Astros gear up for bounce-back win against White Sox ace

GAME 2 PREVIEW

Astros Mauricio Dubon, Alex Bregman
The Astros hope to even the series with Hunter Brown on the mound. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

Houston Astros (33-40, second in the AL West) vs. Chicago White Sox (20-54, fifth in the AL Central)

Chicago; Wednesday, 8:10 p.m. EDT

PITCHING PROBABLES: Astros: Hunter Brown (3-5, 5.00 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 76 strikeouts); White Sox: Garrett Crochet (6-5, 3.16 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 116 strikeouts)

BETMGM SPORTSBOOK: LINE Astros -116, White Sox -104; over/under is 7 1/2 runs

BOTTOM LINE: The Chicago White Sox take a 1-0 lead into the next game of the series against the Houston Astros.

Chicago is 13-23 at home and 20-54 overall. The White Sox are 6-14 in games decided by one run.

Houston is 33-40 overall and 14-21 on the road. The Astros have a 25-4 record in games when they scored at least five runs.

The teams play Wednesday for the second time this season.

TOP PERFORMERS: Gavin Sheets has 14 doubles, a triple and seven home runs for the White Sox. Andrew Vaughn is 14-for-43 with a double and three home runs over the last 10 games.

Yordan Alvarez has 16 doubles, a triple and 14 home runs for the Astros. Jose Altuve is 14-for-41 with two doubles, two home runs and eight RBI over the last 10 games.

LAST 10 GAMES: White Sox: 4-6, .234 batting average, 3.78 ERA, outscored by six runs

Astros: 5-5, .262 batting average, 3.61 ERA, outscored opponents by five runs

INJURIES: White Sox: Max Stassi: 60-Day IL (hip), Dominic Leone: 60-Day IL (right elbow), Dominic Fletcher: 10-Day IL (shoulder), Mike Clevinger: 15-Day IL (elbow), Eloy Jimenez: 10-Day IL (hamstring), Yoan Moncada: 60-Day IL (abductor), Jimmy Lambert: 60-Day IL (shoulder), Matt Foster: 60-Day IL (elbow), Jesse Scholtens: 60-Day IL (elbow)

Astros: Justin Verlander: 15-Day IL (neck), Cristian Javier: 60-Day IL (forearm), Kyle Tucker: 10-Day IL (shin), Jose Urquidy: 60-Day IL (forearm), Oliver Ortega: 60-Day IL (elbow), Bennett Sousa: 60-Day IL (shoulder), Penn Murfee: 60-Day IL (elbow), Luis Garcia: 60-Day IL (elbow), Lance McCullers Jr.: 60-Day IL (elbow), Kendall Graveman: 60-Day IL (elbow)

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Examining baseball's run scoring dilemma. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

Baseball can’t run away from its lack of runs.

Batting averages are near half-century lows. Velocity is at an all-time high.

"Run scoring, it’s not easy to do. It’s hard and it’s getting harder,” Minnesota manager Rocco Baldelli said. “Pitchers are getting better by the outing.”

The major league batting average was .240 through April and .239 in May, the lowest since the bottom of .237 in 1968’s Year of the Pitcher. It’s risen slightly along with the temperature as spring turned to summer: .246 in June and .250 in July, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Still, the season average of .243 heading into the All-Star break was just ahead of 2022 and 1968 as the lowest since the dead-ball era ended in 1920.

“Batting average was down a little bit. That’s not necessarily a good thing if you’re looking for action in the game,” baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said in late May.

And the drop isn’t just in the big leagues. This year’s minor league batting average is .243, down from .256 in 2019.

“I didn’t see 100 (mph) when I was playing. It’s commonplace now,” said Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, whose last season was 2008.

Average four-seam fastball velocity is 94.2 mph this year, matching 2023 and up from 91.1 mph in 2008. There were 3,880 pitches of 100 mph or higher last year, up from 214 in 2008.

Just at Triple-A this year there have been 461.

“You can tell as a hitter. Guys are going to the top with the fastballs,” said Dylan Crews, the No. 2 draft pick last year and now at Washington's Triple-A Rochester farm team.

In an age of shortened attention spans, Major League Baseball has tried to increase action by instituting limits on defensive shifts in 2023 along with a pitch clock to cut dead time. The average time of a nine-inning game dropped from 3 hours, 4 minutes in 2022 to 2:40 last year and 2:36 thus far this season, but runs remain near post-Steroids Era lows: 4.39 per team each game, down from 4.62 last year and up from 4.28 in 2022.

Still, hitters have cut down slightly on strikeouts: the rate of 8.36 per team per game this season is the lowest since 2017, down from 8.61 last year and a record 8.81 in 2019.

“There’s more spin rate. There’s harder throwers,” San Diego star third baseman Manny Machado said. “There’s just so much information and I think that’s what creates the havoc and makes hitting a little bit harder.”

The percentage of fastballs — four-seamers, sinkers and cutters — is 55.5% this year, just above last season’s 55.4%. It was 62.5% in 2015.

Spin rates on sliders, sweepers and slurves have increased from 2,106 revolutions per minute in 2015 to 2,475 this year and their use has increased from 10.9% to 22.5%.

Team wonks view video and dissect data to provide pitchers pointers and batters blueprints. The Dodgers employ senior directors of baseball systems applications and baseball systems platforms along with directors of baseball strategy and information, quantitative analysis, baseball product development, integrative baseball performance, performance innovation lab and baseball innovation.

As a result of the perpetual perusal, pitchers are told what to throw, when to throw and how to throw.

Atlanta’s Max Fried mixes seven pitches: four-seamer, sinker, cutter, slider, sweeper, curveball and changeup.

“The information is so prevalent that there are no secrets,” Fried said. “Baseball is still a game of changing speeds and mixing up looks and if you can just kind of keep guys off balance as much as you possibly can there, you’re going to give yourself the best chance to be successful.”

The New York Yankees built a pitching laboratory known as the “Gas Station” at their minor league complex in Tampa, Florida, ahead of the 2020 season, a type of facility that is now becoming more commonplace. Pitchers from big leaguers down to high school have gone to Driveline in Kent, Washington, to develop their repertoires. “Pitch shape” has become a common term.

“You could go long periods, months maybe, where teams were not adding new pitches,” Baldelli said. “And now you see almost every series, you run in against a team and someone’s doing something completely different. I think the fear has kind of left the major league clubhouses when it comes to making adjustments.”

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