Time to see which Ubaldo Jimenez we get this time. He was knocked around a bit against the Pirates his last time out (two home runs and four runs total in six innings) but that’s become more what we expect than anything else, really. He’s shown improved command lately, and no longer leads the league in walks. Hard to know what to expect from him, but at the very least he seems to be getting better.
He’ll be facing Lucas Harrell, one of the many journeymen on the Astros’ staff. The right hander (he switch-hits) came up in the White Sox organization, and at 27 this is his first full MLB season. He is, well, not quite good enough to be mediocre. An 82 career ERA+ tells us how subpar he is, and giving up 10.5 hits per nine is just not a good habit to be in when pitching to major league hitters. He’s just your basic bad pitcher on a bad team, and hopefully we’ll get to see the Indians beat up on him. But you never know, right Armando Gallaraga?
Last time around, I mentioned Gomez may be coming back to earth. It turns out being a soft-tossing pitcher with decent but not great control is not a good recipe for success, and with a 4.1 inning, five-run outing against the Pirates his last time out, people may have caught on to his secret ingredients. Gomez really needs a strong start—a couple more mediocre outings and he might lose his rotation spot to Zach McAllister.
This will be Dallas Keuchel’s second career start, and first at home—clearly an exciting time for the young man. Last time around he faced the murderous lineup of the Texas Rangers (albeit without their big gun Josh Hamilton) and lasted five innings of one-run, four-hit ball. Not bad for a guy who has trouble breaking 90 mph, especially in that bandbox. Small sample sizes are fun sometimes, because right now he has a 238 ERA+ in the majors. In the minors though, Keuchel’s 475 innings produced a 3.85 ERA, 314 strikeouts and a 1.25 WHIP. His Triple-A time was in the Pacific Coast League, known for being good to hitters, and in 116.1 innings he gave up 10.7 hits per nine while striking out only 4.7 per nine and recorded a 5.26 ERA. Keuchel is here to eat innings up and fill a hole where the Astros hope they will soon have a long-term solution.
When you talk about regressing to the mean, usually it means a guy goes back to performing as he has his whole career after a short spike (or drop) in production. Lowe is redefining that after suddenly getting blasted his last couple outings, including a shelling at the hands of the Reds—five innings of seven-run, 11-hit ball. It’s the third time in his last five starts he’s given up seven or more runs. It’s almost hard to remember his being the ace of this staff. Maybe Masterson took back his magic charm that turns his pitches into bowling balls. The Astros are not the Reds offensively though, so hopefully he can find a groove again and settle in like the Lowe of earlier in the year. That guy was fun to watch.
At first blush, J.A. Happ looked like the second-best pitcher on the 2009 World Series champion Phillies. In his short season (166 innings) he pitched two shutouts, struck out 119 and notched a 144 ERA+. Then he saw only 6.1 innings of work in the playoffs, so perhaps the Phillies’ front office knew something. When they later packaged him in a deal to acquire Hunter Pence from the Astros, there was the sense there was a fleece job going on, and he has since ceased to be a very effective pitcher. He also walks four men per nine career-wise, so this could be a good one for the Indians.
In all, the Astros can’t really pitch outside of Wandy Rodriguez, and can’t hit for much real power outside of Lowrie. No game is a cake walk in Major League Baseball, but these are the games and series you need to make hay on, especially with a series with the Yankees on deck and a showdown with the improved Orioles in the hole. Only two Astros relievers have more than a strikeout per inning (Brandon Lyon and Wesley Wright) so rallies have a chance to continue even if manager Brad Mills goes to the bullpen.
This is a series the Indians should be able take easily, which would let them roll into a big matchup against the Yankees with some good energy. First place is a nice place to be in, so let’s stick around for a while.
Topics: Asdrubal Cabrera, Carlos Lee, Carlos Santana, Dallas Keuchel, Derek Lowe, Houston Astros, J.a. Happ, Jason Kipnis, Jeanmar Gomez, Jed Lowrie, Jose Altuve, Lonnie Chisenhall, Lucas Harrell, Shin Soo Choo, Travis Hafner, Ubaldo Jimenez, Wandy Rodriguez