Let's preview five random points about the upcoming three-game set against the Pittsburgh Pirates while I wonder how the Bucs got within two games of the Astros for the worst record in the NL Central...
1) The Pirates are on a roll: Pittsburgh enters this series having won five of its last seven games, including series wins over Chicago (not-so-impressive) and Philadelphia (impressive). They have scored just over three runs a game over this streak and allowed 23, but that also counts a 12-run outburst by the Phillies. Taking away that game, the Pirates have allowed just over two runs a game during the streak. Of course, this comes on the heels of a six-game losing streak and a stretch that saw the Pirates go 2-20. So, who knows what team will show up in MMP?
2) Walker has found a home: He doesn't walk ever and he strikes out quite a bit, but Neil Walker has been pretty darned good for the Pirates. He's led the team in both isolated power and wOBA in the past two weeks with a BABiP of .333. He's also doing all this at second base, after spending years in the minors trying to make it as a catcher and then a third baseman. The Pirates have never known where to put the local Pittsburgh product since they drafted him, but his bat has forced itself into the lineup. Sound familiar, Koby?
3) Two familiar faces return: The Pirates sport two players on their pitching staff with Houston ties. Octavio Dotel, you may know. You might have forgotten about Brad Lincoln after he was drafted fourth overall out of the University of Houston in the 2006 draft. Lincoln picked up his first big-league victory last week, striking out six in seven shutout innings against the Cubs. Ducky has also been pretty good in the past two weeks for the Buccos, striking out six in six scoreless innings over six games. Dotel also recorded five saves during that time. If Dotel, Brad Lidge and Billy Wagner all save a game on the same day at the same time, doesn't something shift in the Earth's axis? Or is that just my imagination?
4) What's up with this Evan Meek kid?: You may have never heard of him, until his name appeared on that All-Star roster Sunday. I know I hadn't. That's partly because this is the second series the Astros have played against Pittsburgh all season. Meek pitched one scoreless inning in the first game of that series back on April 23, so it may behoove us to get reacquainted with the right-handed reliever. At 6-foot, 220 pounds, Meek is pretty solid, but not imposing on the mound. His ERA is a miniscule 0.96, but his xFIP is a more reasonable 3.19. That's pretty good, but he's a reliever, and it's hard to tell how that projects out his performance. Meek is an extreme ground ball pitcher who happens to also strike batters out. That means he has a very tiny HR/9 rate and a very low BABiP. Both should regress eventually, but maybe not soon enough for the Astros to take advantage of the 27-year old.
5) Be afraid...Pedro Alvarez is adjusting: You might look at highly-touted prospect Pedro Alvarez' batting line and thing "Oh, another kid struggling with the transition to the majors." Well, that transition may be happening fast, and the Astros could be on the wrong end of it this series. Alvarez has a wOBA of .318 in the past two weeks, but that number jumps up to .410 in the past week. He still is prone to strikeouts, but his power is starting to show itself, which can be a dangerous thing against Astros pitchers throwing to contact (Brian Moehler, we're looking at you). Let's just hope that the Astros have great advanced scouts and can hold down Alvarez for three games until they have to face someone less dangerous, like Albert Pujols...Crap. This is going to be a tough week.