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Matchup/Preview/Game Thread Game # 27 vs. Cardinals

Jason Marquis Roy Oswalt
3 - 2, 5.04 4 - 1, 2.76

There's only one way to approach tonight's game, and that's to make sure that the batter who's got the 1.000+ career OPS against us doesn't hurt us again.

To make sure that the hitter who has consistently come up with the most surprising and most damaging hits against the Astros doesn't do us in, yet again.

I'm talking, of course, about Jason Marquis. Marquis may have the 4.82 ERA against Houston, but he has helped himself so much with his bat that he carries a 5 - 2 record against the 'Stros.

Perhaps the most ridiculous manifestation of this trend occurred last June, when Marquis pitched like crap, but went 3 for 3 with a homer and two RBI in a game the Cards won by two runs. But the trend is a protracted one, and can't be explained away simply by one freakish game. Marquis consistently wears the Astros out with his bat. His career BA/OBP/SLG line against the Astros is .421/.450/.684; by way of comparison, Albert Pujols is at .320/.407/.575.

But the good news is that, historically,the Astros have hit Marquis almost as hard as he's hit them. Berkman has a 1.633 OPS off Marquis with 7 runs scored and 7 RBI's in 16 at bats. Ensberg is close to that production off Marquis at 1.158 OPS, 8 for 19 with a couple homers.

Biggio is 9 for 26 with three doubles and a homer.

The Cardinals official site is kind of cagy about who it might be that Oswalt faces tonight:

Count first baseman Albert Pujols in the probable category after sitting out a day with a sore lower back. Third baseman Scott Rolen is expected to join the team after missing the trip to Cincinnati, but he's probably still some time away from returning to the starting lineup. Rolen has been sidelined with an illness the team is calling bronchitis.

If Roy ends up facing Pujols (and this comes as no newsflash, but unless he's in traction, I think Albert will play tonight), our staff ace can draw on historical numbers that are a bit less scary than they might be: the Cardinals' first baseman is 14 for 41 off Roy with 3 doubles, a homer,and four walks. That all works out to an .888 OPS, which is actually exceeded by none other than the Hyperactive Little Freak. Yes, Eckstein has had some success against Roy Oz, and posts an .889 OPS in limited at bats versus Oswalt.

Before I close, it should be noted that by no measures are the Cardinals the superior offensive team coming into this series. Houston has scored more runs in fewer games, has a higher team batting average, has a higher team on base percentage, has a higher team slugging percentage, and thus takes every exotic metric that follow from any half-baked combination of the above, including the handy dandy team EqA totals.

The positional matchup thang shows a couple matchups that emphatically go the Astros' way, and one that goes St. Louis' way. I am also able to give a checkmark to an Astro outfielder for the first time in at least three series. Way to go, Roadrunner!

Onbase Plus Slugging
OPS Cardinal Pos Astro OPS
.359 Yadier Molina C1 Brad Ausmus .891 x
.631 Gary Bennett C2 Eric Munson .641 x
x 1.381 Albert Pujols 1B Lance Berkman 1.088
.813 Aaron Miles 2B Craig Biggio .863 x
x .798 The Hyperactive
Little Freak
SS Adam
.923 Scott Rolen 3B Morgan Ensberg 1.181 x
x 1.094 John Rodriguez OF1 Jason Lane .805
x .701 Jim Edmonds OF2 Preston Wilson .661
.633 Juan Encarnacion OF3 Willy Taveras .640 x
x .624 So Taguchi OF4 Orlando Palmeiro .180
x .868 Hector Luna Util/PH Chris Burke 1.105 x

Houston's starters still lead the league in ERA, and they lead the Cardinals 1 - 5 by half a point. And we of course have the advantage tonight, if not tomorrow when Pettitte faces Carp. But the clear and decided advantage that the Cardinals take with their bullpen in a close game should not be dismissed. Even more so than with the Astros' hitting, the Cardinals' pen takes every possible statistical category from their Houston counterparts. The clearest way I might have of expressing that is that the Cards' bullpen has a CERA that is 2.80 lower than than Houston's.

If you expect the Cardinals and Astros to play close games, that difference is enough to swing not just a single game, but an entire series.

Tonight is of course the kind of big game where Roy most often puts the pedal to the metal, and bids the rest of the Astros to follow him.

So perhaps we won't have to watch our bullpen being outclassed, after all.