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Preview/Matchup/Game Thread Game # 16 vs. Pirates 7:05 CST

Panic in Pittsburgh?
The Thin
White Duke
1 - 1, 4.50 2 - 0, 2.84

Did some reading on the offday, though not, unfortunately, at the beach.

Kevin Goldstein at Baseball Prospectus does the Future Shock thing for them, and on Tuesday he got to the NL Central prospects. Even given the C+/B- nature of the Astros organization, seems to me he's a little more pessimistic than is warranted.

But I did think what he had to say about Pence was interesting:

Despite a career line of .317/.392/.574 in 171 career minor league games, outfielder Hunter Pence had his doubters, thanks in part to his having a loop in his swing, and also that he did most of his damage in the Sally League as a 22-year-old. Moved up to Double-A, Pence continues to rake (.385/.400/.795 with four home runs in 39 at-bats), meaning he's either closed the hole, or he has enough hand-eye coordination that it doesn't matter.
I caught all the stuff on the horrid bullpen work that The Chronicle's been churning out, too. John Lopez incorrectly says that Wheeler has "been fine," and then prescribes that Purpura should "get on the phone."

Although he doesn't list this blog among his favorite internet destinations, I generally think that Lopez comes forth pretty reasonably. He's off base here, though. Purpura--at least for now--can only do what we as fans can do. Which is wait, for Qualls to get his mechanical issues down. Which is wait, for Wheeler to get his H/IP down. Which is wait, for Lidge to find his release point, or whatever it is that has gotten him behind in the count, and gotten him pounded when he came back in with his fastball.

Who's he gonna call? I don't THINK Scot Shields is available, or Juan Rincon, or even Brandon McCarthy. And why would you want to go and get anybody of less talent, when that's the ceiling that Qualls and Wheeler have established?

Tim Purpura has so far established himself as a guy who doesn't panic, and I'm sure he's not doing so now. He may be on the phone, but it's probably to order takeout chicken.

Another party Purpura isn't calling is Roger Clemens, simply because the home office in New York says he can't. But with the injury to Backe and the precarious game of chicken the bullpen is playing with our hearts, Clemens' name is back on the pages of The Chronicle with a vengeance.

Even as most commentators are seeing Clemens returning to Houston, Richard Justice can't help inventing a mess, and then blaming McLane for it. More rational heads like Ortiz, on the other hand, still seem to think that Houston offers the greatest comfort level for Clemens. Clemens isn't talking to Purpura, and he ain't talking to Justice or Ortiz, or me, for that matter. But I still think there's more to that non-tender than meets the eye, and I still think Roger Clemens pitches for the Astros this summer.

The only difference is that now I think it's a much better idea than I might have in the weeks after he left game one of the World Series.

Anyway, Zach Duke and the Pittsburgh Pirates . . . .

Pirates come in hitting pretty well, with Jason Bay of course mashing, but also Craig Wilson, justifying all those nice things I said about him during the season preview roundtable.

In fact most of the Pirates come in hitting the ball well, though maybe not at the level at which the 'Stros are.

Ran the RC27 chart below and I expected the Pirates to look good, but not quite as good as they did, taking the position to position comparison in ten of twelve cases.

Not sure I can explain this. Houston outhits Pittsburgh by 21 points, out OBP's them by 32, and outslugs the Bucs by 18. The Astros have outscored the Pirates by six runs. Yet on a position by position basis, the Pirates have the superior lineup by a respected metric.

Can this apparent inconsistency be solely due to the presence of Morgan? Ensberg of course dusts all competition save Pujols in RC27, and triples Joe Randa's contribution, but can that one thing make up for a deficit at all other positions?

I'd be interested in hearing what y'all say.

Duke is 0 - 1 in two games vs. the Astros with a 5.40 ERA, which coming into the year, was the highest ERA he'd compiled against any team. I guess after LA hammered him in his last start, the Dodgers would hold that distinction now.

He threw four innings last August 12, giving up eight hits and four runs in what proved to be the first time in six tries he'd ever started a major league game without winning it.

Later on, on September 22, he pitched very well, giving up 2 over 6, but lost to Brandon Backe,who did Duke one better in each category.

Duke looked as good as ever in his first two starts but then got lit up by the Dodgers (again). Maybe he'll get lit up by the Astros (again)

As far as Wandy, as he tries to continue the hot streak, what can you say?

In fact, I won't say anything, lest I let loose with something that might anger StrosDux' Baseball Gods.

Runs Created Per 27 Outs
RC27 Astro Pos Pirate RC27
1.53 Humberto Cota C1 Brad Ausmus 9.01 x
x 6.61 Ryan Doumit C2 Eric Munson 0.11
x 12.31 Craig Wilson 1B Lance Berkman 11.36
x 5.64 Jose Castillo 2B Craig Biggio 3.98
x 8.03 Jack Wilson SS Adam Everett 5.69
2.95 Joe Randa 3B Morgan Ensberg 18.20 x
x 9.46 Jason Bay OF1 Jason Lane 5.50
x 4.70 Jeromy Burnitz OF2 Preston Wilson 3.94
x 4.06 Nate McLouth OF3 Willy Taveras 3.34
x 2.67 Chris Duffy OF4 Orlando Palmeiro 0.72
x 1.04 Jose Hernandez Util/PH Chris Burke 10.74 x

Wandy Power!™ May the homerless streak continue.