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[ESPN Insider]: FLA/HOU series

Discussion in 'Houston Astros' started by kaleidosky, Sep 13, 2005.

  1. kaleidosky

    kaleidosky Your Tweety Bird dance just cost us a run

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    Anyone read this? Or thought this about Willy? (at end)






    (edit: by Gary Gillette)



    The top two teams in the tight NL wild-card race grapple with each other in Houston for four days starting tonight and ending on Thursday. A sweep by either team would virtually guarantee a postseason berth, but sweeping a four-game series is not likely. If two clubs are evenly matched after 140-145 games, it would be rare indeed that either would completely dominate the other.

    The only important players on either team who are currently hurt are Florida shortstop Alex Gonzalez, who has missed the past week with a bruised elbow and might return on Tuesday, and Florida catcher Paul Lo Duca, day-to-day with a hamstring injury.

    The Astros enter this key series with a 76-66 record and the post position in the NL wild-card derby, a half-game ahead of the Marlins (76-67). Florida lost two of three over the weekend, its pitching staff allowing 29 runs in the rocket pad known as Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. The series culminated in Sunday's 11-1 thumping by the home team, pulling Philadelphia back to within 1½ games of Houston and one game of Florida. Fortunately for the Fish, their midweek sweep of Washington gave them a bit of breathing room.

    Houston's impotent offense (601 runs, 13th in the NL) has been in the spotlight all season, putting a lot of extra pressure on its league-leading pitching staff. The Astros have a plus-59 run differential and are playing two games below their expected record despite a 22-17 record in one-run decisions. Typical of teams in extreme ballparks, Houston has an excellent 46-24 home record and a poor 30-42 road record. Florida is only plus-19 in run differential and is two games above its projected record despite a losing record in one-run games. The team's 4.04 ERA and 642 runs scored put it in the middle of the pack in the NL.

    Florida has a big advantage in that it will face back-of-the-rotation starters Brandon Backe and Wandy Rodriguez in the first two games before Houston can haul out two of its big guns, Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte. Roy Oswalt pitched Sunday, so he'll miss Florida completely.

    Houston won't get off so easily, looking at an enemy rotation of Dontrelle Willis, Josh Beckett, A.J. Burnett and Jason Vargas, though all but Willis have been off their game lately.


    FLORIDA MARLINS

    The Good: With an inscrutable delivery to go with his plus fastball, cutter and slider, Willis can make even the best hitters look like Yosemite Sam at the plate. With Willis' going 4-0 with a 1.69 ERA in his last four starts, will the Astros' lineup end up looking like Elmer Fudd against the D-Train? Willis allowed only one run in eight innings in his only previous appearance against Houston this year.

    Beckett recovered from his strained side and midseason struggles to have a fine second half, though his last four starts have been nothing to write home about (1-2, 6.43 ERA). Beckett has been brilliant at home (9-2, 2.44 ERA) and rocky on the road this year (4-6, 4.91 ERA), giving the Astros a decent chance to get to the hard-throwing right-hander.

    Burnett, like Beckett, has struggled away from Florida this season and been pounded in his last four starts (0-4, 8.35 ERA). However, his home/road splits are not nearly so large (2.95 ERA at home; 3.84 ERA on the road), and he's more than capable of overpowering Houston.

    With only a year of professional experience before his midseason call-up, Vargas certainly deserves a lot of credit. But the 22-year-old lefty has been hammered hard in three of his last four starts. (And the other was a none-too-impressive outing against Washington.) Against a disciplined, experienced lineup, he would probably be toast at this point, but ...

    Comeback closer Todd Jones has been lights-out all season (.535 OPS against, only two homers allowed in 64 IP) and should not have much trouble with most Houston hitters if he gets handed a late-inning lead. Right-handed screwball specialist Jim Mecir has pitched well in the middle in limited outings (only 41.2 IP in 49 appearances). Situational lefty Ron Villone has put away left-handed hitters well enough (.531 OPS against) but is very vulnerable against right-handers (.831 OPS against).

    At 22, Miguel Cabrera is pretty young to be carrying a team in the midst of a pennant race. But he's certainly up to the task with the stick, hitting .332 with a .990 OPS in the second half and .351 in September. His recent move to third base should provide a big boost to the team attack.

    While his 28 home runs might seem to indicate a drop in his prowess, Carlos Delgado still boasts a .960 OPS overall and 1.031 since the All-Star break. He's hitting .364 in September and is key to the Marlins' hopes of overtaking the Astros.

    Luis Castillo has spent most of the year batting in the No. 2 slot instead of leading off, where his .392 OBP would do the most good. He was promoted to leadoff last week, which should help the Florida offense.

    Juan Encarnacion has rebounded this year and is on track to post his first full season ever with an .800-plus OPS.

    Super prospect Jeremy Hermida made a big splash with his grand-slam debut on Aug. 31, but he's hasn't shown he's ready for prime time yet. He'll see some action in left field along with Jeff Conine (.777 OPS), who has stepped into the breach again now that third baseman Mike Lowell has been benched and Cabrera has taken over at third.

    The Bad: After Jones and Mecir, the rest of the Florida bullpen has been a mess this year. Former closer Guillermo Mota (4.90 ERA) has been up and down all season; former closer Antonio Alfonseca (3.68 ERA) hasn't even been that good. The team's desperation can be measured by its signing last week of Paul Quantrill, who had already been discarded by the Yankees and Padres.

    Lo Duca has avoided his usual second-half swoon this year, but it doesn't make a lot of difference since he's also avoided hitting any home runs (only four homers and a .733 OPS in 2005).

    Gonzalez's bat was never his strong suit, and his 23 home runs in 2004 didn't make him a decent hitter. His .229 BA and .643 OPS in the second half make his absence from the lineup a lot more bearable. Damion Easley will start in his absence; he's hitting a fluke .385 in September.

    The Ugly: Center fielder and leadoff hitter Juan Pierre is overrated, what with a .321 OBP and .663 OPS and declining range in the field. He has, however, hit .308 this month, though with only one walk and one extra-base hit, what difference does that make?

    HOUSTON ASTROS

    The Good: Houston's pitching has been phenomenal this year, allowing the fewest baserunners in the league. Its .699 OPS against is the best in the NL, and its 3.57 ERA is second only to St. Louis. The bulk of the credit goes to the team's veteran trio of stud starters: Clemens, Oswalt and Pettitte.

    Clemens has been nothing short of sensational, pitching like a 23-year-old with the experience and moxie of a veteran of 43 with 4,500-plus innings of experience. Lack of support could possibly cost The Rocket a record eighth Cy Young Award, though he will probably receive a boost in the voting if Houston makes it to October. Despite his age-defying brilliance, the aches and pains of the long season might have caught up to Clemens, who is 0-2 with a 3.68 ERA in his last four starts. A hamstring problem suffered in his last start could push his next start back a day if the hamstring doesn't respond.

    Pettitte has been virtually unbeatable since midseason, going 9-2 with a 1.69 ERA while allowing only 60 hits and seven homers in 85.1 IP. His velocity is back to his normal average-plus, and the command of his cutter (which he depends on against right-handed hitters) has been superb.

    In the bullpen, closer Brad Lidge is still blowing his fastball by hitters and freezing them with his nasty slider, just not quite as often as in 2004. Lidge allowed almost a hit per inning in the first half, but he's been more impressive since (17 hits allowed in 22 2/3 innings in the second half). He is set up primarily by a pair of 27-year-old righties, Dan Wheeler and Chad Qualls. Another sinker-slider artist, Wheeler is in the midst of his best season (2.40 ERA), while Qualls (3.31 ERA) is in his first full season in the majors.

    Morgan Ensberg (.948 OPS overall) has been the only big thumper the Astros' anemic lineup has had for the whole season. Though he's cooled off lately (.176 BA with only one homer in September), he still has an .890 OPS since the All-Star break and can't be trifled with.

    After taking the first two months of the season to completely heal from his offseason surgery, Lance Berkman has been the other mainstay in the Houston lineup. His 32 extra-base hits and 1.002 OPS in 196 at bats in the second half have reestablished him as a fearsome slugger, though his lack of power from the right side of the plate (two homers in 103 at bats) is a concern.

    At 39, second baseman Craig Biggio would be raising some eyebrows with 20 homers, 81 runs and .789 OPS if it weren't for the astounding new standards set by geezers such as Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. Biggio, like many smart veterans, has learned to take advantage of his home park (.913 OPS with 16 homers at Minute Maid vs. a .654 OPS with four homers abroad).

    The Bad: Backe is a four-pitch starter (four-seam fastball, curve, slider, change) with average stuff who hasn't lived up to the team's hopes. He posted a 5.06 ERA in the first half, then made only two more starts before a strained rib cage landed him on the DL in late July. Backe lasted only four innings against Philly last week in his first start after activation.

    A 26-year-old lefty, Rodriguez is little more than an end-of-the rotation fill-in. The rookie has much less than two years experience in the high minors, though he has made some progress in the second half this year (4.47 ERA vs. 7.25 in the first half).

    Corner outfielders Jason Lane and rookie Chris Burke have both improved substantially since the start of the season. Lane (.782 OPS overall) was hot all summer, hitting 15 home runs in June-July-August before cooling off in the last few weeks.. Burke (.671 OPS overall) has a .787 OPS since the All-Star break on the basis of a good August. Whether this is a permanent or temporary improvement remains to be seen.

    Although shortstop Adam Everett is in the lineup for his glove, his .509 OPS against lefties and his .373 OPS in September aren't acceptable.

    Catcher Brad Ausmus hasn't had a good season with the bat since 1999, but at least he has the excuse that he's not expected to hit. He has, however, been contributing a bit during the Astros' comeback, batting .282 with a .733 OPS.

    The Ugly: Center fielder Willy Taveras, mistakenly touted by some as a Rookie of the Year candidate because he is speedy and was hitting .300 for much of the season, has found out like others before him that he can't steal first base (.669 OPS overall; .225 OBP in September). With no plate discipline or power (one extra-base hit in 149 at bats since the end of July), Taveras' career in The Show is liable to be short.
     
    #1 kaleidosky, Sep 13, 2005
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2005
  2. RocketFan007

    RocketFan007 Contributing Member

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    I don't think it's all that surprising. He doesn't get on base, is horrible with runners on base since he can't hit the ball in the air and is very shaky defensively. Unless he starts to walk more, or learns to hit the ball in the gaps, I wouldn't be surprised to see him as a career pinch runner type.
     
  3. shawn786

    shawn786 Member

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    Well he's still a rookie. He has time before he is considered a pinch runner.
     
  4. MadMax

    MadMax Contributing Member

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    his criticism of juan pierre is the same. my bet is both of those guys will be starting at CF and batting leadoff for their teams next season.

    who wrote the article?
     
  5. Uprising

    Uprising Contributing Member

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    WHAT?! :mad: :eek:

    They never heard of MORGAN ENSBERG!? I know he says he is feeling better, and is mad he isn't playing....but that's the thing. We don't have him in the game! :(
     
  6. RocketFan007

    RocketFan007 Contributing Member

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    As I said, unless...
     
  7. rikesh316

    rikesh316 Member

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    Lets be honest, Willy T is below average leadoff hitter. He has no power, doesn't know how to steal bases or run the bases, no patience, and he is a average defender. His OPS is horrible and teams have figured out to field him. On a good team, he would be a 4th outfielder, pinch runner. He is still young so there is still hope.
     
  8. MadMax

    MadMax Contributing Member

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    If you think Willy T has hurt this team more than he's helped it this year...then you're not watching baseball or you don't understand baseball. Numbers don't tell the entire story. That's why you see people like me react so strongly to over-reliance on them...to turning over the GM reins to guys who want to field a team like it's their fantasy baseball toy.
     
  9. rikesh316

    rikesh316 Member

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    There is denying the Willy T has helped a lot this year but he has also hurt this a lot. He cost us the game in Washington when he misplayed that fly ball. He has a lot of chances with RISP and hasn't got the job done. He sometimes doesn't score from 2nd on a single. You can't use his age as a excuse since the Astros are trying to win right now.
     
  10. wrath_of_khan

    wrath_of_khan Contributing Member

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    That's what jumped out at me. I guess the idiot who wrote the story scanned the IR lists instead of doing actual research to find out that Ensberg hasn't played in a week -- which has had a dramatic effect on our offense.
     
  11. MykTek

    MykTek Member

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    as the old saying goes... " you can't teach speed" ....
     
  12. kaleidosky

    kaleidosky Your Tweety Bird dance just cost us a run

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    Sorry bout that, edited...by Gary Gillette.

    I also noticed that he left Ensberg off...pretty ridiculous.

    And I also couldn't believe he said that about Willy, which is why I asked. ...I mean, I know he has some negatives. But he's been a great help in so many areas (team speed was SO lacking, among other teams)--and he's still a rookie! To already jump to the conclusion that he'll be out of the league so soon is a little crazy to me.
     

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