The Astros are the worst team in the American League. But what about the National League? Can this young Astros team that has played so poorly against the quality opponents of their new league take advantage of some more familiar foes? Will playing under N.L. rules be beneficial to the A.L.’Stros?
We may not get all of the answers in this weekend’s 3-game series in Pittsburgh, but it will be refreshing to get back to baseball being played the way it was meant to be played — with nine players instead of ten. Astros pitchers have been taking batting practice for the past several days and are anxious to get in there and take some hacks in a real game. Barring a Philip Humber-like start that forces him out of the game early, Jordan Lyles will be the first Astros pitcher to step into the batter’s box this season. Lyles is a .143 career hitter and was the last Astros hurler to hit a homerun.
Pitching has been the Astros most glaring weakness this season. Both the starters and the bullpen have struggled mightily and the Astros are last in the league in both WHIP and ERA. The potent DH-aided lineups of the American League have had their way with the Astros pitching staff and a few games under N.L. rules could be just what the doctor ordered.
The failure of the starters to work deep into games has put a strain on the Astros bullpen. Facing a lineup with one less power hitter for for the next three days could help out in that particular area.
But the lack of the DH should also have a negative affect on the Astros offense. Chris Carter and Carlos Pena share the team lead in RBIs with 22. The two have shared DH duties for the past few weeks and Bo Porter is likely to only have one of them in his starting lineup this weekend. Carlos Corporan, the team leader in slugging percentage, will probably sit for two of the three games as well. Corporan has cracked the starting lineup a few times this season when Jason Castro, the Astros regular catcher, has started at the DH position.
Taking both the pitching and the offense into consideration, its hard to predict whether or not the N.L. rules will be a positive for the Astros. But I think the possible benefits to the pitching staff will outweigh the likely drop in offense in the long run.
When Bud Selig and the owners forced Jim Crane and our Astros to the American League it did more than just alienate Astros fans. It changed the overall landscape of the MLB schedule. Unlike previous years, when interleague play took center stage for a few select weeks or weekends during May and June, interleague games are now sprinkled throughout the schedule for the entire season. Ironically, the Astros have yet to play against any of their former leaguemates.
The schedule makers were not too kind to the newest members of the junior circuit. Houston has had one of the toughest schedules in the league thus far and the Astros are one of only four teams that have yet to play an interleague game. That all changes next weekend when every team goes up against their “natural interleague rival” for four games. For the Astros, it is the Colorado Rockies. The two teams will play two games in Houston and then travel to Denver for two more.
Thank goodness there won’t be a DH at Coors Field! That could get ugly in a hurry.