.17 ERA. That puts the onus on the Astros to make hay early in the game and hope that they can avoid turning this into a battle between bullpens.
On paper (the most useless place to have it), the Astros look like they have the edge in this series with their starters. Jose Urquidy 2-2 with a 3.71 ERA faces former Dodger Ross Stripling (0-1, 6.39 ERA) in the opener, though the Astros have to hope that Stripling does not follow the example of beanball Joe Kelly in attacking the team. Saturday features ace-in-waiting Cristian Javier (3-0, 1.75 ERA) against lefty Steven Matz (4-2, 4.78 ERA), while Sunday sports the inconsistent Zack Greinke (2-1, 3.76 ERA) against the “he who shall not yet be named” TBD for the Blue Jays.
The Astros would love to have the big games by Jose Altuve and Martin Maldonado in the Yankee finale to roll over into a strong performance against Toronto on the weekend. Or maybe the heroes will be Alex Bregman or Yuli Gurriel or Michael Brantley, or Carlos Correa or even Kyle Tucker. Or maybe the tale of the games will be told by the starters or the bullpen. But now is the time for the team to show that they are serious about contending this year.