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The Astros are at half strength, which is still 100 times stronger than the Giants

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If they’re to keep their slim playoff hopes alive, they’ll need to kick an unbeatable team when it’s (just a teeny tiny bit) down.

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MLB: Houston Astros at Colorado Rockies Russell Lansford-USA TODAY Sports

The last time the Giants faced the Astros, the Astros, for whatever reason, gave the Giants everything they had. The Giants, a team fresh off a 98-loss season and with replacement players all over the roster, had to face Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander, in that order, for, like, no reason. It went as poorly for the Giants as you’d expect, the sole “highlight” coming from Brandon Crawford ruining the family vacation when he homered off of Cole.

Now, the Giants find themselves in a very slight position to be in the outskirts of a slim-chanced playoff race at home where they’re generally better and against an Astros team that will be without Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, and, most likely, George Springer. And they don’t have to face either Verlander or Cole in the two-game series.

The Astros are, on paper and in practice, a far superior team, but if ever there was to be a time when the Giants matched up “well” against them, this would be it. The Giants need these wins and StubHub has tickets for Monday night’s game starting at $6 and $15 for Tuesday’s matinee. This is the make or break series for the Giants and it could be your last chance to see Andrew McCutchen in a Giants uniform. Check out their deals and then stick around for the analysis.

For the Houston part of this season series back on May 22nd, Kenny wrote:

You’ve undoubtedly heard about the historically good the Astros starting pitching, and you’re going to hear more about them now. Astros starting pitchers are first in the majors in IP, ERA, K/9, and fWAR and are in the top five for BB/9 and HR/9. Their collective ERA of 2.25 puts them among the best rotations of the last 100 years.

So much has changed in the past 10 or so weeks! The Astros are no longer in the top five for BB/9... they’re #8 in MLB! Hah! And they’ve moved out of the top five in HR/9 and into... the top 2 at 0.94, just behind the Cardinals’ 0.89. And, actually... uh, everything else that Kenny wrote about them then is still very true now. And just to add to that point, Dodger fan and baseball savant Mike Petriello wrote on MLB.com on May 20th:

Through 48 games, Houston’s starters have allowed 83 runs. The fewest runs allowed by a rotation in the modern era (since 1920, non-strike years) are 342, by the 1967 White Sox, who pitched right in the middle of the historically low-offense late-’60s. If the Astros were to maintain this pace -- easier said than done, of course, and perhaps impossible -- they would allow about 300 runs. They’d shatter the record.

Their starting rotation has allowed 249 runs through 113 games, and they’re facing a Giants lineup that averages 4 runs/game when everything’s going well, so they seem well-positioned to break that 1967 White Sox mark, but their current 3.00 rotation ERA might put them just outside the best starting rotation ERA of all-time record they held through the first couple of months of the season.

But that’s okay. The Astros are gonna be fine. They burned down their organization so that it could be rebuilt to withstand any storm. Jose Altuve has knee discomfort which will keep him out indefinitely but that’s okay because they have 26-year old Tony Kemp who has a .385 on base percentage. Carlos Correa has a wonky back but is expected back this week, and George Springer’s thumb x-ray (after he jammed it into Chris Taylor’s glove while trying to steal second base against the Dodgers earlier today) came up negative so he’ll be back sooner than later.

Those three hitters, the pitching, and the book smarts of the front office are what allow the Astros to thoroughly defeat their opponents and make it all look easy, so it came as a little bit of a surprise when they traded for the Toronto Blue JaysRoberto Osuna, who had been suspended for 75 games as a result of violating Major League Baseball’s Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse policy due to his arrest by Toronto police for assaulting his girlfriend.

The Giants hosted the Brewers and Josh Hader following the discovery of his bigoted tweets and now they’ll be the first team to actually face Osuna in a game since his return from suspension. He was activated for this afternoon’s game between the Astros and Dodgers but did not pitch.

If you’re going to either game in this series, it’s okay to boo Osuna. It’s okay to boo the Astros. Major League Baseball punished him based on the information they had, the Astros chose on-field performance over their own principles, you can feel free to boo entertainers who don’t entertain you. Booing is not controversial. A lot of people out there angrily say “Do better!” in situations like this, but Baseball has never been good at that sort of thing.

Baseball is a lot better when it comes to satisfying our more craven interests. The Astros acquired a distressed asset with surplus value at a solid discount and they’re going to utilize it (remember, most front offices don’t view baseball players as human beings) to leverage their situation into a more favorable revenue opportunity.

What do Osuna and the apocalyptic side effects of capitalism have to do with any of this? Well, the Astros are a better team than the Giants and Osuna helps make them even better on paper. Most people will take the better “moral” team over the less moral team, and so in that sense, the Giants might have a slight edge (depending on where you land on the matters of Bonds, Bumgarner, and Strickland).

Unfortunately, moral victories don’t translate to actual victories or the playoffs, they don’t translate to ticket and merchandise sales, and they don’t translate to lifelong fans.

Paradoxically for the Astros, a lack of morality is a great way to lose fans for a lifetime.

Pitcher to watch: If you’re still wondering how Charlie Morton — a finesse righty when the Giants faced him on the Pirates — is now one of the top power pitchers in the entire sport, the answer is “I just went out there and tried to throw the ball hard one game. I wound up throwing it harder.” This has to be the only time in baseball history where a player “You, Strawberry! Hit a home run”’d himself and it actually worked.

From 2008-2015, his fastball was in the 92-93 mph range. Over the past two seasons, it’s averaging 96 mph. In 12 career starts against the Giants, he’s 4-4 with a 2.59 ERA and 6.2 K/9 in 76.1 innings pitched. All of those starts were before he joined the Astros. His K/9 in Houston the past two seasons? 10.0 and 11.5.

Hitter(s) to watch: Tony Kemp had 5 RBI in his first game against the Giants back in May and had 2 walks in 3 plate appearances in his second game. He won’t have Andrew Suarez and Josh Osich to beat up on but he will be an interesting test for Dereck Rodriguez.

Meanwhile, Alex Bregman slugs .587 against lefties and only .493 against righties. Every Astros hitter is dangerous.

Prediction: Astros take both games and somehow win the Giants’ off day on Wednesday.