When the Cubs visited Houston a month ago, the Astros were a few games below .500 and the buzz around the team was relatively positive. Few Astros fans expected the team to be very good, but they were outperforming expectations and were at least watchable. The new, saber-inclined management stole Jed Lowrie from the Red Sox in a reverse Ed Wade move, trading an overvalued Veteran Reliever for solid young talent, and 2B Jose Altuve has been doing Starlin Castro-y things though at a less premium position. They've still got the decomposing remains of Carlos Lee and a farm system full of tumbleweeds, but it was nice for the fans to see things going their way for a little while at least. After sweeping the Cubs, they beat the Dodgers to push them a game below .500, and promptly reeled off a eight game losing streak to start a 11-21 run to arrive at their current record.
NL ranks in parentheses
Biweekly Cubs bullpen suckage update: not only have the Cubs extended their lead over the Jays for the worst pen in baseball, they've actually been lucky. The bullpen xFIP is 5.07 against a FIP of 4.75. Cubs relievers are walking five batters per nine innings.
There aren't many teams out there who have their two best offensive performers in the middle infield. Altuve and Lowrie have combined to be worth about 20 runs above average (without positional adjustment!), far and away better than the rest of the team. Unfortunately they've had plenty of replacement level performance from everyone else, though only utilityman Matt Downs has been significantly below replacement level. Chris Snyder, who was very underrated with the Snakes and was pushed out by the even better Montero has been disappointing with the Astros, posting a .266 wOBA this year, and C Jason Castro hasn't been much better. Whither Astros legend J.R. Towles?
ERA, FIP, xFIP, ZiPS FIP in parens
Friday: Bud Norris, RHP (4.81, 3.94, 3.70, 3.98) vs Paul Maholm, LHP (5.38, 4.93, 4.49, 4.28), 1:20 PM CT
Saturday: J. A. Happ, LHP (4.83, 4.26, 3.86, 4.55) vs Matt Garza, RHP (4.06, 4.00, 3.54, 3.64), 3:05 PM CT
Sunday: Wandy Rodriguez, LHP (3.52, 3.98, 3.93, 3.99) vs Travis Wood, LHP (3.54, 4.92, 4.36, 4.15), 1:20 PM CT
My first reaction to seeing this slate of pitchers was that all those lefty starters would be good for the Cubs offense. Then I remembered that the Cubs replacement-level righty lineup has been awful this year. I think the Cubs are -5 and 12 against lefty starters this year.
Norris is having a much lousier season than I remember, results-wise. A big part of it was a nine run shellacking that occured in Colorado a few weeks ago. He followed that up by striking out twelve Cardinals in six innings. He was pulled in the 4th inning of his last start, against the Giants, but had only given up three runs at that point. Speaking of short outings and getting shelled, Paul Maholm hit a two run homer against the Dbacks then promptly gave three times that amount back to them, walking three and striking out no one. At least Maholm is in familiar territory after so many years in Pittsburgh.
I can't wait for J.A. Happ to shut down the Cubs, save for an extra base hit or two by Soriano. He's not walking as many batters this year, which has transformed him from a crappy pitcher to a merely okayish one. Garza hasn't been quite the shutdown pitcher that he was to start the season (and last year), but he's managed to post five straight quality starts averaging six strikeouts and one walk in each. Gopherballs have been his problem this year, despite his newfound ground ball rate.
When I'm looking for something to write in the offseason I need to remember to finally bring together a post that elects members to my Wandy Rodriguez Hall of Fame of pitcher who were awful when I first saw them but went on to have great careers. Every time the Cubs lose to Wandy it feels like they're losing to the replacement level soft tossing gopherball machine that he was back in 2005. He'll face off with the New Cubs Ace, according to ************** in the Chicago media. Wood dominated the Mets in his last outing, and aside from getting shelled by the Padres when the wind was howling out of Wrigley he's had a good year.