Louisville Sluggers for Broomsticks
It has been a dream start for the Astros. They are atop its Division, with the second-best collective batting average in the National League (.286), and a pitching staff with a 4-15 ERA, fifth best in the Show. Few players from the recurring cast are hitting below the .300 mark, like Jason Lane and Preston Wilson. But many of them are pretty close to that number,such are the cases of Willy Taveras (.297), Brad Ausmus (.293) and Adam Everett.
The Astros concluded the week with a sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates, a classic underachiever at Minute maid Park, beating them at the rubber game with a 7-2 score.
Two of the main pieces responsible for such a good vibe didn’t disappoint today: Craig Biggio said hello to starter Paul Maholm with a dinger in the game’s first at-bat. The eternal Astros second baseman has three or more games in five of the last six games, and going 4-for-4 in the afternoon, scoring two runs.
Right after a single by Lance Berkman with 1 out, Morgan Ensberg shot a 2-run homer, his ninth for the season, just one short of the franchise record for April, shared by Berkman and Jeff Bagwell. Ensberg just kept on collecting more points for his current NL-leading batting average of .403.
While Maholm couldn’t solve the Astros puzzle, it was a day in the office for Roy Oswalt (4-0, 2.48), who won the pitching contest. In seven innings, the right-hander fanned 7, allowed a run and 6 hits.
Chris Burke started the game in left field, substituting Preston Wilson, who had the day off. Burke took advantage of the opportunity and went 3-for-4, driving in the fourth Astros run in the first.
A bases-loaded walk to Adam Everett represented run No. 5; and in the next frame, Lance Berkman sent a sac-fly who got him his 20th RBI of the season.
Jim Tracy brought a total of four pitchers to the mound. You could easily this was a shaky bullpen in need of an improvement: after three hard episodes for Maholm (7.40 ERA), he was relieved by Ryan Vogelsong (7.71 ERA) and John Grabow (6.75 ERA), who allowed a run each.
The Astros had an efficient outing from its bullpen, and it was quite welcome after some dubious performances. However Mike Gallo could only survive for a third of an inning, after granting a solo home run to Freddy Sanchez in the eight. Chad Qualls and Russ Springer combined for 1.2 innings without conceding offensive liberties.
Houston certainly is facing one of the best starts in franchise history, a welcome change after last
season’s dismal beginning (8-9 record in its first 17 games, 3.5 games back in the standings).This surge can only be compared to those of years like 1980 and 1986, years in which the ‘Stros appeared in the postseason.
Now the Astros will start a three-game series against the Dodgers before heading to Cincinnati. Stay tuned.