Baseball Toaster Bad Altitude
The Astros Minute
2005-06-20 17:52
by Mark T.R. Donohue

The Astros have a lot in common with the Rockies -- a miserable road record, a scuffling offense, a wacky home park. Their offense ranks dead last in the NL in OPS to Colorado's ninth. They're also 15th in homers, last in batting average, last in OBP, and last in runs scored. Their pitching hasn't been great either (9th in the league in ERA, although second in strikeouts per nine innings). They've played better after an ugly start, though, and the overall attitude in Houston seems more hopeful than it is here in Denver.

Essentially the team has been carried, such as it is, by the performance of three starters you may have heard of, Roger Clemens (1.53 ERA, 0.95 WHIP), Roy Oswalt (2.72, 1.09), and Andy Pettite (3.76, 1.21). They still rank only 8th in the NL in starters' ERA, however, because Brandon Backe and a whole bunch of stiffs haven't done much of a job in the fourth and fifth spots. The Rockies will see Pettite and Clemens Monday and Wednesday but draw Wandy Rodriguez (yes, his real name) for the Tuesday contest.

The loss of Jeff Bagwell, a stalwart in Houston since 1991, certainly hasn't helped the Astros' offense. Even Bagwell, who may be done for good with a degenerative shoulder condition, wouldn't have made this sad bunch much better. Third baseman Morgan Ensberg (16 homers, .271/.369/.538) is the only guy on the whole team putting up major league-starter numbers. Craig Biggio, with a career OBP of .373, is down to .322 on the season. Willy Taveras has some speed, but no pop, and he doesn't walk. Mike Lamb, Jason Lane, Adam Everett, and Chris Burke are all regulars with sub-.300 OBPs. In short, you can pitch to these guys.

The Astros' bullpen can be touched. They have an aggregate ERA of 4.47 and WHIP of 1.44. The top two guys, Brad Lidge and Dan Wheeler, are strikeout machines, but Chad Qualls, Chad Harville, Russ Springer, and the 145-year-old John Franco are hittable. The Rockies have not been real impressive this season when it comes to getting into the fleshy part of opponents' bullpens; they probably won't against Clemens or Pettite. Wandy?

The Rockies will start Joe Kennedy, Jamey Wright, and Jason Jennings, in that order. You know the story on these guys. They'll get hit a lot, and if the stars align properly, maybe they'll go six innings and give the Rockies a chance to be in the ballgame. Against the Astros' anemic attack, the chances are a little better than usual. Kennedy in particular could really use a good outing, so that Colorado can hurry up and trade him. I know Joe had a good year for the Rockies last year, but the sudden plunge in ERA and spike in strikeout rate from last year seem more and more like big, hairy flukes with each 2005 Kennedy appearance.

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