Photo Credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports
Even considering the injuries that have yielded gaping holes in their lineup, the Houston Astros have underperformed offensively in the opening six weeks of this season, especially with regard to power.
The Astros entered their three-game interleague series with the Chicago Cubs ranked 27th in the majors in slugging percentage, a statistic that made their breakout against Cubs standout left-hander Justin Steele on Tuesday moderately surprising.
After posting three extra-base hits in their series-opening win on Monday, the Astros recorded six doubles in a 7-3 victory Tuesday that clinched the series.
Houston had four doubles off Steele in its four-run fourth inning, an outburst that was long overdue and one that showed the Astros’ power potential even with Jose Altuve (thumb) and Michael Brantley (shoulder) sidelined.
“The more you play, the more your timing gets there. And the more your confidence gets there also,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “Guys were attacking the ball because he (Steele) was attacking us.”
Right-hander J.P. France (1-0, 0.77 ERA) will make his third career start as the Astros pursue a sweep on Wednesday. After allowing one run on three hits and one walk with three strikeouts over 6 2/3 innings in a 5-1 victory over the Chicago White Sox on Friday, France became the fourth pitcher in club history to work at least five innings while allowing one run or no runs in each of his first two career starts, joining Dallas Keuchel, Carlos Hernandez and Manny Hernandez.
France will make his first career appearance against the Cubs and his initial interleague start.
Left-hander Drew Smyly (4-1, 3.05) is the scheduled starter for the Cubs on Wednesday. He has allowed two runs or less in seven consecutive starts dating to April 10. Included in that stretch was a bid for a perfect game that extended into the eighth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers on April 21, the longest by a Cubs pitcher since Jose Guzman on April 6, 1993, against Atlanta.
Smyly will make his ninth career appearance (sixth start) against the Astros in the series finale. He is 1-4 with a 5.86 ERA against them, including 1-2 with a 6.00 ERA in four games (two starts) at Minute Maid Park. In each of his two most recent starts against the Astros, both with the Texas Rangers in 2019, Smyly allowed four earned runs.
Steele entered his ninth start of the season with the second-lowest ERA (1.82) in the National League and the lowest ERA (1.47) in the majors since July 22, 2022. The Astros tagged him for five earned runs over six innings, dropping his record to 6-1 and pushing his ERA to 2.44.
An illness might have played a role in Steele appearing surprisingly susceptible.
“He stepped up there for us,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “He’s been dealing with some flu-like symptoms, and for him to go out and have that performance, he did a really nice job for us. That one inning, other than that, he was pretty characteristic of himself.”
–Field Level Media