Series Preview: Angels vs. Astros vs. The Cellar

The Angels have had a pretty tough go of things this year, but no MLB team has had as disappointing a start to their 2016 season as the Houston Astros. The general consensus in March was that this year was to mark the beginning of a baseball dynasty in Houston, but so far the Astros have only carried over their poor play from the second half of 2015.

The club currently sits at 20–28 on the year, tied for last place in the AL West with the Oakland A’s and one game behind the Angels. While some have tried to scapegoat Carlos Gomez (37 OPS+) as the reason for Houston’s slow start, he’s literally the only regular Astros position player who’s been below average with the bat this season. The real culprit of the team’s early follies has been the starting pitching, which owns a mystifying 4.89 ERA through 48 games.

While the Angels at least have a laundry list of injuries to explain their rotation woes, the Astros have nothing but poor performance to blame—all of Houston’s starters are healthy, and none has an ERA under 4.00. Dallas Keuchel (5.92 ERA) and Collin McHugh (5.13 ERA) have been especially terrible at the top of the rotation, losing their grip on the good BABIP fortune that helped drive their successful 2014 and 2015 campaigns. If you’re FIP believer, then much better times eventually lay ahead for them and everyone else in the rotation this season. For the Angels’ sake, we can hope that turnaround is at least a weekend away.

If it isn’t, the Halos may well find themselves in the AL West cellar come Monday.

Game 1: Matt Shoemaker vs. Mike Fiers

Shoemaker was absurdly good in his last start, reigniting the long lost hope that maybe he really can rediscover the magic that made him a Rookie of the Year runner-up in 2014. The Cobbler lives and dies on the success of his split-finger fastball, so whether or not he’s able to bury the pitch in the dirt in the early-going Friday should be a strong indicator of how his night will go.

Like everyone else in the Astros rotation, Fiers has been hit hard and has given up an inordinate amount of dingers so far this season. He is boasting a career-low walk rate (3.3%), which is good, but that’s been accompanied by a drop of more than six percentage points in his K rate (17.2%). Look for a lot of balls in play from the Angels, is what I’m saying.

Game 2: Jered Weaver vs. Dallas Keuchel

Weaver finally bested his TTOP demons in his last start, holding a potent Orioles offense to just five hits and two runs in seven innings of work. The secret to his newfound success in the late innings? Avoiding throwing his fastball as much as possible—some 65% of his pitches after the third inning were of the offspeed variety. If it’s a strategy he can keep utilizing with success, maybe the Angels won’t have to convert him to long relief in the second half after all?

Keuchel has looked like anything but the reigning Cy Young winner through his first 10 starts. The game’s preeminent soft-contact pitcher is currently last in the league in both hits (73) and runs allowed (41), and he’s walked nearly 10 percent of the batters he’s faced. As a crafty lefty, Keuchel’s margin of error was always small, and it seems right now something’s off just enough with his mechanics to make him imminently hittable. Let’s hope he doesn’t fix it before Saturday.

Game 3: Nick Tropeano vs. Doug Fister

Tropeano remains the Angels’ most reliable starter, and his last two starts have washed away most of the fears that he wouldn’t ever be efficient enough to pitch later into games. The young right-hander’s allowed just one run in his last two starts (13.2 IP), and his K/BB ratio seems to be climbing in the right direction.

Fister has been the Astros’ best starting pitcher this season. He’s also the one Astros starter that FIP says has pitched significantly worse than his ERA indicates. His 4.12 ERA, 4.9 K/9, and 1.3 HR/9 are right in line with his numbers from 2015, when the Nationals dropped him from the rotation in the second half.

Nate Aderhold

About Nate Aderhold

Nate Aderhold was a writer and managing editor at Halos Daily for three years until the folks at MWAH swept him off his feet. He got his start in the blogging world in 2012 as a contributing editor at MLB Daily Dish. He's pretty sure his Mike Trout shrine is bigger than yours.

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