May 2010

Astros lineup Friday vs. Rays

It’s time for Interleague Play. The Astros open a three-game series tonight at Minute Maid Park — where the roof is closed, by the way — against the Tampa Bay Rays, the team with the best record in baseball. Brett Myers (2-3, 3.67 ERA), whose only previous appearances against the Rays came in the 2008 World Series with Philadelphia, pitches for the Astros against right-hander Matt Garza (5-1, 2.38 ERA).

By the way, the Astros are 100-100 in Interleague Play, including 6-9 last year.

Here’s the lineup for the Astros:

CF Michael Bourn

2B Jeff Keppinger

1B Lance Berkman

LF Carlos Lee

RF Hunter Pence

3B Pedro Feliz

SS Tommy Manzella

C Kevin Cash

P Brett Myers

Roy O is taking on new meaning

Remember last year when Roy Oswalt‘s biggest problem was a club-record 16 no-decisions? Those were the good times.

The lack of run support for Oswalt this season has been nothing short of shocking. Oswalt has given the Astros nine quality starts out of the chute and is stuck with a 2-6 record despite a 2.66 ERA that’s among the best in the league. Sure, Oswalt has started games against Tim Lincecum (twice), Roy Halladay and Ubaldo Jimenez, but there was also a Bronson Arroyo and Ian Kennedy in the mix.

Considering the Astros are last in the NL in nearly every major offensive category, the abysmal run support shouldn’t be surprising. Still, it’s even more egregious when Oswalt is on the mound. The Astros have scored four runs in 39 innings this year in Oswalt’s six losses and have been shut out in two of his nine starts and held to two runs or fewer four other times.

Oswalt, who expressed some frustration last week in San Francisco after giving up two runs in seven innings in his second loss of the season to Lincecum, said all the right things after getting beat by Jimenez and the Rockies on Thursday. But no one summed up Oswalt’s plight better than teammate Michael Bourn.

“You feel for somebody like that, who’s going out there and throwing hard and has been putting in all the work and not saying anything about it, but you know it hurts,” Bourn said. “I would be hurt if I were the ace and we weren’t getting any runs behind him.

“He’s got all the right to be mad if he wants to. He deserves to win. He should be 5-1, 6-1, easily, just like Lincecum and Halladay. We’ve just got to put up some runs for him. You give him a comfortable lead, two or three runs, and he doesn’t have to be as fine. He doesn’t think he has to do this and do that and can just go out there and pitch.”

Oswalt’s next start should come Wednesday at Milwaukee against left-hander Chris Narveson, who’s got twice as many wins as Oswalt and double the ERA. Sometimes life — and baseball — isn’t fair.

 

Astros lineup Thursday vs. Rockies

The Astros begin the post-Kaz Matsui era tonight at Minute Maid Park in the finale of the two-game series against the Rockies. And it won’t be easy. The Rockies are throwing NL Cy Young contender Ubaldo Jimenez. The Astros will get Tampa Bay Rays, the team with the best record in the Majors, this weekend at Minute Maid Park, so the next four days will be challenging.

For Astros starter Roy Oswalt, it’s just another game against another ace. Oswalt has lost three consecutive decisions in his previous four starts despite pitching well. He held the Giants to six hits and two runs and struck out seven batters in eight innings Saturday in San Francisco but was outdueled by Tim Lincecum for the second time this year (he has also lost to Roy Halladay).

In Oswalt’s five losses this year, the Astros have scored four runs in the 33 innings he’s been on the mound. He’s dominated the Rockies in his career, going 7-1 with a 1.78 ERA in 10 starts. Oswalt faced the Rockies once last year and held them to six hits and one run and struck out eight batters in seven innings to get a win. He’s five wins away from tying Joe Niekro‘s club record of 144.

For some reason, the roof is open tonight despite temperatures around 90 degrees. Anyway, here’s the lineup for Astros manager Brad Mills:

CF Michael Bourn

2B Jeff Keppinger

1B Lance Berkman

LF Carlos Lee

RF Hunter Pence

3B Pedro Feliz

SS Tommy Manzella

C Humberto Quintero

RHP Roy Oswalt

 

Closer look at Ubaldo Jimenez

My colleague, Thomas Harding, has a great piece about Rockies pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez, an early NL Cy Young contender who will start tonight against the Astros.

Click here for story:

http://houston.astros.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20100519&content_id=10196378&vkey=news_mlb&fext=.jsp&c_id=mlb

Keppinger gets shot in wake of Matsui departure

Jeff Keppinger is the Astros’ starting second baseman. In all honesty, Keppinger had been the starter after the first week of the season, but he had been pretty much splitting playing time with Kaz Matsui. Keppinger made his 21st start of the season at second base Wednesday, the day Matsui was given his walking papers after a terrible start at the plate.

Keppinger isn’t going to make anyone forget Craig Biggio. He has no power, but he’s a reliable and dependable player who doesn’t strike out much at all and gets the most out of his at-bats. He went 3-for-5 on Wednesday with two doubles and four RBIs and relishes hitting behind the speedy Michael Bourn and getting all those fastballs from pitchers who are afraid of Bourn’s speed.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Keppinger said of the chance for more starts at second. “That’s why I’m here. I’ve always looked at myself as a second baseman and I’ve always tried to be able to be a starter. I don’t know if they’ve named me a starter or what, but they keep running me out there and batting me in the two hole. That’s fine with me.”

Defensively, Keppinger isn’t flashy. He’s going to make the routine plays and every now and then get himself on a highlight reel. He’s a low-key, no-frills player whom his teammates love because he plays the game hard and without fanfare.

“The name of the game when you’re hitting is to hit the ball,” Keppinger said. “All I try to do put the barrel on it and put it in play and from there you can’t control much else. If you hit a ball hard and you hit it at them, you’re out. That’s going to happen a lot.

“But the more times you put the ball in play, the more chances you have of getting a hit. In the field, I’m just trying to catch the ball and I’ll figure out what to do with it after that.”

Keppinger isn’t the long-term answer at second, but he’s certainly earned a shot now that Matsui is out of the picture. Matsui, although the utmost professional, will be viewed as a huge bust in Houston after signing a three-year $16.5-deal to replace Biggio.

Matsui played well in 2008 but couldn’t stay on the field. He played a career-high 132 games in 2009, but didn’t play well. This year, he just looked like he was washed up.

So the Astros eat the rest of his contract and move on. They’ve called 25-year-old infielder Oswaldo Navarro, who can give them some more versatility off the bench, which is important considering Keppinger will be in the lineup for the immediate future.

Tough road ahead for Astros

Had the Astros found a way to win Tuesday’s series finale in Los Angeles, they would have been coming home from a 4-4 road trip, which wouldn’t have been too bad. But in reality, there are few positives to take away from a 3-5 road trip that ended with five consecutive losses.

The Astros are 13-26 and on a pace to go 54-108, which would easily be the worst season in their history. There are still three-fourths of the season to go, and a lot can and will happen between now and then. But as you look at the immediate schedule, things aren’t going to get easier for the Astros.

The Rockies will throw NL Cy Young contender Ubadlo Jimenez are them on Thursday, and then the Rays — the best team in baseball — invade Minute Maid Park this weekend and will throw three starters who are a combined 14-2. The Astros are last in the Majors in nearly every offensive category, which makes the upcoming pitching matchups even more disheartening.

Here are the pitchers the Astros are going to face the during this weekend’s home stand:

Wednesday — LHP Greg Smith (1-2, 6.35 ERA): Smith accepted reassignment to the bullpen last week, but before he makes his first appearance as a reliever, he’s got one more task to attend to: Another start. Thanks to Colorado’s rotation being thrown off by Friday’s rainout and subsequent doubleheader on Saturday against Washington, manager Jim Tracy announced Smith would start this game at Houston. Smith has started seven games for Colorado this season and has a 1-2 record and a 6.35 ERA. In his last start, on May 10, the lefty went 5 2/3 innings against San Diego, allowing eight hits and four earned runs, while striking out six and walking four. Wednesday will mark his first career appearance against the Astros.

Thursday — RHP Ubaldo Jimenez (7-1, 1.12 ERA): He offered another brilliant outing against the Nationals on Saturday, silencing their bats for eight innings while yielding two runs on seven hits and a walk and striking out five. He paid for a couple mistakes, including hanging a split-finger fastball to Adam Dunn, who sent it 442 feet into the third deck at Coors Field for the first home run Jimenez has given up all season. He was efficient with his pitches, throwing 115, including 70 for strikes, and kept a tight game in hand, only trailing after giving up a first-inning run, then shutting down the Nats until the Dunn solo shot. Jimenez set the tone for the Rockies to sweep their first doubleheader since September 2007, a game into their 21-of-22 win stretch that catapulted the club to its first World Series appearance.

Friday — RHP Matt Garza (5-1, 2.38 ERA): Garza will make his ninth start of the season against Houston. Garza only gave up five hits, two walks and one run over six innings in his last start, but he didn’t have his best stuff while earning a no-decision against the Mariners on Sunday. His fastball command was a little off, and he admittedly struggled to find the strike zone at times, throwing just 56 of his 106 pitches for strikes. Still, he battled through six innings, benefited from excellent defensive play behind him and kept his team around long enough to win. Friday will be the Rays’ first Interleague game, and Garza will face the Astros for just the second time in his four-year Major League career — and his first time against them away from Tropicana Field. The 26-year-old has gone eight or more innings in four of his starts, allowed one earned run or less in five, given up two runs or fewer in six of them and will hope for more of the same in Houston.

Saturday — RHP Jeff Niemann (3-0, 2.54 ERA): The Houston native and former Rice University ace will make his first Major League start in Houston. The 6-foot-9 right-hander has worked into the seventh inning for quality starts in seven straight appearances and in all but one of his starts — the sole exception being his injury-shortened first start of the season against Baltimore. He gave up a season-high 10 hits Monday night in a 4-3 win over the Indians, who scored three runs off Niemann. He admitted he wasn’t as sharp as he could have been against Cleveland, but Tampa Bay’s defense and bullpen helped make up for the starter’s second-shortest outing of the season. Niemann has never faced the Astros in his short career, and this will be his fourth start in Interleague Play. He has recorded a win and two no-decisions in his previous outings, none of which went longer than six innings, but he did not allow more than three runs in any of them.

Sunday — LHP David Price (6-1, 1.81): Price will take on the Astros in his ninth start of the season after another impressive outing against the Indians on Tuesday. The American League’s first six-game winner pitched six innings, scattered four hits, walked three, struck out five and gave up just one unearned run. He likely could have gone deeper into the game, but manager Joe Maddon has been limiting his starters to around 100 pitches. The left-hander had great control of his fastball against Cleveland, and he threw 65 of his 97 pitches for strikes. Price’s first career start against Houston will be his fourth in Interleague Play. He is 1-2 in those outings and allowed five earned runs in two of the three starts — both losses.

Astros lineup Sunday vs. Giants

The Astros try to salvage the final game of their three-game series in San Francisco when they face the Giants this afternoon. Houston will once again have a challenging pitching matchup, with left-hander Barry Zito (5-1, 1,90 ERA) on the mound. Brett Myers (2-2, 3.52 ERA) will pitch for the Astros.

Astros manager Brad Mills has Jeff Keppinger at the top of the lineup, giving Michael Bourn a day off. This is the Astros’ first game against a left-handed starter since April 23. Jason Michaels is starting in center field and hitting second.

Here are the lineups:

ASTROS

2B Jeff Keppinger

CF Jason Michaels

1B Lance Berkman

LF Carlos Lee

RF Hunter Pence

3B Pedro Feliz

SS Tommy Manzella

C Kevin Cash

RHP Brett Myers

GIANTS

CF Aaron Rowand

LF Andres Torres

3B Pablo Sandoval

C Bengie Molina

1B Aubrey Huff

SS Juan Uribe

RF Nate Schierholtz

2B Matt Downs

LHP Barry Zito

Frustrations abound with Astros

The Astros had just swept the division-leading Cardinals in St. Louis and had themselves within 6 1/2 games of first place. Life was not good, but it was certainly as good as it could be for a team that endured two eight-game losing streaks in the first five weeks of the season.

But San Francisco has been nothing short of a nightmare for the Astros in recent years. They were crushed 22-0 in their first two games by the Bay last year and suffered an 8-2 loss in Friday’s series opener. Saturday’s game, which the Astros lost 2-1, brought out even more frustration.

They were 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position and stranded 10 runners, including leaving the bases loaded in the ninth.

The big story was Roy Oswalt. He pitched his eighth consecutive quality start to begin the season, holding the Giants to six hits and two runs on a two-run homer. Of course, he was outdueled by Giants ace Tim Lincecum, who allowed four hits, five walks and one run in eight innings.

Oswalt was clearly upset about the lack of run support.

“I knew I needed to probably throw a shutout, you know, maybe we can get one [run],” he said. “A pitch backed up on me on a slider. I was trying to go down and away, and it backed up over the plate.”

Teammate Lance Berkman was asked point-blankly what he thought of Oswalt’s comments about the lack of run support: “We’re a team, you know what I’m saying?” he said. “As much as you want to cry for a guy not getting run support, it’s a team game. We win as a team, we lose as a team, and we lost today. I certainly understand his frustration, but it’s not like we’re not trying. We’re out there grinding them out and trying to score some runs, and it hasn’t happened.”

And with that, the 13-23 Astros will try to beat Barry Zito, who’s 5-1 with a 1.90 ERA, in Sunday’s series finale.

Astros lineup Saturday vs. Giants

The Astros, who lost to the Giants 8-2 on Friday night, will battle San Francisco again at 3:10 p.m. today in a terrific pitching match-up between Roy Oswalt and Tim Lincecum. Oswalt is 2-4 with a 2.63 ERA, but has seven quality starts. Lincecum, who beat Oswalt on Opening Day, is 4-0 with a 1.86 ERA.

Oswalt is the only pitcher with seven quality starts in all seven of his outings. It’s the most quality starts to begin a season for an Astros starter since Roger Clemens began the 2005 season with nine. He has received the second-lowest run support in the NL at 2.44 runs. Teammate Felipe Paulino has received the lowest run support.

Oswalt was great at AT&T Park last year, alowing one run on three hits in eight innings to rescue the Astros after they had been outscored 22-0 in the first two games of the series. He’s 5-6 in his career against San Francisco.

The Astros didn’t have Lance Berkman in the lineup when they lost to the Giants on Opening Day, and Berkman is on fire. He’s 9-for-18 with five runs scored, four walks, three doubles, two homers and five RBIs in his last five games, and Hunter Pence has also caught fire. He has a six-game hiting streak (.440) and has homers in four of his last five games. He’s hitting .333 in his last 17 games.

Here’s the Astros’ lineup:

CF Michael Bourn

2B Kaz Matsui

1B Lance Berkman

LF Carlos Lee

RF Hunter Pence

3B Pedro Feliz

C Humberto Quintero

SS Tommy Manzella

P Roy Oswalt

Astros lineup Friday vs. Giants

It’s a typical chilly Friday night at AT&T Park, where the red-hot Astros open a three-game series tonight against the Giants. Felipe Paulino (0-5, 4.67), coming off one of his best starts, pitches against right-hander Todd Wellemeyer (1-3, 5.97 ERA).

Astros manager Brad Mills said he would like to stay away from using closer Matt Lindstrom, who saved all three wins in St. Louis. Brandon Lyon will likely get his first opportunity to close a game with the Astros if the situation presents itself.

Here are the lineups:

ASTROS

CF Michael Bourn (l)

2B Jeff Keppinger

1B Lance Berkman (s)

LF Carlos Lee

RF Hunter Pence

3B Pedro Feliz

SS Tommy Manzella

C Kevin Cash

RHP Felipe Paulino

GIANTS

CF Aaron Rowand

LF Andres Torres (s)

3B Pablo Sandoval (s)

C Bengie Molina

1B Aubrey Huff (l)

SS Juan Uribe

RF Nate Schierholtz (l)

2B Matt Downs

RHP Todd Wellemery

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