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Citizens Bank Park: The Astros Home Away From Home

Can the Astros withstand a Phillie barrage of Halladay, Cliff Lee and Oswalt so early in the season?

If most Houston Astros' fans had to pick a favourite moment from the 2010 season it would composite into a very short list, but a commonality to all of them would be the Astros four-game demolition of the Philladelphia Phillies. At Citizens Bank Park. 

And I say demolition with a lower-case 'd' because they only scored 15 runs to the Phillies 7. This catastrophe could hardly have been fathomed by the pennant chasing NL East Champions even if their offense had been struggling to score runs in the absence of Chase Utley and Ryan Howard

The series was a matter of red-hot pitching meeting stone cold hitting. Something had to give, even if the prospect of a Houston sweep was calculated at a probability of 1%

The Astros hoodoo over the Phillies is such that they have a 30-16 record against them since 2004, the only NL team with a winning record against them in that time period, and are 16-7 at Citizens Bank Park since they moved from Veterans Stadium. 

As Jimmy Rollins put it:

Houston has been a team that for years has given us problems. Doesn't matter if they're good or bad, they give us problems. 

In 2004 and 2005 the Phillies did not manage a single win, either at CBP or Minute Maid Park leading some to the assumption that it was all Billy Wagner's fault, having swapped teams after the 2003 season. Honourable mention goes to Morgan Ensberg, Jeff Kent and Mike Lamb for a timely triple play, and Craig Biggio for his 3-run homer off Wagner in the top of the 9th in late 2005.

After that the plot thickened. The Astros lost four of five in 2006, won three of five in 2007, botched an early series in April 2008 after an especially ugly performance by new closer Jose Valverde, but still squared the season series three-all, then swept them in a four-game series at MMP in 2009 before losing the away series 2-1. 

Their task next week will be less straightforward, as instead of facing Kyle Kendrick and Joe Blanton, like they did last year, they will have to contend with three out of this foursome: Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee,  Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels. That is a pretty big ask for a cast of hitters who yesterday managed two hits off the Nationals and looked hopeless against Livan Hernandez

Meanwhile the visitors will combat with Brett Myers, Wandy Rodriguez and J.A. Happ. The plus side with having two left handers starting is that the Phillies lineup is lefty-stacked, with Howard, Utley and Raul Ibanez batting from that side. Howard has not done well in his career against left-handed pitching, but the other two splits do not look wildly different. Even the switch hitters Shane Victorino and Rollins do not struggle when facing lefties. 

In fact as a team in 2010 the Phillies hit left-handed pitching better overall. 

So the Astros will be lucky to get out of Philadelphia with pride intact, and I would take not getting swept as a win for the team this early in the season. Given their 0-8 car-wreck of an opener in 2010 the pressure will be there early on for them not to repeat such an abysmal start. Breaks might not go the Astros way as they did last season with the umpire ruling Michael Bourn safe at first even though he had looked to stray onto the grass. There will probably be no 16-inning marathon with a pitcher playing left field for the Phillies. 

Perhaps the Astros could engage the services of Wagner to dance to Baby Elephant Walk outside the stadium before Friday's game. Or maybe Brad Mills should be yelling "We're still paying you, so you better throw this game," when Roy O takes the mound, although given Oswalt's head injury there was some concern that he may miss the series. X-Rays have thankfully come back negative. 

Conspiracy theorists meanwhile will contend that Ruben Amaro Jr. and Ed Wade will likely closet themselves away at some point during the series to discuss which players they will be trading before the non-waiver trade deadline passes on July 31.

"So it's Hunter Pence you want this time?" Ed Wade asks.

Amaro nods, and asks him what he wants in return. Wade's eyes glaze over and he begins to drool at the prospect of acquiring another Phillie he drafted during his time on the East Coast.

"Ed," Amaro snaps impatiently, as Wade ponders this quandary. He would quite like a shortstop since Clint Barmes has broken his hand, but Rollins was drafted before his time. He finally agrees to take Howard and his entire contract for the entirety of the Astros' farm system. 

God no. 

One last thing. If you are tempted to venture over to CBP next weekend remember GQ named Phillie fans as the worst in America, something one blogger has taken extreme exception to. Which of course they would. So try not to get vomited on. Or booed. 

Images by eflon used in background images under a Creative Commons license. Thank you.