Early on last May, the first place Detroit Tigers hosted a four game against the last place Houston Astros, and the results on the field were closer than many would have expected going in.
Save for a 11-4 blowout, the Astros hung tough in every game. taking Detroit tied into the seventh inning in the series opener before losing 2-0, then falling 3-2 before a powering 6-2 win in the series finale.
These spunky, remade Astros are no longer a laughing stock. If nothing else, the series in Detroit helped serve notice that the team should be taken seriously. Soon afterward, Houston got hot and was able to pull themselves back up in the standings a tad, surprising plenty across baseball.
Now, the Astros have fallen back to the pack, but they are no less intimidating, considering the solid pitching and hitting they've received. Rookie George Springer has taken off since socking his first career home run at Comerica Park, and Houston has a bit of life in the midst of what figured to be another listless year.
Will the Astros have better luck coming out on the winning end of some close games against Detroit at home? Here's five things to watch this weekend.
1. Starting Out Right. Last time, behind solid starting efforts from Jarred Cosart, Brad Peacock and Dallas Keuchel, the Astros pitched their way to a very close series. Combined, the three had 14 strikeouts and seven walks in their starts. This time around, the Tigers will have to do a bit better to get to Houston pitching. They'll see both Peacock and Keuchel back to back this weekend.
2. Springer Dingers. Since homering in Detroit on May 8, George Springer has been on a tear, hitting 14 additional home runs. He's also driving in the runs, collecting 40 RBI so far. The Tigers' Drew Smyly might have awakened a hitting monster when he allowed Springer to go yard. This time around, a more locked-in Springer should draw a bit more attention from Tigers pitching.
3. J.D. Martinez's Return. Houston's front office, which has been both lauded and criticized lately for their unique approach to baseball, might have made their first significant mistake letting power hitting J.D. Martinez slip through the cracks. Since coming to Detroit, Martinez has been on a tear with a remade swing, launching nine home runs while collecting 31 RBI. He's been impossible to get out, and with something to prove given Houston executives will be closely watching, he could become even more of a dynamo.
4. Texas Heat. Detroit already swept the Texas Rangers. a team which has always proven to be difficult at home, and now sets their eyes on Houston. All told, since the Astros switched leagues, the Tigers are 4-0 in Houston and scored 37 total runs in a four game set there in May 2013 while only allowing eight. They'll look to continue upon that trend of heat this weekend.
5. No Bull. Detroit's unsettled bullpen has finally found a bit of even ground lately, with some long awaited solid performances. Thursday night, they were given some much-needed rest by Rick Porcello, who dusted the Rangers in the midst of a complete game shutout. Thanks to that, over this weekend, all of Joba Chamberlain, Joe Nathan, Phil Coke, Al Alburquerque and company should be able to log significant innings, if need be. That could be huge news for the Tigers as they look to cap off an already excellent road trip.
Max DeMara is the editor of @tigers_101. Follow the site there on Twitter, or like it on Facebook to connect with him.Tags: Baseball, Brad Peacock, Dallas Keuchel, Detroit, Detroit Tigers, George Springer, J.D. Martinez, MLB, Rick Porcello