Tough road ahead for Astros
Had the Astros found a way to win Tuesday’s series finale in Los Angeles, they would have been coming home from a 4-4 road trip, which wouldn’t have been too bad. But in reality, there are few positives to take away from a 3-5 road trip that ended with five consecutive losses.
The Astros are 13-26 and on a pace to go 54-108, which would easily be the worst season in their history. There are still three-fourths of the season to go, and a lot can and will happen between now and then. But as you look at the immediate schedule, things aren’t going to get easier for the Astros.
The Rockies will throw NL Cy Young contender Ubadlo Jimenez are them on Thursday, and then the Rays — the best team in baseball — invade Minute Maid Park this weekend and will throw three starters who are a combined 14-2. The Astros are last in the Majors in nearly every offensive category, which makes the upcoming pitching matchups even more disheartening.
Here are the pitchers the Astros are going to face the during this weekend’s home stand:
Wednesday — LHP Greg Smith (1-2, 6.35 ERA): Smith accepted reassignment to the bullpen last week, but before he makes his first appearance as a reliever, he’s got one more task to attend to: Another start. Thanks to Colorado’s rotation being thrown off by Friday’s rainout and subsequent doubleheader on Saturday against Washington, manager Jim Tracy announced Smith would start this game at Houston. Smith has started seven games for Colorado this season and has a 1-2 record and a 6.35 ERA. In his last start, on May 10, the lefty went 5 2/3 innings against San Diego, allowing eight hits and four earned runs, while striking out six and walking four. Wednesday will mark his first career appearance against the Astros.
Thursday — RHP Ubaldo Jimenez (7-1, 1.12 ERA): He offered another brilliant outing against the Nationals on Saturday, silencing their bats for eight innings while yielding two runs on seven hits and a walk and striking out five. He paid for a couple mistakes, including hanging a split-finger fastball to Adam Dunn, who sent it 442 feet into the third deck at Coors Field for the first home run Jimenez has given up all season. He was efficient with his pitches, throwing 115, including 70 for strikes, and kept a tight game in hand, only trailing after giving up a first-inning run, then shutting down the Nats until the Dunn solo shot. Jimenez set the tone for the Rockies to sweep their first doubleheader since September 2007, a game into their 21-of-22 win stretch that catapulted the club to its first World Series appearance.
Friday — RHP Matt Garza (5-1, 2.38 ERA): Garza will make his ninth start of the season against Houston. Garza only gave up five hits, two walks and one run over six innings in his last start, but he didn’t have his best stuff while earning a no-decision against the Mariners on Sunday. His fastball command was a little off, and he admittedly struggled to find the strike zone at times, throwing just 56 of his 106 pitches for strikes. Still, he battled through six innings, benefited from excellent defensive play behind him and kept his team around long enough to win. Friday will be the Rays’ first Interleague game, and Garza will face the Astros for just the second time in his four-year Major League career — and his first time against them away from Tropicana Field. The 26-year-old has gone eight or more innings in four of his starts, allowed one earned run or less in five, given up two runs or fewer in six of them and will hope for more of the same in Houston.
Saturday — RHP Jeff Niemann (3-0, 2.54 ERA): The Houston native and former Rice University ace will make his first Major League start in Houston. The 6-foot-9 right-hander has worked into the seventh inning for quality starts in seven straight appearances and in all but one of his starts — the sole exception being his injury-shortened first start of the season against Baltimore. He gave up a season-high 10 hits Monday night in a 4-3 win over the Indians, who scored three runs off Niemann. He admitted he wasn’t as sharp as he could have been against Cleveland, but Tampa Bay’s defense and bullpen helped make up for the starter’s second-shortest outing of the season. Niemann has never faced the Astros in his short career, and this will be his fourth start in Interleague Play. He has recorded a win and two no-decisions in his previous outings, none of which went longer than six innings, but he did not allow more than three runs in any of them.
Sunday — LHP David Price (6-1, 1.81): Price will take on the Astros in his ninth start of the season after another impressive outing against the Indians on Tuesday. The American League’s first six-game winner pitched six innings, scattered four hits, walked three, struck out five and gave up just one unearned run. He likely could have gone deeper into the game, but manager Joe Maddon has been limiting his starters to around 100 pitches. The left-hander had great control of his fastball against Cleveland, and he threw 65 of his 97 pitches for strikes. Price’s first career start against Houston will be his fourth in Interleague Play. He is 1-2 in those outings and allowed five earned runs in two of the three starts — both losses.