GAME 7 - April 8: Marlins 4, Astros 3
GAME 8 - April 9: Marlins 7, Astros 5
GAME 9 - April 10: ASTROS 7, Marlins 1
With a 2-7 record, the Astros might still be in the NL Cellar, but there's reason to think good thoughts and hope for the future. Here are a few of the reasons:
1. They're doing better than last year -- after 9 games last season, the Astros were 1-8. Granted, this year's record is only marginally better, but we'll have to take anything we can get.
2. The losses in this weekend's losing home opener series were not embarrassing blowouts. The Astros actually led in much of all three games, losing the first two in late innings. Yesterday's game might not even have been a loss had the Astros not been on the wrong side of an erroneous call by the first base ump: He called out Brett Wallace, who had actually beat the ball to first. That bad call resulted in a double play, ending the second inning -- stranding a runner at third who would have scored another Houston run and continued the inning. Who knows what might have happened?
3. The Astros have not been shut out yet this year. By this point last season, the Astros had been shut out 3 times and had only scored 1 run in 2 other games. So far this year, the lowest run total has been 2 runs.
If you look at the team stats, the Astros do look pretty bad. The statistic that bothered me at the start of last season -- few bases on balls -- is just as bad this year. The Astros walk less than any of their opponents. One might say that they are more aggressive at the plate, but that doesn't seem to result in wins, does it? They have a ton of strikeouts, with Bill Hall accounting for a disproportionate number of them. The team is towards the bottom of the league in most offensive stats, has the highest ERA of any NL pitching staff, and has the most errors.
It's still a small sample -- take away that one awful game in which the Astros made 5 errors, and their count is one of the league's lowest. But let's be honest: The sucky stats are totally consistent with our terrible record. Fact is, this is not a good baseball team.
But it's still fun to watch a win, like today's 7-1 victory over the Fish. J.A. Happ, who floundered horribly in his 4 innings last week, pitched into the 8th inning today, only allowing 1 run, on 4 hits, 4 BBs, and 6 Ks. I always like a pitcher who helps himself, so it was fun to watch Happ get 2 of Houstons' 16 hits today, including a 2 RBI double. Other players with multiple hits in today's win: Bourn (2 for 4), Sanchez (3 for 5), Pence (3 for 5), and Quintero (2 for 3, including a double that he unsuccessfully tried to stretch into a triple). In the goat column is El Caballo, who went 1 for 5 and left 7 runners stranded, including 3 in scoring position with 2 outs. With his BA at .200, Lee is looking a whole lot like his last season self, except perhaps for showing a bit more power (a homer and a pair of triples so far this year). Let's hope he picks up the pace, so we can trade him to an AL team to be a DH. It's painful to watch him in the outfield with two-time GG Bourn and super-energetic Pence.
The other two Houston starters in this series also pitched much better this week. Wandy threw 7 innings on Friday night, allowing only 1 run on 8 hits and no walks, striking out 2. Bud Lite looked really good for the first 5 innings Saturday night, before giving up 3 runs on a single, a double and a homer in the sixth. While the starters were looking more solid, the relievers couldn't hold on in the first two games. Lopez allowed 2 runs in the 8th on Friday night, blowing Wandy's lead and losing the game. Abad gave up 3 consecutive doubles on Saturday night, allowing a pair of runs to give the Marlins a permanent lead.
So here's what we need in our upcoming series against the Cubs: The starting pitchers and relievers to be solid in the same games. We can beat Chicago. Their record is better than ours (4-5), but hey, they were playing the Pirates and Brewers, while we were playing the Phillies and Reds. I'm betting that we will win some games against the Cubs and Padres this week. How's that for optimism?
In the Old Friends department: Roy O got his second win last night, as the Phillies scored double-digit runs for him against the Braves. That's why he wanted his trade -- so that when he pitched well, the team would win. That's what he's getting with the Phillies. I'm glad for him, as long as it doesn't come at the Astros' expense again. In less happy news, Lance Berkman is batting .214 for the Cardinals, with a couple of doubles and no homers. The Cards are almost as dreadful as the Astros so far this season. So sad...NOT.