The Astros held on to beat the defending champs today, making it seven wins in a row. This team has been all about streaks in recent years, with extreme highs, extreme lows, and little in-between. The emotional rollercoaster looks set for another wild ride this year.
The big news going into this game was Roy Oswalt’s return to the team, after America collectively shrugged at the WBC. Another day, another quality start from Roy: six innings, three earned runs. Most impressive were his six strikeouts and no walks. Roy is so aggressive attacking the strikezone that I expect the low walk rate, but the strikeout per inning is unusual. I wonder if the home plate umpire called a big strike zone, or if Roy shied away from pitching to contact. The latter is a possibility because the box score suggests he was having trouble keeping the ball down. He induced 8 flyouts and only 3 groundouts. I’m sure he’ll try to flip those numbers around because we all know how his home park treats fly ball pitchers. In contrast, LaTroy Hawkins induced groundouts to all three batters he faced, and Chris Sampson also got three ground ball outs in two innings. So, it’s unlikely the Phillies were all swinging like Mark McGwire.
Chris Sampson got a two-inning save today, though he allowed his first two earned runs of the Spring. He has only pitched seven innings, so it’s too early to get excited about a 2.57 ERA. Still, I’m hopeful. My feelings about Sampson are similar to how I feel about Wandy: I’m crossing my fingers that he can stay healthy and find some consistency, because I see a really good pitcher there. Sampson will likely have the difficult job of being the team’s most versatile pitcher. He can fit in so many places in the bullpen, that depending on injuries, we could see him fill almost any role. Hopefully his ability to pitch multiple innings doesn’t relegate him to mop-up duty. I see that as more of a Geoff Geary role. If our offense is good enough to keep the team in games when the starters struggle, we could see Sampson step into a lot of close games in the 4th or 5th inning.
Other not-so-noteworthy stuff: My favorite still-active ex-Astro, Eric Bruntlett, went 2-for-5, with an RBI double, and a caught-stealing (go Pudge!). Bruntlett is batting .350 this spring. Oh, how nice it would be to have the often overlooked, valuable piece of the Brad Lidge-for-Michael Bourn trade as our super-utility man. Brunty, I forgive you for being pissed off when I got your autograph and told you “best double-play in Astros history, NLCS.” After all, you had just spent the afternoon wasting away at first base in a pathetic Round Rock express game. Hunter Pence committed two errors, not counting the video portrait of him pretending to use a bat as a sword and pool cue. I couldn’t believe everyone else wanted that loser’s autograph.