The Houston Astros wrapped up the first American League series in their history Wednesday, getting blanked 4-0 by the Texas Rangers. After storming out of the gates with an 8-2 win on Opening Day in front of a national audience, they took a beating on Tuesday and Wednesday, being shutout in both games. The last two days have definitely brought Astros fans back down to earth, after the slight hope of an Athletics-like season may have crept in to their minds following Opening Day. Let’s take a look at the Good, the Bad and the Ugly from the Astros’ first AL series.
The Astros starting rotation is off to a nice start. Bud Norris got the Opening Day nod and went 5.2 innings, allowing two earned runs while striking out five. Norris did have some luck on his side as he allowed a line drive rate of nearly 44%, which helped to make his SIERA a 4.57 for the game. He did do a great job of battling, and his slider looked extremely sharp.
Lucas Harrell started game two of the series on Monday, and picked up right where he left off last season. He went six innings, spreading six hits and one earned run while striking out four. Harrell was able to work his two-seamer down and keep the Rangers’ hitters grounded. Vintage Harrell.
Philip Humber made his Astros’ debut Wednesday, going 5.2 innings while giving up one earned run on five hits and striking out two. He did a nice job of keeping the ball down, and was able to strand nearly 88% of runners on base.
While Erik Bedard didn’t get a start in the opening series, he did relieve Bud Norris on Opening Day and was extremely effective. He pitched 3.1 innings, allowing just one hit and striking out two. Bedard ended up earning his first career save on Sunday.
The Astros bullpen could be a major issue in 2013. In 6.1 innings of relief, the pen has allowed nine runs on ten hits. The only reliever to make an appearance and not allow a run has been Rule-5 pick Josh Fields in his 2/3 of an inning. The starters did a good job of keeping the team in the game, and then the bullpen came in and let the Rangers pile on. I know it’s an extremely small sample size, so hopefully it was just a couple of bad games and not a sign of things to come.
Also, the attendance numbers were quite a bit lower than I expected for an opening series against the Rangers. If nothing else, I expected Ranger fans to pack the stadium, but they may have decided to just wait to watch their home opening series against Josh Hamilton and the Angels. Opening night was a sellout, as expected, but the following two games only brought in a combined 38,304. Of the teams opening the season at home, Houston ranked 3rd worst in average attendance, ahead of only Tampa Bay (in two games) and Oakland. It looks like my preseason prediction of attendance being slightly better than last season may have been wrong.
The Astros offense really clicked on Sunday night, taking an aggressive approach to the plate and recording eight runs on nine hits. During that game, however, you could see that their aggressive style was going to cost them A LOT of strikeouts, as Matt Harrison struck out nine in only 5.2 innings. As you all know, the Astros went on to be dominated by Yu Darvish, shutdown by Alexi Ogando, and set a record by striking out 43 times in a three game series. As CSN Houston pointed out, Brett Wallace, Carlos Pena and Chris Carter, the Astros 2-3-4 hitters, “are [a combined] 3-for-32 with 21 strikeouts.” At this pace, the Astros could set some records that you don’t want anything to do with. While the front office may not worry too much about strikeouts because of the belief in “no such thing as a productive out”, I hold the belief that you have to put the ball in play to make something happen. Right now it looks like the hitters are depending on reaching base by way of the dropped third strike.
This series showed us the highs and lows that we should expect from this young team. Hopefully we will start to see these peaks and valleys level out to be a bad season instead of another record-breaking, excruciating season.