As promised, here are the questions that Al from Bleed Cubbie Blue had asked me as part of our roundtable, and my responses.
Looking back at what I'd written, I can see that I was feeling a bit rowdy after the big win by Backe. I like the part where I start talking smack about the Braves the best. . . . Who's with me on that?
BCB: What happened with Roger Clemens? Why couldn't the Astros score when he was pitching? Shouldn't he be about 18-2?
I think the question is leading the witness to a certain extent. The Astros have struggled to score runs for Clemens, but also for every other pitcher on the staff except Wandy Rodriguez.
Clemens should be 18 - 2 only if you figure that great pitchers like Chris Carpenter, Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, and Jake Peavy aren't good enough to "deserve" the shutouts they've thrown while opposing Roger. It's kind of discriminatory to say that Clemens is the one who *should have* won a particular pitcher's duel--especially when he didn't. The four guys mentioned above will either win a Cy Young award, or have led their league in wins, or in ERA. And yeah, they beat Clemens in close games this year. If you're an ace--as Clemens definitely is--you're going to face the best, consistently.
Also, while guys like Carpenter and Mulder, and beyond those four, Willis, have pitched complete games, Roger--because he no longer throws them--has relied on the bullpen more than some other pitchers. I do not, however, understand why all three of Brad Lidge's blown saves have ruined games for Roger. Russ Springer--who has been very good this year, for the most part--has also blown a save for Rocket. So bad luck is certainly part of it.
And believe it or not, Clemens has also been outpitched at times. Greg Maddux, Brad Halsey, Chris Carpenter (in another start), and Tomo Ohka have all had games where they gave up some runs, but still pitched better than Roger.
Last thing is that recently, Clemens just has not been that good. I think it's his hamstring, but he has a 5.40 ERA in September, a period of time when Roy Oswalt, for example, has had less run support than Roger.
BCB:What is the single most important reason the Astros are about to clinch the wild card?
The temptation is to say Morgan Ensberg, but the answer really is our starting pitching. Disregarding Ezequiel Astacio--who made some spot starts and filled in for Brandon Backe when he was hurt--Houston's starting pitching is 67 - 45. Which means, what? That our bullpen (plus Astacio) is 27 - 24. As of right now, no member of the starting rotation has a losing record, and they've all won ten games.
Even # 4 and # 5, which have been perceived as weak links from time to time, have pitched and won important games, repeatedly. Look at Brandon Backe Thursday. It appears as if he might finally have recaptured his command, and if so, he is a very dangerous # 4, with an outstanding curve and a 90+ fastball with tailing movement. Astros fans've been waiting for Brandon to pitch like he did at the end of last season all year. Maybe the wait is over?
And now that I think of it, let's give a little credit to Astacio. He got shelled more than a couple times, and is now 2 - 6, but the team was 6 - 8 in his starts, not bad for a number six guy. Beyond that, he gave the team some consistency, where it's not a revolving door at the end of the rotation. I believe that's gotta help the team outlook.
BCB: Which team would you most like to face in the playoffs and why?
The Braves, 'cause they're weak right now, literally backing into the playoffs, as their vulnerable bullpen becomes more and more exposed. And my God, imagine if Andruw Jones gets hit on the hand with a pitch or something. . . . Plus the Stros've got some baggage that we'd like to unload on their asses. Last year was only a start, is what I'd like to believe.
BCB: Which team would you LEAST like to face in the playoffs and why?
The Cardinals. Because they're the best team, and 'coz they've won 11 of 14 from us. Even the games we've won, like the minor classic September 2nd, it's been like the labors of Hercules just to get a freaking W. . . .
But I don't think anyone seriously doubts that at least 50% of the LCS, if not more, will be played in St. Louis.
I'm sure I don't speak for the players when I say this, but Albert Pujols in a clutch situation scares the s*** out of me. He beat the Astros in the thirteenth inning with a homer to deep center July 15, after going 0 for 4 over the first ten frames. He continuously does that kind of stuff to Houston, and has a 1.006 OPS over the last four years against the Astros.
And Jim Edmonds? The man gives an Astro fan nightmares. I'm sure you know about the catch he made in the LCS that may have cost us a trip to the Series; that kind of stuff is pretty much SOP for him. He has a higher OPS against Houston over the past four years than Pujols.
BCB: Other than Clemens, Ensberg and Lidge, who is the Astros MVP this year?
Andy Pettitte. Although it looks like he might be tailing off lately, he was quite simply the NL's best pitcher in the second half. He's also been the league's best lefty. Clemens has had the problems dicussed; Lidge, while back atop his game, has been from time to time inconsistent. And Ensberg was slumping a bit before he got hurt. But Pettitte has been a rock since June 20th. Throw him out there, get the win. . . . .
Once again, We'd like to thank Mr. Yellon for his help. . . .