SB Nation Blog
The opponent in one sentence
The Astros are arguably — nay, probably — the best team in baseball behind a potent offense and a deep bullpen, and they are looking to make good on Sports Illustrated’s 2014 prediction of Houston winning the 2017 World Series.
Down, for the first time all season. The Red Sox are catching the Astros during a very rare down period in which they’ve dropped six of their last nine games. The losses haven’t even come against elite competition, instead falling to the Royals, Angels and Rangers. This run is not at all indicative of their talent, of course, but maybe the Red Sox can extend this streak for a few games before they get back to their domination. It’s worth noting, though, that they are coming off a 13-2 victory over the Rangers.
6/16: Drew Pomeranz vs. Mike Fiers, 8:10 PM ET
Towards the end of May, Pomeranz was starting to look like a changed man. He was pitching efficiently and effectively and was making good on the 2016 trade the Red Sox spun for him. Unfortunately, it hasn’t gone so well in his last two outings. His last time out against the Tigers was especially disheartening as he allowed six runs in just 4 1⁄3 innings and only struck out two batters. The Astros are not going to be an easy challenge for him, and Pomeranz could really use all three of his pitches working in this one.
When Fiers first broke into the league, the righty looked like he was going to be a solid pitcher in this league for a long time. That....that is no longer the case. He has made 12 starts for Houston this season and has pitched to a 4.29 ERA with a 6.06 FIP and a 6.56 DRA. He has a solid strikeout rate and eight per nine innings and a groundball rate just under 50 percent, but his command is a major issue. His walks have climbed a bit this year, with a rate currently a little above three per nine innings. More concerning, though, are the home runs, as he’s allowed more than one per nine innings in each of the last three seasons and has allowed a whopping 18 long balls already this season. It’s worth noting, though, that he has a 1.96 ERA in his last three starts and hasn’t allowed a single long ball in any of those outings. Fiers features a high-80s-to-low-90s fastball along with a cutter, changeup, curveball and sinker.
6/17: Rick Porcello vs. David Paulino, 8:15 PM ET
I’ve said it ahead of all of his starts this season, but it needs to be said until Porcello turns it around. The Red Sox need a bounce-back from last year’s Cy Young winner. He’s allowing a huge batting average on balls in play this season, and some of that is certainly due to bad luck. That doesn’t explain all of it, though. There’s not as much deception with his pitches this year, and he’s not having as much success working the edges of the strike zone. This is a tough test for the righty, but if he passes it will be huge for the Red Sox.
Paulino is a 23-year-old pitcher with only 20 big-league innings under his belt over the last two seasons, and they have not been overly impressive. He has a career 6.10 ERA with a 4.40 FIP and a 6.87 DRA. The thing you’ll immediately notice about the young righty is that he’s a giant, standing at 6’7”. He has shown an ability to induce strikeouts both in the minors and in his first three starts this season, but he has struggled in the majors with both walks and hard contact. His fastball is his best pitch, reaching the mid-90’s and featuring hard movement thanks to the downward plane created by his height. His secondaries — a changeup, a slider and a curveball — need to be more consistent, though. The Red Sox offense should be patient with the young starter and just sit on his fastball, at least to start. Make him prove he can locate the secondaries.
6/18: David Price vs. Joe Musgrove, 8:00 PM ET
Price’s first two starts off the disabled list seemed so promising, particularly his second against Baltimore, but the last two have been especially discouraging. His mini-feud with the media garners the most headlines, but it’s his performance that matters the most. His stuff still looks as good as it has in the past, but his typically strong command has evaporated. The lefty has walked four batters in each of his last two outings, something he did only twice all of last season. He needs to find a way to command his pitches better, and if he can’t perhaps he’s not as healed from his injury as we originally thought.
Musgrove made his major-league debut, and he’s an interesting young pitcher for the Astros. He doesn’t have bad stuff, but when he’s at his best he relies more on his command and control than on his stuff. That hasn’t quite worked out this season as the righty has a 4.81 ERA with a 4.54 FIP and a 7.53 DRA. His strikeout rate is down to seven per nine innings now and he’s allowed nine home runs in his first 11 starts. Musgrove, to his credit, has looked better of late with four good starts in his last five. He features a mid-90s fastball to go with a slider, changeup, curveball and sinker.
The most notable old friend on the Astros will not be playing in this series as he’s currently on the disabled list. Josh Reddick, who signed in Houston as a free agent this past winter, is having a fine season with his typical high contact rates, although I’m sure the Astros were hoping for a little more power after his move out of Oakland. He was just recently placed on the 7-day concussion disabled list and shouldn’t be out too long, though he will certainly miss this entire series.
The only other old friend on this Houston roster is Dayan Diaz, who never played in the majors for the Red Sox. The reliever was signed as a minor-league free agent by Boston back in 2014 and stayed in the organization for two years, spending most of his final season in Triple-A. He could never make that last jump to Boston, though, and made his major-league debut last season with the Reds. Diaz has made four appearances for the Astros this season and has shown an ability to miss bats and also allow plenty of hard contact.
The Astros are one of the scariest lineups in all of baseball, and that group is led by Jose Altuve. The small second baseman has become a star in this league with plus contact skills and surprising power given his size. He is also a terror on the bases and will cause fits all weekend in the top-third of the Astros lineup.
Altuve is the face of the franchise, but Carlos Correa is the future as well as a major part of its present. The former number one overall pick has turned into a great major leaguer with strong plate discipline, a plus hit tool and legitimate power. He’s also a good defensive shortstop.
At the leadoff spot is Matt Barnes’ college teammate George Springer. The former top prospect has taken some time to really harness his potential, but he’s done so this year. The power has always been there, but the outfielder is finally limiting his strikeouts to turn him into a legitimate threat every time he comes to the plate. He also provides a good glove in center field.
Marwin Gonzalez doesn’t have a permanent position in the lineup, but the Astros have been finding a way to get his bat into the lineup this year, and he’s deserved it. In a breakout season he’s shown of dynamic power to go along with plus plate discipline. He’ll play all over the infield and outfield based upon where a hole needs to be filled on any given night.
Brian McCann, of course a former Yankee, has been outstanding in his first season with the Astros, providing power in the middle of the lineup and showing off improved contact skills.
Carlos Beltran was a rumored Red Sox target in free agency this winter, but he chose to sign in Houston. It’s been a down year for the future Hall of Famer, as both his power and plate discipline had dropped off dramatically.
Yulieski Gourriel hasn’t been able to translate his performance from Cuba to the majors. He’s a fine bat, but is merely average thanks mostly to a complete inability to draw a walk.
Alex Bregman was selected five picks ahead of Andrew Benintendi and also made his major-league debut last season. There have been some growing pains at the highest level, but he is a legitimately good pure hitter who can do damage at the bottom of this lineup.
Derek Fisher is a former top prospect who just made his major-league debut this week. He’s a fine player, but this is mostly interesting for the potential of a Derek Fisher vs. Matt Barnes matchup. If you don’t follow the NBA, google what this means.
The Astros have a loaded bullpen that is headed by Ken Giles in the ninth inning. He’s always been a favorite of mine and while he can struggle with command at times, he has legitimate stuff. The talent is there for him to become one of the game’s elite relievers, he’s just yet to take that last step.
Will Harris is the primary setup man and has quietly been one of the best and most consistent relievers in baseball over the last five years. He produces strong strikeout rates, limits walks and keeps the ball in the yard. That’s, ya know, the whole package.
Chris Devenski fills another key role in the bullpen as the fireman and has put himself in the conversation as the best non-Andrew Miller non-closer in baseball. Dellin Betances likely still has something to say about that, but Devenski has emerged as an elite arm out of the ‘pen thanks to a devastating changeup.
Tony Sipp is the only lefty in the Astros bullpen and he’s taken a big step back in the last couple of years. After posting strong strikeout rates in his 20’s the stuff has taken a step back and he’s no longer one of the most underrated LOOGYs in the league.
The Astros have two big injuries in their rotation, which is a big reason why their pitching lineup this weekend may seem underwhelming. Dallas Keuchel put himself in position to be in the Cy Young conversation this year with a 1.67 ERA and a 1.70 DRA through his first 11 starts. The righty is out with a neck injury, though the Astros don’t believe it to be overly serious.
Their number two starter, Lance McCullers, has also been outstanding to the tune of a 2.58 ERA thanks to elite strikeout stuff and a 64 percent ground ball rate. The 23-year-old was in the midst of a breakout year before being put on the DL with a back injury. Like Keuchel, though, Houston doesn’t believe it’s a serious ailment.
While Keuchel and McCullers are the two best injured starters, the Astros have a couple of other members of their rotation on the disabled list. Collin McHugh has been everything from a good to solid-average pitcher for the Astros over the last few years, but he’s yet to pitch this season due to an elbow injury. He hopes to return around the All-Star break.
Charlie Morton had taken a surprising step forward with his strikeout this season before going down with a lat injury. He’ll be out for another month or so.
Jandel Gustave, a Rule 5 draft pick, made a handful of lackluster relief appearances before heading to the disabled list. He could be back next month.
Reddick is also on the disabled list, as discussed above.
Minute Maid Park has a retractable roof, so the weather isn’t a huge concern this weekend. It should be sunny and the 70s and 80s all weekend, though. They may keep the roof closed because of heat during the start of some games, but I’d expect to see the sky at various points over the series.
Saturday’s game is on FOX, which is usually a bummer, but not this time. No, this time we will get to listen to Don Orsillo call a Red Sox game for the first time in two years. Rejoice!