Series Preview: San Diego Padres vs. Houston Astros, April 6-8, 2018

          April 6: Luis Perdomo vs. Lance McCullers Jr.

          April 7: Bryan Mitchell vs. Gerrit Cole

          April 8: Tyson Ross vs. Charlie Morton

Following a well-deserved day of rest after their sweep of the Baltimore Orioles, the Astros (6-1) are set to host another struggling team in the San Diego Padres (1-6). While the Astros may be hot and the Padres cold, there are still some players on the Padres side who can do damage and win games, so as always it will be imperative for the Astros to keep up the intensity for a full nine innings each contest. The Padres come to Houston having dropped three of four games against the Colorado Rockies and, unlike the Astros, have not had a day to rest up.

The Battered and the Bruised

On the injury side of things, the Astros will continue to be without the services of first baseman Yuli Gurriel, who is currently on a rehab assignment at AA Corpus Christi. The Padres, likewise, will have to play without outfielder Wil Myers, who has consistently provided them an above-average bat since the 2015 season. Most likely, Marwin Gonzalez and J.D. Davis will fill in for Gurriel, while Hunter Renfroe will replace Myers.

The Starting Hurlers

The series is scheduled to feature the number 3, 4, and 5 starters for each club. In their first appearances of the season, these two trios garnered starkly different results:

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Particularly as the Padres have had no rest day since concluding their series against Colorado, it will be important for their starting pitchers to give at least five innings per start. Should they get bounced early, it could become quite dicey for the Padres if manager Andy Green has to rely on his already-burdened bullpen to pitch a majority of innings in the series.

The Padres pitching staff relies quite heavily on the fastball, throwing it a bit more than 60% of the time. If the Astros start to tee off on the heater, things could go south in a hurry for San Diego. Perdomo, the Padres’ Game 1 starter, does not get much movement on his 94-95 mph fastball and that could invite trouble. Bryan Mitchell, the Game 2 starter, maintains about the same velocity on his fastball but also mixes in a cutter, a curve, and a changeup with somewhat more deceptive movement than Perdomo has achieved recently. In the third game, former Ranger Tyson Ross will try to build on his comeback from thoracic outlet surgery, which he underwent in late 2016. Ross has shown a nice uptick in velocity this year and managed to come away with a Quality Start against the Rockies on April 3.

The Sluggers

The Astros bring an AL-best batting average of .281 into the series and are tied with the Angels and Blue Jays for the most extra-base hits in the AL at 28. After seven games against the Rangers and Orioles, the Astros are running with a wRC+ of 143, considerably higher even than their 2017 season mark. As the Stros face more formidable opponents in May, it’s likely that the bats will cool down. For now, though, the Astros are making quality contact on the ball, hitting an MLB-leading 29.3% of batted balls for line drives and doing a good job of avoiding ground balls with a GB% of only 33.3%.

The Padres bring only a .220 team batting average to Minute Maid Park, third-worst in the National League, with only the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Philadelphia Phillies posting lower marks. San Diego’s offense has been buoyed, however, by the home run, with nine balls clearing the outfield fence over seven games. The Padres’ offense overall has been below the league average, with a wRC+ of 93. However, the the team has tended to hit the ball hard (posting a 37.5% Hard Contact percentage), which if continued should help the team find more hits and boost its BABIP from the current level of just .257.

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Christian Villanueva has brought new hope to Padres fans in 2018

Particularly hot hitters to watch for on the Padres side include Christian Villanueva (OPS 1.209), who has the curious circumstance that all three of his hits this season have gone for home runs. A native of Guadalajara, Mexico, Villanueva posted excellent hitting numbers at AAA last year and managed to knock four dingers in just 32 plate appearances with the Padres last year. Also hitting the ball well for San Diego are Cory Spangenberg (two home runs in only 14 plate appearances), Hunter Renfroe (OPS .912), Freddy Galvis (OPS .887), and former Royal Eric Hosmer (OPS .762).

The Astros boast a total of nine hitters who have posted OPS figures above the American League average of .701. Tops among them are Carlos Correa (OPS 1.469, 2 home runs), who may or may not play in the field much given the bruised toe he suffered against the Rangers. Behind Correa in the batting charts, we find catcher Max Stassi (OPS 1.175 with two doubles in just 13 plate appearances), Josh Reddick (OPS 1.156 with two home runs), Brian McCann (OPS .979), and Jose Altuve (OPS .902).

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Will Derek Fisher (BA .214) and Jake Marisnick (BA .158) find success against Padres pitching?

The Battle of the Bullpens

While the Astros clearly have the stronger starting rotation for the three games, the Battle of the Bullpens may prove to be much tighter. The Padres’ quartet of Craig Stammen (WHIP 0.40), Kirby Yates (WHIP 0.75), Robbie Erlin (WHIP 0.88), and Jordan Lyles (WHIP 0.92) have done a fabulous job keeping opposing hitters off the bases, with Erlin and Lyles capable of entering a game as long men.

Kyle McGrath is available to the Padres as a lefty specialist, while Kazuhisa Makita brings an unusual “submariner” style delivery which he uses for his 82-mph “fast”ball and a “Bugs Bunny” style curve reported to clock in at around 55 mph (that’s right, fifty-five miles per hour). Successful with these pitches in Japan, it remains to be seen how MLB hitters will fare against Makita.

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Kazuhisa Makita promises to bring an unusual delivery style to Minute Maid Park

Rather unpredictably, the greatest question mark in the Padres bullpen currently surrounds ace reliever Brad Hand. Hand has gotten off to a rocky start in 2018, giving up five hits, three walks, and two earned runs over four innings. It’s still early and there’s plenty of time for Hand to get back to his usual lights-out self, but Padres fans are a bit worried to say the least with what they have seen from Hand so far.

Based on rest, expect to see manager Andy Green turn first to Yates, McGrath, Makita, and Adam Cimber if bullpen help is needed in Game 1. Relievers Hand, Stammen, and Phil Maton just pitched yesterday so it’s more likely we will see them in Games 2 and/or 3.

The Astros bullpen has so far turned in excellent results, particularly by Hector Rondon (FIP of -0.37), Brad Peacock (FIP of +0.16) and Will Harris (FIP of +0.70). Expect A.J. Hinch to try to find innings in Game 1 for Tony Sipp and Ken Giles. Though neither are injured, Sipp has not pitched since March 31 and Giles, not since April 1. With yesterday’s rest day, all eight members of the Stros bullpen should be available if needed, though Brad Peacock will probably be given at least one day of extra rest after pitching three innings in relief in Game 3 versus the Orioles.

On paper at least, the Astros appear poised to add two or three wins to their season record in this series. Executing a series victory is a whole other matter however. As we all know, in terms of clinching the division, a win is a win is a win, so if the Astros can pile on some victories against the Padres this weekend, it will make it a bit easier to face the top-contending clubs on the Astros’ May schedule.

Best wishes to Carlos Correa, Yuli Gurriel, and Wil Myers on their recoveries from injury, and Go Stros!