Need For Pitching Improvement Reaching Mission Critical

J.A. Happ has had a rather average start to 2011. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

The Astros' collective 5.24 ERA is the worst mark in the majors, after yesterday's 11-7 thumping.

With all the focus on Astros' lineup changes you could easily be forgiven for forgetting about the Astros pitching, which, after being knocked around for 11 runs last night, now sits as the worst pitching staff in the majors. 

The pitching corps are currently bleeding 5.4 runs a game. 

While people (me among them) have been petitioning Brad Mills to drop Carlos Lee from the clean-up spot, the real nightmare has been going on in our bullpen and rotation. Last night looked like being one of Nelson Figueroa's better efforts, but then he was pulled with the two men on and no-outs and all hell broke loose with Fernando Abad on the mound. 

Chief among the wrecking crew was former-Astro Lance Berkman, who went 4-5 with two home runs, a double, five RBI, three runs scored and a GIDP for good measure. 

And even the Cardinals blew several huge opportunities. David Freese was gunned down by Bill Hall in the fourth, and in the fifth they had two men on with no outs after Gerald Laird's single and failed to get another run. 

But having watched the sixth inning again, after the Berkman 3-run shot, the Astros could easily have got out of that inning without extensive damage of nine runs inflicted on them. Bill Hall received the ball a fraction too late to turn a DP on Tyler Greene's force-out, Kyle McLellan's single could easily have fallen to one of the middle infielders, and Albert Pujols' roller down the third base line could have gone foul. 

Saying that the Redbirds did hit a ton of frozen-rope line-drives to right field over the course of the game, and even thought they are offensively a strong unit, you should never allow nine runs in a single inning. 

And even then the Astros had two great chances to score runs in the sixth and eighth innings, with Hunter Pence striking out with the bases loaded in the former, then out at home in a pretty stupid play at home plate, trying to score on a bounced ball that barely got away from Gerald Laird. 

The Astros are 3-12 in games started by either Figueroa, J.A. Happ or Wandy Rodriguez, which is simply not good enough. Brett Myers meanwhile has not left a game this season with the Astros behind, and but for the culpabilities of the bullpen he might be 4-0 instead of 1-0.

Even by their bullpen's standards last night was a shambles. Their 5.09 bullpen ERA is now the second worst in the NL behind the Los Angeles Dodgers

9-16, level worst in the either league with the San Diego Padres, the Astros will get little respite as they face the Brewers for the second time in a week. Myers will face Shawn Marcum again, Rodriguez draws Randy Wolf, who stymied the Astros bats so effectively, and Bud Norris gets Chris Narveson

Taking two out of three, and picking up just their second series win of the season, would be massive moving into May. 

To get closer to .500 they need to shave at least a run a game off the 5.4 runs a game they are allowing and keep their runs scored rate at around the 4.6 that it is right now. Their 115 runs scored is fourth in the NL, despite being 15th in home runs and 15th in walks drawn. 

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