Friday, May 6, 2011

Pirates vs. Astros Preview (Series Eleven)

How the Pirates are so good on the road we may never know. But the results don’t lie. Five road series wins this year tops their total from ALL of last year, and their 4-2 road trip puts them within one game of .500, and just two games back from the Cardinals for the division lead heading into a seven game home stand. Add to that the fact that Kevin Correia is the first Pirate to win his first five road games since 1982 and Bucco fans have something to cheer about.

The first three games of this homestand are against division rival Houston. Houston is currently holding up the basement in the NL Central with a 12- 18 record. Houston’s five road wins tie them for second least in all of Baseball with the Brewers and Nationals. The only team with fewer road wins are the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The Stros weren’t exactly good last season, finishing with a record of 76-86, but they did handle the Pirates pretty well. The Pirates were a paltry 4-11 against their bottom feeding rivals, although a run differential of -13 isn’t all that bad considering the seven game swing. The only team to beat the Pirates more last season was the Milwaukee Brewers.

The Astros have changed quite a bit since last year though. Jettisoning old hands like Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman in an attempt to get younger. The Pirates generally will not miss those two as Oswalt dominated the Pirates over the course of his career, compiling 15 wins in 29 appearances, with an ERA of 2.54. Berkman hit the Pirates for a very good line of .295/.440/.537 with 26 homers and 40 doubles.

The Astros probable pitchers are Wandy Rodriguez, Bud Norris, and J.A. Happ.

Wandy Rodriguez (32) LHP

Rodriguez represents one of the better lefties the Pirates have faced, and is coming off another solid year. For the second straight year he has had more than ten wins (11) and for the third straight year his ERA has been 3.60 or less (3.60). Rodriguez knows how to strike guys out averaging 8.4 SO/9 the previous three seasons. He does give up his fair share of his though, one per inning for his career.

Thus far he has struggled a bit. His current. 4.26 ERA represent the worst mark since 2007, when he ended the season with a 4.58 ERA. The reason for it is the amount of hits he is giving up. 10.9 H/9 is the worst number of his career. Oddly enough his walks are actually at a career low rate of 2.1 per 9. These numbers are a bit misleading though. Most of his damage came in his first game of the season against the Phillies. He only went four innings, but gave up seven runs on nine hits. Since that time he has gone 7.0 + four times (including 8.0 his last time out). His only other outing of less than seven innings was 5.0 IP in his third game, in which he gave up five runs. His last three outings have been 7,7, and 8 innings respectively. His last outing was a gem, seven hits over eight innings, giving up zero runs and zero walks, while striking out six.

Last year he pretty much dominated the Pirates in two starts, getting the win in both. Wandy allowed just three runs (two earned) over his 14.1 innings, giving up just nine hits and a ridiculous three walks compared to seventeen strikeouts. One of those runs came on a solo homer.

His career numbers are much more reasonable than that though. He is 6-4 with a pretty average 3.97 ERA in thirteen starts. This includes his two outstanding starts last year so up until that point he wasn’t extremely effective against the Pirates. He has given up 80 hits in 77 innings, and six homers. He is striking the Bucs out at a pretty crazy 9.7/9 clip though, a trend I wouldn’t be shocked to see continue.

Bud Norris (26) RHP

Bud Norris is one of the sexy picks to have a breakout season. He is a high strikeout pitcher that gives up his share of walks. What he also gives up are hits and homers. Norris finished last season with a 9-10 record in 27 starts, posting an ERA of 4.92. He struck out over a batter an inning last season, but walked a batter every other inning. His 151 hits in 153.2 inning is just a shade under one an inning, and he gave up 18 homers, just over one per nine innings. So far this season he has kept the H/9 down a bit (8.8 to 8.3), decreased his BB/9 (4.5 to 3.0), and increased his SO/9 (9.3 to 10.9). Not surprisingly his ERA has decreased with the improvement in his numbers, down to a solid 3.03.

Norris is going on four straight quality starts in a row, and five straight games in which he threw 6+ innings. In fact he has only given up more than three runs twice this season, the first two games. Since that time he has only given up three runs total, and they all came three games ago. His last outing was a 7.2 inning, three hit gem. Norris walked just three and struck out a season high eleven batters, in the shutout. Norris has also been able to throw a lot of pitches, he has 106+ pitches in four straight games leading into his contest with the Buccos.

Norris saw the Pirates three times last year, all as a starter, and he struggled a bit. He was 1-2 against the good guys, giving up 21 hits in just 16.1 innings. One thing to note was that in those 16.1 innings Norris was able to strike out 24 batters, while walking just six. Of the 11 runs Norris allowed to the Buccos nine of them came in his two starts at PNC Park. He was 0-2 at PNC, and allowed 16 hits in just 9.1 innings. His other start came in Houston against the Pirates and was actually a very good one. He went 7.0 innings giving up just five hits, and allowing two runs with 14 k’s and just one walk.

Norris’ only other appearance came in 2009 when he picked up another win against the Buccos in Houston. A six inning, six hit, one run game which saw him strike out seven and yet again walk one.

In four career starts against the Pirates Norris has given up three homers. Two of those homers were to current Pirates Garrett Jones and Pedro Alvarez.

J.A. Happ (28) LHP

Happ was part of the return in the Roy Oswalt to Philadelphia deal. He had a pretty okay season last year but only made 16 starts, 13 with the Astros. Happ is not a big strikeout guy, which isn’t bad, but he also walks a lot of batters in relation to his SO numbers , which is a problem. Last year his SO/BB was 1.49, not a great number. He did keep the hits down a bit though (7.5/9). For the season he was 6-4 with a 3.40 ERA.

The problem for guys that don’t K a lot and give up walks at a decent clip is that they are very susceptible to big innings when they are getting hit. Which is what is happening to Happ this year. Happ’s SO/BB is actually better this year than last at 1.67, but he lowered both his SO and BB thus far so he is relying on his defense more, which is probably a bad thing. His H/9 has gone through the roof so far this year, as well as his HR/9 (which obviously isn’t the defenses fault). A career 8.2 H/9 has given way to a 9.6 this year, and his HR/9 last year was .8, this year it’s 1.3. Those two numbers go a long way in explaining his current 6.23 ERA and his four losses in six starts (2-4). Happ has one quality start this year, the second game of his season against the Marlins. Happ has given up twelve runs in his last sixteen innings, allowing 19 hits and four homers. Of his 6.1 innings his last time out were the most since he went 7 IP four games ago.

Happ had two starts against the Pirates last season, going 1-1 with a 1.50 ERA. His loss came at PNC Park although it was due to a lack of effort on his part. Happ went 6 IP, allowing four hits, and two unearned runs. His win was even better, going 6 IP giving up just three hits, but allowing two earned runs.

Happ has two other appearances against the Pirates, both with the Phillies and both in 2009.

The first came at Philly and improved Happ’s record to 6-0 that season. Happ went seven strong innings, giving up just four hits and one run in the Phillies 5-2 victory over the Buccos. The next came at PNC Park on August 27th 2009. Happ would end up picking up the loss even though he went a complete game (eight innings), and gave up just three runs on seven hits.

Matt Diaz is probably happy to see Happ. Diaz has killed Happ over the course of his career with a .556/.636/1.000 line in 11 plate appearances.


vs. Rodriguez

vs. Norris

vs. Happ

vs. Astros

Pedro Alvarez





Xavier Paul





Ronny Cedeno





Matt Diaz





Ryan Doumit





Garrett Jones





Andrew McCutchen





Lyle Overbay





Steve Pearce





Brandon Wood





Chris Snyder





Jose Tabata





Neil Walker





The Pirates probable pitchers are Paul Maholm, Charlie Morton, and James McDonald.

Paul Maholm (28) LHP

It’s basically been the story of Maholm’s year. One bad inning losing the game. The bats of course didn’t help, managing just one run for the lefty. Maholm went seven strong innings, and is quietly getting his season on track, now having gone seven innings in three of his last four games, and two straight. The problem is that one inning. The Rockies managed four runs on seven hits against Maholm, all four of them came in the second inning. It’s not fair to only blame Maholm, after all the defense really let him down. Whether it be Diaz misplaying a ball that Tabata probably catches into a double, or two infield hits in a row going for singles, Paul Maholm by rights should have gotten out of that inning clean. But he didn’t. He gave up a three run homer after the original run scored, but that was all.

So that led Maholm to his fourth loss, his second in a row that wasn’t really deserved. Is he the new Zach Duke?

Maholm looks to continue his success from last season against the Astros. Maholm was 2-2 last season with a 1.82 ERA in four starts, including one complete game shutout at PNC. His .944 WHIP against the Astros last year was his lowest against any team, and the he held the Astros to a .578 OPS, lowest amongst any team Maholm faced last season. Maholm went 7+ innings in three of his four starts against the Astros, and 6.2 innings in his only other start.

Maholm has always done pretty well against the Astros. His ten wins against the Astros are tops amongst any opponent. In his 17 games against the Astros he is averaging 6.2 innings an outing, and a little over a hit an innings. He is also giving up about 2.6 ER an outing, so he is averaging a quality start for his career against the Astros, as his 3.43 lifetime ERA seems to show.

Charlie Morton (27) RHP

Charlie Morton is 3-1 with a 3.52 ERA. Would you have believed that if I told you that would be the case in February? Morton’s latest victory came against the Rockies, and it may have been one of his most important. It’s no secret that people question Morton’s head, and he again proved that he can handle adversity. He clearly did not have his best stuff in the game against the Rockies. The same Rockies who have been one of the best teams, and offenses, in the league throughout the course of this young season. What Morton did do was hold it together and come up big in big situations. The pressure did not get to him, and the fact that he didn’t have his best stuff didn’t seem to bother him. The line isn’t much to write home about, and if he walks five guys to only one strikeout too often he isn’t going to be picking up many wins, especially only lasting five innings, but the offense finally showed up and picked up their pitcher. His last outing was one that I don’t think last year’s team wins. Is it Hurdle? Is it maturity? Is it the players just continuing to improve? Who knows, but Morton has been a huge surprise, and has to be one of the team MVP’s up until this point.

Morton pitched once against the Astros last year, and it was in Houston. The only word I can use to describe this start is disaster. Morton lasted just three innings giving up five hits and five runs, inlcuding a homer. He also only struck out two, while walking the same.

This skews his career numbers a bit, but he has never beaten the Stros’ in four starts. His 9.00 ERA against the Astros is second only to his 9.75 ERA against the Phillies. Walks, hits, and homers have been a big problem for Morton, he has given up three homers in four games, and has allowed 29 hits in just 19.0 innings. He has seven walks to just ten strikeouts, so all of these numbers will have to come in line more for him to have any success against this team.

James McDonald (26) RHP

Jmac is slowly whittling away at that ERA. His ERA is still bad, 6.75, but slowly but surely it looks as if McDonald is getting back into form. Against the Padres he was able to collect his second consecutive win, and second consecutive quality start by lasting six innings and giving up just two earned runs. He was also able to strikeout five (season high) while only walking one (season low). He did give up yet another long ball, which has been a recurring problem for him this year but if he continues to only give up five hits and a walk over six he should be pretty successful.

Jmac was also pretty unsuccessful against the Astros last year, but like Morton only had one start. His start was a bit better, lasting a full four innings, and giving up just three runs on five hits at PNC Park.

His only other appearance was in a relief role for the Dodgers. He wasn’t able to record an out giving up two runs on two hits, facing two batters

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