Series Preview: Miami Marlins

May 6, 2012; San Diego, Miami Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton has been hot, and he is shown sliding safely into home during the Marlins' recent series against the Padres. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-US PRESSWIRE

The Astros' homestand continues with three games against the Florida Marlins. On Monday, Wandy Rodriguez will face Carlos Zambrano (2.53 ERA); Tuesday, Aneury Rodriguez will be called up from AAA to face Anibal Sanchez (2.43 ERA); and Wednesday, Lucas Harrell will go up against Josh Johnson (6.61 ERA). Johnson's ERA is bad, but he is a fine pitcher with a .439 BABIP at the moment. On paper the match ups aren't all that favorable, though Wandy has been pitching so well that tonight's game may be the Astros' best chance at an advantage. If Johnson's troubles continue, that may be another good opportunity for the Astros. Since the Astros have already faced the Marlins this season, I won't go into depth describing their players.

The Marlins come into town with a six game win streak. resulting from two consecutive series sweeps. The Marlins are 14-14, compared to the Astros' 13-15 mark. The Marlins have been outscored on the season, and carry a Pythagorean record of 13-15, while the Astros have outscored their opponents and hold a Pythagorean record of 15-13. It's a little early in the season to pay much attention to Pythag records, but we can hope that regression will give the Astros an opportunity to win this series.

Marlins' Rankings

The best part of the Marlins' performance so far has been the starting pitching. The Marlins' offense looks great on paper, but so far the batters have underperformed, with key hitters Hanley Ramirez and Jose Reyes coming out of the gate slowly. Most signs indicate that the Marlins' defense is sub-par. Below, are the Marlins ranking relative to the other 29 major league teams.

Marlins Rank

Scoring (24th)

Runs Against (8th)

wOBA (20th)

HRs (19th)

ERA (7th)

x-FIP (19th)

DRS, UZR (22d, 23d)

Errors ( 21st)

WHO'S HOT?

Hitters: Second baseman Omar Infante (.321 BA); Hanley Ramirez (7 RBIs and 7 hits during win streak); Jose Reyes (6 R, 7 H, 3 SB during win streak); Giancala Stanton (4 HR, 8 H during win streak).

BULLPEN

Since the Astros are going up against some very good starting pitchers, the Astros' hitters may have to wait for relief pitchers to do damage. The Marlins' bullpen is in a state of flux, because closer Heath Bell has been temporarily demoted to lessor leverage situations. Bell has struggled with a ERA over 11 and 5 meltdowns so far this year. Don't be surprised if the Astros see Bell in the 7th or 8th inning. Two very hot relief pitchers, Steve Cishek (0.63 ERA) and Edwin Mujica (3.38 ERA) are probable replacements in the closer role. Cishek is a sidearmer who made the Astros' hitters look bad in the first series. The Marlins' bullpen has been worn down by recent extra inning work, and the Marlins have responded by going with a 13 man pitching staff and calling up two minor leaguer relievers, Chris Hatcher and Sandy Rosario. Neither of the new relievers are projected as front line bullpen components.

STARTING PITCHER QUESTIONS

It's hard to know what the Marlins will get from two of their starting pitchers in this series. Carlos Zambrano has a good ERA this season, but he has been more inconsistent from game to game then the ERA indicates. The Marlins have lost all four games he has started, and he has gotten two losses on his record. The Astros tagged Zambrano for 6 walks in the previous series, but those kind of control issues have not been repeated. Zambrano has pitched two very good games (game scores of 75 and 69 against the Nats and Giants), and one of those games was his last start. Otherwise his pitching has been unremarkable.

The Marlins have to be perplexed by Josh Johnson, who ostensibly is an ace for this rotation. As noted previously, Johnson has had a sky high BABIP. That might normally indicate either bad luck or a hidden injury. Johnson's walk rate is up and his strike out rate is down. Johnson normally is one of the hardest throwing starting pitchers, but his velocity is down by more than 1 mph. At 92 mph, his velocity isn't terrible, but he has thrown fewer fastballs than usual. Johnson is a lefty and it will be interesting to see if the Astros change their lineup against him.

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