After losing the first two games of last week's four-game series against the Marlins (and temporarily handing over the Wild Card lead to the Fish), the Stros have won seven of eight games, including tonight's 12-8 win over the Pirates. Florida, meanwhile, has lost six of seven, falling four games behind Houston.
It's essentially a two-team race between us and Philly, which won tonight on a Ryan Howard grand slam in the top of the tenth innning against Atlanta. They're two games back.
So here's what we got: 10 games left: seven against the Cubs, two against the Cards and tomorrow's finale of our four-game series against Pittsburgh. Backe will start against rookie sensation Zach Duke. For our weekend series at Wrigley, the matchups are looking like this:
Friday: Wandy vs. Zambrano
Saturday: Clemens vs. Rusch
Sunday: Pettitte vs. Williams
Luckily, we miss Maddux and Prior. Friday's matchup doesn't look too bright, but check out Wandy's second-half stats: 6-4, 4.10, 1.26! Damn good! Clemens has given up 12 runs in his last three starts... we're gonna need him to be at full strength. And Pettitte really deserves to be in the discussion for Cy Young. He won't win it, but he's been a cut above Clemens for months now. As Ausmus and John Donovan put it, "He's amazing."
After an off day on Monday the 26th, we'll travel to St. Louis for a two-game set. Oswalt and Backe are set to start against the Cardinals, who look like they'll send Marquis and Morris to the mound. Garner probably won't change the rotation, but it might make sense to start Wandy on Wednesday against at St. Louis, then have Backe start at home against the Cubs on Thursday. Wandy will have his full four days of rest, and seems to fare a tad better on the road than at home (5.01 ERA on the road compared with 5.75 at home). Backe, meanwhile, simply can't pitch away from the Juicebox (6.00 ERA on the road compared with 3.41 at home). Also, Backe has won both his starts this year against the Cubs, but has an ERA over 10 against the Cardinals.
It might make more sense, however, to have our big three all pitch in the final series to give us out best chance to make the postseason. I guess everything will depend on how we're looking in the Wild Card race.
The Phillies, meanwhile, have an interesting schedule. They finish their series in Atlanta tomorrow, with Lieber starting against Hudson. Then they head to Cincy for the weekend. Those teams split a four-game series in Philly in May. Finally, the Phils get the Mets at home and the Nats in D.C. next week. The Mets have played spoiler this month against the Marlins, and could do the same against the Phils. Beltran may help us this year after all...
Some interesting second-half stats:
Willy T's and Biggio's OBPs have dropped off significantly. Biggio's (.288) hurts more than Taveras's (.315). In fact, Biggio's second-half stats have been much inferior to Burke's:
Biggio (Post All-Star): .226 / .288 / .387 (.675)
Burke (Post All-Star): .257 / .320 / .449 (.769)
Besides Burke, Lane and Lamb have stepped it up:
Lane (Post All-Star): .296 / .333 / .513 (.846)
Lamb (Post All-Star): .248 / .293 / .455 (.748)
It seems to me that we should be starting Lamb at 1B against righties consistently.
Adam Everett has six walks in 220 second-half at-bats. He sucks. Fortunately, Bradley Ausmus has been a wonderful surprise. Actually, he's been a freakin' godsend. His second half has been remarkable: He's taking walks, hitting doubles, and striking out seldom. After the break he's hitting .296 / .391 / .402, and has brought his total OPS up over .700.
The only hitter on our lineup with better stats away from MMP? Orlando Palmeiro, of course. He's got an .892 OPS on the road, but it's only .651 at home. Weird.
How much better would we be with Jeff Bagwell? Even in this injury-shortened year, his .372 OBP is oodles better than Lamb's .275, Burke's .301 or Scott's .247.
Now then, let's focus on tomorrow's game. It's an early one: 12:35 p.m. EDT. Gotta have it. GO Stros!