Last year when the Cardinals came to town, the excitement surrounded seeing Lance Berkman back in Minute Maid Park, albeit in the wrong sort of uniform. This year? The excitement comes from what this Houston Astros team will do.
There have been two Astros teams in this short 25 game season. We've seen nonexistent clutch hitting and errors from one team and we've seen unreal run production and amazing defensive plays from the other team, and that second team can win ball games.
The Houston Astros welcome the St. Louis Cardinals after having won six of their last ten games. Perhaps not impressive for some teams, but for a club in the early stages of a rebuild? A nice early showing.
So what can the 11-14 Astros expect to do against the 16-9 Cards? I'm betting we'll see something akin to winning.
This is a different Astros team, certainly, but let's not forget it's a different Cards team as well. Without Astro-killer Albert Pujols in the lineup, the pitching staff can breathe a bit. Couple that with Berkman being on the DL and two of MMP's all time home run generators are out of the picture.
The biggest advantage the Cardinals have over the Astros? Pitching. The Cards have a team ERA of 2.94, 3rd in the majors. Meanwhile, the Astros pitching staff has put up a 3.92 ERA. Particularly Friday's matchup of Kyle Lohse (1.62 ERA) v. Lucas Harrell (4.71 EAR) will be a challenge for the Astros. If pitching decides this series, we'd all expect the Cards to sweep.
But I don't think that pitching will be the deciding factor. I think what will make the biggest difference is run production.
Both the Cards and the Astros have put up significant run numbers already this season. The Cards rank 1st in baseball with 138 runs to date and the Astros aren't too far behind at 8th with 118 runs. The key difference will be can the Astros hit when they need to?
When the bases are loaded the Cards are hitting .285. The Astros? .254. What about when there are runners in scoring position of any sort? The Astros take the advantage hitting .303 while the Cards are hitting .267.
All those numbers tell me this: if the Astros come into this series swinging their bats the way they have lately, this will be a very fun and exciting series. These are not last year's Astros and I'm not sure the Cardinals realize that yet.
Friday, 7:05pm - probable pitchers: Lucas Harrell (1-2, 4.71 ERA), Kyle Lohse (4-0, 1.62 ERA)
Saturday, 6:05pm - probable pitchers: Bud Norris (1-1, 5.46 ERA) v Jaime Garcia (2-1, 2.78)
Sunday, 1:05pm - probable pitchers: J.A. Happ (2-1, 4.60 ERA) v Adam Wainwright (1-3, 6.75 ERA)