April 15, 2010

Series Preview: Houston Astros (1-9) vs Chicago Cubs (4-5)

The Cubs won their last series against the Brewers, and now face the near-winless Astros. Many here were hoping that the Astros would win in their last game against the Cardinals, so that they wouldn't come into this series winless. I don't really see it as a big deal - they're the same crappy team either way. If it made any difference, I think a winless team would struggle more since they would feel the additional pressure to win.

I touched on a few of these in recent threads, but I wanted to reiterate the futility of this team. It's pretty bad. Small sample size caveats apply of course, but here's two 'fun' facts:

Number of walks, 2010:

  • Daric Barton, Adam Dunn - 11
  • David Wright, Nick Markakis - 10
  • Chase Utley, Colby Rasmus, Nick Johnson, Jose Bautista, Denard Span - 9
  • Entire Houston Astros team - 8

Houston's lineup Thursday vs St Lous

  • Michael Bourn, CF
  • Jeff Keppinger, SS
  • Pedro Feliz, 1B
  • Carlos Lee, LF
  • Hunter Pence, RF
  • Kaz Matsui, 2B
  • Chris Johnson, 3B
  • Humberto Quintero, C
  • Bud Norris, P

There are two decent hitters in that lineup in Lee and Pence, but I find it hilarious that for one, Pedro Feliz, who was the worst hitter in the Phillies lineup last season, is in the slot traditionally reserved for the 'best' hitter in this lineup, and secondly, that he isn't playing third base (where his glove gives him most of his value). I don't know anything about this Chris Johnson guy, but I strongly suspect that he's not the second coming of Brooks Robinson. Take heart though, Houston fans - Ed Wade's contract extension kicks in next year!

Here's an overall look at their main lineup and pitching. As usual, I will list the players CHONE projected wOBA and UZR, and for the pitchers I will list their 2010 FIP, 2010 xFIP, and 2010 CHONE FIP projection

Batters (opening day lineup):

  1. Michael Bourn, LHB, CF (.327, 0.9)
  2. Kazuo Matsui, BHB, 2b (.309, 0.0)
  3. Hunter Pence, RHB, RF (.358, 0.0)
  4. Carlos Lee, LHB, LF (.365, -9.3)
  5. Geoff Blum, BHB, 1b (.294, 0.5)
  6. Pedro Feliz, RHB, 3b (.308, 8.6)
  7. J.R. Towles, Done Deal Sealed, C (.326, 1.4)
  8. Tommy Manzella, RHB, SS (.285, -6.8)

Holy balls, does this team miss Lance Berkman. Not that it would help that much


  1. Roy Oswalt, RHP (3.29, 3.57, 3.81)
  2. Wandy Rodriguez, LHP (5.27, 5.33, 3.54)
  3. Brett Myers, RHP (3.20, 3.56, 4.72)
  4. Bud Norris, RHP (5.29, 7.34, 4.40)
  5. Felipe Paulino, RHP (3.84, 5.21,4.75)
  6. Matt Lindstom, RHP, closer (7.54, 2.41,3.82)
  7. Brandon Lyon, LHP, (6.86, 6.29, 3.75)
  8. Jeff Fulchino, RHP (6.04, 3.37, 3.98)

So far, the Astros have actually gotten decent production from their starters (Bud Norris's numbers haven't been updated to include his last start v the Cardinals yet, where he struck out 9 in 5 innings). But, as you can see above, that offense is horrendous and sorely misses Berkman, who was projected to have a wOBA in the .380-.400 range. Going from that to Geoff Blum or any of the other stiffs they're rolling out there in his place is a huge dropoff. Sadly the lack of Berkman will also mean a dropoff of ridiculous/embarassing Berkman pictures from Mercurial Outfielder.


Berkman is having trouble with his left knee. He bruised it somehow in workouts early in spring training and has been slow to recover, having it drained 5 times and having a small surgery since the beginning of March. It sounds like he's chased whatever problem it had, as the swelling hasn't returned since the latest draining, and he was able to run full speed today. Lee showed that there is little to worry about with his thumb injury, homering off the hittable Jeff Suppan on Thursday. Ted Lilly has seen his minor league starts pushed back due to back stiffness. He pitched 4 innings on Wednesday and is expected to make one more start before rejoining the team. Caridad is on the DL with a case of domus canis Piniellitis.

Players to watch

Hunter Pence is the only player with any real future in the Astros lineup, and he's not even really that great. Of course, I'm forgetting J.R. Towles who is finally going to have a breakout season this year. He'll hit 7 or 8 home runs in this series. Done deal sealed. For the Cubs, I'll go with Kosuke Fukudome, who has been leading the offense with yet another stellar April. Hopefully he can keep this going.

Pitching matchups (pitching numbers are the same as above)

Friday: Felipe Paulino, RHP (3.84, 5.21,4.75) vs Carlos Silva, RHP (2.04, 3.63, 4.67), 1:20 PM CT

Silva had a nice outing his last time out, going 6 innings in only 71 pitches while striking out 3, walking none, and giving up a lone run. I was surprised when he was taken out but apparently his shoulder was bothering him. He got a fair number of ground balls, but his GB/other ball ratio wasn't quite as large as I expected. Still, Silva throws strikes, and with a lineup as weak as the Astros' lineup it's a great matchup for him. Paulino was hit pretty hard in his first start of the season, but it's not too surprising considering it was the Phillies. He's a decent strikeout pitcher, but he walks too many and gives up too many home runs. If the wind is still blowing out tomorrow, he should have a short outing.

Saturday: Roy Oswalt, RHP (3.29, 3.57, 3.81) vs Tom Gorzelanny, LHP (1.78, 2.64, 4.43), 12:05 PM CT

The Astros nominal ace isn't the dominant pitcher that he once was, but is still pretty good. He's had two good outings wasted by the Astros anemic offense. I always think of Oswalt as a power pitcher for some reason, but really he's much more of a control pitcher. His BB/9 has always hovered around 2, and he has decent though not great strikeout and HR suppression abilities. Gorzelanny made his case to stay in the rotation in his last start, striking out 7 in 6 1/3 innings and getting a fair number of ground balls along the way. The jury's still out on whether Gorz will turn out to be an above-average pitcher. You could point to his excellent 2007 with the Pirates, when he posted a 3.88 ERA and 4.24 FIP despite a .311 BABIP. However, he had a lot of HR luck that year. Last season he put up the best numbers of his career, albeit in 47 innings. We'll just have to take a wait-and-see approach.

Sunday: Wandy Rodriguez, LHP (5.27, 5.33, 3.54) vs Ryan Dempster, RHP (3.53, 3.58, 3.89), 1:20 PM CT

I know I say this every time the Cubs face him, but I still can't believe Wandy Rodriguez has turned into an above-average pitcher. It must be some combination of my memories of him when he first came into the league (hittable) and his lame-sounding first name. He's had trouble fooling people so far this season, which is strange considering how much of a strikeout pitcher he's turned himself into in the past few years. Hopefully the Cubs right-leaning lineup feasts on him. Demp meanwhile had a very shaky outing his last time out, almost completely opposite of his sharp first start. Lou pushed him into the 7th inning with a decent-sized lead but he was having trouble finding the zone with all of his pitches. I hope Lou's new strategy of pushing his starters to avoid his bullpen doesn't have next-start type reprecussions.

Prediction: I was going to say Cubs sweep, but predicting a sweep of any team is tough even with a team as awful as the Astros. The matchups aren't as much of a slam dunk in this series as the last one, so I'll say the Cubs win the series, two out of three, and head to Citifield to face the New York Pile of Fail with a .500 record.


baseballjen said...

Great post-very informative. You and I had the same opinion of "Wandy". I think the name is totally lame, but I agree, he's turned into a decent pitcher. I have gotten to where I feel badly for good pitchers on bad teams when I see HOF'ers W-L and save numbers. So hard to compete that way when you are on sucky teams.