Washington (14-12) at Houston Astros (9-17) series preview
29 April – Gonzalez (Wash) versus Cosart (Hou)
30 April – Zimmermann (Wash) versus Oberholtzer (Hou)
(Starting pitchers subject to change)
After a 5-6 home stand that saw the Nationals lose left fielder Bryce Harper for two months, Washington goes on the road for five games. First off, there is a two-game series in Houston, followed by three at Philadelphia. The Astros won the last two of a four-game home series against Oakland, and before that won two of three at Seattle. Houston isn’t a pushover, and every win gets them a bit more confidence.
Jarred Cosart is Tuesday’s starter for the Astros. The lanky righthander has had an up-and-down month so far. His 2 April home start against the New York Yankees was solid (5 IP, 4 hits, no earned runs nor walks, 3 strikeouts in 88 pitches). His 18 April start at Seattle was rough (0.1 IP, 3 hits, 7 earned runs allowed, 4 walks, no strikeouts and two home runs allowed in 39 pitches). Sure he has talent. Harnessing that talent is key. He throws a fastball/cutter at 94 MPH, curve at 79 MPH, a little-used slider at 95 MPH and a rarely-used changeup at 82 MPH. He walks 4.68 batters per 9 innings so far this year, which is slightly less than the average in his short career (5.08). The batting average against on balls in play is pretty good (.229), but if he’s already walked a batter or two, a big inning against Cosart isn’t far away.
Wednesday, Houston starts left-hander Brett Oberholtzer. He’s taken the loss in four of his five starts so far this year. Last time out, 24 April at Oakland, he got worked over (3.2 IP, 8 hits, 6 earned runs, 2 walks, 4 strikeouts, 2 home runs allowed). He features a 90 MPH fastball, an 80 MPH knuckle curve, and an 81 MPH changeup. He seems like a guy who has to
keep the ball down. His BABIP of .306 is fairly high.
Offensively, Houston is next to last in the majors in runs scored (85); second-fewest runs batted in (80); fourth most strikeouts (229); and .646 OPS. Pitchers can attack this lineup. Catcher Jason Castro, second baseman Jose Altuve, shortstop Jonathan Villar and center fielder Dexter Fowler are hitters who can hurt opposing pitchers. Designated hitter Chris Carter is Houston’s main power threat, but he strikes out on average once every three plate appearances.
Defensively, Houston is at a majors-average .689 defensive efficiency rate. They’ve committed 15 errors so far, and have turned 21 double plays. Their .985 fielding percentage is fair. They allow 5.04 runs per game.
Without Harper in the lineup, Nate McLouth should see a lot of playing time. Steven Sousa, Jr. and Tyler Moore may be in the mix for playing time in left as well. For this two-game set, I expect Gonzalez and Zimmermann to both have proficient starts, seven innings or more in each game with few hits and runs allowed. Strong starts from those two will be needed, since Washington may struggle to score until Harper returns in July. On paper, Washington should win both games. We’ll see…
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