May 2012

Astros try to snap 5-game skid

The Astros will send Bud Norris (5-1) to the mound on Thursday night at Coors Field to try to snap a season-high five-game losing streak and avoid getting swept in four games by the Rockies. The Astros (22-28) are 6-18 on the road.

Norris is 4-0 with a 1.17 ERA in May, leading all Major League starters in ERA for the month.

Here are some Astros tidbits:

— The Astros hadn’t reached double-digit hits in 21 of 22 games before bashing out 41 hits in the first three games of the series against the Rockies. The Astros are hitting .342 as a team with four walks and 22 strikeouts in the first three games of the series against the Rockies. they’ve scored 18 runs and hit four homers.

— The Rockies are hitting .357 as a team against the Astros in the first three games of the series with eight home runs. Astros pitchers are 0-3 with an 8.17 ERA in the first three games of the series.

— The Astros’ bullpen has slipped to fifth in the NL in ERA at 3.22, trailing Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Washington.

— The Astros and Rockies are two of five teams in the NL to have yet to throw a complete game, joining Chicago, Milwaukee and Pittsburgh.

— Astros LF J.D. Martinez is hitting .333 (9-for-27) with one homer and six RBIs in his last seven games.

— Astros RF Brian Bogusevic is hitting .179 (5-for-28) in his last 10 games.

— Tonight will make career game No. 2,000 for Astros 1B Carlos Lee.

— Catcher Jason Castro hitting .253 (18-for-71) in his last 22 starts with four doubles, one triple, one home run and 10 RBIs.

Astros-Rockies preview

The Astros, coming off losing two of three games at the Dodgers, will try to get it going on the road today with a rare doubleheader in Denver against the Rockies. Here are the pitching match-ups:

Monday (Game 1): LHP Wandy Rodriguez (4-4, 2.14) vs. RHP Juan Nicasio (2-2, 4.38)

Monday (Game 2): RHP Jordan Lyles vs. RHP Alex White (1-3, 5.32)

Wednesday: RHP Lucas Harrell (4-3, 3.72) vs. LHP Christian Friedrich (2-1, 5.09)

Thursday: RHP Bud Norris (5-1, 3.14+) vs. RHP Jeremy Guthrie (2-3, 5.31)

  • The Rockies are 11-8 all-time on Memorial Day, the third-best winning percentage in baseball on that day.
  • Over the past two seasons, the Rockies and Astros have combined to score 12 runs per game.
  • The Astros are 9-0 this year when scoring four or more runs. No other team in baseball is undefeated when scoring four or more runs.
  • Rockies starters have averaged 5.4 innings pitched per start this year, which is the worst average in the NL. Only the Royals and Twins are getting less innings out of their starters.
  • To that end, the Rockies have posted a team ERA of 8.22 ERA in the fifth inning of games this year. That’s the worst in the Majors.
  • Jed Lowrie is hitting over .300 with zero or one out this season but hasn’t had the same production when it’s down to the last out of the inning. He’s hitting .309 with zero or one out and .171 with two outs.
  • Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez is one of just four NL players currently leading his team in all three Triple Crown categories. The others are Adam LaRoche of Washington, Andrew McCutchen of Pittsburgh and David Wright of the Mets.
  • Astros pitcher Wandy Rodriguez has put up some impressive numbers in the early innings this season. He has posted a 1.50 ERA in the first three innings of his starts this year.

Astros-Dodgers preview

The Astros (21-23) go for four wins in a row tonight with a tough assignment against Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers, who have the best home record in Major League Baseball. Here are some notes:

  • Los Angeles took the first two games between these teams in 2012, but Houston won the last one, 12-0, on April 22. The 12 runs were the most Houston has ever scored when shutting out the Dodgers.
  • Houston hits the road coming off a successful home stand where it won six of eight games, including the last three. The Astros will be looking to snap their four-game losing skid. They have scored a total of eight runs in those losses.
  • After hitting .254 as a team in April, the Dodgers are at .286 so far this month, which is the second highest in the majors.
  • Lucas Harrell is 3-0 with a 2.31 ERA at home this season, but 0-3 with a 5.60 ERA on the road. He is still looking for his first career road victory (0-4, 5.27 ERA).
  • Clayton Kershaw is allowing 6.13 hits per nine inning spitched this season – tied for sixth lowest among starting pitchers (minimum 3.09 BFP/team G).
  • Elian Herrera’s .346 (9-for-26) average since his MLB debut on May 15 is the third-highest by any rookie in the Majors (minimum 25 at-bats). He enters this weekend with a five-game hitting streak.
  • The Astros have lost the last four games at Dodger Stadium, getting outscored 15-1 in that time. In that span, the Astros have been out-homered 5-0 and have posted a 3.33 ERA, compared to 0.32 for the Dodgers.
  • Both the Astros and Dodgers have shown marked improvement in their win percentage when compared with last season. The Orioles have the biggest improvement in winning percentage from 2011 to 2012 (plus-.196), followed by the Dodgers (plus-.173) and the Astros (plus-.131).
  • The Dodgers are off to one of their best starts through 44 games since moving to Southern California in 1958. With the next chart as a barometer, there’s a pretty good chance Los Angeles will win the NL West – not to mention reach the World Series. The Dodgers’ best record through 44 games is 33-11, done five times in franchise history: 1888 (Brooklyn Trolley Dodgers), 1899 (Brooklyn Superbas), 1952, 1955 and 1977.
  • Lucas Harrell will be facing the Dodgers for the first time tonight, hoping that his defense can play a little better behind him than it has thus far in 2012. Harrell has allowed seven unearned runs, which is the most among NL pitchers. Dodgers pitchers Chad Billingsley and Ted Lilly have each allowed six unearned runs. The Astros have committed at least one error in each of Harrell’s last six starts.
  • Astros shortstop Jed Lowrie has committed four errors this year, all with Lucas Harrell on the mound.
  • We may see more than a few hits by Carlos Lee in this series with the way he’s batted on the road over the last five-plus weeks. He’s hitting .410 on the road since April 19, which is the third-highest in the Majors in that span (minimum 40 plate appearances).
  • Lee strikes out every 19.1 plate appearances, which is the best ratio in the Major Leagues. Second is Marco Scutaro (16.3). Lee has struck out just nine times this season.
  • The pitcher most likely to retire Lee in this series (strikeout or not) will be on the hill for the Dodgers in Game 1. Clayton Kershaw has been the NL’s best pitcher since the beginning of last season – especially when taking the mound at Dodger Stadium. He ranks first at home in the Majors in wins (15), ERA (1.67) and opponents’ batting average (.191) since the start of the 2011 season. Kershaw is 2-0 with a 0.60 ERA in two career starts vs. the Astros at Dodger Stadium.

Lee, Martinez talk about win over Cubs

Here is Astros first baseman Carlos Lee and left fielder J.D. Martinez reacting to Wednesday’s win

Biggio enjoying role with the Astros

Craig Biggio, the Astros’ all-time hits leader who’s eligible for Hall of Fame induction next year, said Wednesday he’s looking forward to continuing his role with the organization as a special adviser to general manager Jeff Luhnow.

Astros owner Jim Crane told KRIV-TV in Houston on Wednesday he had completed a deal with Biggio to keep the long-time Astros star in the organization. Biggio has served as a special assistant to the GM since retiring following the 2007 season.

“What we’re doing now is the same thing we were doing before, getting out to the Minor Leagues and seeing the kids a little bit and at the beginning of the year going to Spring Training and getting to as many Astros games as I can and just try to be around as much as possible and lend a hand whenever it’s possible,” Biggio told from Florida. “This is something we’ve been doing for the last four years.”

In addition to his duties with the Astros, Biggio is the head baseball coach at St. Thomas High School in Houston and has won two private school state titles. When he’s not coaching the kids, he’s been visible around the ballpark.

“I get the opportunity to get to at least half the games, and whenever they’re on the road you watch the games and you go out to the Minor Leagues whenever you can,” Biggio said. “When you’re around you see things, and when something needs to be said you pass it along. It’s fun and it’s part of the deal. We’ve got a lot of coaches in place and the more good people you have in the organization, the better.”

Crane hopes to keep former Astros star Jeff Bagwell in a similar role.

Schafer returns as Astros battle Cubs

The Astros try to make it two in a row over the Cubs tonight at Minute Maid Park. Here is the Astros’ lineup, which includes the return of Jordan Schafer:

2B Jose Altuve

SS Jed Lowrie

RF Justin Maxwell

1B Carlos Lee

LF J.D. Martinez

3B Chris Johnson

C Chris Snyder

CF Jordan Schafer

LHP J.A. Happ

Astros sign Armando Galarraga

Armando Galarraga, the pitcher who was denied a perfect game two years ago when umpire Jim Joyce missed a call at first base that would have been the final out, has signed a Minor League contract with the Astros, general manager Jeff Luhnow said Monday.

Galarraga, 30, will help the Astros fill a rotation spot at Triple-A Oklahoma City, which has a need for a starter after Henry Sosa agreed to pitch in Korea. Galarraga has appeared in 95 career Major League games with the Rangers, Tigers and Diamondbacks, going 26-39 with a 4.69 ERA. He was released by the Orioles in April.

Luhnow said Galarraga will throw a couple of bullpen sessions in Kissimmee, Fla., before joining the RedHawks.

“We’ve got to watch him throw,” Luhnow said. “I think [Tuesday] he’s scheduled to throw for the first time, and if that goes well he’ll face some hitters and then go out and pitch.”

On June 2, 2010, Galarraga pitched 8 2/3 perfect innings against the Indians and appeared to record the 27th consecutive out when Jason Donald hit a ground ball to first baseman Miguel Cabrera, who flipped the ball to Galarraga covering first. Joyce incorrectly called Donald safe, costing him a perfect game. He settled for a one-hitter.

Joyce later apologized to Galarraga for missing the call.

Galarraga went 4-9 with a 4.49 ERA in 25 games (24 starts) for the Tigers in 2010, winning only two starts following near-perfect game. He was eventually traded the Diamondbacks and went 3-4 with a 5.91 ERA in eight starts.

Astros open series against Cubs

The Astros, who lost two of three games to the Texas Rangers over the weekend, will give the ball to Bud Norris to night in the first game of a three-game series against the Cubs at Minute Maid Park. Matt Garza will pitch for Chicago.

Here are some pre-series tidbits:

  • Houston lost, 6-1, to the Rangers on Sunday and has now scored one or fewer runs six times already this month – tied for most in the majors. Despite their 18-23 record, the Astros have outscored opponents 167-164 overall in 2012.
  • The Cubs and Astros are meeting for the first time of the season. Chicago and Houston met six times at Minute Maid Park in 2011 and each club won three of those contests.
  • The Astros have won their last eight games in which they have scored four or more runs. That’s the third active longest winning streak among teams that have scored four or more runs in consecutive victories.
  • Astros starters have pitched at least five innings in each of their last 34 games, which is the second-longest streak in the Majors this year (Padres have gone 35 games in a row).
  • The Cubs have recorded a double in each of their 17 road games this season. That’s the team’s second-longest streak (2000) since 1921.
  • Cubs outfielder Bryan LaHair is one of two players accounting for more than a third of his team’s home runs this year. LaHair has 10 of the Cubs’ 29 homers (34.5 percent), which trails only Matt Kemp of the Dodgers, who has hit 12 of the Dodgers’ 33 home runs (36.4 percent).
  • Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro will be playing in his 325th  career game and is just two hits away from reaching 400 for his career, putting him in some elite company in recent years. Since 1980, the only players to reach 400 hits in 325 or fewer games are Alex Rodriguez (325), Wade Boggs (324), Hanley Ramirez (317), Kirby Puckett (310), Nomar Garciaparra (302) and Ichiro Suzuki (268).
  • Starlin Castro has a 10-game hitting streak at Minute Maid Park, the second-longest active streak by any visiting player (Joey Votto, 18).
  • Cubs starter Matt Garza has been nearly impossible to hit this season with two strikes. He’s holding opponents to a 0.99 batting average with two strikes this year.
  • Astros starter Bud Norris has a 0.47 ERA in May after posting a 5.46 ERA in April, which is a 4.99 improvement. The only player who has improved more from April to May is Seattle’s Hector Noesi (8.83 ERA to 3.46 ERA).
  • The Cubs were shut out for the first time this season, 6-0, by the White Sox on Sunday and have now lost six straight games for the second time in 2012 (also April 14-20). The only two National League clubs that have not been blanked at least once this season are San Francisco and Arizona.
  • Matt Garza is 1-0 with a 1.75 ERA in his last four starts and will be facing the Astros for the fifth time in his career tonight (0-2, 3.00 ERA in first four outings). Garza is 5-6 with a 4.41 ERA in 17 road starts since joining the Cubs in 2011.
  • Bud Norris is 3-0 in May and is looking to record a victory in four straight starts for the first time in his career tonight. Norris (2-2, 2.31 ERA in four career starts vs. Cubs) has a 0.47 ERA this month – best of any pitcher in the majors with at least two starts in May.
  • Astros first baseman Carlos Lee went 1-for-3 on Sunday and is now batting .341 (28-for-82) since April 23 overall. Lee has 38 career homers vs. the Cubs – third most of any active player (Pujols – 53, Dunn – 43).

Astros get big test against Rangers

Coming off a two-game sweep of the Brewers, the Astros open Interleague Play tonight at Minute Maid Park against the high-flying Texas Rangers, who lead the American League West with a 24-15 record. The Rangers have dominated the Astros in recent years, going 14-4 against the Astros from 2009-11. The Astros haven’t won the Silver Boot since going 4-2 against the Rangers in 2006.

Here is the Astros’ lineup:

CF Jordan Schafer

2B Jose Altuve

LF J.D. Martinez

1B Carlos Lee

SS Jed Lowrie

RF Brian Bogusevic

3B Chris Johnson

C Jason Castro

P Wandy Rodriguez

Here are the pitching matchups:

Fri., 7:05 p.m.LHP Wandy Rodriguez (3-3, 1.99) vs. RHP Neftali Feliz (3-1, 3.32)
Sat., 6:15 p.m.RHP Lucas Harrell (2-3, 4.40) vs. LHP Derek Holland (3-2, 3.78)
Sun., 1:05 p.m.RHP Jordan Lyles (0-0, 3.00) vs. RHP Colby Lewis (3-3, 3.63)

Here are some fun facts:

  • With the Astros’ pending move to the American League in 2013, this will be the final season these teams will meet in Interleague Play. Since they first met in 2001, no Interleague series has featured more games. And the Rangers-Astros clash is the only one below that doesn’t feature cross-town (or cross-bay) rivals:

Angels vs. Dodgers, 66 (41-25)

Yankees vs. Mets, 66 (38-28)

Rangers vs. Astros, 66 (37-29)

White Sox vs. Cubs, 66 (36-30)

Athletics vs. Giants, 66 (35-31)

  • The Astros were 78-71 overall in Interleague Play from 1997-2006, but are just 29-52 against the American League since. Conversely, the Rangers were 82-94 in Interleague Play between 1997-06 and have gone 53-37 against the National League since.
  • The Rangers have won 14 of the last 18 meetings between the two Texas teams after going 23-25 against Houston through the 2008 season.
  • Astros second baseman Jose Altuve comes up empty only once in every 13 pitches he swings at, which is the second-best ratio in the league behind Marco Scutaro (16.6). The Major League average is 4.6 misses per every swing.
  • With a home run Wednesday, Astros first baseman Carlos Lee has as many extra-base hits as strikeouts (9) in 2012. He’s one of the few Astros in team history with a positive differential overall (plus-25). Jesus Alou was a plus-21 and Moises Alou was a plus-7.
  • The Astros have averaged more than two runs per game higher when Brian Bogusevic has started in right field. The team is 15-13 and averaging 4.75 runs per game when Bogusevic starts in right and 2-8 and averaging 2.6 runs when anyone else starts in right.
  • Through his first eight starts of 2012, Astros ace Wandy Rodriguez has been much more efficient than he was last year, averaging two and a half fewer pitches per inning. He threw 16.5 pitches per inning in 2011, which ranked 77th among 94 qualifiers. This year, he’s averaging 13.9 pitches per inning, which ranks fourth among 118 qualifiers.
  • Rangers slugger Adrian Beltre is hitting .358 with 20 runs, eight doubles, seven homers and 22 RBIs in wins and batting .162 with one RBI in losses.
  • Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus, who doesn’t turn 24 until Aug. 26, has exactly 100 more career hits than any other player who is currently 23 or younger. Andrus has 496 career hits. Next on the list are Starlin Castro (396), Jason Heyward (266) and Giancarlo Stanton (266).
  • As you might suspect from someone who is making the transition from closer to starter, Rangers starter Neftali Feliz has tended to be at his best early in his outings. Opponents are hitting .121 against him on pitches 1-45 and .240 against him on pitches 46-plus.

Astros’ lineup Thursday vs. Brewers

Here is the Astros’ lineup for Thursdy’s game against Brewers:

CF Jordan Schafer

2B Jose Altuve

LF J.D. Martinez

1B Carlos Lee

SS Jed Lowrie

RF Brian Bogusevic

3B Chris Johnson

C Chris Snyder

P J.A. Happ