April 2: Charlie “Salt Man” Morton vs. Chris Tillman (6:10 CDT)
April 3: Justin Verlander vs. Michael Wright, Jr. (7:10 CDT)
April 4: Dallas Keuchel vs. Dylan Bundy (1:10 CDT)
“Anticipation” doesn’t begin to describe what Astros fans feel for their World Series champs as they get set to play their first games of the season at Minute Maid Park. So, what can we expect to see from the ‘Stros worthy opponents in this series, the Baltimore Orioles?
The O’s are a relatively weak team this season but nonetheless it would be foolish for the Astros to take any opponent lightly. Manny Machado, Trey Mancini, Adam Jones, and Jonathan Schoop can all do offensive damage. Among the pitching staff, Dylan Bundy, Darren O’Day, Brad Brach, and Mychal Givens have the ability to pitch like aces at times.
Many Houston fans will be delighted to see an old friend in Colby Rasmus return to town, this time in a Baltimore jersey.
One interesting thing about the O’s is that they are carrying only 12 pitchers (5 starters, 7 relievers) on the active roster. That’s surprising given the limited ability of their starters to go deep into games. Even though the O’s have already had one off day, their bullpen is coming to Minute Maid a bit fatigued. In their most recent two games versus the Twins, starter Andrew Cashner could throw only five innings and starter Kevin Gausman, only four.
Expect to see Miguel Castro and Nestor Cortes as the first arms out of the pen, and either Darren O’Day or Brad Brach (the Orioles’ “potential closer” during Zach Britton’s absence according to manager Buck Showalter) if the O’s are ahead late in a game.
Beyond those arms, the Astros may face Mychael Givens or Richard Bleier early in the series. If the Astros can chase starters Tillman and Wright early, watch out… we might get to see a position player or a last-minute AAA call-up take the mound for the O’s.
Chris Tillman, tonight’s starter, had a rough spring training, posting an 8.03 ERA and a .308 batting average against. Last year he was not much better, with a 7.84 ERA. He managed to go 6 innings in only 3 of his 19 starts in 2017, and often could only get through 4. One encouraging thing for George Springer is that last season, leadoff hitters in the first inning batted .429 against Tillman with 3 HRs. Will we see a Springer Dinger to celebrate the raising of the World Series flag at MMP?
Mike Wright, Jr. is scheduled to start for the O’s in the second game of the series. Wright has a career 5.86 ERA and was used exclusively as a reliever in the big leagues last season, although he had some success starting games at the AAA level. In spring training, Wright put up a 6.63 ERA with a .333 batting avg against. The last time Wright started a big league regular season game was in June of 2016. At the end of that month, he was demoted to the bullpen. Wright last started against Houston on June 2, 2015 at Minute Maid Park, a game which ended in an Astros victory. Wright is especially susceptible to left-handed batters, who maintained an OPS of .973 against him last season. Righties hit for a .751 OPS, about the league average.
If all goes according to plan, Yuli Gurriel will return to the lineup to face Wright. Given that Justin Verlander will be on the hill for the ‘Stros, this game could be a real uphill battle for the Orioles.
The third game of the series will be against Dylan Bundy, easily the most competent starter for the O’s this year. Bundy held the Twins scoreless on Opening Day, allowing 5 hits and a walk through 7 innings. Impressively, he needed only 88 pitches to record 21 outs. Last season, Bundy recorded one complete game, a 4-0 shutout of the Mariners on August 29. Bundy was, however, hit pretty hard in spring training, allowing a 7.20 ERA and a .326 batting avg against over 20 innings in Grapefruit League play. Last season, Bundy did a good job of getting outs with runners in scoring position and in general was not easily razzled when things got tough in an inning. With the “home version” of Dallas Keuchel on the mound for the Astros, this one could be a low-scoring pitchers’ duel.
The Astros will seldom have more 3-game series this season that they stand a higher statistical chance of sweeping. Let’s get ‘er done guys.