There are no true “easy” stretches of a 162-game schedule. Any team can get hot at the right time, your team can have a bad day at the park — anything can happen. Baseball is hard. Just ask Cleveland about Wednesday night.
But there sure are difficult stretches, where it feels like you’re playing every good team in the league; Cleveland is about to go through one of those now. They’ll begin with the 2018 World Series Champions and owner of the second-best record in the American League, the Houston Astros.
The Astros avoided the brunt of the fan scrutiny that was supposed to be their punishment for cheating their way to a World Series, and now with fans back in the stands, they haven’t missed a beat. Their offense consists of five players with a wRC+ of 140 or higher: Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve, Yuli Gurriel, Yordan Alvarez, and Michael Brantley.
Brantley, of course, should be the most familiar to Cleveland fans. After a decade of being a pretty good to a very good hitter, the veteran outfielder exploded offensively when he joined the Astros ahead of the 2019 season. This season may be his best yet, with a .340/.383/.492 slash and making some of the highest quality of contact in baseball.
Both Cleveland and Houston come into this series on losing streaks. The Astros’ sits at four after being swept by the Orioles and dropping their final game in a series against Detroit on June 27. Cleveland, as you may know, was swept in a doubleheader Wednesday night and were playing baseball past midnight in a losing effort.
Weather hopefully won’t be as annoying this time around, as the storms that postponed one game and delayed their doubleheader against the Tigers have mostly started to move away from the Cleveland area.
Team at a glance
- Record: 48-33
- Runs Scored: 454
- Run Differential: -127
- Last 10: 5-5
- Slash: .276/.351/.446
- wOBA: .345
- wRC+: 123
- ERA: 3.71
- SIERA: 4.08
- K-BB%: 15.3%
Thursday, July 1, 7:10 p.m. ET: LHP Framber Valdez vs. J.C. Mejia
Framber Valdez’s Statcast measurements create an interesting image of a pitcher. He gives up a ton of hard hits, but he’s also one of the best at limiting expected hits and avoiding barrels. Essentially, you’re going to hit a lot of balls hard, but they’re going to go straight into the ground. Valdez sports a 2.11 ERA and an absurd 71% groundball rate through his six starts this season thanks to a heavy 92.6 mph sinker and sweeping curveball.
Friday, July 2, 7:10 p.m. ET: RHP Lance McCullers Jr. vs. Sam Hentges
Like Valdez, Lance McCullers Jr. gives up a lot of hard contact. He doesn’t get the ball on the ground quite as much as his teammate, but he still makes it work with a 2.94 ERA on the season and a 26.2% strikeout rate. McCullers features upwards of five pitches, all with a lot of horizontal movement. His changeup moves, on average, a full 5.1 inches more than the average and is used as his putaway pitch 27.6% of the time.
Saturday, July 3, 7:15 p.m. ET: RHP Jake Odorizzi vs. Eli Morgan
Jake Odorizzi is the definition of a mid-rotation guy. He’ll get you innings, but not an elite amount. He’ll limit runs, but not at an elite rate. He probably won’t blow up too often, and he’s capable of getting hot and going off over a stretch of starts. The veteran is in his 10th year of baseball and it’s safe to say he knows how to use his stuff by now. That’s why he was able to swing a three-year, $23.5 million deal with the Astros in the offseason and currently sports a 4.08 ERA despite seeing way more balls getting in the air than he would probably like. If his 27.3% strikeout rate sticks for the full season, it would be the highest of his career, and only the second time he’s had one over 24%.
Sunday, July 4, 1:10 p.m. ET: RHP Zack Greinke vs. TBD (Triston McKenzie*)
Speaking of pitchers who just know what they’re doing, Zack Greinke will round out the Astros’ rotation over this four-game series. The 18-year veteran probably won’t win another Cy Young, but he’s still a solid pitcher for the Astros. There’s always a possibility that he’ll drop an eephus in there, which is fun. Like seemingly everyone in Houston’s rotation, Greinke has a sinker, though he uses it sparingly. It’s one of seven pitches he has up his sleeve including that beautiful eephus and a big hammer curveball.
*Pitching projections via FanGraphs’ Roster Resource unless stated otherwise
DH, Yordan Alvarez - Listen, I dislike the Astros as much as anybody, but Yordan Alvarez is fun. He’s Bobby Bradley and Franmil Reyes smashed together and stretched to their peaks. He crushes baseballs with reckless abandon and is currently slashing .298/.365/.519 with 13 home runs and a 145 wRC+. If you’re watching any of this weekend’s games downrange of a home run, you might want to duck when he’s up to bat.
SS, Carlos Correa - Carlos Correa has a case of the Jason Kipnis syndrome. Dating back to 2018, he’s oscillated between great and around average every other year. After a 0.9 fWAR year in the pandemic-shortened season, he’s back on an upswing in 2021, slashing .296/.395/.521 with 15 home runs and a 155 wRC+. The shortstop is walking more than ever (13.5%) and striking out a career-low 16.8% of the time.
- Evan Gattis says Astros players told Dodgers to cool it on cheating talk (Chron)
- Astros’ Jairo Solis Undergoes Tommy John Surgery (MLB Trade Rumors)
- The 2021 offense could be the best of this Astros era (Crawfish Boxes)
How many games will Cleveland win against the Astros?
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