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The Astros on July 1st: Winning the Arms Race

With nearly three full months in the books, the Astros are trying their hardest to no longer merely tread water. This post is being made during the day on Tuesday, so I obviously don't know what will happen tonight in San Diego, but the Astros have at least guaranteed themselves of making up at least four games in the NL Central Race, from when they were nine games out on May 31st. Here's a rundown of their per month results:

Month W L RS RA %
April 9 13 78 92 .409
May 11 15 127 149 .423
June 16 10 105 97 .615

Unless the Padres absolutely go off tonight against Mike Hampton and Co., the Astros will have held their opponents to approximately fifty less runs in June as compared to May. Run down the "W" column for our pitchers, and you will see eight wins were earned by the Astros starters, and eight by relievers. Roy Oswalt has three wins, Wandy Rodriguez a scant one win for the month. That means twelve wins were credited to guys like Ortiz, Moehler, Hampton, Wright, Fulchino, Paulino, Arias, Byrdak and Sampson. Jump in the time machine and set the date to March 1, 2009. If someone had told you that the Astros would have a winning percentage of above .600 in June, a June where Wandy struggled to just one victory, would you believe them? I'd hope not. I mean, optimism is great, but let's not be foolish.

Still, these pitchers have stepped up tremendously in June, more than I, or probably anyone could have hoped for. Let's not leave out LaTroy Hawkins either. The Yankee castoff has ten saves this season, and did great work to hold down the backend of our bullpen until Jose Valverde was able to return from the DL. His numbers are among some of the best of his career, and will be either a crucial bridge to Valverde for the reaminder of the season, or a potential trade chip if the opportunity presents itself.

Since being made a starting pitcher, Russ Ortiz has done as much as he can do at this point in his career, to justify being part of a rotation. On June 11th, his K/BB rate as a reliever was 28/26. In his four games as a starter, Russ has found himself a nice groove- walking only six, while striking out nineteen. Poor run support (ten runs scored total in those four starts) have prevented Russ from getting the credit that he deserves.

Wandy though, probably can't wait for June to be over. Heading into the month, he was on top of his game, and was among the best pitchers in baseball. Since June 1, his ERA has risen more than a run, due in no small part to HR rate finally adjusting. Eleven home runs allowed in just twenty nine innings pitched did much to retrun Wandy to the reality of where his talent level indicates he should remain for the rest of 2009. It's not just the homers that are troubling, his strikeout and walk totals are shifting in the wrong directions. I find myself marveling at his performances when good, but am left scratching my head when he pitches poorly. Wandy is thirty years old, and still seems to battle the sort of wildness, inconsistency, and youthful bouts of frustration that should rarely arise with a veteran starter. Still, if the Astros are to compete in earnest this season we need Wandy perhaps more than any other pitcher, to perform as well as they possibly can.

In terms of depth, Brandon Backe and Fernando Nieve are no longer with the Astros organization, and Jose Capellan has battled both injury and poor performance for AAA Round Rock. Instead, Felipe Paulino has shown flashes of brilliance that leave you wanting more. A blistering 97 MPH fastball and off spead/breaking pitches that leave hitters flailing- what more can you ask out of a 25 year old who has as little ML experience as Paulino? On the farm, Yorman Bazardo, Bud Norris and Polin Trinidad give the Astros something they've lacked in the recent past: options in the minor leagues. If one of our starters were to injure themselves, Bud Norris now seems ready to take on major league hitters. Yorman Bazardo has bounced around, but is putting together a nice AAA season. He may never be a top of the rotation starter, but he has a future with this team. Trinidad has made the leap from AA to AAA. Now we can see if arguably the most difficult leap will be too much, or if Trinidad too will be a major leaguer before too long.

Whatever scenarios play out, I can't say that I'm dissapointed with any one pitcher on our 25 man roster. Based on how much we know about their individual talent ceilings and pre season expectations, each has done what they can while healthy to help the Astros. If our offense can follow their lead, the Central is ripe for the taking. Time to get greedy.