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2024 Season | Series #10 | Guardians @ Astros | Apri 30 - May 2, 2024

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Wham with the Right Hand

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The Guardians just finished a brutal stretch of schedule where they played 13 of 16 games against the Yankees, Red Sox, and Braves, going a very respectable 7-6. They also went 3-0 against the A’s, who are now 12-11 against teams other than Cleveland.

Now they hit the road for a three-game series in Houston. All the games are at night so no need to call in sick this week to catch a day game. The Astros, who finished 90-72 last year, are a shocking 9-19, opposite of the Guardians’ 19-9. The Astros are 4-9 at home while the Guardians are 11-5 on the road.

The Astros are in last place in the West. Oakland, by the way, is now in 3rd place and 3.5 games out of first.

To be fair, the Astros have played a very tough schedule, the hardest in baseball according to teamrankings.com. Here are their records versus various opponents:

>.500 teams (Yankees, KC, Braves, Cubs) 0-13
.500 teams (Toronto, Texas, Washington) 7-6
<.500 team (Colorado) 2-0

By the way, those two wins against the Rockies were in Mexico City. The Astros scored 20 runs in two games. I heard that the ball was flying out of the park at that altitude the way Bob Beamon was flying when he broke the long jump record by over two feet at the 1968 Olympics.

Hard to believe they are 0-13 against opponents over .500, but there it is. The Astros have lost 8 of their last 11 with the three wins coming against Washington and Colorado.

The Astros are a good hit, no pitch team. They rank in the top six in OBP, OPS, BA, and wRC+. They strike out less than any team at 6.5 per game.

With those great offensive numbers it’s hard to believe they only rank 17th in runs per game. There are two reasons. One, they are awful at driving in runs, ranking 26th in runners left on base per game. They are hitting .217/.552 with RISP and two out. Two, they are horrible base runners, ranking last in base running with a Statcast Ultimate base running grade of -8.1. The next worst is -2.5.

They are average in home run percentage, walk percentage, and ISO. They get a ton of hits but their power is just average.

Jose Altuve, now 33, is having a career year at .342/1.011. He has 7 home runs and 9 RBI’s, which is a microcosm of their problems. How does a guy hitting .342 with 7 home runs have only 9 RBI’s? Jose has 39 hits. Assuming all 7 of his home runs were solo shots that means his other 32 hits drove in two runs. He has eight doubles! Their 7-8-9 hitters must NEVER get on base.

LF Yordan Alvarez is hitting .275/842 with 7 HR’s and 18 RBI’s.

SS Jeremy Pena is at .321/.842. Of his 35 hits, 27 are singles.

RF Kyle Tucker is hitting .290/.948 with 7 HRs and 20 RBIs.

C Yainer Diaz, a familiar name for some reason, is hitting .291/.780.

The Astros have some guys who can rake but due to awful clutch hitting and base running they are just average in scoring. They are last in the majors in the Fangraphs “clutch” category, which measures how well a team hits in high leverage situations. The Guardians are 2nd, by the way.

The Astros are hitting .287/.838 at home and .245/.650 away, so the Guardians’ pitchers need to be ready to compete. This could be a pretty high scoring series. Houston ranks 9th in runs per game at home; the Guardians are second in road ERA. Something has to give.

Pitching is another story. The Astros are 28th in ERA, WHIP, and OBP, 29th in walks, 26th in OPS, and 27th in batting average. Other than a few good starts it’s been a shit show across the board. The Astros have seven pitchers on the injured list. But what team doesn’t?

On top of that, the Guardians catch a huge break because they won’t see three of the Astros' top four starters this series.

Ronel Blanco is 3-0, 1.65 and Framber Valdez has a 2.60 ERA in three starts. They pitched Saturday and Sunday. Christian Javier, 2-0, 1.54, is injured. Both Valdez and Javier have spent time on the IR.

Fangraphs had this on the Astros:

Houston’s pitching staff has been a mess so far, with Ronel Blanco representing the only bright spot. Meanwhile, the Astros have one of the best offenses in the league; the problem is they’re not turning that production into scoring right now. There’s a dangerous ballclub in here somewhere that’s just waiting to strike, but Houston is running the risk of waiting too long.

Let's hope they wait a little longer.

Defensively they rank 21st and in speed they are 28th (the Guardians are 4th). Between speed on the bases and great clutch hitting the Guardians are scoring more than their raw stats suggest. The Astros are the opposite; they're not hitting with RISP and their base running is the worst in baseball.

The Guardians are going with Carrasco, McKenzie, and Allen in that order. The Astros are going with Hunter Brown (0-4, 9.68), Justin Verlander (1.74 ERA in two starts), and Spencer Arrighetti (0-3, 10.97).

Hunter Brown, a 25-year-old right-hander, gets the assignment tonight. Brown was 11-13 with a 5.09 ERA last year in his first significant action. In five starts this year he has an ERA of 9.68 and a WHIP of 2.49. However, his season numbers are skewed by one horrific start against the Royals where he allowed 9 earned runs and did not complete the first inning. His ERA in his other four starts is 5.30.

That being said, in his two starts at home he went a total of 10 innings against the Yankees and Braves allowing 9 hits and 2 earned runs, so he has been a completely different pitcher at home with a 1.80 ERA against the two best teams. His road ERA is 19.96.

This will be Cookie’s sixth start. He’s averaging just 4.6 innings per start as he does a lot of nibbling and runs up his pitch count. His ERA is 4.63 and he has walked 13 in 23 innings, more evidence of his nibbling at the edges.

In his last outing he went five innings against the Red Sox allowing five runs on nine hits and a walk. The Astros will present a major challenge. They are 3rd in batting average, 6th in on-base percentage, and no team strikes out less, not that Cookie is a strikeout pitcher. The key will be inducing weak contact and letting his defense do the work without walking too many.

Jose Altuve is hitting .344/.838 against Cookie. Yordan Alvarez is 3-for-3 with a walk and two of those hits were home runs. I’m sure he can’t wait for tonight.

Former White Sox slugger Jose Abreu is still on the Astros. He is 7-for-71 for an .099 batting average. Abreu is 37 and appears to have lost his eye or his bat speed, or both. Last year, his first with Houston, he hit .237/.680. Abreu will make $19.5 million this year and next.

In three games against the Braves in Atlanta, where they are averaging about six runs per game, the Guardians’ pitchers gave up 11 earned runs, or 3.67 per game. Very impressive, so maybe they can hold the Astros to under 4 runs per game; they average 4.8 at home. They won’t have Tanner Bibee going in this series, however.
 
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Just to add that the Astros are 21st in walk percentage and 23rd in chase percentage, so they are very aggressive swingers. That should help Cookie, who depends on batters chasing his breaking stuff just out of the zone. My observation has been that the patient hitters who lay off his teasers early and get ahead in the count are the ones that are the most successful.

This kid Hunter Brown has had two very good, but short, starts in Minute Maid park this year. Hopefully the Guardians can get more runs off him than the Yankees and Braves did and then add on against the Astros bullpen.
 
The reality is his fastball, from a velocity standpoint, is not the same fastball he’s had in the past. However, his secondary stuff is so good.

We’re trying to get him to understand, ‘Listen, if you’re fastball is 90 to 92, a well-located fastball is a good fastball regardless of the velocity.’ If you have the secondary pitches to complement that, they work off one another. I think there’s more room for Carlos to trust that fastball because he can command it. - Carl Willis on Carlos Carrasco


It will be interesting to see if Cookie uses the fastball more tonight. He's walked 13 in 23 innings and is averaging under 5 innings per start. He needs to throw more strikes and get outs earlier in the count.
 
We are gonna face Verlander, perhaps the greatest pitcher of his era...a sure fire first round HOFer.

Surprisingly, the Indians/Guardians have done fairly well against him.

24-23 in 55 games. (The Jays are the only other team with a winning record at 7-4.)

.699 OPS (NYY, Baltimore, StL, and Padres have been better.)

His ERA against us...4.45. Highest of any team.
 
Verlander last faced the Guardians almost a year ago, at the end of May. He went 8 innings, allowed 3 hits, and one run.
 
How’s the night in NE Ohio sports?

Should I already be upset?
 

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