Since moving to the new ballpark the Astros have never lost an opening series. They’ve had losing seasons (2000) and missed the playoffs (2002, 2003, 2006), but never have they been 0-3 to start the season. Of course, they’ve never won the world series either, so this is new turf they tread on this year.
The Good News: The positives I saw in this opening series against the Pirates are that Oswalt is still Oswalt, Pettitte won’t be missed as Jennings is a legit #2. Scott and Lane are hitting well and Burke is showing that his miserable spring training batting stats won’t carry over into the regular season. The Astros made the right decision with giving Rick White a spot in the bullpen–he will be this year’s Russ Springer.
Here are the negatives: The offense is still anemic and can’t score more than 2 or 3 runs. They have got to do better than that to win the NL Central. Berkman and Lee will come around, but will Ensberg? The Astros need Mo’s bat to be closer to 2005 than 2006 if they are to succeed.
Williams had problems getting out of the 4th inning, but maybe that was due to excess adrenalin of his first start for his hometown team. Lidge 2006 returned on opening day and infected Qualls and Wheeler too. Uncharacteristic errors by Adam Everett and Burke’s lack of experience in the outfield highlighted the Astros defensive woes.
Question marks remain and will need to be answered if the Astros are to reclaim the NL Central crown from the Cardinals. Sampson looked good in relief, but how will he do in his first start? Wandy, oh Wandy…will you get beat up by the Cardinals tonight? Were the blown leads by the bullpen a fluke and they all just got out their bad outings early? When will Trever Miller get in a game? Can Biggio get his 3000th hit by the middle of June and therefore be relegated to the bench? Will Burke’s bat offset his defense in centerfield or will we be rueing the Taveras trade? Will Brandon Backe be able to defy common wisdom and rejoin the club after the all star break–cutting short the recovery time from the traditional 12-18 months to a mere nine? Will Roger Clemens make a dramatic entrance on his white horse in June?
A wee bit of satisfaction: The Jennings trade might work out better for the Astros than the Rockies after all. I know, I know, it’s only been 3 games and there are 159 more to go–but, it is interesting to see that Taylor Buchholz got lit up in relief and has an ERA of 27 in 2/3 innings pitched. Willy T. has only 1 hit in 10 plate appearances and is batting .111. Jason Hirsh will make his Rockies debut against Greg Maddox and the Padres tonight. Andy Pettitte lasted only 4 innings in his Yankee return and gave up 4 runs, 2 earned for an ERA of 4.50. Seems like Andy’s back spasms from spring training continue to trouble him as he only threw 86 pitches. The Astros may have made the right decision by not re-signing Pettitte after all.
Minor Leagues Watch: I subscribed to the Round Rock Express’ live streaming so I can keep an eye on what’s going on 2 hours north of Houston. Pence didn’t get a hit in their season opener but he did walk twice and stole a base. The Express beat the Iowa Cubs 6-2 with non-roster invitee Stephen Randolph getting the win in relief. Paul Estrada looked sharp as he shut down the Baby Cubbies. Lefty Phillip Barzilla got the hold for his 2 scoreless innings. Nieve lasted only 4 innings and has an ERA of 2.25. Bruntlett went hitless, but Eric Munson and Brooks Conrad both homered. Munson also had a single and a double that was just an inch shy of being called a home run.