Updated: Jul 1
The Astros head to Arlington today after one of their most convincing wins of the year.
I covered how the season was on the brink in early June and reviewed where we are today at the start of the Astros - Rangers series. In my view, THIS will be THE MOST IMPORTANT SERIES OF THE YEAR for the 2023 Astros.
Building what I said in the season on the brink articles, the Astros enter this four-game series five games behind the Rangers and 0.5 game behind Toronto for the last Wild Card spot.
That is correct. They are currently PROJECTED to MISS the playoffs.
What is fascinating about this series is the range of results and how different the season can appear on Monday after game 4.
Record in THIS Series
Games behind the Rangers after Series
LIKELY position in WC & GB
5th, 3GB 3rd
5th, 2GB 3rd
Tie 4th, 1GB 3rd
Tie 3rd, even
2nd, up 0.5G over 3rd
You can argue all of that is irrelevant. I believe IF the Astros hit either extreme, it will dramatically impact their trade deadline plans.
So, let's dig into these two teams and how they compare.
You can see how the Astros:
Were projected to do at the beginning of the season.
Did in the 1H
Are projected to do in 2H
The fangraphs.com projections are translated into the LGM letter grade system and those who get a defensive bump up or down are in red font.
Generally, it was a disappointing 1H with the following coming up significantly short of projections:
The 2H projections indicate that most of these Astros will do better in the 2H than the 1H.
All baseball fans know the Rangers had a good 1H, but let's use the same method to show exactly how good it has been.
Only Grossman has performed significantly worse than his projections in the 1H. His playing time in June is about half of his playing time in May.
The list of significant over performers in the 1H is LONG:
There are also more incremental over performers:
If over half of your position players are over performing, then your offense will be GREAT. It has been.
The 2H projections for these players are generally not so lofty. Which version of the Rangers will we see in this series and beyond? If one can answer that question, they can probably tell you who wins the AL West.
The relative grades of the position players are fascinating.
Preseason- Astros small to medium advantage - +3.5
1H- Rangers MASSIVE advantage - -9.5
2H- Teams virtually even- 0
Generally, the Astros have had a good pitching staff in the 1H. They have been impacted by some major injuries. Urquidy and Garcia went down in the span of two days. McCullers got hurt in Spring Training, and had a setback, and now he is out for the year.
France, Bielak, and Blanco all have ERAs significantly better than their FIPs. Their FIPs are all F grade projections still. This could be a warning for the 2H.
Montero has been a major disappointment from his projected 3.59 FIP. Both Clint and I discussed this possibility on our preseason prediction show. Expect him to be used in lower leverage situations in the 2H.
The 2H projections for the Astros pitching staff are similar to their 1H performances with some better and others taking an incremental step back.
The Rangers have similarly been hit very hard with pitching injuries. The similarities do not end there.
Overall, the Rangers have pitched very well this season too.
They have two starting pitchers who have FIPs significantly higher than their ERAs- Heaney and Perez.
The Rangers have a few relief pitchers performing significantly better than their projected performance.
Here is a summary of the 1H performance and the 2H projections.
The ERA gap in both the 1H and projected 2H is better than the statistically insignificant FIP gap.
Overall, the pitching is far closer than most Astros fans believe heading into the series.
UPDATE: The Rangers weakest link in the postseason is their bullpen and they JUST made a trade TODAY to start the process of addressing that weakness.
I just updated the pitching table to reflect the pitching moves they have made.
Pulling all of this together, the comparison of the Astros and the Rangers makes it clear WHY the Rangers have been so good- their spectacular batting. Will it sustain and will both pitching staffs continue to perform well are key questions for the remainder of the 2023 season.
The second half of the season begins tonight. These four games may very well be a key indicator of what is to come. If the Astros lose this series, the front office will surely be less eager to make large investment trades to make a longshot run.
Let's go Astros!!
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