Winning the month of June was nice but it's going to take more than that to remain relevant in the NL Central and the NL Wild Card Races. The Astros have predominantly been a second half team which is both fun and exciting for those of us who follow the team closely. This season we don't know if Drayton will be willing to take on anymore payroll, or if players like LaTroy Hawkins or Jose Valverde will even make it past the trade deadline. In order to give Ed Wade an idea of where his team stands, and whether or not it would even be worth trading for a player at the deadline (and conversely not trading away a player from our current team), a strong July push is a must.
I wanted to do a quick run series by series rundown of the teams we'll be playing, as well as rating the components of each team. I'll assess the strength of our opponent's hitters, starting rotation, and closer. Here is a link to our July schedule. It's pretty much a tale of two halves, as I see it. Let's get to the analysis.
July 3-5, @ San Francisco Giants
The Giants are a pitching heavy, light hitting team that is currently leading the Wild Card in the NL. Tim Lincecum is once again a Cy Young candidate, and will most likely pitch for the Giants on Saturday, with the Big Unit, Randy Johnson, toeing the rubber on Sunday. Rookie Ryan Sadowski gets the ball in the opener against fellow youngster Felipe Paulino. Offensively, Pablo Sandoval is by far their best player, with Aaron Rowand supplying a fairly potent bat in center field. After that, every other player in the starting lineup is below average offensively (in terms of OPS+). Closer Brian Wilson is above average and doesn't do much to beat himself. It will be tough to score runs on the Giants, from their starters to the back end of their 'pen.
Starting Rotation rating (1-10 scale): 8
July 6-8, Pittsburgh Pirates
Pittsburgh's rotation will Ian Snell-less for the immediate future, as he was granted the demotion to AAA that he sought. Zach Duke is the titular ace of this staff, but he doesn't really do anything that wows you. Low strikeout numbers, and only average control leads me to believe that this is a staff that can be taken advantage of. Then again, we haven't done that yet, but July is a new month!...Ok, these games will probably be tougher than we'd like. Offensively, their biggest bat, Nate McLouth, was sent packing to Atlanta. Adam LaRoche is their power threat, but as a whole, the Pirates do get on base well. Closer Matt Capps is sort of like the Pirates' starting pitchers: low strikeout numbers, a few walks, substantial WHIP, 1.51 to be exact. He does have 17 saves, so there's that.
Starting Rotation: 4
July 9-12, Washington Nationals
The first half of 2009 ends against the same team the 2008 fist half did: the Nationals. Their starting rotation is young, young, young. Sort of the Anti-Astros. John Lannan is the mainstay, and grits his way to having a nice ERA. Jordan Zimmerman may at some point be the best starter in the NL East, but as of now, he's a youngster with good stuff trying to find his way. Ross Detwiler is a 2008 draftee who is already on the big league club. Scott Olsen was traded for in the offseason along with Josh Willingham.
Washington's offense has a lot of tough outs. Adam Dunn's reputation precedes him, and Ryan Zimmerman has put it all together. Nick Johnson constantly battles injury, but has been in lineup consistently this season. Cristian Guzman used to play for Minnesota, so he does things the "right way". Probably. I dunno really. Josh Willingham is OPS'ing .948 in limited action this seaon. Who knew?
When it comes to converting saves, the Nationals are 12/29. Anyone who wants to fill in the blanks even more, may do so. I feel that a sub 50% conversion rate says enough.
Starting Rotation: 3