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Astros at Cardinals Series Preview: My, oh my what difference a month makes

The last time I wrote a series preview about a Cardinals series, it was filled with all the hope and expectations that any fan would have with their team facing off against the divisional leaders they were trailing by only a scant 3.5 games behind.  Now, I'm writing about Astros/Cards series as a fan who has become somewhat disenchanted with their hometown heroes who trail by a depressing 10 games behind their divisional leader.

Listening to some sports talk radio today, when the Astros were mentioned they were mentioned in terms of their catostrophic failure.  Being an someone who is more inclined to hold an objective view of the game of baseball, I'm not sure I'd use such hyperbolic terms, but I also can't fault anyone for feeling that way.  A month ago, the Astros's shoot at contention was alive and well.  It was exciting to see a crop of players of whom no one really put an inordinate amount of faith in give rise to such hope.  Where the Astros odds at the postseason were once in the double digits, they are not hovering at or below 1%; that's a disheartening swing.

As a few of you have mentioned, the Cardinals have rode a weak schedule for the last month to pull out to a commanding lead of the NL Central.  But as we inch closer to September, it seems clear that the going will get tough for the Red Birds.  A ten game swing isn't impossible—just tough to pull off.  Perhaps even discussing such a large swing in the standings is slightly absurd given the fact that the Astros have lost the last five series they've played at Busch Stadium III, but if you're not going to look at the glass as half full with this team, it's going to be a long six weeks.

With that in mind, after the jump, a series preview for a series that could afford the Astros an opportunity to let everyone know their not rolling over just yet.

At the outset, I have to say this: As good as I thought the pitching match-ups were for the last Astros/Cards series I previewed, these are better.

Wandy Rodriguez vs. Adam Wainwright

Wandy's rise to top-tier status this year hasn't surprised many around here, but has nonetheless been exciting. Coming into today with a tidy 3.89 xFIP, the story from the Astros perspective will be whether or not they can provide adequate run support for Wandy.  Making that a dicey possibility will be Wainwright whose 3.65xFIP is slightly better than Wandy's, but doesn't necessarily indicate a better ability to limit runs allowed coming into tonight.  Matt Holliday's career platoon split suggests that Wandy may be able to neutralize one of the Cardinals main offensive weapons as of late and that combined with Wandy's utter mastery of Albert Pujols over the years should take some of the pressure of the offense to score runs in spades.

Roy Oswalt vs. Joel Pineiro

Wednesday's match-up provides another opportunity for a pitchers's duel to develop.  The Wizard hasn't been as Wizardly we'd have liked him to be this season.  He'll bring a 3.91xFIP to the mound to counter Pineiro's 3.70xFIP (HLP's proclaimed unsung hero of the NL Central).  Given the match-up that follows this one, Wandy and Roy will need to pitch the Astros to victory to have a shot at the series victory.

Brian Moehler vs. Chris Carpenter

This one doesn't require any fancy advanced stats.  The Astros ability to compete in this match-up will depend on which Brian Moehler takes the mound: The one that is makes journalists fawn over which superlatives to put to a performance by an aged veteran digging deep to succeed, or the one that just looks like an aged veteran.