Series Preview: Cleveland Indians at Houston Astros

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A sweep of the NL Central-leading Cincinnati Reds gave the Indians a great end to their six-game home stand: they went 4-2 versus their Ohio brethren and their Pittsburgh neighbors. Today begins a 10-game road trip in which the Tribe go from the heart of Texas to the shining spires of New York City to the…er, Baltimore. First up on the docket is the Houston Astros.

The Astros are in the depths of a long-term rebuilding mode following the handing of all their talent save Wandy Rodriguez to the Philadelphia Phillies, and if it weren’t for the similarly hapless Chicago Cubs they’d be locked in last of their division. The joys of a six team division, I suppose. But that doesn’t mean they’re any good. Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projections predicted a team to lose more than 100 games for the first time ever when they put the Astros at 61-101. Coming into play against the Indians they are 28-41 (.408), a smidge above the magical .380 winning percentage that leads to 100 losses.

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It’s not all bad for Houston, though. Take shortstop Jed Lowrie, formerly of the Boston Red Sox. He could always hit in Boston, he just couldn’t stay healthy. This year he leads the team in OPS+ at 131 and 13 homers. Only Jose Altuve has more two-baggers than Lowrie’s even dozen. The Astros first baseman, Carlos Lee, is criminally overpaid for what he brings to the table, but he’s still a decent offensive threat. He’s hit 14 extra-base hits (including one triple somehow) and still gets on base at a .357 clip, though it’s a far cry from that stretch from 2001-9 when he averaged 30 homers a year with a 120 OPS+. He’s still a professional hitter, just long of tooth.

Unfortunately, the only other guy who’s got an OPS+ over 100 is Altuve (120) but being only 22 and a second baseman, he gives Astros fans something to be excited about for the future. In all, it’s a lineup Cleveland pitcher shouldn’t have too much of a hard time with, although with this group sometimes they make it hard on themselves, even with a pitcher batting. But we love them anyway.

Meanwhile, the Indians’ offense has some issues as well. Not having Travis Hafner is a bit of a downer, but the real problem is Carlos Santana. At the start of the season, he seemed in line to have monster year—five homers through May 15 had fans thinking 30-plus, and he was doing his on-base thing too. But then he got a concussion and missed a couple days, and now he hasn’t homered in over a month and has a .538 OPS in that time period. He’s been a black hole in the four or five slot, and it’s beginning to be a problem. There’s no real solution to this—he’s had no symptoms and he generally seems okay, the ball just isn’t going where it was earlier in the season.


High notes include Lonnie Chisenhall drawing his first walk of the season (took only 58 plate appearances) and Shin-Soo Choo just murdering the ball out of the leadoff slot, now with a 127 OPS+ and 22 doubles along with six homers. It looks like the old Choo is back, and that guy is really, really good. Asdrubal Cabrera is on fire right now with two homers in the last two games, and his .390 on-base average is a career high. He just looks so comfortable and in control as a true power threat. With a 1.235 OPS over the last week, the guy is just scalding. Pairing him offensively with Jason Kipnis (who has been quiet lately—we need a trip to Chicago) is great, but defense can sometimes be a question (Cabrera’s three-error game was a back breaker). Those two need to play sterling defense—they play behind guys who love to roll the ball, including Josh Tomlin now apparently.

Up and down the lineup though, the Indians’ offense is better than the Astros’. That’s a rarity for this team and a nice feeling to have going into a series.

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