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Houston Astros Series Preview

Astros-080111_mediumI posted this on twitter yesterday, but here's my frustration with this season in a nutshell: The Reds are 53-55.  If they had just played to their Pythagorean Record (or their component W%, for that matter), they'd be 58-50, on pace for an 87-win season, and 1.5 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers.  Five losses is the difference between legit contention and pretention.

I don't know why the Reds have fallen short of that mark.  A lack of leverage-able shut-down relief pitching is probably part of it.  And maybe a few managerial decisions.  Unfortunately, a lot of it is probably also just bad luck.

Things that are not a problem:

  • Hitting.  The Reds are 4th in the league in wRC+, 3rd in OBP, 4th in SLG, and 2nd overall in runs scored.  That's better than I expected in the preseason.
  • Hitting with runners in scoring position.  Reds are 2nd in NL with a .773 OPS with RISP.  This really is not an issue.
  • Fielding.  Reds have the 2nd-best UZR, 3rd-best DRS, 3rd-best Defense Efficiency Ratio, and 3rd-best in FIP-BsR (my home brew fielding statistic).
Regardless, at least the Reds aren't the Astros!  Their position players have been dreadful.  The offense has been miserable, with little power and little ability to get on base.  And their fielding, by every single measure, has been just horrid.  On top of it all, two of their better players, Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn, were just traded away, leaving behind what is as close to a AAA squad as you'll ever see in the major leagues.

They still have pretty decent pitching, however.  It's not that it's great.  But it's no worse--and probably a tad better, at least in the rotation--than what the Reds are running out there.  If you catch their top guys, and the Reds are doing just that, this team can beat you in a short series.  Hopefully, however, the Reds can continue to stay hot and do what good teams are supposed to do against teams like the Astros.

Park Factors at Minute Maid Park (LHB/RHB)

wOBA: 102/100
HR: 107/117

You can see the effect of the Crawfish Boxes on the home run effect for right-handers.  But overall, this place has played as a fairly neutral, marginal hitter's park.

Position Players

You can't make much of the Astros' hitting numbers for most of their lineup, because it's all small sample sizes.  The Astros have exactly seven players with more than 250 PA's thus far.  But of those seven, two have been traded (Pence & Bourn), two have been demoted (Wallace & Johnson), and one is on the bench (Angel Sanchez).  That leaves Carlos Lee and Clint Barmes as the only guys with substantial playing time who are in the lineup these days.

My favorite player on the Astros right now is Jose Altuve.  He is listed at 5'7"/170 lbs, but my understanding is that this is extremely generous.  5'5" is probably more appropriate.  He's TINY, but somehow is able to generate legitimate doubles power and make good contact despite the frame.  A glance at his numbers shows that despite his Eddie Gaedel-esque stature, he has yet to take a walk, and his numbers are inflated with a .400 BABIP.  I don't know if he's going to make it as a starter, but he's a terrific curiosity if nothing else.  

Probable Starters


The Astros arguably have a pitching advantage in all three of these match-ups.  Actually, for the first two games, it's probably not even an argument.  Bud Norris is a high strikeout pitcher with fly ball tendencies and much improved walk rates that has led to a very good season this year.  Similarly, Wandy Rodriguez has continued to be a very good starter, attracting considerable interest at the trade deadline.  The guy you might not have heard of is Jordan Lyles, a top prospect of the Astros who has come up and been largely what was expected: he's a solid mid-rotation starter.



I think the Astros' pen matches up pretty well with the Reds'.  Mark Melancon has filled in admirably as the closer of this squad when Brandon Lyon's biceps tendon popped out of its groove, while Wilton Lopez is a very competent setup guy.  They've probably been better as a pair than the Reds' combination of Cordero & Masset, though not by a lot.  The Astros probably don't have the depth in the middle innings that the Reds do, however, and they have only one left-handed pitcher right now in Sergio Escalona.  He's not particularly good, either; given his walk rates, I predict that he will walk Joey Votto three times in this series.

Go Reds!