You’d always like to win a series, but a split is never the end of the world. But in the case of the weekend series split with the Nationals, it was a major dissapointment for the Braves. Facing off against division rivals that they have handled well in recent histoy, the Braves would have loved to gain some ground in the division. But yesterday isn’t today, and maybe it’ll be better as the Braves face one of the worst team in the majors.
Many disappointing teams this season (the Rays, the Diamondbacks) have masked the fact that the Astros are still at the bottom of the barrel of baseball. 13 out of 15 in runs scored in the American League, and batting average and on base percentage at 15th and 14th, respectively. Hopefully this can help Aaron Harang get back on track and can serve as the platform for the triumphant return of Alex Wood to the rotation.
The majority of the offensive output for the Astros has come from All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve, who has really stepped up his game this season. After a mildly disappointing 2013, the compact Altuve is slashing .336/.378/.443, with the most hits and stolen bases in the league. His .443 slugging percentage is already 44 points higher than he’s ever posted, and his walk rate is on the rise.
Following Altuve is former Rockies centerfielder Dexter Fowler, who was acquired this past offseason. Fowler has continued his good play away from the mountain air with a .277/.383/.405 line that almost masks his atrocious defense. Almost.
Rookie George Springer has made quite the debut for the Astros, already sporting 13 home runs in 58 games. His raw approach to the plate makes him quite the strikeout victim, already with 81, so the Braves should be smart when pitching to Springer.
While the Astros aren’t much of a hitting ball club, their pitching is solid, if unspectacular. Leading the way is Tuesday’s starer Collin McHugh, who is sporting a 2.96 FIP and 10 strikeouts per nine. He does have a tendency to walk a couple of guys, but the stuff of McHugh might be a problem for the strikeout prone Braves.
Veteran Scott Feldman, who signed with Houston in the offseason, hasn’t been as strong as the seasons that helped net that lucrative 3 year deal. His inability to miss bats has shrunk his strikeout rate back to the mediocre rate of his early career in Texas (5.2, 5.6 for his career), and he is allowing more hits than ever. The Braves might be able to take advantage of being able to put the ball in play more easily.
The Astros bullpen has been quite the up and down, with several injuries including strong arm Matt Albers. Lefties Tony Sipp and Darin Downs have enjoyed success this season in limited time, but their success has been almost negated by the disaster of Jerome Williams and the injured and easily hit Josh Fields. Rounding out the main bullpen arms is journeyman reliever and often headcase closer Chad Qualls. Though Qualls carries a reputation for imploding, his play so far in 25 inning has been really, really good. and 8.8 K/9 rate alongside a miniscule 1.1 BB/9 has lead to a very low WHIP and a solid 2.62 FIP. It remains to be seen how the rest of the season will play out for Qualls, who usually worsens as the season turns on, but the Braves could be in a position to start the unraveling of Qualls.
8:10 PM EST, Tuesday, June 24th
8:10 PM EST, Wednesday, June 25th
2:10 PM EST, Thursday, June 26th