Astros Series Preview: Astros County

Believe your eyes — it’s a series preview. We haven’t had one of these since June 25 when the Blue Jays were “in town”. I caught up with James from Astros County to find out what to expect out of this four-game series against a bunch of former Phillies. I’ve also answered some questions, the answers to which you can find over on Houston’s side by clicking here.

. . .

1. The Astros have a plethora of former Phillies on the roster: Pedro Feliz, Michael Bourn, Jason Michaels, Brett Myers, J.A. Happ, and Nelson Figueroa. Is this just a coincidence or does Ed Wade (a former Phillies employee himself) fetishize those red pinstripes? When Pat Gillick was GM here in Philly, it seemed like he dealt with the Seattle Mariners often as it was one of his former teams.

It certainly seems like it happens so often that it’s not exactly a coincidence, doesn’t it? I think there’s a familiarity with the Phillies’ system that Wade values (and Gillick, from what it sounds like – I had never noticed that) – right or wrong. The thing about Wade is that he gets lambasted from pretty much every corner, and I don’t know where the disconnect is, but a large majority, and we’re talking 80-90%, of Astros County readers approve of the job Ed Wade is doing. It could be that the previous GM was so awful that anything is an upgrade, but if you look at the players you mentioned, with the exception of Pedro Feliz, they’ve paid off in the roles given them. Michaels is an effective bat off the bench, Happ has done well in five starts, Figueroa is alright. We’re still trying to figure out which Bourn is for real, but he plays great defense and can steal bases. Feliz was a nightmare, but four out of five (too early on Figueroa) have worked out. If he had signed Mickey Morandini and Von Hayes, we might sing a different tune.

2. How’s life without Roy Oswalt? (You will not see him in this series, unfortunately.)

It’s alright. From the point in May where he hinted that he wanted to be traded to the the week leading up to the Philly deal, he burned a lot of bridges with Astros fans. In retrospect, it seems like his agent (Bob Garber) was pulling a lot of those strings and making the demands about the 2012 option. For a long time, Roy was my favorite Astro – just kept his head down, pitched with intensity, didn’t make a whole lot of noise, and was one of the best pitchers in the NL. How he – or his agent – handled that trade pissed a lot of us off, and it got to the point where it was necessary to trade him. I take a small amount of childish satisfaction in that he didn’t set the franchise record for wins. Happ has done a good job – throwing quality starts in four of his five starts – and Myers is basically our ace now. Oswalt’s departure, along with Berkman’s, signified the end of an era for the Astros, but both parties had to move on.

3. Brett Myers was recently signed to a two-year, $23 million contract extension with a $10 million club option for 2013. Do you think this was a good move for the Astros?

That’s the big question, isn’t it? It’s too soon to tell, really. He’s set a franchise record for most consecutive starts of 18+ outs, but this is the type of performance that I’m guessing Amaro wasn’t counting on in the offseason. All of his peripherals are, or are close to, career-bests. So if this is the real Brett Myers, yeah, it was a good move. We’re all just kind of waiting to see if Ed Wade fell into the Contract Year trap.

4. For a while, the Astro offense was dreadful. Since July 19, however, they’ve averaged 5.4 runs per game (140 R in 26 G). What is the biggest reason for the turnaround?

The easy, and most obvious answer is that this is the period Jeff Bagwell took over as hitting coach. It’s always hard to tell the impact a hitting coach has, but if you’re Hunter Pence or Michael Bourn (or Jason Castro, Brett Wallace, Chris Johnson, etc), and Jeff Bagwell comes over and talks about your mechanics, you’re probably going to be more likely to pay attention. Nothing against Sean Berry, but I imagine Bagwell carries more weight in the clubhouse. The other answer is that the Astros actually do have players with a track record of success. Carlos Lee, before this season, was a .290-.300 hitter who could provide 25HR and 100RBI. Hunter Pence is a solid player in his 4th season, and it looks like Chris Johnson could be an impact bat at third base. It’s hard to keep up the Astros’ level of futility for an entire season, so it could just be an aggression to the mean (and only an Astros fan thinks about playing up to replacement level.) Or Oswalt and Berkman were a negative presence in the clubhouse, and once they were gone, younger players who were actually happy to play for Houston provided a spark.

5. Similarly, Wandy Rodriguez pitched horribly through his first 14 starts (6.09 ERA). In his last ten starts, he has looked markedly better (1.74 ERA). Was his problem mechanical/mental/pitch selection, or was it just a case of regression to the mean?

It’s a combination of things. In his first 14 starts, he was throwing strikes 60% of the time, with a .359 BABIP. In his last ten starts, however, his BABIP has dropped to .260, and he’s throwing 65% of his pitches for strikes. So I think he was pretty unlucky in the first half of the season, and he’s coming back to where he normally sits – as a solid #2/#3 pitcher. However, at the beginning of the season, heading into Opening Day, he did have a little crisis in confidence, where he actually said that he didn’t feel ready for the season to start. I don’t know if it just took him that long to get comfortable, or if he just remembered how to pitch. Those first 14 starts, though, were brutal.

6. Strife in the ‘stros’ ‘pen: Is Lindstrom’s demotion and Lyon’s promotion temporary?

Lindstrom was just put on the DL with a bad back, so it’s temporarily permanent. Given the way that Lindstrom was losing games and blowing saves (as hair-pulling as it can possibly be for a closer to blow a save for a team 15 games under .500), the job is probably Lyon’s for a while, even after Lindstrom comes off the DL. Lindstrom was doing so well (11ER in 40 games) that he was able to stave off the Starting Quarterback Syndrome, in which the highest-paid QB starts, but we pretty much knew that, at the first run of rough games, Lyon and his $4.5m salary would take over.

BONUS: Play the role of Nostradamus and tell us how you see this series playing out. The pitching match-ups are: Myers-Blanton, Norris-Hamels, Happ-Halladay, and Rodriguez-Kendrick.

Seeing as how this is something of a lost/rebuilding season, I generally haven’t given much thought to the opposing starting pitcher since about the middle of April, but it’s possible for the Astros to split this series. Myers will get his chance to stick it to the Phillies, which he’s been foaming like a Sam Adams to do since he was left off the playoff roster last year. Norris is a complete enigma, though he has been much better lately. Since the All-Star Break, Norris has a 4.15 ERA and a 43K:14BB (of course, 14 of those strikeouts came at the hands of the Pirates two starts ago), but his OPS-against is 50 points higher on the road than at home. Playing against Halladay is like trying to beat the computer in chess, but it will be interesting to see how Happ does against his former team, and I think Wandy Rodriguez could get it done against Kendrick. A split would be a win for us, but if I’m Pete Rose, I’m betting the Phillies take three games, given how miserable the Astros are on the road.

. . .

Thanks to James from Astros County for providing some insight into the upcoming series. I’m surprised that Oswalt left Houston with acrimony but it does make sense — it reminds me a bit of the end to the Scott Rolen era here in Philly. Also, if you had said to me that Brett Myers would be considered the Astros’ ace in August, I’d have laughed at you. Finally, I’m flabbergasted that Ed Wade earned positive regards from Astros County readers. As I mention in my answers over there, Wade was at the helm when a bulk of the Phillies’ present core was drafted but it’s hard to tell how much of it was his doing. I tend to credit Mike Arbuckle more than anyone else. I also wrote, after the Oswalt trade, that Wade was swindled having only received Happ, Anthony Gose, and Jonathan Villar in return. Most Phillies fans were nervous about giving up Jonthan Singleton and/or someone like Trevor May.

Since most of my readers are Phillies fans, let’s make this a discussion topic: What grade does Ed Wade get for his time in Philadelphia? How much credit does he get for Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, et. al.?

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  1. Phylan

    August 23, 2010 10:44 AM

    Featured in this article: An Astros fan blames a great player for wanting to leave the 2010 Houston Astros.

  2. Aaron H

    August 23, 2010 11:22 AM

    Great stuff again, Bill, and I’m glad these things are back. Hope you get to do another one for the Braves series, but we might be foaming at the mouth too much by that point to have a rational Q&A on it.

  3. illrhyme

    August 23, 2010 01:01 PM

    I think Ed is capable of making a winning team, but his moves and FA selections have been always doubtful(David Bell, Kevin Millwood, Eric Milton, Jon Lieber, etc…). it’s not hard to find an example of his trade move. He got nothing for sending one of league’s best hitter, Bobby Abreu, and a solid pitcher(Cory Lidle). In addition that, He was almost about to trade Howard or Utley/and Mason for Tim Hudson. he didn’t do it which turned out fortunate one for us. that little hesitation may make his ability of keeping prospect look good. I think He just doesn’t have guts to do something.

  4. Mratfink

    August 23, 2010 02:19 PM

    I think Wade deserves more credit than he gets from most phillies fans. I mean i believe Arbuckle was the brains behind the draft success but it is the GM’s job to put someone in place and trust them to do their job. You hear a lot about GMs elsewhere overriding their scouting directors and saying we are taking this guy and if Arbuckle was so good it was only because Wade was secure enough in himself to trust Arbuckle. that said he does seem to make horrific trades.

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