Series Preview - Houston Astros vs. Colorado Rockies

March 29, 2012; Port St Lucie, FL, USA; Houston Astros left fielder J.D. Martinez (14) makes a catch during a spring training game against the New York Mets at Digital Domain Park. Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-US PRESSWIRE

Baseball season has arrived, and that fact alone is enough to make me break into bad poetry.

Opening day, with a sold-out crowd
The hometown 'stros shall take the field
The fans will scream and holler loud
Their pain from game-less winter healed

First pitch thrown, a strike--how grand!
The Houston southpaw's gaze detached
A Rockies hitter kicks the sand
He knows that he is overmatched.

I am at home with DirectTV
Friday night, with wife and dog
I get to drink my drinks for free
Nine innings left, and then I blog

You'll be pleased to know that I have no intention of making a habit of this. However, this weekend's series is special for many reasons. It is the opening weekend of the 2012 Astros season. It is the start of a season-long 50th-year celebration of our hometown team. It is a new era with ownership committed to building a successful franchise (not just a short-term winner). It is the final season of a long history with National League rivals and a look ahead to new traditions in the American league.

This weekend series is between our Houston Astros (Huzzah!) and the Colorado Rockies (boo as if Snidely Whiplash were just introduced). Continue reading for what to expect.

Game Dates:

Friday, Apr 6, 6:05 PM:

Probable Starters:
Houston: Wandy Rodriguez
Colorado: Jeremy Guthrie

Promotions:
Schedule Magnet - First 20K fans
Friday Night Fireworks
Opening Day Street Fest

Sounds like a party! Be there, or be vaguely trapezoidal.

I can't describe how shocked I was to see Jeremy Guthrie's name as the opening day starter for Colorado. If somebody were to ask me, I would have confidently told you he was still in Baltimore, stinking up the AL East. Back in February, Guthrie was traded to the Rockies in exchange for Jason Hammel and Matt Lindstrom. Frankly, MLB is becoming the six degrees of former Astros closers, so if by some miracle the Rockies pull off a win in Day 1, the Astros have only themselves to blame. Or Ed Wade; that's safer for all concerned.

Regardless, Guthrie does not have what one would define as an "impressive track record." This spring, he's pitched 20 innings to the tune of a 4.79 ERA, and he's coming off a 4.33 ERA season in Baltimore. He's managed to consistently outperform his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching...you know, the stat that says what his ERA SHOULD be in a perfect world), with a 4.19 career ERA versus 4.68 FIP. Here's hoping the law of averages applies and the Astros hitters are able to knock him around a little.

Wandy, as most brick-red blooded fans know, is having a rough spring again. More bad news, Wandy does not have a great track record in his first starts. Going back to 2006, Wandy has only managed a quality start twice in his first start of the season. "SAMPLE SIZE!", screams David as he reads this, and I agree. However, it's safe to assume that Wandy sometimes needs to build a head of steam before he puts together his typical solid season, so this game could be messy for both teams. However, I have faith, and I'm predicting that Wandy takes a 4-hit, 1-run game into the 7th inning.

Saturday, April 7 6:05 PM

Probable Starters:
Houston: Lucas Harrell
Colorado: Jamie Moyer (REALLY?)

Promotions:
50th Anniversary Patch

Jamie Moyer? Really? When Moyer made his first start, I was five years old, learned that I needed glasses, was playing Tee Ball for the YMCA League Tan Tops, and was seriously misunderstood by my kindergarten teacher who had not yet realized that I was a budding super-genius. Here's a place where sample size does not apply, since Moyer has started 686 games, pitched 4,020 innings, and has a career ERA of 4.24. Moyer will give up a few walks, give up a fair number of home runs, give up a bunch of hits, and will limit the damage enough to keep himself respectable.

Lucas Harrell was the surprising pick for the number two starter this season. Most people think that Harrell was chosen more for scheduling reasons than anything else. Bud Norris pitched on Tuesday April 4th, and keeping him on a 5 day rotation would put him on Sunday (see below). Harrell last pitched on 3/28 (at least, according to Astros.com...that seams like an awful long time ago), so he was ideal to insert in to give Bud an extra day's rest.

Harrell is a mostly-career minor leaguer who posted a FIP around 4.00 for his career. He's was not a strikeout pitcher even in the most generous definition of the term, and he struggled with giving up walks. He throws his fastball in the very low 90's, and his slider has similar velocity. If one wants to lean on Spring Training stats, which I don't, one could point out that he had a fantastic spring. I think it's fair in this game to expect a good number of runs for both teams, some walks, and very few strikeouts.

Sunday, April 8 1:05 PM

Probable Starters:
Houston: Bud Norris
Colorado: Juan Nicasio

Promotions:
50th Anniversary Poster
Family Sunday

I pride myself on general baseball knowledge, but off the top of my head, I can tell you nothing about Nicasio. In his rookie season last year, he made 13 starts for a 4.14 ERA. His minor league numbers show that he might have the potential of a strikeout guy. He's got a fastball that sits around 94 mph, and slider and changeup that both fly around the low 80's. Now you know everything that I know.

By now, Astros fans know what to expect from Bud Norris. Near the league leaders in strikeouts, but with plenty of walks thrown in.

Likely Lineups:

Since it's opening weekend and a sell-out crowd, I expect to not see much variation in the lineups. Everybody should be rested.

Probable Astros Lineup:

CF: Jordan Schafer
SS: Jed Lowrie
LF: J.D. Martinez
1B: Carlos Lee
3B: Chris Johnson
RF: Brian Bogusevic
2B: Jose Altuve
C: Jason Castro

Bench Players that may rotate in and out based on match-ups include Marwin Gonzalez at short and Matt Downs just about everywhere.

Probable Rockies Lineup:

2B Marco Scutaro
CF Dexter Fowler
LF Carlos Gonzalez
SS Troy Tulowitzki
1B Todd Helton
RF Michael Cuddyer
C Ramon Hernandez
3B Jordan Pacheco / Chris Nelson

Bench Players include Eric Young Jr, Tyler Colvin, and Jason Giambi. Wilin Rosario is the backup catcher and knows how to hit, so the Astros may see him once or twice. The only names I had to look up were the 3B platoon, who defaulted into the job with the release of Casey Blake. Pacheco is a converted catcher who seems to know what to do with a bat, at least a little bit. Nelson is stronger defensively but has shown inconsistency at the plate. Both are 26 years old and are not considered top prospects. Again, there is uncertainty here based on how Tulowitzki's injury is after getting pegged by Ubaldo Jimenez last week, earning Jimenez a suspension before the season even started. Obviously, a backup shortstop will not bat cleanup, so there'd be a massive shakeup of the batting order in that case.

Enjoy opening weekend! I know I will!

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