After a heated and dramatic series against the Phillies that saw the Braves take two of three from their division rivals, Atlanta welcomes the Houston Astros to Turner Field for a quick two-game series. These two games are the Braves last two home games before they head on the road for a six-game road trip.
Houston comes into town fresh off a series loss against the New York Mets, where they lost two out of three games. The Astros have lost every series they've had so far in May and have struggled all year, as they have a record of 15-25 and are last in the NL Central.
The Astros are largely the same team they were at the end of last season, as their major off-season moves were signing infielder Bill Hall and outfielder Jason Michaels, while trading for infielder Clint Barmes and extending pitcher Wandy Rodriguez for three years, $34 million.
Pitching matchups and more after the jump
Monday May 16, 7:10 EST
Houston sends Brett Myers (1-3, 5.01 ERA, 5.20 FIP) to the mound in game one of the series. After being one of the better stories in 2010, Myers has struggled so far in 2011. In his last start, Myers got hit hard by Cincinnati, giving up ten hits, six runs (all earned), while walking four and striking out eight. Myers has seen his K/9 drop from last year (7.24 to 6.79) while his BB/9 has increased from (2.66 to 3.40) so far in 2011. His main issue however has been home runs, as his HR/9 has ballooned from 0.80 to 1.79. In fact, Myers has given up at least one home run in every start this year besides his first one of the year. A culprit for his struggles may be found in his velocity, as it has dropped all over the board. His average fastball velocity is down from 89.3 to 87.6 while his average slider velocity has dipped from 83.3 to 81.9. Interesting to note, according to pitch F/X, he is primarily using a cut fastball so far in 2011. Myers has pitched in 29 games against Atlanta, 22 as a starter, and has a lifetime record of 4-10 with an ERA of 4.49.
Atlanta counters with Tommy Hanson (4-3, 2.51 ERA, 2.85 FIP) to begin the series. After struggling to begin the season, Hanson has been on an absolute roll. In his last four starts, Hanson is 3-0 with 1.40 ERA. For the season, he has a K/9 of 8.49 and a BB/9 of 2.51, making Hanson one tough pitcher to face. For his career against the Astros, Hanson has made three starts and has a record a record of 1-0 with an ERA of 0.78. Atlanta should have a big advantage on the mound in this first game of the series.
Tuesday May 17, 1:05 ESt
In the finale of the short two-game series, Houston trots out left-hander Wandy Rodriguez (2-3, 3.98 ERA, 3.86 FIP). Rodriguez has pitched reasonably well in 2011, and is coming off a no-decision in his last start where he scattered ten hits over seven innings while giving up three runs (all earned), walking none and striking out four. Rodriguez has seen a drop in his K/9 from last season (8.22 to 7.10) but has also seen his walks drop dramatically as his BB/9 has gone from 3.14 last year to 1.90 this season. He is primarily a four pitch pitcher, throwing both a four and two seam fastball, along with a curve and a change-up. As usual, he uses his curveball a lot, throwing it 33.3% of the time so far in 2011. However, he is using his four seam fastball less (35.5% last year to 27.2 % this year) while using his change-up and two-seamer more. He doesn't throw especially hard, with an average fastball velocity of 89.0. Seeing as Atlanta typically struggles against these type of left-handers, the Braves will have their hands full with Wandy. He faced the Braves twice last year, and had a record of 0-1 giving up seven runs (only two of which were earned).
To counter Rodriguez, Atlanta will give the ball to Derek Lowe (3-3, 3.73 ERA, 3.18 FIP) in the last game of the series. Lowe is coming off a rough start against Washington, where he earned a no-decision by giving six hits, five runs (all earned) and two home runs in six innings of work. For his career, Lowe has started ten games against Houston with a record of 5-3 and an ERA of 3.43. Game two of the series should be pretty evenly matched on the mound.
Houston has swung the bat decently well in 2011, as they are fourth in the NL in batting average (.263) and seventh in the NL in on-base average (.320). Where they have struggled is in the power department, as they are eleventh in the NL in slugging percentage (.383) and dead last in home runs with 22 total.
The Astros have been paced offensively by the trio of Hunter Pence, Michael Bourn, and Brett Wallace. Pence is hitting .296/.343/.478, Wallace is hitting .336/.413/..472, while Bourn is hitting .265/.343./.361 and has 14 steals on the year. While Carlos Lee got off to a slow start, he has heated up in May, hitting .389 with two homers.
The rest of the Astros lineup has struggled so far in 2011. New acquisition Bill Hall is hitting .227/.285/.345, while third baseman Chris Johnson is hitting a scalding .205/.241/.370. Catcher Humberto Quintero who has gotten most of the playing time between himself and J.R. Towles is hitting .239/.277/.318.
Atlanta does catch a break as hot hitting outfielder Jason Bourgeois (.407/.439/.500 with 12 steals in 57 PA's) is on the DL with a left oblique strain.
Mark Melancon -RH
Wilton Lopez -RH
Jeff Fulchino -RH
Enario Del Rosario -RH (what a name)
Fernando Abad -LH
Jose Valdez -RH
Sergio Escalona -LH
The Astros bullpen has been putrid so far to start the year, as they have the worst bullpen ERA in the NL at 5.25 and the third worst bullpen FIP at 4.10. They have especially struggle at the back end of the bullpen, as the closer position has been hard to fill. Brandon Lyon was the closer to start the year but blew four saves and is now on the DL. Mark Melancon is the new closer for Houston and has recorded one save on the year. He's pitched well, but is far from a proven commodity. Relievers Jeff Fulchino and Enario Del Rosario have been the two most heavily used bullpen arms so far, and both have been decent but nothing better. They have two left-handers in the pen, but Sergio Escalona has only pitched in one game so far and Fernando Abad has pitched 12.2 innings with an ERA of 7.11.
The Braves come in with a large amount of momentum after taking two of three from the Phillies while Houston comes in struggling to find wins so far in May. Atlanta should do no worse than a split in this short series and a sweep in Atlanta's favor is certainly a possibility.