Among many in baseball circles, the Houston Astros organization may be considered the Smartest Team In The Room™.
Their front office is loaded with brainiacs. They have field staff who carry out the philosophy from the lowest levels to the majors. They even have broadcast teams who attempt to advance the mission statement on TV and radio, but that is mostly to fans who are left wondering why the team is not winning.
The Astros have a five-year plan to improve the team and losing is an acknowledged residual effect of that overhaul. And, though in last place in the AL West, there are some signs of improvement -- after all, they are not the worst team in baseball. The Rays, Cubs and Diamondbacks have worse records than the Astros.
Obviously it is hard to throw stones while in last place in the AL Central, mind you, but if you are a Twins fan looking for tickets and a win, you have to feel good about the odds of walking away with a series win.
Failure To Launch
In 2010, the Astros boasted a payroll of $92 million. Two seasons later, they pared the budget and fielded a team that earned a collective $22 million.
It wasn’t a fire sale. It was a plan.
The directive from ownership was to go young. The year prior, former Cardinals draft guru Jeff Luhnow was hired away from St. Louis and he revamped the player selection and player development process in Houston. The roster went from being in the late-20s and early-30s to the mid-20s -- since then the youngest (and least expensive) in the game.
Along with Luhnow’s five-year plan to make the team more sustainable, the Astros sustained numerous losses. Two-hundred and fifty-three since 2012 to be exact.
Of course, mixed into to the squad has been some intriguing talent that has the potential to form the nucleus of the championship team the Astros envision. The five-foot-six second baseman Jose Altuve is leading the American League in hits (80) and stolen bases (20). Outfielder George Springer (10) is only trailing the White Sox’s Jose Abreu (17) in home runs by a rookie. First base prospect Jon Singleton recently signed a five-year contract -- with options that could make it eight years -- despite not having played a single game in the bigs. On the mound, Dallas Keuchel, who the Twins will face on Friday, leads all pitchers in ground ball creation at 66.5%.
While not yet a competitive team per se, this team has plenty of players of interest to follow.
Friday: Dallas Kuechel vs. Phil Hughes @ 7:10 PM
Are you a fan of pitchers’ duels? Two-to-one ballgames? If so, this is the game for you.
The best pitching matchup of the series will be conducted with two wildly different pitching styles but both contestants rely on the fastball. Kuechel is a lefty who doesn’t throw hard (maxes out at 92 miles per hour) but has been difficult for hitters to elevate. Hughes, on the other hand, throws his heat over 95 at times and because he throws it up in the zone, it is rarely put on the ground.
Despite these differences, they have both been successful: Since April 30 Hughes is the owner of a 1.74 ERA while Kuechel has an equally impressive 2.14 mark.
Saturday: Scott Feldman vs. Kyle Gibson @ 1:10 PM
Not a fan of pitchers striking batters out? Good. Here’s the game for you.
Both Feldman and Gibson have been very democratic when it comes to sharing the ball with teammates. Feldman is the owner of the league’s worst 4.25 K/9 while Gibson is separated by just Seattle’s Chris Young at 4.35 K/9. In Feldman’s case, his curveball has not inciting the same number of swing-and-misses it once did. Gibson, however, has struggled to advance the count to two-strikes, as the majority of his opponents have put the ball into play before that pitcher’s count.
Over his last three starts, Feldman has worked 15.3 innings and allowed 28 hits leading to 14 earned runs. Expect the Twins offense to come out swinging against Houston’s right-hander.
Sunday: Collin McHugh vs. Samuel Deduno @ 1:10 PM
This one is the matchup of the guys who were not wanted by their previous organizations.
Deduno went through multiple organization and even the Twins exposed him to all the other teams, who all passed. Since returning to the rotation in May, Deduno has made six starts and has gone 2-2 with a 4.36 ERA. Whereas the fastball was his weapon last year, his curveball has become equally impressive now that he has been able to keep in down in the zone.
For Houston, McHugh started in the Mets organization and then was traded to the Rockies who waived him this past December. Picked up by the Astros, the 27-year-old has thrown 50 innings and struck out 54 while flashing a vicious curveball with Bugs Bunny-like bend. The pitch carries a 17% swinging strike rate. Trevor Plouffe has been very susceptible when it comes to the curve this year -- he is just 1-for-12 with 7 strikeouts versus curves.
For Friday’s projected pitchers’ duel, seats in the infield area are recommended to see the detail in their work. Saturday’s game should feature more offense (and a bit of rain) so find a good ticket in the left field bleachers. On Sunday, bring the family and have the kids run the bases after the game. All are an even better deal if you use the promo code DAILYDOUBLE, which will get you 10% off and supports Twins Daily. Whatever your needs, your local ticket supplier,Ticket King, can help.