4/29-5/1 Series Preview: Houston Astros

(Scott Halleran/Getty)

(Scott Halleran/Getty)

The Yankees are fresh off a four-game sweep of the division rival Blue Jays, and I’m not sure the schedule could have worked out any better to help continue the winning streak as the Astros are coming to the Bronx for three games. Then again, this has classic “trap series” potential.

What Have They Done Lately?
Lose, unsurprisingly. The Astros were just swept by the Red Sox in a four-game series, getting outscored 28-10. They did win two straight against the Mariners before that though. Overall, Houston is 7-18 with a -50 run differential, both the worst marks in the AL.

The Astros average 3.9 runs per game with a team 97 wRC+, both a touch below the league average. They are missing two important right-handed platoon bats in OF J.D. Martinez (92 wRC+) and former Yankees property OF Justin Maxwell (87 wRC+) due to a knee sprain and a broken hand, respectively.

(Otto Greule Jr/Getty)

The littlest hitter. (Getty)

Manager Bo Porter’s best full-time hitter is also his leadoff hitter, 2B Jose Altuve (121 wRC+). LF/DH Chris Carter (101 wRC+) and 1B Carlos Pena (86 wRC+) both play everyday as well, and both guys can hit the ball out of any park despite their massive strikeout issues. C Jason Castro (94 wRC+) and slick-fielding 3B Matt Dominguez (81 wRC+) are the team’s only other everyday guys. Marwin Gonzalez (138 wRC+) and Ronny Cedeno (116 wRC+) split time at shortstop.

The rest of the Houston lineup is filled by platoon players, including right-handed hitters OF Brandon Barnes (178 wRC+ in limited time) and former Yankee 1B/3B Brandon Laird (129 wRC+ in limited time). Lefty bats OF Rick Ankiel (112 wRC+ with a 58 K% (!)) and OF Fernando Martinez (64 wRC+) start against righties. OF Robbie Grossman (-20 wRC+ in limited time) has taken over in center following Maxwell’s injury while C Carlos Corporan (90 wRC+) backs up Castro. It’s not a great lineup obviously, but they aren’t total pushovers.

Starting Pitching Matchups

Monday: LHP Andy Pettitte vs. RHP Lucas Harrell
The Astros struck waiver wire gold with the 27-year-old Harrell last year, as he pitched to a 3.76 ERA (3.75 FIP) in 193.2 innings after being selected from the White Sox. He owns a 4.08 ERA (5.54 FIP) through five starts this year even though his strikeout (6.28 K/9 and 16.3 K%) and ground ball (54.7%) rates are basically identical to last season. His walk (4.71 BB/9 and 12.2 BB%) and homer (1.57 HR/9 and 22.7% HR/FB) numbers have jumped a ton though. Harrell is a big time two-seam fastball guy, throwing the low-90s pitch roughly 60% of the time. He’ll also throw a low-90s four-seamer and upper-80s cutter on occasion, and his array of offspeed pitches includes a mid-80s slider, a low-80s curveball, and a low-80s changeup. He doesn’t throw any of those pitches more than eight or so percent of the time, however. That two-seamer is his bread-and-butter. Harrell has never pitched against the Yankees in his career and only three players (Brennan Boesch, Jayson Nix, and Travis Hafner) on the roster have ever faced him before.

(Jim Rogash/Getty)

(Jim Rogash/Getty)

Tuesday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda vs. RHP Phil Humber
Baseball has not been kind to Humber since his perfect game last April. The 30-year-old has pitched to a 7.54 ERA (~5.99 FIP) in 111 innings since making history, including a 7.99 ERA (4.69 FIP) in five total starts this year. He hasn’t struck anyone out (4.94 K/9 and 11.5 K%), but he has done an okay job of limiting walks ( 3.04 BB/9 and 7.1 BB%) and getting grounders (45.5%). Either way, he’s been pretty close to the worst starting pitcher in baseball so far this year. Humber is very offspeed heavy, throwing his upper-80s two- and four-seamers a combined 41.2% of the time. Upper-70s curveballs and mid-80s sliders are his top secondary pitchers, and he’ll also throw a mid-80s changeup. The Yankees have faced Humber twice before, both times when he was having success with the White Sox back in 2011.

Wednesday: RHP David Phelps vs. LHP Erik Bedard
Bedard, 34, has managed to stay healthy in the early going after years and years of injury trouble. The results haven’t been very good (7.98 ERA and 6.47 FIP) so far, which isn’t terribly surprising given his walk (4.91 BB/9 and 11.4 BB%), ground ball (33.3%), and homer (3.07 HR/9 (!) and 23.8% HR/FB) rates. He is striking out plenty of batters though (11.66 K/9 and 27.1 K%), which is something he never really stopped doing even while battling all the physical problems. Bedard’s money-maker remains a knockout mid-70s curveball he can throw for a called strike or bury in the dirt for a swing-and-miss. He’ll also throw an upper-70s changeup and set things up with three fastballs: upper-80s/low-90s two-seamer, four-seamer, and cutter. The two-seamer is the most used by far. The Yankees saw Bedard a bunch during his Orioles days, but he hasn’t started a game against them since May 2008.

(Otto Greule Jr/Getty)

(Otto Greule Jr/Getty)

Bullpen Status
Despite the beatdown in Boston, Porter’s bullpen is in decent shape because Bud Norris threw six innings yesterday before RHP Jose Cisnero (2.08 FIP) followed with two innings to wrap things up. The team carries three long man types out of necessity, with RHP Paul Clemens (6.48 FIP) and LHP Travis Blackley (7.16 FIP) doing the honors alongside Cisnero.

When they do actually have a lead, the Astros use former Yankee Jose Veras (1.86 FIP) to slam the door in the ninth inning. The setup crew is some combination of matchup guys RHP Rhiner Cruz (6.48 FIP), LHP Wesley Wright (3.08 FIP), and RHP Hector Ambriz (3.45 FIP). The Yankees have relied on their late-game arms pretty heavily of late, which could limit their availability in this series. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for the exact details. There aren’t a ton of Astros blogs out there, but Crawfish Boxes is the best of the bunch.

Categories : Series Preview


  1. your mom says:

    Carlos Pena……hate that guy.

  2. Eddard says:

    If Dave Phelps can strike out 9 Jays in 4 innings how many Astros can he strike out in a full start? Anything can happen in a 3 game series but the Astros are one of the worst teams in AL history. Anything less than 2/3 would be a major disappointment. 8/10 on the home stand is more than possible after taking the first 4 and having the hapless Astros coming to town.

    • Darren says:

      The correct answer, as it is for every single game, is that it’s possible for David Phelps to strike out an infinite number of Astros tonight. All you needs is an infinite number of batters striking out and reaching base on a wild pitch/passed ball.

  3. Kiko Jones says:

    The Lastros—as their own fans refer to ‘em—could shock us all and take 2 games; more often than not it seems like lowly teams will rise to the occasion when facing the Yankees.

  4. CountryClub says:

    I know a lot of fans are expecting/hoping for a sweep. But I just want to see them win the series. A sweep would be great. But taking 2 of 3 would be acceptable.

  5. Robinson Tilapia says:

    1. Obligatory “Brandon Laird is starting in the major leagues, Cashman failed” joke.

    2. I’ve literally never heard of half these players until reading about them above. Like nothing even rings a bell.

    3. Total potential trap series. Let’s make it not be that.

  6. Pseudoyanks says:

    All these referrals to “trap series” are just superstitious people attempting to not jinx this, right?

    • Robinson Tilapia says:

      We remember being swept by the previous version of the Washington Nationals in 2009.

    • Jim Is Bored says:

      I believe in trap games in the NFL, maybe the NBA, because of the individual nature of each game. I can even believe in a trap game in baseball, buuuut…

      I don’t believe in “trap” series. I DO believe that sometimes you play poorly against bad teams. And sometimes you play fantastically against great teams.

      I would think that losing game 1 of a series against a bad team would get rid of any “trap” implications.

    • WhittakerWalt says:

      I still remember getting swept by the Detroit Tigers back in ’96, when they were one of the worst teams ever.

  7. mt says:

    I normally am cautious and normally say 2/3 is fine but I really want to sweep this.

    3 things that are a little concerning:

    1) Yanks have never seen these starting pitchers – that could be an issue (although one could argue these fill-in Yanks that are playing now are not the real “Yanks”)

    2) Not sure how long Phelps can go – Wednesday may be a little dicey.

    3) A Youkilis replacement would cement things.

    On a related note, I wish there were ways to bet on things but this predictable Youkilis injury bothers me – did he only play on Saturday because Girardi intimated before that game that he would have to go on DL if he did not play that day (also thought I saw some quotes from Youkilis that prior week he was not seeing any reason to go on DL.) Now after playing one game he is getting MRI and I would not be shocked if he had to go on DL and miss an whole 15 days. Almost reminds me of when Yanks put Derek on DL and they were laughably still initially publicly saying April 6 was a possibility for a return (probably to placate Derek’s ego in this regard) – that did not work out either.

    And with May 1 almost here, are we really going to see Tex in May – seems like we did not lose anybody that important form 40 man in refusing to put Tex on 60 day DL but we’ll see. As it is, Grandy’s earlest major league return may be at best May 20 or so (I’m predicting somewhere between May 23-May 27.)

    • Long-Past-His-Day-Rod says:

      1) They’ve at least seen Humber.

      2) I’d say he can at least give 90-100 pitches. If not, that’s what Nuno and/or Warren are here for.

      3) Let’s see what the MRI says, but agreed here. Even if they don’t DL him (I hope the injury isn’t severe enough for this), I’d like to see Adams up anyway, with Benny boy getting the boot.

      I’m with you on wanting the sweep, 2/3 will be acceptable but a little disappointing.

    • trr says:

      I’d say late May for Grandy, June for Tex, July for Jeter, August for Pineda, never for A-Rod

  8. Manny's BanWagon says:

    Get out the broom for this series. I’d seriously not watch baseball if the Yankees were this bad. There’s not 1 guy on the team that you’d turn in to watch.

  9. Q says:

    Irrelevant comment: The Astros new uniforms are nice.

  10. jjyank says:

    Just let Altuve get on base a few times :) otherwise kill them all!

  11. pat says:

    Mets really screwed up Fernando Martinez.

  12. RetroRob says:

    Anything less than a four-game sweep of this three-game series should be viewed as FAILURE!

  13. Pat D says:

    By the way, what’s the chance of this game getting rained out? Been raining all day here in PA.

    • Robinson Tilapia says:

      It’s been an annoying drizzle all day in Brooklyn.

      30% for tonight. I can’t imagine they can’t play in this.

      • RetroRob says:

        Is it a night game? Still adjusting to the idea I actually can’t watch most games during the week. Day games. I want day games!

  14. WhittakerWalt says:

    Humber was awarded a Perfecto he didn’t earn, now he’s being punished karmically. I’m OK with that.

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