After weather deteriorated in the eleventh inning of play, they Astros caught a bit of a break, in terms of their bullpen, and are now back home to open a two game set against vaunted the NL Central rival, pre-season crowned NL Central Champs, and struggled out the gate Chicago Cubs.
The Astros' only advantage opening this series is in team defense, where the Astros, as a team, are on pace for save 5.7 UZR/150, to the Cubs 3.5 UZR/150. This isn't the greatest advantage for us because Minute Maid, last year, really only inflated HR and 2B. The former is pitching dependent, but the latter can be cut down by the stellar outfield defense that Bourn and Pence have shown, but Carlos Lee is really turning into a liability in LF—so there's not much hope if the balls are headed in the direction of the Crawfishford Boxes.
The pitching match-ups are as follows:
Rich Harden 5.11 ERA (4.76 FIP) vs. Mike Hampton 4.88 ERA (4.33 FIP)
Harden and Hampton are coming off outings to forget and both have a ways to come down from their FIP's. When Harden is on, he's probably the best pitcher in baseball, so we need to hope for another sub-par outing (possibly a nagging something that could sideline him and keep the NL Central interesting), coupled with a Mike Hampton circa-1998 outing.
Ted Lilly 3.13 ERA (4.56 FIP) vs. Russ Ortiz 5.21 ERA (4.69 FIP)
While Ortiz has struggled out of the gate, it's my belief that he's due to return to some of the Spring Time dominance as he is allowed to settle into a routine as a starter after being bounced around as reliever to start the season. Lilly's massive discrepancy between what his peripherals tell us and what his ERA shows could be a harbinger for a solid outing in this match-up.
What the Astros need more than just about anything (you know, besides victories) are 7IP outings from Hampton in Ortiz to try to get the bullpen back up to full steam. Health was always known to be our achilles heal, and if the Astros are going to weather the storm of 162 games and have something to show for it, they're going to have to weather the storm of two late inning guys on the shelf and Roy Oswalt's health in question. Hopefully young arms like Paulino, Arias, and Norris will get an opportunity to help us right the ship, but in terms of this two game set: Hampton and Ortiz have to find a way to go deep into games. I myself will consider no more than 5 2/3 IP from the bullpen a moral victory enough.
Are you there baseball gods? It's us, Astros fans.