So we split the series, on the road, with the NL leading Dodgers. I'm glad that I had to go out to dinner for my mom's birthday and merely find out about Matt Kemp's go ahead home run on my phone instead of watching it in person; the punch in the gut just can't hit as hard if you can't see it. I can't say that I'm overly disappointed in the end, though (I am just going to block out Arias' two errors, too hard to think about for an extended period of time). We're looking for the Astros to not falter out coming out of the gate, and they did just that over the last four days, but today is a new battle, and one that I hold to be of greater significance than the Dodgers series.
The Astros have eight series against the Cardinals, Cubs, and Brewers from today until the end of the season. Unlike previous years when the Astros and their fans had to hope and pray throughout the month of September that other teams would drop the ball while the Astros took care of other opponents, the Astros will be firmly in the drivers seat this time around from July 20th on. It's kind of a double edged sword, at least to me. What starts today pits the rational, objective part of my baseball mind with the subjective part of my brain most closely associated with Astros fan-hood. Watching previous stretch runs hasn't been as nerve racking for me because the objective part of my mind always understands the improbability of both other teams independent failures and the Astros success don't make for a strong over odds that the Astros dig themselves out whatever hole they started in the first half.
This year, I don't get to hide behind that. The Astros will have numerous opportunities to dethrone the three teams that stand in the way of them and one of the most unexpected playoff appearances possible in recent memory (sabr-geeks had the Rays pegged...I guess the Rockies were improbable, though). Although the rational part of my brain understands that this series doesn't mean anything more than any of the other series do, the subjective part of my brain doesn't. So I am going to indulge it, and say that I consider this series to be the keynote address to how the Astros will handle the opportunity they're presented. They're only real opponent is themselves. This is a division, and even an Wild Card race, that has proven to be anything but decided ninety plus games into the season. So the Astros, flawed as they are, have legs to stand on in the search for October baseball, but we've all yet to figure out is how sturdy those legs are.
One of the next three games is the kind of game that makes you love baseball the way that anyone who stumbles onto this blog and is reading this likely does. One of them is a mismatch in starting pitching. And the other one, well, the other is interesting for the all the reasons that baseball is also interesting. I think these games games represent more than what it is that most of us love about baseball, but also can describe this current crop of Astros we're all invested in. There are some greats, there are some guys that always make it interesting, and then there are some who are probably just overmatched.
The one thing that both the objective and subjective parts of my brain can agree on is that no matter the outcome of this series, the Astros season doesn't hinge on the results. I will, however, feel much better if the Astros can take this one from the Cardinals.
Game by game breakdown after the jump.
Kyle Lohse vs Brian Moehler
Kyle Lohse, to me, is the one that got away. Prior to to 2008, Ed Wade and Lohse's agent were apparently in discussion on giving Lohse that one year audition in Houston after Lohse's free agency bid had gone terribly awry. Ultimately, Wade and the Astros passed and Lohse went onto have a very successful year with the Cardinals. Neither of these pitchers are overwhelming, so expect leather flashing to be the decisive factor early in the game.
Lohse comes into today's game sporting a 4.26 ERA, which isn't far off his 4.37 xFIP. Moehler, on the other hand, comes in with a less than impressive ERA of 5.06, but an xFIP of 4.58. This is the game above that I described as the interesting one. Looking at their components, we can't expect either pitcher to have the advantage, so it'll come down to the defense behind them and the run support each starter receives.
Todd Wellemeyer vs. Wandy Rodriguez
Without even slicing into the numbers, this game is the overmatch. Wellemeyer will bring a 5.56 ERA and better, but non-impressive, 5.27 xFIP to the mound. Wandy Rodriguez will have to battle a tough line-up (read: Albert Pujols), but is well suited for the task; Wandy lays claim to a 2.81 ERA, but also a 3.74 xFIP. This is one of those games the Astros should win, and with the interesting one already in the books and the great one to be played, it'd be nice if the great one carried the added significance of either vying for a series win, or better yet, a a series sweep.
Chris Carpenter vs. Roy Oswalt
This last time this match up was scheduled was April 2007. I remember HLP, myself, and our friend Dan trying to acquire tickets to it when we realized the match up existed (three hour drive there and back for a night game be damned). The next day, Chris Carpenter was sent to the DL—a place he would be mired in for a long, long time after that. Wednesday, we'll finally get the rematch.
Carptenter has quickly regained the same form that justified his massive contract extension that the Cardinals signed him to prior to the 2007. His 2.26 ERA and 3.25 xFIP suggest that he'll be ready to deal. He has the edge, but only slightly because mound opponent Roy Oswalt has been Wizard-like after his slow start. Oswalt's 3.65 ERA and 3.78 xFIP should give the Cardinals bats fits just as much as Carpenter will be giving our bats fits (of course the last time I heralded a pitching duel on the blog Verlander and Wandy did not deliver). My birthday is on Thursday, so what I am going to ask for is that Roy Oswalt will deliver this series victory to me with a sterling performance (I know, I am not asking for much).