There was much ado about pitching last night; conversations on twitter and message boards, fan reaction at the ballpark. For years I’ve said, it’s about the pitching. Good defensive pitching can make a mediocre offense a little less important. But if a team has subpar pitching, it takes a whole heck of a lot of amazingly impressive offense to make up for the sins of the guys on the bump.
The Astros starters have been reliable, not outstanding, but definitely reliable. The first 5+ innings of baseball haven’t been the site of anything tragic. In fact, they’ve been pretty darn good. Even when they’ve struggled and seen inflated pitch counts, Astros starters have battled their way through. If you look at the ERA of starters, throwing as starters, you can’t complain – Lucas Harrell (1.50), Philip Humber (1.59), Bud Norris (3.18), Brad Peacock (4.15) – as a group, the starters have a 2.63 ERA. It’s a stat where the Astros are not, in fact, the worst in baseball. They rank 8/30 clubs in starting pitching ERAs so far. Not bad.
If any real criticism can be made after ONLY FIVE games – and let’s all remember it’s only been 5 measly games – it’s more about the fact that a starter should come in throw six innings, but the starting rotation in Houston has only Lucas Harrell as a member of the 6 inning club. Last night, Bud Norris got pretty darn close, but still didn’t clear that hurdle. Bear in mind this is after FIVE games…there are 157 more to go and we need those shoulders and elbows to remain intact, so SPs only going 5 1/3, 5 2/3 isn’t a “real” concern, but something to ponder.
The biggest problem with the starters unable to go a full six is the the Houston bullpen has been terrible. Several people commented via social media last night that the team’s bullpen was stretched and that’s why Porter left Bud Norris in during the sixth after a homer, an error by Ronny Cedeno, two fly ball outs, a walk and a hit. That’s not why Porter left him in.
“Bud did a tremendous job. To me, tonight, he grew up,” were manager Bo Porter‘s words. “He did what a number one starter should do.” Porter told Norris he had earned the right to earn the win, resulting in Norris throwing 122 pitches in 5 2/3. Perhaps not his most efficient start, but not devastating by a long run.
The problem? The bullpen. Their ERA so far this season? 6.62 Yep, folks, that’s the problem. So you can go on twitter and whine about how long the starters are lasting. You can moan and groan about whether Brett Wallace is getting hits or Chris Carter is striking out again (although I admit I have fun with that last one), but when the umpire yells, “Play ball!” it’s going to come down to the guys on the mound. If they can’t their job done, then no amount of offense will save your team.
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Jason Castro hit a three run homer last night in the Astros 6-3 loss to Oakland. Not even close to being enough to make up for pitching that wasn’t defensive. Justin Maxwell and J.D. Martinez were both 2/4 last night. No matter how productive that offense is on any given day, poor pitching can give a game away. And the Astros’ bullpen has been giving a lot away. Where do they land in baseball? 26 /30, so not the bottom of the barrel, but not anywhere they’d want to be.
One more comment of note from Bo Porter since the strikeout count has been so high and noted both in historic and sarcastic context by everyone under the sun. Last night the Astros struck out only four times – that’s the lowest in a game so far (again ONLY FIVE games). When asked his thoughts on the matter, Porter, being the guy we’ve all come to expect him to be, said, ”I couldn’t tell you how many it was yesterday or how many it was today. What I do know is that we lost the game.”
Terri Schlather (AGirlintheSouth) is the tortured Senior Houston Astros Writer for Aerys Sports. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow her ridiculous ramblings on sports, vodka and the weeone on twitter @agirlinthesouth.