Series Preview: Braves at Astros

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Expect some long balls to get juiced at Minute Maid Park.

Team A is 24th in hitting, 29th in runs scored and 27th in OBP.
Team B is 27th in hitting, 23rd in runs scored and 23rd in OBP.

Without looking at the pitching staffs, you'd never know which one was the Braves, one game over .500 and in second place in the NL East, and which one was the Astros, dead last in the AL West.

Yes, the Astros are in the American League in case you were under a rock all of last year.

The Braves get their first look at the AL version of the Astros this week at Minute Maid Park in Houston and yes, they still suck. The Astros have had one winning season since 2006 - 324 losses the last three years combined - but the seeds for a winning team have been planted this year and last. 2013 saw the debuts of Jarred Cosart and Dallas Keuchel and this year debuted George Springer. Cosart and Keuchel lead a (mostly) young pitching staff: Keuchel leads the team in ERA and strikeouts and is a potential All-Star candidate, while Cosart has rebounded from a rough April and is coming off a start where he shut out the Rays for eight innings.

A team as bad as the Astros have been certainly has the worst bullpen. The team's 4.82 relief ERA ranks as the worst of the worst, and Chad Qualls has the responsibility of being the ninth-inning guy in his second stint with the Astros. Qualls' early days as a closer were not very good, but he's posted a respectable 2.10 ERA this year. He allows about a hit per inning, but also strikes out a hitter per inning and doesn't walk anybody (3 BB in 25.2 IP).

Houston employs two lefties in Tony Sipp and Darin Downs. Both are stingy with walks while Sipp has more strikeouts, and are two of the team's top relievers.

The Houston offense is hitting just .235, but Jose Altuve and Dexter Fowler are doing their part. Fowler, who has been a frequent pest to the Braves in the past, leads the team with a .383 OBP just ahead of Altuve's .378. Altuve tops the AL in hitting (.336) and stolen bases (26); he and Fowler set the table for the rest of the Houston offense, but only George Springer poses a real significant threat. Springer's 38 RBI lead the team and is tied for the team lead with 13 home runs. He had a hot month of May, but has cooled off considerably in June.

Sharing the team lead in homers is Chris Carter, the de facto DH. He may be the designated hitter, but he doesn't do much hitting outside of home runs. Think Mark Reynolds. How does .186/.271/.423 look on a DH? About one out of every three hits goes for a home run (41 hits, 13 HR).

By the way, the Braves were Team A.

PROBABLE STARTERS

Tuesday, June 24, 8:10 p.m. ET

Aaron Harang (ATL)

15 starts, 5-6 W-L, 3.83 ERA, 3.02 FIP, 8.36 K/9

Scott Feldman (HOU)

12 starts, 3-4 W-L, 3.95 ERA, 4.44 FIP, 5.18 K/9

Wednesday, June 25, 8:10 p.m. ET

Alex Wood (ATL)

7 starts, 5-6 W-L, 3.43 ERA, 3.30 FIP, 9.40 K/9

Collin McHugh (HOU)

11 starts, 4-5 W-L, 2.76 ERA, 2.96 FIP, 9.92 K/9

Thursday, June 26, 2:10 p.m. ET

Mike Minor (ATL)

10 starts, 2-4 W-L, 4.20 ERA, 4.20 FIP, 9.00 K/9

Jarred Cosart (HOU)

15 starts, 7-5 W-L, 3.78 ERA, 3.90 FIP, 6.14 K/9

I'd be remiss if I didn't at least mention the Crawford boxes and Tal's Hill, two of the unique features of the park. The Crawford boxes sit atop a 19 ft. wall 319 ft. away in left field. Tal's Hill, 386 ft. away in center field, is the bane of center fielders everywhere and it'll be interesting (and entertaining) to see how B.J. Upton navigates the hill and the flagpole that's in play. Maybe Andruw Jones could give him some pointers.

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