Astros-Cardinals: STL Takes Two From HOU

The saying is that good pitching always beats good hitting. Which is why I find it amazing that the St. Louis Cardinals have been shutting down the vaunted Astros offensive machine this year. Braden Looper, Friday’s starter, is a failed closer. Adam Wainwright, Saturday’s starter, is a converted reliever, and Kyle Lohse, yesterday’s starter, was a pitcher who didn’t even have a major league contract until mid-March.

Yet the vaunted offense was shut down the entire weekend.

The Astros won 4-3 on Friday night when Cardinals closer Jason Isringhausen did his best Jose Valverde impression and melted down, allowing four runs, after Looper had shut the team down. The Astros got three runs off of Wainwright on Saturday afternoon, only those three runs came on three solo homers, and Houston only had five hits all day as they lost 4-3. And Sunday saw the vaunted offensive machine be held to four hits with the only run coming when Lance Berkman scored on a Mark Loretta single.

And things aren’t getting any better as the team’s now got three games against the Arizona Diamondbacks, the team with the best record in the National League. The Astros are lucky in that the Arizona ace, Brandon Webb, pitched on Sunday. The Astros are unlucky in that they will have to face Dan Haren, Edgar Gonzalez and some nobody known as Randy Johnson. Meanwhile, the D-backs will be facing the likes of Chris Sampson, Jack Cassel and Shawn Chacon. After facing Jake Peavy yesterday, I really don’t think the D-backs are shaking in fear.

The two losses this weekend dropped the Astros record down to 12-14. They will return to MMP on Friday when they face the Milwaukee Brewers for the weekend.

SOME MISCELLANEOUS BASEBALL NOTES:

Back when the Cards faced the ‘Stros at MMP, a big deal was made of Albert Pujols taking out J.R. Towles on a play at the plate. The Astros thought it was cheap. Pujols and Tony La Russa kindly told Towles to not bother blocking the plate if he didn’t want to deal with the contact. The next day, Brandon Backe had a heated little meeting during batting practice, and that night, Pujols went deep twice to help defeat the Astros.

On Saturday, Roy Oswalt barely nicked Cardinal catcher Jason LaRue with a pitch. When the Astros came up to bat the next half, Adam Wainwright threw behind Brad Ausmus, which resulted in Ausmus opening up his mouth and the benches clearing. And yesterday, Brandon Backe threw at Cardinal catcher Yadier Molina after the umpire had called time while Backe was in his wind-up. From the replays, it seems Backe thought Molina had called time and all watching could see the umpire telling Backe to cool it and that he had called time, not Molina. The result of which was Backe throwing at Molina.

What does all of this mean? I think it means that the Cardinals have discovered that the Astros are a mentally weak team, and that they can easily play with their minds, and that by playing with their minds, they can get the Astros out of their game.

I also think it really means that someone needs to get to Backe and get him to shut his damn mouth.

******************* Carlos Lee won Friday’s game when he went deep with a two-run homer in the ninth inning on Friday night. Unfortunately, there is no DH in the National League, because this means Lee must play on defense. Thus we come to Saturday when a single to left field rolls under Lee’s glove, allowing the Cards to win the game as the runner scored from second base.

********************

Our quote of the day is courtesy of Sports Illustrated’s Jon Heyman: “No surprise, the Houston media is coming to Miguel Tejada's defense for lying about his birth date forever and instead attacking the reporter who caught Tejada. But while it may be understandable for Tejada to have fibbed about his age to gain his first contract as a poor teenager, it doesn't show much for him that he never corrected it.” (Emphasis mine).

First, not all of us have come to Tejada’s defense. I know there’s this certain guy at Houstoned Ballz who has been on Tejada’s case, and, as much as it pains me to credit the Chron on anything, Brian McTaggart has also been on Tejada’s case.

But then there’s Jose de Jesus Ortiz, who continues to think the earth rotates about Tejada. It’s amazing the Astros were able to reach a World Series without Tejada around to show them how to do it – of course, maybe that’s why the Astros were swept in that World Series.

********************* Here are some depressing numbers for you Astros fans:

The vaunted offense got 15 hits this weekend: six on Friday (including three in the ninth), five on Saturday, and four yesterday. The two lowest batting averages in the majors belong to Brad Ausmus and Jose Cruz, Jr. And Astros pinch hitters are only 2 for 32 this season.

******************** And just a few notes from the world of baseball – non-Houston edition:

My pick for the surprise team of the year (American League), the Tampa Bay Rays, swept the Boston Red Sox this weekend and find themselves in a tie for first place in the AL East. The Rays’ record of 14-11 is their best ever for the month of April, and their 14 wins are the most ever for the club in April. And this is the first time the Rays have been three games over .500 since they started the 2002 season at 3-0.

The Astros will be facing a Diamondback team with a NL best record of 18-7, who have won 17 of their last 22 games. The D-backs, who had trouble scoring runs last season, should be able to show the Astros what a vaunted offensive machine looks like, since they’ve outscored their opponents 148-53 this season. The D-backs also happen to be 9-2 at home so far this season, and their staff ERA of 3.16 is the best in the majors.

And here is some shocking news: Moises Alou is injured. Again. While he’s still on the DL.

But the injury of the weekend involves home plate umpire Kerwin Danley who took a Brad Penny fastball to the head. Danley was temporarily knocked unconscious, the game was delayed nearly 20 minutes, and Danley was taken to the hospital. He has been released from the hospital and appears to be okay. – John Royal

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