If your starting pitching staff is going to give up 5+ runs every game, then your offense isn’t a concern, but inability to hit early on is concerning for the Astros. Here is a look at the numbers so far for the Stros:
Outside of Angel Sanchez, the finger can be pointed at just about every Astro starter so far this year if you are looking for someone to crown as scapegoat for this lack luster offense thus far. Here is what the lineup has done thus far in the batting order that won the game Thursday night:
Michael Bourn (missed Thursday, but will be in the lineup Friday)
Bourn has managed to fix his struggles with the extra base hitting with a couple of doubles and triple, but he only has four hits so far this season. He is making good contact with the ball, but with a player of his caliber and speed, you have to wonder why he is just not focusing on putting the ball on the ground and letting his feet take care of the rest. He has yet to steal a base, and that is slightly concerning even though his hits usually land him on 2nd or 3rd. The good news is that he has drawn 5 walks so far this year in just 5 games. If he continues to find ways to get on base outside of hitting the ball, then he has truly stepped up his game to be a great lead off hitter. Look for Michael to continue drawing the walks, but also see if he tries to put the ball on the ground so that he can let his speed come into play.
Sanchez, thus far, has done everything that you want your two hole hitter to do. He has put the ball in play while leading the club in hits with 7. If Bourn raises his OBP, this could translate into an inning that looks like this: Bourn gets on first with a walk/hit, steals second, and Sanchez puts the ball in play to move him to third. Small ball. We are going to need to thrive in this area in order for this team to do well. Sanchez is primed for a productive season if he continues at this rate, but remain happy as long as he looks to extend the count, put the ball in play, and be an effective 2 hitter.
Perhaps he is in a race with Bill Hall to see who can set the new mark for Astro strikeouts in a season, but Pence has looked confused with runners in scoring position thus far in 2011. 0 for 4 with 2 strikeouts and a double play ball, Pence has succeeded when no one is on the pond, but has looked down right foolish when he is needed to come through. I predicted that he would have 30 homers this year, but an RBI total of 32 is going to follow if he doesn’t become more successful in those situations.
As much as I would like to glorify the fact that Lee has hit two triples on the season, Lee has not been notable outside of the Saturday game against Cliff Lee. Suffering from the Pence syndrome of disappearing during crucial moments of the game, Lee needs to be the clean up hitter that we signed him on to be. Last year, Lee couldn’t produce with runners 90 feet from home, and in order for him to turn it around this year, we need him to be the bat that he was in 2008-2009.
Two of the three RBI’s Wallace has that come to mind were scored on a bases loaded walk and ground out. Wallace has made solid contact with the ball, but the next step is to do it when the runners on ahead of him are looking to score. It is too early in his first season to be concerned, but Wallace has looked unsettled so far.
As of late, Johnson has picked up his game to be a great 6 spot hitter, but you have to wonder if we are going to get the most value out of him this far down in in the lineup. Johnson is going to get on base at a better rate than the 3-4-5 hitters in the lineup, and I think moving him up to third is the shakeup this lineup needs. He may never hit more than 22 homers in a year, but the solid contact he gets is what will score runners like Bourn and Sanchez.
Instead of discussing his 9 strikeouts and looking inept, I want to point out that Jeff Keppinger comes back in early May. Keppinger was the catalyst to the offense last season, and he knows how to hit situationally. Putting Kepp this far down in the lineup would be new for him, but look for him and Sanchez to switch spots when he comes back from the DL if Sanchez doesn’t keep up his great start.
Humberto Quintero / JR Towles
Combined 4 for 23, you have to wonder if their impressive spring trainings have come and gone. Defensively, Q is getting the job down and Towles is mired with that odd play against Cincy on Wednesday, but hitting is just an afterthought for these fill ins. 2011 was not supposed to be their year with Castro suffering a spring injury, but hey, they can’t do any worse… can they?