Dropping another series-deciding game, the Astros fell to 3-9 (2-4 at home) on the season Wednesday night with a 9-5 loss the Chicago Cubs. The ‘stros made the game interesting by putting up five runs in the bottom half of the sixth inning, but found themselves too far in a hole after the Cubs had jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the first. Cubs
slugger pitcher Carlos Zambrano helped put the game out of reach by jacking his 22nd home run of his career in the top half of the sixth. Zambrano is the franchise leader for home runs by a pitcher, and kept the Astros from winning their first series this season.
The glaring issue taken from this game is the continuation of Wandy Rodriguez’s notoriously slow starts. A second-half wonder, Rodriguez often dazzles post-All Star break and reminds everyone that he is one of the top lefties in the game. The problem is, that reminder is a necessity year after year because of how awful Rodriguez typically is during the first half of the season. Rodriguez pitched well against the Marlins last week, giving up only one run in seven innings, but he allowed eight hits and was fortunate that the Marlins left eight men on base. Also to note, Rodriguez was pitching well against Florida, but left after seven with his pitch count at 83, below average for most starting pitchers. Once he left, the wheels fell off for the Astros and they lost the game 4-3. If they want to contend, they’ll need Wandy and other starters to go as deep into games since the bullpen being has been shaky so far this year.
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After the loss to the Cubs on Wednesday, Rodriguez fell to 0-2 on the season, with a 7.31 ERA and a 1.81 WHIP in three games started. Blame is widespread on this staff, though; the Astros are dead last in MLB in batting average against (.306), second to last in WHIP (1.64), and 28th out of 30th in ERA (5.57). For a team that was relying heavily on pitching to keep them afloat this year, the first three weeks of the season have been anything but reassuring. On the other hand …
- Batter up … While the pitching may be flailing in the wind, the hitting is better than ever. As I noted during spring training, the Astros possess a lineup that can produce with the best of them, and so far, they’re proving it. The question: Can they do it consistently? The Astros are currently seventh in MLB with a team batting average of .272, and are 11th in runs scored with 55. We’ll see if this trend can continue against the Padres, whose pitching staff is currently near the top of every major statistical category in 2011. On the other hand, maybe the Astros pitching can get going, since those Padres are near the very bottom when it comes to hitting.
- In the Hunt … Hunter Pence has come out with something to prove this year. After making the All-Star team in 2009, then missing last year despite a solid campaign (most of which came in the second half), Pence seems poised to get himself back to the summer classic come July. With a .300 BA and nine RBIs (top-10 in the NL), Pence is looking sharp at the plate so far this season; more importantly, he’s getting hits when they matter most.
- You can’t have it … With Clint Barmes starting to participate in drills, the Astros will soon have a tough decision to make. Barmes, who the Astros traded for this off-season to bring in some extra power at the plate, seems like he has his work cut out for him if he is going to reclaim his starting shortstop position from Angel Sanchez. Sanchez has been terrific so far this season, sporting a .383 BA, eight RBIs and a .423 OBP. His only knock at this point is his three errors, which could come back to haunt him if he starts slumping at the plate.
- Say what? … The Astros are currently employers of the player with the most triples in MLB. No, it’s not Michael Bourn. Carlos Lee, Astros heavy-footed left fielder, is tied for the early season lead with two triples on the year. In his four previous seasons with Houston, Lee has a total of three triples. All that beef that Carlos is producing must be giving him some sort of extra boost.
- Probable Starters …
Thu. Apr 14 v. Padres: Norris (0-1) v. Dustin Moseley (0-2)
Fri. Apr 15 v. Padres: Happ (1-1) v. Aaron Harang (2-0)
Tue. Apr 19 @ Mets: Rodriguez (0-2) v. Jonathon Niese (0-2)
Wed. Apr 20 @ Mets: Norris (0-1) v. R.A. Dickey (1-1)
Thu. Apr 21 @ Mets: TBD
- Livin’ the Dream … MLB created a man cave for two lucky fans to watch every game this season. They will tweet, blog, chat, videolog and anything else that is possible about their experience and the games. Check out “The Cave Monster”, a 12-screen video board that shows everything baseball. Livin’ the dream.
Enjoy a great weekend of baseball, everyone. Go Astros!