Recently-demoted Brett Wallace (Photo: Samara Pearlstein)

After winning two of three against the Athletics, the Boston Red Sox (14-7, 2 games ahead in the AL East) welcome the newest member of the junior circuit, the Houston Astros (7-14, tied for 4th in the AL West), to Fenway Park for a four-game series. The Red Sox are 7-3 in their last 10 games and won their last game, while the Astros are 3-7 in their last 10 but they won their last two games. So they’ve got that going for them… which is nice.

STARTING PITCHERS: Philip Humber, Erik Bedard, Brad Peacock and Bud Norris

Philip Humber (versus Clay Buchholz in Thursday night’s opener) looked like a pretty good pitcher in 2011, when he put up a line of 3.75 ERA/3.58 FIP/3.86 xFIP for the White Sox (minus line of 88 ERA-/85 FIP-/95 xFIP-), good for 3.4 WAR. He looked like the next big thing after his perfect game on April 21, 2012. For the remainder of 2012, Humber’s ERA was a beyond-ugly 7.39. He ended 2012 with a line of 6.44 ERA/5.77 FIP/4.84 xFIP, minus line of 150 ERA-/134 FIP-/117 xFIP-, with a -0.3 WAR in a season in which he threw a perfect game. Wow. So what made Humber good in 2011 (and the first two games of 2012) but horrible thereafter? In 2011, Humber threw 43.7% four-seam fastballs, only 2.3% two-seamers, 13.6% sliders, 22.3% curveballs and 16.9% changeups. In 2012, Humber changed tactics, throwing fewer four-seamers (37.6%) and changeups (8.1%) and more two-seamers (9.9%), sliders (18.7%) and curveballs (25.6%). This season Humber has continued that trend. “Doctor, doctor, it hurts when I do this.” “Then don’t do that.”

There was a time when Erik Bedard (facing Ryan Dempster) was a good pitcher. (“Tell us more, grandpa!”) No, really! Bedard earned 9.7 WAR in 2006-07 for the Orioles. He actually set the Baltimore franchise single-season record for strikeouts-per-nine innings with 10.97 in 2007. In 4+ seasons since (he missed 2010 with shoulder surgery), he has totaled 6.1 WAR. Bedard, who used to throw a devastating curveball, is trying to reinvent himself this season as a two-seam fastball thrower, using the cutter 47.7% of the time, as opposed to 16.7% curveballs. His 6.17 ERA/4.89 FIP/4.20 xFIP pitching line says that it’s not going well.

Brad Peacock (against Felix Doubront) is more notable for the trades in which he has been a part than for his pitching prowess. Just before the 2012 season the Nationals traded him to the Athletics in the Gio Gonzalez trade, then was traded this spring to Houston in (another) Jed Lowrie trade. He mostly throws a 91 mph four-seam fastball, with a curve and a changeup as his other two pitches. In four starts for the Astros, Peacock’s pitching line is 7.50 ERA/7.06 FIP/5.18 xFIP. Peacock has an anemic 26.3% ground ball rate, and has walked too many batters in the majors (career mark of 4.20 per nine) to be an effective pitcher. There’s not much more to say about Brad Peacock.

Bud Norris (facing TBA, but definitely not Alfredo Aceves) is a decent pitcher whose name always comes up in trade talks, and the Astros would be wise to listen to offers. While he is the ace of the Astros, that appellation is damning with faint praise. Norris is a career 4.41 ERA/4.20 FIP/4.01 xFIP pitcher (good for a minus line of 113 ERA-/108- FIP-/101 xFIP-). His velocity has dipped from 93.8 mph in 2009 to an average of 91.7 so far in 2013. His career walk rate of 3.81 per nine should be lower to qualify as an “ace.” Norris would be no better than a #3 pitcher on a good team, a #2 on a marginal one. As the Astros are playing for the future, they should trade him to bolster what is becoming an impressive batch of prospects.

EXPECTED LINEUP

1. Brandon Barnes, CF
2. Jose Altuve, 2B
3. Brandon Laird, 1B
4. Carlos Pena, DH
5. Chris Carter, LF
6. Jason Castro, C
7. Rick Ankiel, RF
8. Ronny Cedeno, SS
9. Matt Dominguez, 3B

WHO’S HOT/WHO’S NOT

Believe it or not (and I bet you don’t), there are quite a few Astros hitting well in the last two weeks, including Ronny Cedeno (.400/.400/.733, .486 wOBA, 218 wRC+), Brandon Laird (.294/.333/.765, .461 wOBA, 201 wRC+), Rick Ankiel (.292/.292/.750, .441 wOBA, 187 wRC+, three homers), Jose Altuve (.370/.453/.457, .398 wOBA, 158 wRC+, 0.6 WAR in two weeks, nice) and Brandon Barnes (.364/.391/.500, .391 wOBA, 153 wRC+). If only Altuve could teach his teammates how to work a walk, the Astros might have something. Of those Astros expected to play in this series, only Jason Castro (.243/.282/.324, .269 wOBA, 69 wRC+) and Marwin Gonzalez (.185/.185/.333, .223 wOBA, 37 wRC+) are hitting especially poorly these last two weeks.

In the bullpen, nobody has excelled in the past two weeks (shocking, I know), but a couple of pitchers had interesting numbers. Closer Jose Veras (5.19 ERA/1.97 FIP/3.40 xFIP, .423 BABIP) got bitten by the BABIP monster, while Wesley Wright (3.60 ERA/2.71 FIP/3.81 xFIP, .265 BABIP) and Hector Ambriz (3.65 ERA/3.41 FIP/3.81 xFIP, .341 BABIP) have pitched slightly better than average. Set-up man Rhiner Cruz (4.76 ERA/6.98 FIP/6.63 xFIP, .316 BABIP) and Paul Clemens (4.61 ERA/6.89 FIP/5.81 xFIP, .159 BABIP – you mean he was lucky to merely be this bad?), however, have stunk using any metric. Could we interest you in a slightly eccentric reliever? Won’t cost much.

INJURIES

RHP Josh Fields (right forearm strain, placed on 15-day DL on April 8, retroactive to April 4), LF J.D. Martinez (right knee sprain, placed on 15-day DL on April 20), CF Justin Maxwell (fractured left hand, placed on 15-day DL on April 23) and RHP Alex White (recovery from April 2013 Tommy John surgery, placed on the 60-day DL on March 30)

AND WHAT ABOUT THE RED SOX?

This is Mike Napoli‘s world and we are all just living in it. In the last two weeks, Napoli hit .340/.411/.660, .455 wOBA, 190 wRC+ with 2 home runs and a stunning 19 RBI, good for 0.8 WAR in a fortnight. Huzzah! It’s a good thing that Napoli is on fire because none of the other Red Sox had a good two-week stretch at the bat. Honorable mention again goes to David Ortiz (.500/.529/.688, .525 wOBA, 239 wRC+) and Mike Carp (.500/.545/1.000, .636 wOBA, 315 wRC+), who hit very well in limited action. On the bad side, Jarrod Saltalamacchia (.171/.216/.371, .257 wOBA, 54 wRC+), Stephen Drew (.143/.250/.229, .225 wOBA, 32 wRC+) and Will Middlebrooks (.106/.122/.170, .129 wOBA, -34 wRC+, -0.7 WAR in two weeks – actually, I’m not even mad, that’s amazing) were anti-Napolis.

In the bullpen, only Alex Wilson (0.00 ERA/4.26 FIP/4.95 xFIP, .300 BABIP) earned the Blutarsky ERA Award, although his peripherals (4.50 K/9, 6.75 BB/9) tell a much different story. Closer Andrew Bailey (1.59 ERA/1.68 FIP/2.12 xFIP, .222 BABIP) and Junichi Tazawa (1.69 ERA/2.35 FIP/2.68 xFIP, .259 BABIP) pitched especially well. Koji Uehara (2.08 ERA/3.82 FIP/3.04 xFIP, .167 BABIP) hit a tough patch in his last few games. Andrew Miller (6.23 ERA/4.16 FIP/4.16 xFIP, .500 BABIP) is still walking too many batters to be effective.

SUMMARY

This is going to be a long year for the Astros – a very long year – but their future looks pretty bright. I hope the future comes soon for the good people of Houston.

Categories: Alex White Alex Wilson Andrew Bailey Andrew Miller Baltimore Orioles Boston Red Sox Brad Peacock Brandon Barnes Brandon Laird Bud Norris Carlos Pena Chris Carter Clay Buchholz David Ortiz Erik Bedard Felix Doubront Gio Gonzalez Hector Ambriz Houston Astros J.D. Martinez Jarrod Saltalamacchia Jason Castro Jed Lowrie Jose Altuve Josh Fields (RP) Junichi Tazawa Justin Maxwell Koji Uehara Marwin Gonzalez Matt Dominguez Mike Carp Mike Napoli Oakland Athletics Paul Clemens Philip Humber Rhiner Cruz Rick Ankiel Ronny Cedeno Ryan Dempster Stephen Drew Washington Nationals Wesley Wright Will Middlebrooks

Scott Candage is a long-time Red Sox fan. He recently came in third in the 127th annual Upperclass Twit of the Year competition. His best friend is a tree and he is a stockbroker in his spare time.

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