Houston Astros (21-17) at San Francisco Giants (16-22)
Overview (4 Game Series)
The Astros start a four game series against the Giants on Monday. The Astros are hot; the Giants... not so much. We'll start this series having won 8 of our last 10 games and Giants will have only won 4 of their last 10. We'll be taking this series to San Francisco's AT&T Park, which is a middle of the road ballpark, although it has favored the hitters a little this year. The Giants have a not too great 10-9 record at home this year to go along with their 16-22 record overall. This bodes very well for us. The Astros are 10-11 on the road this year.
The Astros Hitters
We all know Lance Berkman is on fire, but did you realize our line-up from Kazuo Matsui all the way down to Hunter Pence is punishing every pitcher they face lately? It's true. Matsui's only hitting .278 this month, but his On Base Percentage is .409 making him one of the top second basemen in this category with more than a handful of plate appearances. Miguel Tejada is continuing his steady pace from April with a .333 batting average and .842 On Base Plus Slugging this month. Carlos Lee is raking this month with 10 RBIs in his last 9 games and has a .343 batting average and .933 OPS. Pence may be surprise you if you haven't been watching closely. He's the second hottest hitter on a team with Berkman, Lee and Tejada, believe it or not. He has 11 RBIs and sports .344 batting average with a OPS of 1.073. Overall, the Astros hitters are hitting .296 against left handed pitchers this season and we will face two of them in this series. I really don't have much good to say about Bourn, Wigginton and Towles at the moment except that they don't seem to be dragging us down.
Sidebar: The Big Puma
I hope you aren't sick about reading about the Big Puma, the biggest threat in the game this season, because I'm about to write about him. Our friend Berkman is having one of the best starts in baseball history and is hitting an astounding .629 this month (.382 for the year.) His on base plus slugging? 1.826. (1.235 for the year.) No joke. As for that Triple Crown that you'd think more media outlets would be talking about, he leads in RBIs and is second in batting average (to Chipper Jones with .400) and is second in home runs (Chase Utley has 13, Berkman has 12.) There hasn't been a Triple Crown winner in about 40 years, so Berkman would truly be making history if he can pull this off. AT&T Park's right field corner is only 309 feet from home plate so expect Berkman (and even Matsui, perhaps) to take advantage of it when facing the Giants' tougher right handed pitchers.
The Giants Hitters
The Giants haven't had any stand out hitters this year except for Aaron Rowand (.348 average, .972 OPS this season) and overall they have pretty been middle of the road. That sounds nice until you realize they have started up their bats lately and are hitting .299 this month. One could even argue that their hitters are hotter than ours with several players having an OPS of 1.000 or more for this month. I would argue back, however, that our whole team's OPS sits about 150 points higher than theirs. :) (Astros: 888, first in the National League and second only to Boston. Giants: .739) As hot as they are right now, our young pitchers could certainly get lit up. It will be up to Roy Oswalt to cool them off in the first game of the series and then we have to hope they stay that way. The good news is the Giants hitters are still not scratching too many runs across the plate despite their individual performances. They are only scoring 4.4 runs per game this month. (It is up from April's 3.3 runs per game, however.) They also bat slightly worse against right handed pitchers, so all four of our starters should have a slight advantage in that department.
The Opposing Pitchers
Barry Zito (LHP) vs. Roy Oswalt
0-7, 6.95 ERA
Left: .296, Right .336
We've all heard the stories... this former Cy Young (AL 2002) and All Star has been a complete bust this year. He's lost every single one of his starts in 2008, but did you know he's held NL Central teams to 3 earned runs over 11 innings? This is a trend we need to reverse. The rest of his starts have been average at best and terrible at worst. His latest start on May 7th was a decent one, though. He only gave up 2 earned runs over 5 innings.
Zito hasn't gone more than 6 innings this year and having recently spent 10 days in the bullpen, don't expect him to make ours his first 6 1/3+ inning game. Right handers rake against him so don't be surprised if the murder's row of switch-hitting/right handed batters from Matsui to Pence send Zito to the showers before half the game is over. With Roy Oswalt on the mound, this is one we should win.
Matt Cain (RHP) vs. Brandon Backe
1-3, 4.50 ERA
Left: 241, Right .244
He had a good ERA to start the season, but it got up pretty high towards the end of April. This mainly due to one bad start where he gave up 9 earned runs during a game with the Cardinals. Now he's working his ERA back down to a respectable level and it sits at 4.50. After peaking at 6.64, his ERA started a downward trend that continued until his last start getting as low as 4.08. He's pitched 7 innings twice this year and not once has he gone over that number. So don't expect to see him in the eighth inning. He averages just under 6 innings per start, so he may come out even sooner than that.
He's faced other NL central teams 3 times this year already. The Cardinals twice and the Pirates once. In these three games he's pitched a total of 16 and 2/3 innings, with only one quality start. He gave up a total of 16 runs and has a 0-2 record. Hopefully we can continue this trend, taking him out early and hard. If Brandon Backe can put up a decent performance, we should win this one. If not, then a Giants bullpen weakened by a possible poor start from Zito will be our ticket to victory.
Pat Misch (LHP) vs. Brian Moehler
0-0, 5.63 ERA
Left: .143, Right .310
Misch didn't start the season in the big leagues, but he'll be making his third start (and fourth appearance) since April 27th against the Astros. This is yet another guy that's not getting that deep into games. With three '6 innings or less' starters working back to back for the Giants, we should be very familar with the bullpen by the time this third game rolls around.
As good as he's been against left handed hitters this year, expect for Bourn to sit this one out if he's still struggling. Erstad only has 4 at bats against left handers, but he's got two hits with a double. Or maybe Cooper will give the switch hitting Jose Cruz Jr. a chance. Misch has been pretty mediocre against right hander batters, so we should see more fireworks from Matsui, Tejada, Berkman, Lee and Pence. I would say we have a good chance to win this one, but Brian Moehler will be starting for us. He did great last time out, but I'm inclined to think that may have been a fluke and I'll need to see more. He could get shelled by a hot Giants offense. In any case, a starter weak against right handed hitters and a possibly battered bullpen will make this one winnable.
Tim Lincecum (RHP) vs. Chris Sampson
5-1, 1.61 ERA
Left: .245, Right .241
You know the name. You've heard the stories. And he's lived up to the hype. With a shiny 1.61 ERA and 5 wins, Lincecum proving himself to be one of the better pitchers in the National League. Not to say that he can't be beat, because he does have ONE loss and two no decisions. But the kid hasn't given up more than 3 earned runs this season. And he's blanked his opponents three times this year.
His batting average against is about the same as Matt Cain's, but what he does have that Cain doesn't is the ability to consistently pitch deep into a ballgame. Only once this year has he gone less than 6 innings and three times has he gone more. (With the most being 8 innings, which he did once.) We'll need to count on Chris Sampson putting up another performance like he did against the Dodgers to have a chance to win this one. Don't expect this one to have a happy ending, though.
This is a good match up for the Astros right now. The Giants hitters are hot, but the Astros hitters are hotter. The Giants pitchers have cooled off slightly and that's played a big part in their recent 4-6 streak, The Astros pitchers have shown they are more than capable of keeping their team in the game. Astros hitters are averaging nearly 5.8 runs a game this month when they only averaged 4.7 in April. Astros pitchers are only giving up an average of 3.7 runs per game in May when they gave up 4.6 in April. You can see why we are winning so much lately.
Our right handed bats should nail the Giants left handed pitchers and maybe even do some decent damage against their right handed ones. I expect to come out of this series 2-2 and even 3-1 is possible. I wouldn't hold my breath for another series sweep, though. (Which, incidentally, would be the fifth one this year.) And If Berkman does have to sit out of any of these games because of his strained groin our chances to win any of these games would go down slightly. But you don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure that one out. :)