As talked about as the first seven Astros' games were, and as poor as some of their play has been, they could, and probably should have squeaked out of the week 3-4.
Seven games in and they have blown two saves. That would leave them on pace to blow 23 leads over the season, something incompatible with a decent season. What it would feel like to be 3-4 right now.
None of the offense has started the season terribly, but neither has anyone lit up the first week. Last night Brett Wallace and J.R. Towles (currently .417/.417/.667) showed a bit of pop, but a lot of the Astros scoring has been on groundball outs. Bill Hall has already slid past Brett Wallace and Chris Johnson to number seven in the lineup. If Towles really heats up could he slip even further?
Like Humberto Quintero's passed ball on opening day, a small play ended up costing them dearly. 3-2 down with Michael Bourn on third and one out, Ricky Nolasco struck out Hunter Pence before inducing a pop-up from Carlos Lee. Wilton Lopez had coughed up the lead, running into a jam in the eighth, Jeff Fulchino gave up a Chris Coghlan home run and Jason Bourgeois was picked off to end the game.
After the loss Brad Mills was upbeat about the positives held in the game and Rodriguez's start was encouraging, even if we do continue to have ask questions about the wild variations in his home and road splits. Without Jason Castro the trio of Wallace, Johnson and Towles might surprise some people. Considering nothing is expected of the catcher and former top Astros' prospect, that should not be too hard.
But success will all depend on starting pitching. As TCB adequately pointed out the rotation had an awful first time out, barring Myers first start, and has been victim of a huge proportion of ball in play resulting in hits. The staff's BABIP (batting average on ball is play) is the MLB's second worst mark behind the Mets at .367. Their LOB is an ugly 60.3%, the worst in the majors, meaning roughly 4 out of every 10 runners that make it on base score. That is far too high.
They have been pounded by singles and occasional walks, holding opposing teams to four HR in seven games and on the whole we have seen very few opponents hitting flyballs as opposed to line drives and groundballs. In their five starts the rotation combined for just 19 flyball outs. Bud Norris did not even have a single one against the Phillies in his four innings despite giving up two home runs.
Brandon Lyon was slightly unlucky in this respect last Friday, breaking three bats that all resulted in singles. But still you feel the plan Arnsberg had set up to the Phillies' and Reds' hitters just did not work. It became crystal clear to everyone that Norris' slider was sitting up to be hit, but Quintero kept calling for it behind the plate.
A lack of easy outs could mean that pitchers are lacking late movement on their pitches and are therefore not missing many bats, which was something many observed about Lyon's stuff in his three appearances.
Still, the Astros have Javier Vasquez and Anibel Sanchez up next before welcoming in the Chicago Cubs and San Diego Padres. At this point a .500 homestand would leave Houston at 6-11, but if they could nick the next two against Florida they could do even better.
The rotation may have stumbled in the first week, but the offense needs to start creating more opportunities. They have yet to score more than four runs in a game, leaving little wiggle room for the bullpen and rotation. Considering last April they were shutout three times in the first seven games of 2010 and managed just 13 runs compared to this year's 23 it could have been a lot worse.