AL Central Cellar-Dwellers @ AL West Cellar-Dwellers
May 2-4, 2016
It’s here: maybe the first truly seminal moment of the 2016 season. A ten-game homestand against a terrible Twins team, a beatable Mariners team, and a sub-.500 Indians team. Fuck the 8-17 record; if you’re going to mount a comeback it had better damn well start now. The pitching is showing signs of life, but the bats better wake up. Anything less than a 2-1 series win is unacceptable, and the Astros should really be eyeing a sweep here.
The Twins are a bit of a weird team statistically. At 7-18 they are the worst team in the AL and only a half-game better than the MLB-worst Braves. Their closest peers in team ERA are hanging around .500 or a few games better. Their bullpen ERA just misses the top third in baseball, yet they lead MLB in blown saves (7) and are 2nd in losses (7). Their offensive game isn’t too dissimilar from the Astros, although Houston’s is a touch better in most categories. Like the Astros, at face value they are less than the sum of their parts, although the Astros’ parts are arguably better.
Can we see some bright spots to build on in this series? Please?
Well… read on.
Monday, May 2 – 7:10pm CDT
Jose Berrios (0-1, 11.25) vs. Dallas Keuchel (2-3, 4.41)
Berrios is a 21-year-old, six-foot converted shortstop and a top pitching prospect for the Twins. Of particular note, he won 14 games between AA and AAA in 2015 and racked up 175 K’s against 38 walks in 166 innings. He made his MLB debut against the Tigers last week, allowing five earned runs over four innings. He tops out at 96mph on his fastball with a slurve and a plus changeup, throws from a three-quarters delivery, and pitches aggressively. Given the Astros lineup’s trouble with hard-throwing young pitchers – a (dis)ability that transcends time and rosters – I’ll be watching him on the mound while peeking through my fingers. If there are any signs of hope here, it’s that he apparently struggles with his fastball command from time to time, and that this is only his second time facing big-league hitters.
Keuchel got hit hard by the Mariners in his last start, giving up five earned runs over six innings in the 11-1 routing that most of us didn’t stay up for. He has done well against the Twins historically (2-1, 2.30 in three starts), and current Twins hitters that have faced him are just 10×49 against him. Hope he has a good game tonight, because the bottom halves of tonight’s innings could be ugly.
Tuesday, May 3 – 7:10pm CDT
Alex Meyer (0-0, 18.00) vs. Collin McHugh (2-3, 6.65)
Meyer is another guy the Astros have never faced, making only his fourth big-league appearance and his first start. He is a redwood standing 6’9” and uses his height to generate lots of power, throwing his fastball in the upper 90s. He also throws a sinker, knuckle curve, and a slider that’s apparently particularly impressive. His minor league K numbers are comparable to Berrios’s, having routinely been at or above 10 K per 9 IP throughout his career. Like most pitchers his height, he does struggle with command more than Berrios and he’s gotten hammered in every big league outing he’s had. In his only appearance this year he allowed two runs on five hits and two walks in just one inning of relief against the Tigers.
McHugh showed signs of improvement in his last outing in Seattle, allowing two runs over five innings. We still need him to start working deeper into games, but a low-scoring outing is a low-scoring outing. He has had success against the Twins, going 2-0 with a 2.00 ERA in three starts, including 7.2 innings of shutout ball last year.
Wednesday, May 4 – 7:10pm CDT
Phil Hughes (1-4, 4.45) vs. Mike Fiers (2-1, 4.97)
Hughes has been pretty solid for the Twins since 2014. He gives up lots of hits but has been stingy on the walks the last couple of seasons, although he’s already almost halfway to his 2015 walk total. He’s got four quality starts to his name this year, but his most recent start was his worst: four runs in five innings against the Tigers. He also hasn’t gotten much help from his bats, already being on the losing end of two shutouts. Hughes is a flyball pitcher, so with any luck some well-placed balls in the air in Minute Maid – where he has never pitched – can do some good. He did not face the Astros in 2015 but they got to him pretty good in 2014, tagging him for three homers and five runs.
Fiers threw his best game of the year last Friday, holding the A’s to two runs over seven innings. You could even make the argument that Fiers has been the most consistent Astro starter since the first week of the season. He had good success against the Twins last year: in three games (two with the Brewers), he was 1-1 with a 2.08 ERA.