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Series Preview: Astros at Brewers


Astros Lineup:

Jordan Schafer – CF
Jose Altuve – 2B
J.D. Martinez – LF
El Caballo – 1B
Brian Bogusevic – RF
Chris Johnson – 3B
Jason Castro – C
Marwin Gonzalez – SS

Game One: Zack Greinke (17.2 IP, 1.31 FIP) vs. Lucas Harrell (17.2 IP, 3.00 FIP)

So far this year, Greinke has had two excellent starts (for a total of fourteen innings and two runs) and one disaster in which he didn’t get out of the fourth inning. Either way, his peripherals have been sparkling: He has struck out nineteen and walked three in seventeen innings, and is yet to allow a home run. 

He will face Lucas Harrell, a 27-year old right-hander (and switch-hitter) who was claimed off waivers from the White Sox last year. Harrell’s bread-and-butter is a sinking fastball that touches 93 mph: Of the 1103 pitches he has thrown in the major leagues, just over half are sinkers. He complements the pitch with a hard, mid 80s slider that serves as his main secondary offering, and rounds out his arsenal with a curve and a changeup.

In the majors, Harrell has been effective at getting strikeouts (he struck out 7.5 batters per nine last year) and keeping the ball in the park (just 2 dingers in 59.2 career innings). However, his control has been a bit lacking, as he has exactly one walk for every two major league innings. Also, his off-speed stuff hasn’t been enough to fool major-league hitters, leading to a well-above average rate of hits allowed. This has led to some up-and-down performances in each of his brief stints in the majors, but that isn’t surprising, considering how few innings he’s had. With most teams not named the Astros, he’d be a reliever.

Game Two: Randy Wolf (15.1 IP, 5.69 FIP) vs. Bud Norris (19 IP, 3.74 FIP)

Wolf has had a tough start to the season, as he is yet to have a quality start in three tries. Of course, we’re only three starts into the season, so it will probably even out with time.

Wolf’s opponent will be Bud Norris, a compact right-hander who has been able to harness his power stuff pretty well over the past few years. Norris’s fastball averages around 93-94 mph, and he appears to have started mixing in a sinker this year as well. He relies heavily on his hard, upper 80s slider, throwing the pitch over a third of the time. Very few pitchers throw sliders that often and live to tell about it, and it can’t be a good sign that Norris has been plauged by several different minor arm injuries over the past few years.

Batters have struggled to make quality contact off Norris, who has struck out nearly a batter per inning in the majors. However, Norris’ fly-ball tendencies often catch up to him in the form of home runs (a career rate of 1.2 per nine). Also, his control isn’t as sharp as you would like, though Norris’ walk rates have been steadily decreasing. He is a solid starter right now and might have the potential to be more as long as his health holds up.

Game Three: Shaun Marcum (19 IP, 3.84 FIP)  vs. J.A. Happ (18 IP, 3.78 FIP)

It’s been awhile since anyone has complained about Marcum being a terrible pitcher because of the NLCS, which is nice.

Marcum will face J.A. Happ. Almost the opposite of Norris, Happ is a tall, skinny lefty who relies mainly on finesse and deception to get outs. Happ has two fastballs, a four-seamer and a sinker, both thrown in the 90-91 mph range. He also throws a cutter, though the pitch is almost more like a slider, sitting 7-8 miles slower and breaking much more sharply. Happ also mixes in a changeup and a slow, loopy curveball.

Happ was acquired from the Phillies two years ago on the strength of his excellent 2009 season, but he is yet to replicate that performance in Houston. In that time, his strikeout and walk rates have gone up significantly, from 6.45 and 3.04 per nine innings in 2009 to 7.71 and 4.78 last year, respectively. Happ is also one of the most extreme fly-ball pitchers in the game, with grounders only accounting for a third of his balls in play last year. It’s hard to see things improving if he continues to put so many batters on base, especially considering his vulnerability for hits leaving the yard.