Can Houston finish May as strong as they've started?
A look ahead at the rest of May for the Astros
After the four-game sweep of the Rangers in Houston this past weekend, that puts Houston on a five-game winning streak and also has them 8-3 so far in the month of May. Can they continue to win series at this rate and keep extending their devision lead all the way to the end of the month?
Looking at the schedule the rest of this month, the Astros have a few easily-winnable matchups and then a few tougher matchups that could give them some trouble. Let's take a look at what's coming up as we draw nearer to the halfway point in the season:
Verlander returns to Detroit
Starting tonight, the Astros will be in Detroit for a three-game series against the Tigers. Detroit is two games below .500 and third place in the AL Central sitting 6.5 games behind the division-leading Twins. The Astros went 5-1 against the Tigers in 2018, sweeping the three-game series in Detroit. The one game they lost? At home in Houston with Verlander on the mound for the first time against his old team. In that game, JV went six innings during which he allowed five earned runs. To his credit, he faced them again later in the season, in Detroit, and got the win with seven innings of two-run baseball.
Verlander will be on the mound in the final game of the series on Wednesday, and I would fully expect he'll be prepared to lead the Astros towards a series sweep since it's entirely possible Houston makes easy work of Detroit in this series and continues dominating at the plate against the Tigers.
Six games with Boston
After the series with the Tigers, Houston will get a day off in Boston before a weekend series with the Red Sox at Fenway Park. Those three games will be the first of six over a ten-game span in an anticipated rematch of last year's ALCS. Boston had a really rough start to the year but are 8-2 over their last ten and have been, like the Astros, dominating their opponents with strong offense.
One of the intriguing matchups in this weekend's series, if the currently projected starters pitch, is Chris Sale vs. Corbin Martin. Martin was great in his debut on Mother's Day, and if given a longer pitch count to work with in his second start could have a juicy matchup with Boston's bats. After that series, next weekend the Red Sox will come to Houston for a weekend series to complete the season series. if the Astros can take four or more of those games, that would be a good confidence booster for a potential matchup in the playoffs in October.
White Sox kick off a long home stand
Sandwiched between the six games with Boston is a four-game series with the White Sox in Houston that starts a week from today. This should be one of the more winnable series left this month, with the White Sox sitting seven games back in their division and three games below .500. This series should also hopefully bring the return of Jose Altuve off of the injured list, which should be a nice boost to the team to push them past Chicago in the series.
One reason the Astros should find a way to win most if not all of these four games is that the White Sox have the second worst team ERA in the MLB at 5.32, so the Astros should feast on that pitching staff in Minute Maid Park, with or without Altuve at full strength.
Matchup with the surging Cubs before Houston travels West
The Astros and Cubs will kick off a three-game set starting on Memorial Day here in Houston. The Cubs are right up there with the Astros as one of the top teams in the league right now, leading their division ten games above .500 at 24-14. This will be an interesting matchup since it will be the only three times these teams play this year, and with it being in Houston, will mean the Cubs will get to add a DH to their lineup. This series is farther away and hard to predict, but the Astros should be given the edge since they've been smashing at home.
After that series, the Astros will head to the west coast for a six-game trip to take on two AL-West foes starting with a series in Oakland that starts on May 31st. That trip will be important for the Astros who, hopefully, will have maintained or extended their current 6.5 game division lead.
With May being just the second full month of baseball, we still have a lot of baseball yet to play in this season. However, if Houston can come out of May with a lot of momentum and a large division lead, they can set themselves up for a strong and manageable rest of the season.