The Astros are.... See, the thing about the Astros is....
Hitter to watch:
Uh, I don't know. The fat one?
Pitcher to watch:
Mike Scott. Pretty sure that dude's scuffing the ball.
Yeah, writing about the Astros is like writing about actuary tables. Don't get me wrong; Houston's still close to .500, and they could absolutely take every single game in the series. I'm not disparaging them. It's just that they're a little dull. They have hitters -- Lance Berkman is still an on-base beast, Carlos Lee is still a thumper, and Miguel Tejada's having a nice little renaissance season -- but somehow they've only scored a handful more runs than the Giants.
The pitching used to be much more mockable before the release of Russ Ortiz. Wandy Rodriguez is a fantastic pitcher, a cautionary tale for those who are constantly ready to give up on Jonathan Sanchez. Roy Oswalt is Roy Oswalt. But for a while, the Astros had a rotation with Russ Ortiz, Mike Hampton, and Brian Moehler. Brian Moehler! I'm pretty sure he was teaching chemistry last year. (Actually, he was throwing some good innings for the Astros in 2008, but you get the point.) Making this series more actuary-table-like is that the Giants have the good fortune of missing both Oswalt and Rodriguez. That's a durn shame.
And while the Astros are getting some fantastic bullpen work this season, it's more in the spirit of the "close-your-eyes-and-hope-it-continues-to-work-out" relief that the Giants are getting, and not the "crazy-live-armed-relievers-who-just-struck-you-out-while-reading-this" variety. LaTroy Hawkins, who I think was traded for Tim Alderson at some point, is throwing high-leverage innings for Houston. For every Justin Miller and Brandon Medders the Giants can throw out on the mound -- relievers whose stuff and strikeout numbers don't match up with their shiny ERAs -- the Astros can counter with Chris Sampson and Tim Byrdak. Tim Byrdak! I'm pretty sure he was teaching falconry to needy children last year. It should be a strangely productive bullpen slapfight of epic proportions.
What the Astros remind me most of are the Giants clubs from the last days of Barry Bonds and Jason Schmidt. The farm's in a bad way, and the team is kinda sorta contending through the technicality of the wild card. Maybe Berkman and Oswalt wouldn't want to be dealt, and maybe big ticket items like Lee and Tejada are impossible to deal, but I get the feeling that the Astros weren't really in the market to do anything. It makes me appreciate the White Flag deal even more from the White Sox perspective, as it's so, so easy to hang on to crazy visions of replicating the Rockies' run to the World Series in 2007, but that really is a once-in-a-generation thing.
So my message to Astros fans is this: We probably could have traded Jason Schmidt for Ryan Howard or Hanley Ramirez. But then we wouldn't have had the compensatory pick that turned into Tim Alderson, which then turned into Freddy Sanchez, which is going to turn into at least two straight titles. Right? Right? So you guys are on the right track. Just hang onto your guys, lose a lot, draft well, trade the prospects away, and hope the knee of your new franchise second baseman isn't filled with Cream of Wheat.
The Giants will score fewer than 23 runs this series. But those were a fun couple of games in July, right?