By Travis Pflanz | June 18, 2012 | 0 Comment
I contacted loyal Houston Astros bloggers, writers and sports talk personalities to get their opinions about what it will take for the Astros to take the series when the Royals visit Monday – Wednesday this week.
Royals: 289-35, 4th AL Central, 249 runs scored, 276 runs allowed, .260 team avg., 49 team home runs, 4.01 team ERA, 453 team strikeouts
Astros: 27-39, 5th NL Central, 278 runs scored, 331 runs allowed, .249 team batting avg., 57 team home runs, 4.62 team ERA, 470 team strikeouts.
Key #1: Home-field advantage
The Astros are not a good team. They’re a young team, which makes them equally capable of winning 5-1, or losing 14-2. Or getting Perfectoed by Matt Cain. But where they really struggle is on the road. At home, they’re 18-14. Not bad, right? But on the road, (before Saturday evening’s game at Texas) they’re 9-23. That’s dreadful, and I have no idea what to make of it. Still, somehow, they’re more enjoyable to watch in 2012 than they were in 2011 (even if they’re only three games better than 2011, which just happened to be the worst season in franchise history.) Maybe it’s not having Ed Wade around. I bet that’s what it is.
Key #2: Stop swinging at every freaking pitch
Or, if they do, at least try to make contact once in a while. To this point (again, before Saturday’s game at Texas), the Astros have played 13 games in June. Not only are they 5-8, but they have double-digit strikeouts in 10 of those 13 games, and 13+ Ks in five of their last seven games.
Key #3: Respect the Royals
I’m not kidding. I would imagine most Houston baseball fans would look at this series and think, “The Royals? Pffft.” And once upon a time, that may have been justified. But to that I would say, “Nuh-uh.” First of all, the Astros would be two games behind the Royals in the standings in 2012. Since the beginning of the 2010 season, the Royals are eight games ahead of the Astros. I did the math twice.
Obviously the old cliche “good pitching and good defense wins you ball games” applies in this case. In the first two games against the Rangers, the Astros defense fell apart in the fifth inning. The Astros can’t afford to bring these young pitchers’ confidence down. That means you Chris Johnson! No more errors or mishandles at third base! As for the series, Jonathon Sanchez makes his second start since coming back from the DL. He goes up against JA Happ. Happ has been awful lately. He really needs to get into a groove as soon as he hits the mound. If not, it’s probably going to be an early exit once again for JA.
The second start will be in the Astros favor. Wandy Rodriguez will be taking the bump for the Astros. He has back to back wins, plus the Astros have had a ton of offense when he’s on the mound this season. Wandy goes up against Luke Hochevar, who hasn’t been exactly that great in his last three starts. In Hochevar’s last three starts, he has 6.50 ERA with 11ks in 18 innings. Wandy doesn’t need to nit pick. He needs to get that curve ball working early and often and set that up with a well placed fastball. If that doesn’t happen, it could be a long day for ‘The Magic Wandy’.
The last game will be the toughest for the Astros. Jordan Lyles hasn’t been to good this year. He’s getting better since he first came up, but his main problem has been elevating his fastball. Lyles needs to work down in the zone. He doesn’t have over powering stuff, and needs to be really on point with his location. Vin Mazzaro has been pretty good for the Royals in his last three starts. He’s going to make it really tough for the Astros hitters.
Basically this entire series comes down to good pitching and defense. Also some timely hitting would be nice. I know it’s really cliche, but that’s been the Astros weakness lately.
The present Astros will look very familiar to Royals fans only because the current Astros are very similar to the Royals – young players with little big league experience just learning how to be big leaguers and making a lot of the mistakes young players make.
There are four veteran players left on the Astros, largely because they are too expensive to easily be traded: starting pitcher Wandy Rodriguez, relievers Brett Myers and Brandon Lyon and 1B/LF Carlos Lee. This time next year, Wandy may be the only one left.
Infielders Jose Altuve, Jed Lowrie and Chris Johnson have been the most consistent offensive threats with Altuve leading the team in batting average and Lowrie leading the club in homers. Altuve may remind longtime Royals fans of Fred Paterk – a diminutive hitter who makes constant contact. The fascinating thing about Altuve, besides his size, is that when he gets one hit, he’ll usually get two or more. He’s among the league leaders in hits and multi-hit games.
The outfielders all have limitations and none are hitting for high average. Catcher Jason Castro has hit better of late. If 1B Brett Wallace is still in Houston, he is showing flashes of the star he was promoted to be. He might, however, get sent down just because there’s no room with Lee on the roster.
Starting pitchers have yet to find much consistency. Wandy Rodriguez and Lucas Harrell are the ones doing well right now. Bud Norris and J.A. Happ have been struggling lately. While Myers has been a solid closer, the rest of the pen has struggles which might get worse now that Wilton Lopez is on the disabled list. Lopez is a rubber-armed set-up pitcher who gets better the more he works.
The rest of the bullpen is rather mix-and-match and all can be vulnerable to the big inning.
The offense has recently taken a downturn after a pretty good start. They have been striking out at an alarming rate over the last two weeks, including six games of 13 or more Ks. The team needs to show better plate discipline to have any chance of winning the series against K.C. The return of Carlos Lee from a hamstring injury should help. Surprisingly, Lee has been the toughest player to fan in the N.L. this season.
Lee won’t be able to DH because the games will be played under N.L. rules. The Astros need his bat in the lineup so it is important that the hamstring is fully healed. You know how that can go sometimes. If Lee re-injures himself the Astros will be in trouble. I wish we could just go ahead and play by A.L. rules for the rest of the season. I figure that would be a fair trade-off for the way Bud Selig and the rest of the owners railroaded Jim Crane into moving to the A.L. next season.
The pitching staff is a bit banged up. Bud Norris is likely headed to the D.L. and some young guys are going to have to step up. Monday’s starter J.A. Happ has been terrible lately and Wednesday’s starter Jordan Lyles needs to learn to avoid the big inning. Tuesday’s starter Wandy Rodriguez has been good, and so has closer Brett Myers. The rest of the bullpen has struggled lately and the team has slumped as a result. If the ‘pen can get it together the Astros could enjoy a successful homestand.