Astros 2018: In praise of starting pitching

Under the header “Obvious Take” the 2018 Astros starting pitching is pretty good. Or damn good. Or unbelievably good…..

Today let’s take a look at these guys individually and show how absolutely excellent they have been.

Justin Verlander

Well let’s see…. he is leading the AL for “qualifying” pitchers with a 1.05 ERA, 68.2 Innings pitched, 0.714 WHIP and 4.6 hits / 9 IP. The dog is only 6th with 11 K/9 IP.

  • “Worst” start – Orioles where he gave up 3 ER in 5.2 innings.
  • Best start – You pick
    • Last one against Angels – 9 IP, 5 hits, 0 ER, 7 Ks, 1 walk
    • Rangers – 8 IP, 1 hit, 1 ER, 11K, 1 walk
    • Yanks – 8 IP, 3 hits, 0 ER, 14 Ks, 0 walks
  • If you average his 10 starts – he throws 6.82 IP, gives up 3.5 hits, 0.8 ERs and 1.4 BBs and strikes out 8.4 hitters per start
  • He has given up 0 ER in 5 of his 10 starts, and 1 ER in 3 others
  • He is mystifying hitters, but the real mystery is how he can only have 5 wins

Gerrit Cole

Due to Verlander, Justin – he is the best #2 SP in baseball. He is second in the AL with a 1.75 ERA, 0.795 WHIP and 5.1 hits/ 9 IP. He is first with an astounding 13.6 K/9 IP and is fifth in innings pitched with 61.2 IP

  • “Worst” start – Last one against the Angels giving up 3 ER in 5 IP
  • Best start – His unbelievable start against the D’Backs – 9 IP, 1 hit, 0 ER, 16 Ks and 1 walk
  • Witnessing an average of his 9 starts you would see – 6.84 IP, allowing 3.9 hits, 1.33 ERs and 1.55 BBs, while striking out 10.33 hitters per start
  • He has allowed 0 ER in 3 starts and 1 ER in 2 starts and his 4 wins like JV’s 5 wins shows how hollow a stat, wins can be
  • The mystery here is other teams have to be wondering how this guy could be #4 in the rotation coming out of Spring training

Charlie Morton

The 5-0 Morton has been the third best pitcher on a staff where that means something. He is in the Top 10 in the AL in 4 categories – 2.03 ERA (3rd), 0.966 WHIP (9th), 11.5 K/9 IP (4th) and 5.5 hits/9 IP (3rd).

  • “Worst” start – Against the Angels – 4 ER in 4 IPs
  • Best start – again – you pick
    • Rangers – 7 IP, 4 hits, 1 ER, 14 Ks, 0 BB
    • Yanks – 7.2 IP, 2 hits, 1 ER, 10 Ks, 2 BBs
    • M’s –        7 IP, 3 hits, 0 ER, 8 Ks, 0 BBs
  • In an average start, he goes 6.1 IP, gives up 3.75 hits, 1.38 runs and 2.125 BBs, while striking out 7.75 hitters
  • He was good last year, clutch in the playoffs and the best 3rd banana in any rotation this season

Dallas Keuchel

After some struggles early, Dallas has been on an upward swing this month. He is in the top 20 in 3 categories – 3.10 ERA (12th), 1.103 WHIP (17th) and 58 IPs (11th)…..remember he is the 4th or 5th guy in this rotation.

  • Worst start – easy pick as he gave up 6 ER in 7 IP to the A’s (but at least he saved the bullpen a long night).
  • Best start – Your pick of his last two starts
    • Against Oakland – 8 IP, 5 hits, 1 ER
    • Against Texas – 7 IP, 3 hits, 0 ER
  • An average start for Dallas is a solid 6.44 IPs, 5.44 hits, 2.22 ER (though it would be 1.75 without his worst start), 5 Ks and 1.67 BBs
  • He is a bit dwarfed by the other 4 bigger arms in the rotation, but he gives this team a lot.  He goes more than 6 innings most of the time and he gives the other team a totally different look as a softer-tossing lefty between hard-throwing righties.

Lance McCullers

Lance’s numbers lag his 4 buddies by a bit. His 3.63 ERA and his 1.231 WHIP are 24th in the AL. His 10 K/9 IP is 12th and his 7.4 hits / 9 IP are 20th…..but…….if you could just remove the brain freeze of giving up 8 runs on 3 walks and 5 hits in 2/3 of an inning against the Twins – here is what he would look like. In the other 51.1 IPs – His ERA is 2.28 (would be 4th in AL), his WHIP would be 1.09 (17th) and 6.66 hits/9 IPs would be 9th. I know you can’t undo an inning like that, but it means that 98% of the time he has been the fourth Astro who could be considered a top 10 pitcher in the AL.

  • Worst Start – No doubt that 3.2 IP / 8 ER start against the Twins.
  • Best Start – Your choice
    • Against the M’s – 7 IP, 1 hit, 1 ER, 11 K, 1 BB
    • Against the A’s – 7 IP, 2 hits, 0 ERs, 7 Ks, 0 BBs
  • An average start for LMJ is 5.78 IPs, 4.78 hits, 2.33 ERs, 6.44 Ks and 2.33 BBs. Those numbers without his lost weekend of a bad start would be 6.05 IPs, 4.5 hits and 1.63 ER per start.
  • He has been sneakily one of the best pitchers in the league on a staff where that relegates him to the 4th or 5th best pitcher in the rotation.

Dear readers – anything you want to add to the discussion on this unrivalled starting five?

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Astros’ offense: Going back to the Hudgens’ card?

Let’s see…Dave Hudgens was here when the offense was not as good. Alex Cora and Carlos Beltran show up and the offense gets better. Alex Cora and Carlos Beltran leave and the offense gets worse. Voila! Dave Hudgens is to blame.

Here is the deal, I doubt the same front office that had no problem with dumping two managers (Brad Mills and Bo Porter), unloading or walking away from tons of poorly performing players (Carlos Pena, Jason Castro, Lucas Harrell, Jonathan Villar, Carlos Gomez, Phillip Humber, Chris Carter, Erik Bedard, Jesus Guzman, Jordan Schafer, Hank Conger, Roberto Hernandez – please stop me I’m feeling sick) would hold on to a hitting coach, who was a useless figurehead. Maybe Hudgens is not doing a good job or maybe the players are not listening to him or….here are some other theories.

Theory 1 -The Black hole returns….

Looking back, prior to 2016, the Astros’ offense was top-heavy with Springer, Altuve, Correa up top and a whole lot of nothing following after that. In 2018, the late return and the slow start of Yuli Gurriel, and the cold as Lord Voldemort’s heart hitting of Evan Gattis, Derek Fisher and especially Jake Marisnick has turned this lineup from one that was 8 or 9 deep to one that could even use Carlos Beltran to help it flip over. This ends up with the top of the lineup trying to force things because they don’t know when they will bat again.

But… they are even struggling with catchers Brian McCann and Max Stassi hitting well, Gurriel hitting better and Bregman hitting better.

Theory 2 – The Pitchers Have Them Figured Out…

Watching the team in the early going it is obvious that the Astros are often being worked differently than last season. Balls out over the plate or beyond, are breaking balls, change-ups for the most part. Fastballs are hard inside or even brushing back or plunking the good guys. They know the Astros love the hard stuff out where they can reach it.

But….the Astros are making things easier for the pitchers – taking pitches down the middle, expanding the strike zone, pounding the pitcher’s pitch into the ground. Like many young people, if they would only make better choices…

Theory 3 – It is Not Just the Astros

Batting averages and power numbers are down. Strikeouts are up. Speculation is that just like the baseballs changed during the playoffs to up the offense, baseballs have changed during the ensuing regular season to even things out.

But….. why would baseball want less offense when more offense is sexier and sells more tickets.

Theory 4 – That Pine Tar

Well, at least Cleveland Indian Trevor Bauer thinks that pine tar abuse is wide spread. Using pine tar allows pitchers to raise the spin rate and causes the ball to move more and be hitless.

But… if everyone is doing it, why is there still a nice bell curve of performance among pitchers – few great, few putrid and many in the vast area between.

Theory 5 – Cold Weather

We’ve heard it for years. When the weather warms up the bats warm up.

But…. the Astros were hitting a lot better last year at this time.

Theory 6 – Jose Altuve‘s Contract

Jose got paid and has been pressing trying to make himself worth that big paycheck. He is down to a low for him .305 BA / .358 OBP / .760 OPS and dragging down the offense.

But….On May 14 last year he was “only” hitting .286 BA / .357 OBP / .792 OPS after the games of May 14 in the same area as this year.

Theory 7 – It is Dave Hudgens

Just like he was probably not the only reason they were the best offense last season, he is not the only reason they are a little down this season.

Okay, what are your thoughts on what has happened to the offense and what needs to happen with the offense.

A Q&A for Chipalatta readers

In order to keep the conversation going – here is a Q&A where you, our loyal readers, get to tell us a bit about yourself and your baseball beliefs…..you can answer them all or pick the ones you find most interesting…..

  1. At what age did you become a baseball fan? What team did you cheer for?
  2. Are you an Astros fan? If so, how long have you been one? If not, who do you cheer for now?
  3. Who is your favorite ballplayer of all time? Favorite Astro? Why?
  4. Who is the greatest baseball player you’ve seen in person? Greatest Astro?
  5. Do you have any stories of meeting a ballplayer Astro or not?
  6. Have you changed as a fan over the years? How have you changed and why have you changed?
  7. If you are an Astro fan, did the Championship change you as a fan? How did it change you?
  8. What is your favorite baseball stadium ever for viewing a game in person? Why?
  9. Do you have a least favorite stadium?
  10. Are there any Astros on the present team that are the best at their position all time for the franchise?
  11. Can baseball survive in the future – can it pick up fans from generations that have nano-second attention spans?
  12. If I were commissioner for a day, I would make the following change(s)…..
  13. The D’Backs stadium was opened in 1998 and they have just been given permission to look at a new location for a stadium no sooner than 2022. What if the Astros wanted a new stadium (Minute Maid is just 2 years younger than Chase Field) – would you support it?
  14. What has the commissioner’s office stuck their nose in that you would rather they would not?
  15. Do you listen to the Astro games on radio? Watch on TV? Both? Neither? How are the announcers?
  16. Are there teams that you despise? Which one or ones and why?
  17. Cleveland Indian pitcher Trevor Bauer has been very vocal about how he has been chasing the Holy Grail of increased spin rate (which is tied to more ball movement) for five years. His contention is that the only way to get more spin rate is to use something sticky on your fingers (illegal) or increase your velocity, though he says with as hard as he has worked at it he could only increase his velocity 0.2 mph per season. This implies that folks seeing sudden changes are cheating, though he claims he is not naming any team (Astros) or pitchers (Morton, Cole, name one). What do you think about this?
  18. Are you used to the extreme defensive shifts that the teams use? Do you like it or not?
  19. You have the most critical game of the season – who do you hope starts that game for the Astros?
  20. What would make you happier – having a $20,000 windfall or another Astro Championship?

OK, have fun with this and don’t diss each other too much…..

Good medicine for the Astros and other thoughts

Remember way back when all was despair. Dark thoughts encircled our minds and made our shoulders slump from the weight of the gloom and doom. Yeah, way back on Monday morning, three games ago after the Astros had lost five of six games and were having their great starting pitching undone, by scarce and non-clutch hitting and the return of the playoff exploding bullpen.

But that was so long ago and our perspective has changed big time, thanks to our favorite Crash Test Dummy opponent, the Oakland A’s. They have been good medicine for what ails the Astros for quite awhile. Heading into this week’s series the Astros had gone 27-14 since the beginning of 2016 against their West Coast rivals. And after a fun three-game sweep, the Astros are now 30-14 in that same time period.

Here are various thoughts as the team comes home to meet their best friends forever, the South Denton Rangers…..

  1. Heading into the 2017 season, one of the keys was having the Astros two best pitchers, Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers back healthy and performing well. So far in 2018, it can be argued that Keuchel and McCullers have been the weak links of this rotation. Folks, if Lance McCullers, who has a 2.15 ERA outside of one very bad inning and Keuchel, who has a 2.86 ERA if you ignore one of his eight starts, are your weak links, your chain is strong.
  2. The last two games against the A’s brought some comfort and positive flashbacks as the Astros came from behind twice and more importantly held on to those leads. This late game dominance was the base of their great 2017 season.
  3. As was discussed in the previous post’s comments, Max Stassi has been a welcome addition as he came out of today’s game hitting .273 BA / .355 OBP/ .864 OPS.   Two of his three homers this year have been huge. Back in April his 3 run homer broke open a 0-0 deadlock in the 5th inning against San Diego and drove them to a 4-1 win.  On Wednesday his solo HR in the 7th inning evened the score at 1-1 and opened the hitting gates on the way to another 4-1 win.
  4. We are a couple months out, but how does manager A.J. Hinch handle filling out the All Star team roster, especially the pitchers if his team continues on the path they are following. Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Charlie Morton are in the top 6 in ERA in the AL, Cole and Verlander are tops in WHIP and Ks, etc.
  5. Is it the cool spring weather or did they take the Superball out of the center of the baseball? It just feels like offense is lagging this season. Actually… in the AL the runs/game are almost identical to last season 4.67 vs. 4.63 r/gm. Ks are up about 0.4 per game, but overall it is a bit of an optical illusion with the couple no hitters and near misses the last few weeks.
  6. After Wednesday’s game the Astros were on pace for a 99+ win season. The team’s 24-15 record is 3 games behind last year’s record at this point when they were 27-12. Of course last year they already had an 8 game lead over the 2nd place Rangers (19-20) while this season they are only 1/2 game up on the hot shot Angels.
  7. Can the Houston Rockets follow the lead of the Astros and win it all plus have the MVP?
  8. The most bizarre thing may be the fact that George Springer now has a 5 hit and a 6 hit game and Jose Altuve has never gone beyond a 4 hit game, which he has reached an amazing 26 times…..

What are your thoughts at this juncture about your favorite team?

10 reasons to step back from (or up to) the ledge for Astros

The Astros are in a bit of a funk having lost five of their last six games and 8 of their last 13.  They are wasting some terrific starting pitching with non-clutch hitting and non-clutch relief pitching. In this 2018 season, the Astros have become really good at winning big (10-1 in games decided by five or more runs) and losing small (4-6 in one-run games).

Absorbing the comments on the blog, it seems that a lot of folks are panicking about their team and ready to jump off the ledge or even more sadly becoming apathetic about their team’s apathetic (or pathetic) performance to date.

So here are 10 reasons to get off the ledge, or return to near the ledge, to be interested, but not suicidal or apathetic.

  1. They have played only 36 games (21-15) ; they have 136 games to go. It is possible they can play better in the next 77% of the season than they have to date.
  2. Even after all of their recent struggles, there are 24 teams in Major League Baseball with worse records than the Astros.
  3. Other “sure thing” teams are struggling worse than the Astros are this season. Cleveland (17-17), Washington (18-17), Cubs (16-15) and Dodgers (15-19) are all far underperforming the pre-season expectations for them and are worse than the Astros.
  4. The Astros have not been buried in their division by their performance, only trailing the Angels by one game to date.
  5. Hitting rough spots is pretty normal even in the best of seasons. Look at 2018. In April the Astros lost four of five at one point and four of six later in the month. In May they lost four of six at one point. June? Five of eight. July? Four of seven. August? Nine of 11 and separately, six of nine. And September? Lost five of six at one point.
  6. The Astros do not have any hitter, other than Max Stassi, who is exceeding expectations at the plate to this point. Maybe not all of them will get hot, but common sense points to them progressing towards the mean.
  7. The Astros have the best rotation in the majors. They have a shot every night out to win and when the hitting does come around, the team has room to absorb some digression by the starting staff.
  8. There is the possibility of help coming up from the minors at some point this season. J.D. Davis (.425 BA/1.129 OPS), Tyler White (.327/ 1.029), Drew Ferguson ( .345/.948 ), Tony Kemp (.336/.840) and Kyle Tucker (.292 / .796) all could assist in pumping up the offense.
  9. The Front Office should be trusted. They earned the trust by picking up the huge piece needed in 2017, Justin Verlander. If something is needed they will work to fill the gap.
  10. Baseball is a streaky unpredictable game. In the Astros worst stretch of 36 games last season they went 15-21, six games worse than the start to this season. They could be in a lot worse shape than they are.

So, did that….

  • Make you feel better?
  • Worse?
  • More apathetic?

A not-so-Free Blog Weekend

The normal formula around here is to throw out a couple of ideas for the weekend, but promote a Free Blog Weekend of thoughts on any Astros’ subject. Instead, today we will focus the discussion on “What Would You Do, If You Were In Charge?”

Let’s look on a few areas of potential change…..

Management and Coaching. Our blog friend, Diane, pointed to our multiple complaints about A.J. Hinch’s decision-making lately and wondered if that is a subject. We know that Hinch’s right hand man, Alex Cora is gone And leading the high-flying Red Sox. We know that Carlos Beltran, who was probably a quasi-coach/ player is now retired. First Base coach Rich Dauer is retired (thankfully surviving a near death episode at the Championship parade). So….If you were in charge…

  • Would you tell Hinch we know it was really Cora making the great decisions and stealing signs so Hinch is on the hot seat for his bullpen usage, lineup choices, substitution choices, etc?
  • Would you tell Dave Hudgens we now realize that with Cora and Beltran gone that the offense has sunk back to its 2015/2016, poor situational hitting and high K numbers and he is on the hot seat or gone? Look at friend of the blog, old pro’s discussion of offensive regression per Fangraphs in the last Chippie post.
  • Would you tell Brent Strom that his brilliant work with the starting rotation has earned him a lifetime contract?
  • Would you tell Brent Strom that his crappy preparation work with the bullpen, especially the closer spot has earned him a hot seat designation?

Front Office. What would you do relative to the front office and the GM Jeff Luhnow?

If you were in charge…..

  • Would you praise him for picking up two TORs in Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole for prospects without gutting the team?
  • Would you dun him for again not finding this team a decent DH, when there were a lot of solid bats out there at reduced prices late in the Spring? Same for the LF spot.
  • Would you ask him what he was thinking in throwing big money at relievers Joe Smith who is giving up more than a run an inning and Hector Rondon, who has yet to be given a high leverage assignment?
  • Would you ask him when enough is enough relative to the terrible performance of Derek Fisher? Jake Marisnick? Evan Gattis? Tony Sipp?
  • Would you ask him why he moved J.D. Davis down just when he started hitting and kept Derek Fisher up?
  • Would you tell him – the heck with the Championship, you are on the hot seat young man?

Personnel. What personnel moves need to be done now or by the trade deadline? These include changing people’s roles and changing people….

If you were in charge….

  • Would you trade Dallas Keuchel and replace him with Collin McHugh? Would you move McHugh into the rotation and move Keuchel into the bullpen? Would you hand McHugh the closer’s role even though he has never thrown back to back games?
  • Would you hand Chris Devenski the closer’s role?
  • Would you conjure up a 10 day DL for Joe Smith and then have him work out his problems in rehab, meanwhile bringing up some help from the minors? Who would you bring up – James Hoyt?
  • Would you see if you can pry away a big time closer from another team, even though almost every big time closer on every team failed in the playoffs and the Astros beat the problem with using starters as closers?
  • Would you demote Fisher or Marisnick or both?
  • Who would you bring up? Tyler White? Davis? Drew Ferguson? Tony Kemp? Or the next big thing Kyle Tucker?
  • What to do about Evan Gattis and his $6.7 million salary (that drops about $1.1 million every month)? Wait for him to go on his inevitable hot streak? Move him back to back up catcher and send Max Stassi down? (Man that would  be mean to Stassi). Send him and $4 or $5 million bucks to someone for a single A level prospect pitcher?

Dan P’s thoughts….

  • I am an overall patient person.  Baseball is an up and down game. The Astros have stunk lately and are percentage points out of the division lead.
  • Hinch and Luhnow have been more patient than we would ever be. But that kind of patience kept George Springer in the lineup in the playoffs until he became the WS MVP. That kind of patience kept Brad Peacock in the organization until he became one of the best pitchers on a WS winner.
  • I understand Hinch has made some mistakes, but he is also responsible for the long view and if he stops using everyone who slumps he will soon have a full bench and an empty field.
  • I would do some tweaking with the bench. At the very least send Fisher down and bring back White or Davis. I know that hurts speed and OF flexibility, but you can’t steal 1B.
  • I would be looking hard at the hitters’ approach. Do they need a special consultant hitting whisperer (Carlos Beltran?) on the bench? Ask Carlos if he would like to hang around the guys again and make $X million….
  • I would explore what the closer market looks like. But very few teams think they are out of it and many times the closers that are available have been successful in low-pressure non-pennant race situations.

So……it’s your turn. What would you do? What would you wait on? What would you never do?

ChippalattAwards for April

Time to give the Chippy’s for the first month of the season and with a little truth in advertising, this also covers the first three games of the season which occurred at the end of March. But I did not want to call these for the month of Mapril….. We will give these out and then look back at who won this award last season, if awarded.

Starting Pitcher of the Month. Justin Verlander. This was a tough one to figure, but JV set the tone for the pitchers from the very first game as he put up a 4-0 record with a 1.36 ERA, a 0.731 WHIP, 10.9 Ks/9 IP and 1.8 BBs/ 9 IP. And he started off great in May, too.

Runners-up. Gerrit Cole and Charlie Morton. These two pitchers would have won this award on most teams and most months. Cole has been an unlucky 2-1, while putting up awesome numbers like 1.73 ERA / 0.792 WHIP and an insane 13.2 K/9 IP and 1.7 BB/ 9 IP. Morton has been an excellent 4-0 with a 1.72 ERA / 0.982 WHIP / 11 K/9 IP and 3.2 BB/ 9 IP. And except for one bad inning, Lance McCullers would be right with these two pitchers.  In 2017 – Dallas Keuchel won the combined starting and relief pitching award.

Everyday Player of the Month. Carlos Correa.  CC has combined an excellent .330 BA/.398 OBP/.932 OPS slash with 20 runs scored and 21 RBIs. He had not committed an error through the first month of the season.

Runner-up. George Springer. His slash is lower than Correa’s (.267/.343/.826) but his 24 runs scored lead the team, 6 HRs are tied for the top and 19 RBIs are just behind Carlos’s total. In 2017 – No lie, the very clutch and on fire Evan Gattis won this award.

Relief Pitcher of the Month. Chris Devenski. He’s appeared in the most games (13), has the best ERA (0.73 if we ignore James Hoyt‘s 1/3 of scoreless pitching), second in WHIP (0.811) and has a win and a save on the season. He has also only allowed 1 of 9 inherited runners to score.

Runner-up. Collin McHugh. Considering he has been given a totally new role, he has been spotless with a 0.84 ERA, 0.656 WHIP and a tremendous 14.3 K/9 IP along with a 1.7 BB/9 IP. The only question about Collin is will he ever get a spot in this rotation.  In 2017 – This award was not given, but if it had been it would have gone to Devo.

Biggest Surprise (Positive). Max Stassi. He has totally earned his spot in the catching “rotation” with a solid .256 BA/.356 OBP/ .817 OPS along with 2 HR and 7 RBIs in only 39 ABs.

Runner-up. McHugh. There was a real concern he would flounder in a basic demotion from the starting rotation, but he has been even better in the bullpen than he was last time he pitched as a starter. In 2017 – It was Brad Peacock, who only got the opportunity to pitch with the big club due to the self same McHugh’s injury in spring training.

Biggest Surprise (Negative). Tie. Jake Marisnick and Derek Fisher. This is more than regression. There is a lot of disappointment tied to both JFSF’s slash (.143 BA/.156 OBP/.458 OPS) and Fisher’s (.184/.226/.635). I tied them because I expected less of Marisnick than Fisher and I got it.

Runner-up. Joe Smith. The veteran pitcher has only thrown 9.1 IPs, but they have been a rotten 9.1 IPs (9.64 ERA / 1.714 WHIP).       In 2017 – The two men from Puerto Rico, Carlos Correa and Carlos Beltran shared this “honor” last April.

Best Imitation of a Power hitter by a non-power hitter. Josh Reddick??. Sure he can hit homers, but hitting 6 early on had him on a pace for 44 dingers at one time.   No runner up.   In 2017 – This was won by Marwin Gonzalez 

Most Likely to Get Replaced in the Rotation. Dallas Keuchel. This is not happening anytime soon, but he is the only one who might be a consideration.  No runner up.   In 2017 – This was won by Mike Fiers

Special Recognition Award. Brian McCann. Along with his catching partner, Stassi, he has been the only ray of sunshine in a dark end of the lineup. His .271/.397/.804 slash is especially strong considering who is (not) hitting around him in the lineup. Also want to give special kudos to him for scoring 12 runs in only 23 games. This has included somehow scoring from first on doubles twice this season for the man who looks like he is running while carrying Dan P on his back. First time Award

Do you agree with these awards?

Want to make awards of your own?

Astros and Yankees: 10 quick thoughts

Tonight the Yanks and Astros pick up where they left off as seventh game ALCS starter Charlie Morton takes the mound against the red-hot Yankees. This time Morton is not backed by Lance McCullers Jr., who will not enter the game (we assume) and throw 200 curve balls in a row.

But let’s get to the meat here… Ten quick thoughts about this series.

  1. How Much Does It Matter. All baseball eyes will be on these two teams that were expected to duke it out for AL superiority this season (along with the Red Sox and Indians). So far they both trail the high-flying Red Sox (20-7) but that gap has been closing and both teams come in 2 GB of the Sox. In the long view these 4 games may not mean that much, but with some of the off-season gabbing about which is the team to beat, bragging rights will probably feel good if one team dominates the other.
  2. What about that Yankees offense vs. the Astros offense. The Yanks’ offense is where the Astros ended up last season. They are 1st in runs/game (6.04), HR (41), BB (123), OBP (.346) and OPS (.811) in the AL. They have the players with the 1st (Didi Gregorious – 30) and fifth (Gary Sanchez – 24) most RBIs in the AL and the scary thing is neither of them is named Aaron Judge or Giancarlo Stanton. Slowing them down is a key. The Astros’ offense has been a bit inconsistent and has a few more holes to date than last season. George Springer, Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa lead the offense along with the two-headed catching giant of Brian McCann and Max Stassi. Marwin Gonzalez and Alex Bregman are beginning to warm up, while Yuli Gurriel is playing like someone who got a late start to the season.
  3. How about the Astros pitching vs. the Yanks’ pitching. In a strength on strength battle vs. the Yanks’ offense, the Astros have had superb starting pitching and despite the fans’ misgivings, one of the better bullpens in the league. The Astros have the 2nd best bullpen ERA in the AL at 2.80 and have only allowed 2 of 19 inherited runners to score – best % in the AL. The Astros’ starters lead the AL in ERA (2.50), WHIP (1.01), Ks (216) and IP (180.1). The Yanks have been good this season, not in the Astros stratosphere, but solid and have been especially strong during this 9 game winning streak, only allowing 2 runs per game.
  4. What about momentum. The Yanks are the hottest team in the majors right now, riding a 9 game winning streak, including a 4 game sweep of the Twins at home, and a three-game sweep of the Angels in Anaheim. The Astros have won 9 of their last 12, but did lose two to those same Angels last week. But everyone knows momentum sometimes can disappear in a day.
  5. Can the Astros control Didi. In the seven-game ALCS, Gregrious had a very quiet no HR and one RBI. Coming into this series, he has 4 HR and 10 RBIs in his last 7 games and is tied for the MLB lead in HRs (10) and is all by himself in RBIs (30) on the season.
  6. Pitching Matchups
    1. Sonny Gray 1-1, 7.71 ERA vs. Charlie Morton 3-0, 1.86 ERA – Advantage Astros
    2. Jordan Montgomery 2-0, 3.76 ERA vs. Justin Verlander 4-0, 1.36 ERA – Advantage Astros
    3. Luis Severino 4-1, 2.61 ERA vs. Dallas Keuchel 1-4, 4.00 ERA – Advantage Yanks
    4. Masahiro Tanaka 4-2, 4.37 ERA vs. Lance McCullers 4-1, 3.71 ERA – Advantage Astros
  7. Home field. In the playoffs, the home team won every time.
  8. Wins and runs. The Astros are scoring 2.6 runs per game in their 10 losses. They are scoring 6.36 in their 19 wins. The Yanks are scoring 3.22 runs in their losses and 7.44 runs per game in their 18 wins.
  9. A little freaky. The Astros record is 19-10 and the Yanks are 18-9 headed into this series. Last year the Astros were 19-10 after 29 games and the Yanks were 18-9 after 27 games.
  10. What about those bullpens. The Yanks are missing the injured Tommy Kahnle, and are relying the most on Aroldis Chapman (1.50 ERA), David Robertson (3.14 ERA), Chad Green (2.08 ERA) and Chasen Shreve (0.79 ERA), while trying to straighten out Dellin Betances (5.40 ERA).  The Astros are riding Chris Devenski (0.75 ERA), Will Harris (1.69 ERA), Ken Giles (2.00 ERA), Hector Rondon (1.74), Brad Peacock (2.84 ERA) and Collin McHugh (0.84 ERA) while trying to straighten out Joe Smith (9.64 ERA).

Bottom line. This should be a great four-game series. While a 2-2 split feels right, it says here the Astros will take 3 of 4 and slow down the Yankee express.