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Series Preview #2: Houston Astros @ Arizona Diamondbacks

The AL West powerhouse visit Chase Field for a 2 game set

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MLB: Houston Astros at Los Angeles Angels
Dusty Baker
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The Diamondbacks are coming off a 1-3 series loss against the Padres. Save for Seth Beer’s dramatic walk off 3 run homer capping off a dramatic 4 run 9th on opening day, and a 4 run 9th inning on Sunday when they were already down 10-1, the offense was nonexistent.

The D-Backs were outscored 20 to 11, out hit 33 to 15 , and sport a .129 Team B.A. They also made 3 errors vs. none for the Padres. They only narrowly missed being no hit in the first two games of the series thanks to early season pitch count limits. Not the start to the season Mike Hazen and Torey Lovullo needed to quiet the doubters.

The pitching staff did well during the the first three games of the series, pitching to a group 3.00 ERA . It wasn’t all good. Luke Weaver had a rough outing and is now on the disabled list with elbow inflammation awaiting MRI results. Veteran free agent relievers Ian Kennedy and Mark Melancon got knocked around in their first outings of the year. Then Sunday starter Caleb Smith failed to get an out in the 2nd inning, allowing 5 runs. The team ERA balooned to 4.00 by Sunday evening. Jim covered most of the concerns from the first series HERE

Zac Gallen was supposed to start in this series on Tuesday night but was pushed back to the weekend in New York due to a small cut on his thumb.

D-backs Baseball Reference Page

Astros Baseball Reference Page

The Astros, lead by three time Manager of the year Dusty Baker, opened their season by taking 3 of 4 from the Angels, outscoring them 20-10.

NOTE: Baker has 1,990-1,734 , .534% career record. That’s 12th all time in wins, and he’ll almost certainly end up this season 9th all time, passing Walter Alston. Dusty also has the most wins of any manager to not win a world series. He passed Gene Mauch for that dubious honor last year.

Despite the loss of free agent SS Carlos Correa to the Twins, the Astros remain a potent force and are the odds on favorite to win the AL West. While Lance McCullers Jr. has started the season on the IL, Justin Verlander has returned and pitched very well on Saturday.

Familiar names Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez, Michael Brantley, and the emerging star Kyle Tucker, who hit .294 with 30 HR, 92 RBI and a .917 OPS last year, anchor the offense. Veteran Ryan Pressly returns as the closer after an excellent 2021.

Correa’s replacement, 24 year old rookie shortstop Jeremy Pena provided a lifetime moment, hitting his first career homer while his parents were being interviewed live in the stands. Baseball is life. Oh, by the way, he’s batting .375 with an OPS of 1.100 so far.

Pitching Matchups

Luis Garcia is starting his 3rd season in the majors. He was very good last year in the regular season, although has been roughed up in the post season. He throws 5 pitches. His 4 seam fast ball averaged 93.3 in 2021. He uses his cutter and slider with great effect vs. right hand batters, and most often goes with the changeup and curve against lefties. See Statcast. They’re not as good offerings as the cutter/slider. He has very large platoon splits, and the D-backs left handed dominant lineup has a chance to get to him if they can shake off their early season slump. Garcia has only faced the D-backs once, in relief in 2020, taking the loss.

Career Vs RHB. .173/.241/..283, .525 OPS

Career Vs LHB. .283/.344/.497, .841 OPS

Madison Bumgarner pitched the season opener. He started off with two good scoreless frames, but lost the strike zone in the 3rd, walking 4 batters . He got out of the inning allowing just one run but due to early season pitch count limits his night was over after the long 40+ pitch 3rd inning. Somewhat encouragingly, his 4 seam velocity averaged 91.6 for the outing and he topped out over 93. That’s up from 90.4 in 2021, and 88.4 in 2020. If he remains healthy and can maintain his velocity over 91 then I’m not too worried about his command and control. While he’s never going to be the same guy he was during his peak years with the Giants, there is still a reasonable chance he can have a good season. But he needs to start getting results very soon to help his team move forward.

Framber Valdez had a terrific start to his season against the Angels. throwing 6.2 IP, giving up zero runs on 2 hits, 1 walk, and 6 K’s. The “stocky” lefty from the Dominican Republic has been getting better each regular season, although he struggled mightily in the World Series. He throws a hard sinker and a devastating curveball. When he’s landing that for strikes, forget about. He can get wild and walks some batters and fall behind in counts.

Merrill Kelly had an excellent, albeit short outing in his season debut last Friday against the Padres. He threw 4 scoreless innings, giving up 4 hits, 2 walks, and striking out 7. He threw 75 pitches, so should be good to clear 90 this game, but I doubt the training staff let him hit 100. His velocity was up in this start, and as Nick Piecoro wrote, thats a good thing for him:

In the 10 starts in his career in which he has averaged 92.5 mph or harder with his fastball, Kelly has logged a 2.25 ERA — nearly two full runs lower than his career ERA of 4.23. In those starts, he has averaged 9.5 strikeouts per nine innings, almost two strikeouts higher than his career mark.

Great article there, with Merrill talking about how he uses the extra velocity and some really interesting quotes.

No bold predictions regarding this two game series outcome. But anything less than a series split would a disaster heading out on the road this weekend. Fans and media are already howling over the lackluster performance to start the season. Note that all three games against the Mets are DAY games, meaning their body clocks will be trying to adjust to playing at 10 in the morning. Therefore in the spirit of Jim’s article linked in the 3rd paragraph above, I’m labeling Tuesday night’s game as the first “must win” game of the year.