Series Preview 43: Astros at White Sox

The White Sox continue their homestand with a three game series against the Houston Astros.  The Sox are coming off their fourth straight series win after taking the last two games against the Rangers.  The Sox are 14-6 in their last 20 games and probably playing their best baseball of the season. The Astros are coming off a series win over the Blue Jays but are 4-6 in their last 10 games. The Sox lost three of four to the Astros in Houston back in June.

Pitching Matchups

The series gets underway on Monday night with Brett Oberholtzer (3-1, 2.91 ERA) facing off with Andre Rienzo (1-0, 3.56 ERA).

Oberholtzer will be making his fifth start with the Astros and fourth straight after being called back up on August 5th.  He has pitched very well since the recall going 2-1 with a 2.29 ERA and holding opponents to a .243 batting average.  He isn’t a big strikeout pitcher, with 12 in his last 19.2 innings but has walked just 5 batters in 34 innings at the big league level.

Oberholtzer was with 6-6 with a 4.37 ERA in 16 starts at AAA Oklahoma City this year.  No one on the Sox has seen Oberholtzer yet.

Andre Rienzo is fresh off his first Major League victory against the Kansas City Royals.  Rienzo tossed 6 innings allowing 2 runs on 5 hits with 5 strikeouts and 3 walks.  It was his fourth quality start in five trips to the mound with the White Sox.  Rienzo has done a good job limiting opposing hitters to a .228 batting average and a .351 slugging percentage but needs to get the walks under control.  He has now walked 14 batters in 30.1 innings and is averaging 4.2 BB/9 innings.  As a result his K/BB ratio is at 1.50.

Eventually the walks will catch up to him, even if he continues to limit the opposing team’s hits.  This will be Rienzo’s first start against the Astros and no Houston player has faced Rienzo at the Major League level.

The middle game of the series on Tuesday night will have Paul Clemens (4-4, 6.36 ERA) taking on Jose Quintana (7-4, 3.67 ERA).

Clemens, a 25-year-old rookie, came over to the Astros with Brett Oberholtzer in the deal that sent Michael Bourn to the Braves in 2011.  Clemens has appeared in 30 games for the Astros this year but will be making his first start on Tuesday.  He made six starts at AAA Oklahoma City and was 3-2 with a 4.50 ERA.  Clemens has been hit around at the big league level giving up 10 hits per 9 innings and has served up 13 long balls in 46.2 innings (2.5 per 9 innings).

He has a decent K/BB ratio of 2.31 but as a result of the hits he’s given up his WHIP is at 1.457 for the season.  Clemens pitched two thirds of an inning against the Sox on June 15th picking up a hold.  He gave up one hit and struck out two.  Alexei Ramirez picked up the hit and Alejandro De Aza one of the strikeouts. 

Quintana is coming off a no decision (shocker) in Kansas City where he went 7 innings and allowed 3 runs on 4 hits with 1 walk and 7 strikeouts.  It was another solid performance for Quintana in a game the Sox eventually won in extra innings.  In four starts in August Q is 2-1 with a 3.91 ERA and 25 strikeouts against 6 walks.  He has really boosted his strikeout numbers since the start of July and is striking out just less than a batter an inning (8.86/9 innings).  He is striking out 2.2 more batters per 9 innings than last season while slightly reducing his walks.

Quintana faced the Astros back in June and lasted 4.2 innings and gave up 2 runs on 5 hits with 3 walks and 5 strikeouts.  He had to exit the game with a high pitch count before he could qualify for the win.  Jason Castro (2-for-3, 2 doubles) and Brandon Barnes (2-for-3) each have a pair of hits against Quintana.

The finale of the series and the Sox homestand will be Wednesday night when Jarred Cosart (1-1, 1.60 ERA) takes on Sox ace Chris Sale (9-12, 3.08 ERA).

Cosart is another rookie for Houston who will be making his eighth start of the year since being called up in mid-July.  He has pitched very well for the Astros, allowing three runs or less in all of his starts.  In fact he has only allowed more than one run twice in seven starts.  He has held opposing hitters to a .208 batting average.  The one problem spot is the walks.  Cosart has allowed 21 walks in 45 innings (4.2/9) which is the same number of batters he has struck out.  Lucky for him he has only given up one home run.

At AAA Oklahoma City Cosart was 7-4 with a 3.29 ERA in 18 games and was striking out a batter an inning.  Base on balls were still an issue though as he was walking 4.8 batters per 9 innings. Eventually the walks are going to come back to bite you. 

Chris Sale is coming off one of his worst starts of his career as he allowed a season high 8 runs on 8 hits including a career high 4 home runs in a loss to the Rangers.  With the 8 earned runs Sale saw his ERA climb above 3.00 for the first time since May 6th.

Sale had been great the three starts before that, winning each of them.  He will look to bounce back against a bad Astros team.  Sale faced the ‘Stros back in June and took the loss but didn’t deserve it.  He threw an 8 inning complete game and allowed 2 unearned runs on 6 hits with a season high 14 strikeouts.  Of the current Astros hitters only Jose Altuve (3-for-7) has multiple hits against Chris Sale. 

Series Notes

Race for Last: The Astros currently hold the worst record in baseball at 43-86 (.333) and appear destined for a third straight 100 loss season.  The White Sox currently hold the third worst record in baseball at 54-75 (.419) despite their recent surge.  The Astros appear to have the worst record locked up with the Marlins having won six more games than them.  We are a long way from 2005 when these two franchises played in the World Series, they now have combined for 161 losses this year.  Speaking of the 2005 World Series, the only player left on either team is White Sox Captain Paul Konerko.

Tank’s Surge: Despite a pretty miserable season overall, Dayan Viciedo has started to pick it up lately.  Over the last two weeks Tank is hitting .343 with 2 homers and 12 RBI.  He has gotten his batting average up to .254 after it had dropped all the way down to .222 on June 15th.  While his season has been disappointing overall, it is good to see him show some signs of life as the season winds down.  Many were wondering what Viciedo’s place in the organization might be after this year and a strong finish would go a long way towards easing the Sox concerns about him moving forwards.  Connor Gillaspie has also perked up the last two weeks, hitting .343 with a homer. 

Home Cooking: The Sox have won 8 of their last 13 games at US Cellular Field and if they can manage to sweep the Astros they will get back to .500 at home for the season.  It has been a rough go for the Sox this year but having a chance to finish with a winning record at home could give them a nice goal to shoot for.  One other note, they are only 1 game back of the Cubs in the race to see which Chicago baseball team has the worse season.