Again, let's take a look at the Astros roster to see who's performing well, who's struggling and who might surprise you.
J.R. Towles, small jump: The only reason Towles is listed as a small jump here is he's only played in two games in the past week. Of course, both of those games have been very solid performances, as the backstop has gone 3 for 5 with a line of .600/.750/.800 in those games. Towles is a product of an incredibly small sample size right now, which explains how he led the team in WAR over the past week despite striking out 40 percent of the time.
Matt Downs, slightly larger jump: Another part-time player is the man tied with Towles for that WAR lead. Downs has only played in four of the six games in the past week, but he's got one of the team's two home runs in that span. That's despite getting just 12 plate appearances in those four games. The question then remains: has Matt Downs done enough to stay on this team once Barmes and Keppinger are healthy?
Wilton Lopez, uncertain future: And now for the bit of bad news, as Wilton Lopez has gone to the 15-day DL with an elbow problem. He's not expected to miss much time, but...the thing with Lopez' injury is that it's an irritation of a nerve in his elbow. Rest will probably fix the problem, but it's one of those things that could crop up over and over again this season. Or, it could go away in a few days and Lopez will be ready to resume his time in the eighth inning. However it works out, be glad that Ed Wade has assembled such a vast array of bullpen help.
Carlos Lee, rising slowly: Would it surprise you to learn that El Bufalo has gone 8 for 23 in his last six games? I know I was pretty shocked. There are good signs all over the place for Lee, as he's getting on base, hitting for a good average and mostly staying away from hitting into double plays. However, if there was one worrisome stat on this hot streak, it's that his isolated power average is down to .043 in those games. Lee needs to hit for more power than that. I'll take what he's doing now, but if the Astros are counting on him to be the cleanup hitter, he needs to do better than that.
Brett Wallace, paying dividends: Here's another guy having a very nice week at the plate. Wallace is doing what all the best scouting reports said he would, hitting for a high average and taking his share of walks. Yes, he only has one double, but unlike Lee, the Astros aren't asking Brick to do more than this. From where he's typically hitting in the order, they'll take a .333/.429/.389 line every day of the week. (P.S. - Isn't it nice to see an Astro hitter take a walk every now and then?)
Hunter Pence, slumping: So, this is how Hunter's last week has been. He's tied for the second-most RBIs on the team, but is hitting under .200 in those six games. Oh, and he's been bombing doubles when he does connect. Despite collecting just four hits in those games, Pences' ISO is up to .136 and his weighted On-Base Average is .283. When his line is .182/.280/.318, those numbers are pretty impressive. Still, Pence has been slumping in comparison to some of the players on this team.
Michael Bourn, improving in small ways: In his fourth season with the Astros, we have a pretty goo idea what to expect from Bourn. He's one of the fastest players in the game. He plays the best center field in the National League and he's the best baserunner in baseball. The improvements we've been hoping to see Bourn make have come at the plate, specifically with his plate discipline. So far this season, Bourn hasn't been striking out any less, but he's on pace to set a career-high in walk rate. Bourn walked 13 percent of the time in the last week and is walking 11.8 percent of the time this season. Considering his career high before this season was 9.8 percent, that's a pretty big jump, but very rewarding to see.
Angel Sanchez, falling back to earth: This may very well be a sample size issue. We're looking at a handful of games this week, but it's clear Angel Sanchez had a bad go of it. His .136/.208/.136 line may be influence by a .170 batting average on balls in play, but Sanchez picked a bad time to go into a slump. With Clint Barmes returning from his broken hand, Sanchez needs to continue playing better to earn a spot on this roster. I think he'll probably be safe anyways, since he's the only backup who can play shortstop, but those thoughts of him taking over as the starting second baseman may be put off for now.
Chris Johnson, still struggling: CJ may have the other home run Houston has hit this week, but he certainly hasn't hit much else. That home run was one of just three hits in his last 17 plate appearances. Now, he has driven in four runs over that stretch and had a 2 for 4 night and a 1 for 3 night sprinkled in there. His 0 for 5 performance against the Mets last night hurt him and he just hasn't been consistent enough here in the early going. Hopefully, that will change once the month turns to May.
Bill Hall, bottoming out: We're just three weeks into the season. It's way too early to make any judgments on this signing, even if the Mets did designate Brad Emaus for assignment. Could the Astros have found another guy to strike out 35 percent of the time with absolutely no power? Of course they could have. The allure of cheap power on the open market, though, was probably too strong to resist. If Hall hits six home runs in May, we might be viewing this signing completely differently. If he is still hitting .150 on May 28, he might well be on a different team by June.
Nelson Figueroa, sneaky good buy: Figgy has only started the one game in the past week, but his ERA finally caught up to his FIP in that span. He still walks too many batters for my taste (though that number is under 3 BB/9), and his strikeout rate could be better, but Figueroa has probably been better than we gave him credit for. His BABiP finally normalized a little in his start against the Padres to good results. His expected FIP is still high, mainly because he hasn't given up any home runs. If he can keep that rate down, he'll stick in this rotation.
Mark Melancon, steady performer: While the Lopez situation isn't good, The Shark seems to have taken advantage of it when he can. Melancon has been very good in that eighth inning role, striking out four in 3 2/3 innings. His walk rate spiked a bit this week, but the rest of his peripheral stats remain good. I was talking with someone recently who thought Brandon Lyon would be better suited to a setup role instead of the closer's job. I'm not sure if Wilton Lopez could unseat The Lyon King, but Melancon has the pedigree as a prospect and the results so far to do just that.
Brett Myers, living on borrowed time?: Basically, the question surrounding Brett Myers is how good is good? Myers could easily be a study in the effectiveness of advanced metrics. In his past start, his ERA matched up almost identically with his xFIP. His FIP, however, was nearly two runs higher at 6.73. It's not because his BABiP is incredibly high (it was at .333) and it's not because of his HR/FB rate, though that's high too. Myers strikeout rate still overs around 7 K/9, which is around the cutoff of an effective non-ground ball pitcher. So, what do we make of Myers? All indications from the advanced stats are that he's sure to regress eventually this season. But, he continues to make strong start after strong start. Will his pitch-to-contact style bite him in the end? If he puts together another stat-defying season, will he be legitimized, or still expected to falter next season?