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Series preview: the Astros aren’t in first place — yet

The World Series hangover feels legit, but can the Giants take advantage?

Philadelphia Phillies v Houston Astros Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

The state of the ‘Stros is that they’ve managed to launder their organization’s reputation and redeemed themselves before most of the public by hiring Dusty Baker to manage the team and then winning the World Series without cheating* with him as the manager.

Oh, what? You thought I would forget about The Most Famous Thing the Astros Will Ever Be Known For? Not on my watch.

Anyway, of the last five World Series winners whose winning season and subsequent season weren’t affected by scheduling changes caused by the pandemic (which hasn’t ended*) — this means not the Nationals, who were impacted by 2020, and not the Dodgers, who were the 2020 champions — only the 2018 Astros didn’t start off the season after winning it all a little bit sleepy.

I wonder why those 2018 Astros were so good in the first month of the season (20-10). I wonder. I really do.

Here’s the list:

2016 Kansas City Royals: 12-11 (finished 81-81)
2017 Chicago Cubs: 13-11 (finished 92-70)
2018 Houston Astros: 20-10 (finished 103-59)
2019 Boston Red Sox: 13-17 (finished 84-78)
2022 Atlanta Braves: 10-12 (finished 101-61)

And even from the long-ago days of the San Francisco Giants being a championship team, the following seasons all felt a little sleepy at the start. So, I declare the World Series hangover to be real. On top of that, the Astros have some key injuries heading into this series: Lance McCullers, Jose Altuve, and Michael Brantley have yet to make their season debuts. Theoretically, the Giants could see the latter two in this series, but at least for Monday’s game (unless something changes the instant I hit publish), they will get to face a sleepy Astros team. Will that be enough to break this three-game losing streak?

The Giants are just 4-9 on the road, but they haven’t been as bad as that record. They’ve scored 74 and allowed 78 (they’re a -14 at home!), and except for the Yankee Stadium losses and the White Sox loss, they’ve been in most of their games on the road. That’s... not nothing! It’s maybe not a whole lot of something, either, but Giants hitters — the team’s key strength through the first month — look emboldened when they’re swinging anywhere outside of Oracle Park.

They’re a full win above replacement better — according to FanGraphs — than the Phillies’ lineup, and Philadelphia just took two out of three in Houston. Yeah, no, but seriously, this is going to be a tough three-game series for the Giants not just because it’s on the road, but because the Astros’ pitching is formidable and the Giants’ pitching is not.


Series details

Who: San Francisco Giants at Houston Astros
Where: Minute Maid Park, Houston, Texas
When: Monday (5:10pm PT), Tuesday (5:10pm PT), Wednesday (11:10am PT)
National broadcasts: FS1 (Monday)

Projected starters:

Monday: Ross Stripling vs. Luis Garcia
Tuesday: Anthony DeSclafani vs. Hunter Brown
Wednesday: Logan Webb vs. Framber Valdez


Where they stand


Record: 15-13, 2nd in AL West
Run differential: +22, 4th in AL
Postseason standing: 2.5 games out of Wild Card, 2.0 games out of the division
Momentum: 1-game winning streak; 7-3 in their last 10 games


Record: 11-16, 4th in NL West
Run differential: -18, 12th in the NL
Postseason standing: 4.0 games out of the Wild Card, 4.0 games out of the division
Momentum: 3-game losing streak; 5-5 in their last 10 games


Four Giants to watch

That’s right, I’m putting down four Giants to watch — and for good reasons!

J.D. Davis: The Astros drafted Davis in the 3rd round of the 2014 MLB Draft, hit .194/.260/.321 in 181 PA across two seasons for the major league team, and then before the 2019 season started, made him the centerpiece of “a minor trade” between Houston and the Mets that involved five minor leaguers. He was understandably blocked by Alex Bregman, so it’s not entirely an insult.

Bregman (0.7 fWAR)has had the better career and he’s still a full year younger, but J.D. Davis is having the better season right now (1.0 fWAR). Davis is even ahead in Bregman in outs above average, hitting 99th percentile to Bregman’s 93rd. He’s just 1-for-9 with 5 strikeouts in 3 career games against his former team. #Revenge

Ross Stripling: My favorite stat to look at for this article is Stripling’s career 1.82 WHIP in 12.2 IP against the Astros. Usually, career lines aren’t all that predictive, but Ross Stripling is, for the moment, one of the worst if not the worst pitchers in Major League Baseball. He’s just very easy to hit hard when he’s not hitting his spots, and ooh baby has he not been hitting his spots; though, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that in his last three appearances (yes, that’s out of five appearances!), he’s pitched 9 innings and struck out 10, allowing just one home run and has a 3.61 FIP. Monday night’s start will be a real challenge.

Mitch Haniger: Grip it and rip it, baby. We saw him BYE BYE BABY a cheapie in Mexico City, and I don’t really care if its elevation or the Crawford Boxes: let’s see Haniger stick to his career 46% pull rate and yank some taters to left field.

Thairo Estrada: He’s the 10th-best player in Baseball right now and the game’s best second baseman. That’s a big deal playing in the same park that Jose Altuve calls home. Estrada has been hitting the ball all sorts of ways. His defense hasn’t been superlative, but serviceable — at second base. If he starts getting more time at shortstop, the view might change. Although, in place of Brandon Crawford yesterday, Alex Cobb was able to be a decently effective groundballer in a stadium that punished pitchers of any stripe, so, on a fairer field, maybe it’ll be more evident what he brings to shortstop.


Four Astros to watch

Mauricio Dubón: Playing in place of the injured Altuve has been our beautiful boy, whom many fans missed through most of last year after he was traded away. This season, he’s had a 20-game hitting streak (during which he had 7 extra base hits and three walks in 90 PA), has struck out just 9 times in 101 PA, and has an outs above average rating in the 88th percentile. He has been superb in the areas he does well. Will he wreak havoc on his former team with singles and steals?

Yordan Alvarez: Dude mashes. I hope he doesn’t seriously hurt any baseballs while the Giants are in town. His 10.2% barrels/PA is the best on the team, but it looks as though some of the thinness in the Astros’ lineup means he’s being pitched differently because his Hard Hit rate (48.2%) is just 51st and his slugging percentage isn’t around .600, where it was last year (.543). He can hurt the Giants very easily.

Kyle Tucker: Here’s another guy who should be able to hurt the Giants easily, but in the first month of the season, his batted ball data isn’t elite. His season line — .286/.390/.469 — is 39% than the league average, but he has just 8 extra base hits in 28 games. If he starts banging doubles and launching home runs — uh oh.

I’ll give the Giants a little credit, though. The Padres’ lineup still didn’t reactive its power potential over the weekend. The stadium helped out the slumping Soto, Machado, and Tatis Jr. more than anything else.

Framber Valdez: He’s basically Logan Webb: Good Version, even though Logan Webb hasn’t been terrible this year. Their profiles are similar and they’re the respective aces, so, this will be a crucial matchup.


Prediction time!


Giants @ Astros - how will it go?

This poll is closed

  • 37%
    Astros sweep
    (21 votes)
  • 0%
    Giants sweep
    (0 votes)
  • 51%
    Astros win, 2-1
    (29 votes)
  • 10%
    Giants win, 2-1
    (6 votes)
56 votes total Vote Now

*-as far as we know