Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays @ Houston Astros

Different start times for all the games in this series: 8:05 tonight, 7:05 tomorrow, and 2:05 on Sunday.

Friday, May 21: RHP Matt Garza vs. RHP Brett Myers

Saturday, May 22: RHP Jeff Niemann vs. LHP Wandy Rodriguez

Sunday, May 23: LHP David Price vs. RHP Bud Norris

The Astros currently have the second-worst record in the majors ("trailing" Baltimore by 1.5 games) and it doesn't look like things will be getting any better for them anytime soon. Even with Lance Berkman in their line-up, their offense is last in the majors in just about every category you can imagine - batting average (.228), on-base percentage (.274), slugging percentage (.321), walk rate (5.4%), isolated power (.093), and weighted on-base average (AKA wOBA) (.266). Many of their hitters are suffering from poor luck with balls in play, like Hunter Pence (.252 Batting Average on Balls in Play) and Carlos Lee (.197 BABIP), meaning they should have more hits than they do, but it's not like a line-up that features Pedro Feliz (.234 wOBA), Jeff Keppinger (.311 wOBA), and Tommy Manzella (.224 wOBA) on a daily basis is going to be lighting up the world.

Their pitching, on the other hand, is another story.

The Astros have a team 3.75 Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), which is third best in the majors. Their pitchers have slightly underperformed this mark, posting an team 4.14 ERA to date, getting unlucky with balls in play (.317 BABIP) and with letting runners score (68.3% Left on Base Percentage). In other words, don't look at Brett Myers' 2-3 record or Wandy Rodriguez's 2-5 record and think they'll be easy to knock around.

Honestly, I am endlessly entertained by the pitching match-ups this series. Wandy Rodriguez is a bona-fide ace, but unfortunately he gets no love from the press due to his team. His strikeout numbers are down this year so far (5 K/9 as opposed to his career average of 7.4 K/9), but since everything else seems like what you'd expect, those should rebound as the season progresses. Brett Myers, the phallen Phillie, is making a bid to restart his career and the early returns look good. The key for him is to limit the home runs and walks he allows, and he's managed to do both so far this year, posting a respectable 4.01 FIP. And Bud Norris...well, he's a relatively unknown quantity but he's pitched quite well so far this year. Don't let that 6+ ERA fool you - Norris has a 3.53 FIP this season and is striking out over 10 batters per nine innings. He's also walking over 5 people per nine, though, and that needs to come down.

The Astros may be the laughing-stock of the National League, but that doesn't mean this series will be a walk in the park. Look what happened to the Rays against the Royals (they split a four-game series, if you weren't aware). This is baseball and anything is possible on any given day. That said, I think the pitching match-ups favor the Rays, and I'm excited to see if Andy Sonnanstine gets a chance to hit.

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