Coming off a 4-3 homestand, the San Francisco Giants take to the road again to face the reigning World Champions. The Giants had a much needed off day before recharging their batteries before facing the Astros.
With a 30-18 record, the Astros sit at first place in the AL West, with three other teams right behind them. The Giants are just floating around .500, but are very much in the race for the division.
Lead by hot-hitting Brandon Belt, the Giants look to gain a game or two against the struggling Diamondbacks. They also need to stave off the Dodgers who are catching fire as of late. They will attempt to do so against two of the toughest pitchers on the Astros, if not the American League.
The Giants have to carry their offense over from the last couple of games if they intend to compete. Their starters have given up a combined 23 earned runs over the last two series, and their bullpen hasn’t been lights out good.
Game One: Giants see a familiar face in a different uniform
After it seemed like he was making progress, Andrew Suarez had two starts that demolished his value in the rotation. Walks are not the problem for the rookie, but the hits have been a huge issue for him. He clearly has no trouble getting the ball in the strike zone, but his mistakes are being cashed in at an alarming rate.
I believe Suarez still needs some time in the minors to figure his movement out, but until Madison Bumgarner returns, he’ll be tasked with keeping these Astro hitters at bay. This will be the first time Suarez has seen the Astros lineup, a lineup that has pretty similar numbers against lefties and righties. The only big difference is the slugging percentage, which is about 30 points higher with lefties on the mound.
The Giants will see Gerrit Cole, and this time not in a Pirates uniform. He is still lights out with his 93 strikeouts on the year leading the league. His .166 opposing batting average is what scares me, as he has clearly found his comfort zone.
Brandon Belt is the only Giant with a home run off of Cole, and he also has three doubles in 16 at-bats. Hunter Pence, who could very well be back during this series, is 4-for-13 lifetime against Cole. A likely pinch-hitting candidate, Pablo Sandoval, is 2-for-3 lifetime against him. His brother-in-law Brandon Crawford is 4-for-18 lifetime with five strikeouts.
Game Two: Quick Getaway
Before the Giants hit the road to Chicago, they will see Justin Verlander. Opposing him is Jeff Samardzija, who came off an outing that saw him go 6 2/3 and lock-in after a disastrous second inning against the Rockies. Samardzija has history against some of the Astros players, but a good chunk of the lineup has not seen him before.
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All-star second baseman Jose Altuve has the most hits (7) against Samardzija. Utility man Marwin Gonzalez and right fielder Josh Reddick each have a home run against him. Samardzija will need to work on his command in order to control the Astros’ lineup. The long ball has also been an issue on the road for him, and might especially be an issue with the short porches at Minute Maid Park.
Justin Verlander is no stranger to the long ball himself, but it’s clear he needed that change of scenery. He has not given up a single home run, and only two earned runs, in the month of May.. So if you’re thinking Pablo Sandoval will be licking his chops against Verlander, think again. Sandoval is actually a career 0-for-5 against Verlander in the regular season with two strikeouts and a walk.
To no surprise, the hitter with the most experience against Verlander is Evan Longoria. In 34 at-bats, Longoria has amassed nine hits including a double, triple and a home run. Andrew McCutchen also has experience against Verlander, and although he is not as successful with the hits (3-for-21) he does have four walks against him.
How can the Giants beat the reigning World Champs?
It’s not going to be easy for the Giants, but I would easily take a series split. We know what we’re going to get from the starters, I think that’s a certainty. They have shown flashes of greatness, but have shown more struggles than not. The biggest X-factor is going to be the offense.
When they’re firing on all cylinders, the Giants offense scores a lot of runs, and usually in bunches. They need to do everything they can do to take Cole and Verlander out of their games. Outside of Brad Peacock and Ken Giles, there’s not much about the Astros bullpen that scares me.
Because of the way the NL West is panning out right now, it would behoove the Giants to not squander opportunities. We saw in the first couple of games against the Rockies that the Giants still have periodic issues scoring runners. This simply cannot be the case in this series.
For the Giants to win, they need to come out attacking early and as often as they can, like we saw in the first game of the Reds series. Sure this might be a no-brainer statement, but it’s the best strategy to have.