The Houston Astros aren’t a baseball team, they’re a remorseless killing machine.
Other than the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Brewers likely won’t play a better team this year. Houston ranks 3rd in the majors in offensive WAR, 4th in pitching WAR (the Dodgers and Rays are the only other teams to appear in the top 5 in both), 2nd in wRC+, 2nd in wOBA, 3rd in ERA, and 4th in FIP.
At 45-22, they’re tied with the Dodgers for the best record in baseball, and already have a 99.9% probability of making the playoffs. It may only be mid-June, but Fangraphs gives them a 20.7% chance of winning the World Series at this point, the best odds in the majors (LA is second at 19.2%).
With that said, the Brewers may be catching the Astros at a good time. Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, and George Springer are all on the injured list and have been for much of the month. MVP candidate Alex Bregman (hitting .272/.389/.545 with 18 home runs and 10 doubles) and former Brewers farmhand and CC Sabathia trade piece Michael Brantley (hitting .317/.374/.512 with 10 home runs and 18 doubles) are still in the lineup, but this won’t be the juggernaut lineup the Brewers will likely see back in Milwaukee later this year.
That may not matter, though, due to the strength of the Astros’ pitching. This is a team that let Dallas Keuchel sit out there as a free agent until this past week instead of trying to re-sign him because he legitimately could have been left out of the rotation with Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Lance McCullers (who has since gone down with Tommy John surgery), Brad Peacock and Wade Miley ahead of him in the pecking order.
In the bullpen, Roberto Osuna (2.15 ERA, 0.682 WHIP, 17 saves in 19 chances) and Ryan Pressly (0.90 ERA in 30 innings, 0.700 WHIP, went nearly 2 full months without giving up a run) have effectively shortened any game to 7 innings, and Will Harris (1.54 ERA in 23.1 innings) and Hector Rondon (2.63 ERA in 24 innings) aren’t too bad, either. If you don’t score against their starter, you’re going to have trouble scoring, period.
Tuesday, June 11th - 7:10 p.m. CDT
Freddy Peralta vs. Brad Peacock
After a couple years as a swingman and bullpen fireman, Peacock has largely consistently been in the Astros’ rotation this year, with 11 of his 13 appearances this year coming in starts. He doesn’t go very deep into games very often -- only 2 of those appearances have been for more than 6 innings -- but he’s been extremely effective anyway, with an ERA of 3.20 and FIP of 3.19 while striking out a little more than a batter per inning. He doesn’t throw very hard (92.2 mph on his fastball this year), but his slider is a very tough pitch.
Wednesday, June 12th - 7:10 p.m. CDT
Brandon Woodruff vs. Justin Verlander
Lots of very smart people felt Verlander was verging on being washed up when he was traded to the Astros at the age of 34 in 2017. He had 3.82 ERA/4.07 FIP with the Tigers that year and had given up 23 home runs in 28 starts. What’s followed is a career rejuvenation in Houston, as he’s embraced the pitching-up-in-the-zone revolution and has put up a 2.32 ERA/2.96 FIP with an ERA+ of 179 in 53 career starts with the Astros. He’s done all that while still being a workhorse, leading the league with 93.2 innings at the age of 36 this year, with a ridiculous K/BB ratio of 110:19. After finishing second in the AL Cy Young race last year, he looks like he could be a contender for the award again this year.
The Brewers took 2 of 3 from the Astros back in April 2016, when Houston was still trying to figure out how to win consistently after a surprise playoff run in 2015. That Astros team would end up finishing in 3rd place in the AL West and missing the playoffs before they ultimately took the leap to World Series champions in 2017. That was part of a horrid 7-17 opening month for the Astros before they went on a tear in May and June to get back into the race.
Player to Watch
Alex Bregman broke out in a big way last year, when he racked up 7.6 fWAR while hitting .286/.394/.532 with 31 home runs and a league-leading 51 doubles. As mentioned, he’s well on his way to another 30-home run season this year with 18 already through 65 games while also increasing his walk rate. With the other big bats in the Astros’ lineup on the injured list this month, he’s going to have to carry the load both in this series and for the next couple weeks.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs