Our first Interleague series of the year starts tonight at Rogers Center, with the Houston Astros coming to town. Houston hasn't had the best start to the year, they are 15-29, the worst record in baseball at the moment. I sent off some questions to David Coleman, who writes over at the Crawfish Boxes SBNations Astros blog.
How is our former first baseman of the future, Brett Wallace doing for you?
Better than anticipated, judging by what we saw at the end of last season. Wallace hasn't shown much power yet, but we didn't expect that from him. He's a good hitter, able to go the other way effectively, and seems to have adjusted his swing so that he's not as vulnerable to balls on the inner half of the plate. His defense at first is still a work in progress, but on the balance, I'd say Astros fans are pleased with his progress.
Who is your early season MVP?
Hunter Pence is easily the most talented and most consistent player on this team. His home run totals are down a bit from seasons past, but he's hitting for average and playing good defense in right. If you can have a most valuable player for a team as bad as the Astros, it'd be him.
Can you give us a quick scouting report of the starting pitchers the Jays will be facing?
Aneury Rodriguez is a Rule 5 pick from Tampa Bay last offseason. He held onto a roster spot despite not showing much in the bullpen. When Nelson Figueroa bombed out of the rotation, the Astros were able to slot Rodriguez into his spot to avoid bringing up highly touted prospect Jordan Lyles or former Mariner Ryan Rowland-Smith. Rodriguez has control problems but flashes good stuff. Basically, he's like a box of chocolates.
Brett Myers is what he is at this point in his career. He came back with a few injury-riddled campaigns with the Phillies and became an extreme "pitch to contact" guy with the Astros. He had quite a bit of success with that strategy last season, but the reason everyone expected him to regress was exactly that. He doesn't strike many batters out, though his totals in his last few starts have spiked. When Myers is on, he's using a slider, curve and two-seamer to generate ground ball after ground ball that, hopefully, the infield is turning into outs.
There are two different Wandy Rodriguez's. The first is the pitcher he is at home in Minute Maid Park. That guy is brilliant, flashing an unhittable curve ball and is a shutout waiting to happen. The Road Wandy is different. He's hittable, he gives up runs by the bucketful and generally looks like a sub-par hitter. You're getting Road Wandy, so you'll see the great curve and the low 90's fastball, but there's a good chance they won't be effective.
Who is your closer? Do you have much confidence in him?
Mark Melancon took over as closer when Brandon Lyon went on the disabled list with shoulder problems. Melancon is a right-hander acquired in last year's Lance Berkman trade. He throws hard, but relies on his sinker. He was groomed by the Yankees to be their closer of the future and has a good makeup for the job. He's been solid so far this season in the Astros bullpen and probably has the best mix of stuff and attitude out there, though he's still quite inexperienced.
I don't know much about your manager, Brad Mills, can you tell us about him? Is he well liked by Astro fans?
Compared to the previous manager, Cecil Cooper, Mills is a saint. He handles his pitching staff pretty well and in a year and two months, Astros fans really haven't had much to gripe about. The fans at TCB like that he seems more inclined to embrace things like walks and other sabermetric concepts, but the hand he's been dealt is so bad, it's hard to tell how good a manager he is.
Is there anything else that we should know about the Astros?
They're really bad right now. The offense isn't scoring runs and the pitching hasn't prevented enough from scoring. Sure, they have good starts occasionally, but it's the offensive ineptness that has hurt them more than anything. Houston relied on a BABiP-fueled offense in April to look pretty decent at the plate. Since then, they've taken quite a tumble and there's no telling when that will turn around.