Mets @ Houston Astros Series Preview

The Mets head to Houston for the start of a three game series against the National League Central Division leading Houston Astros. The Astros are in the thick of an intense battle for their playoff lives as they are only two games ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals and are actually two games <b>behind</b> the Phillies in the Wild Card standings at 60-51.

Though they boast such names as Bagwell, Biggio, Berkman, Hidalgo, Kent, and Ensberg, the Astros are actually quite the average offensive team as they are in the middle of the pack in almost all major offensive categories. The strange thing is that though none of the five players mentioned above is having an off year, no one (except maybe the youngster Ensberg) is having a career season either.

Berkman is hitting .291 with 20 HRs and 68 RBI . Hidalgo is having quite a rebound year after hitting only .235 in 114 games last year. He is currently hitting .312 with 18 HR's. However, his playing time may be limited in the series as a strained right hip has him listed as day to day. Ensberg is batting .282 with 19HRs in only 248 at bats. Bagwell (.274, 24HRs) continues his overall offensive consistency though his average has dropped steadily since the beginning of the year. Jeff Kent may not reach the 100 RBI mark for the first time in 7 years.

Here are this Weekend's Matchups:

Tuesday, 8/5/03
Leiter vs. Villone
Villone has been a godsend since the Astros signed him to a one-year minor league deal in May. In his 8 starts, he has posted a 3-1 record and a 2.25 ERA. Despite this only being his relatively low number of starts, he has been one of Houston's most consistent starters.

Though Leiter is 10-5, his ERA is 4.81. For much of the season, it seemed like Leiter was taking every single batter to a 3 and 2 count. His strikeout to walk ratio is horrendous at 87:73. With all this taken into account, Leiter looks to be in the middle of a hot streak as he has gone 2-0 with a 0.95 ERA in his last 3 starts.

Wednesday, 8/6/03
Heilman vs. Miller
Though Wade Miller has been what some people like to call, "an innings eater," he has had a rather lackluster season thus far. He has gone 7-10 with a 4.83 ERA on a first place team. Known for his competiveness, the young right hander throws a mid-90's 4 seam fastball with late movement and also possess an average to above average slider and curve.

Heilman has been somewhat disappointing since his call up from Triple A Norfolk. At first, the young righty did a good job of keeping the Mets in the games he pitched despite a lack of run support. Overall Heilman is 1-4 with a 6.93 ERA. In his last five games, however, his ERA has been a little over 9. Not known for his "stuff," Heilman has a reputation of being a polished college pitcher with a good mix of pitches and decent control.

Thursday, 8/7/03
Trachsel vs. Redding
Twenty Four year old Tim Redding has been the Astros solid number three starter behind Roy Oswalt and Villone. Redding has a 8-9 record with a respectable 3.73 ERA. He, along with fellow youngster, Jeriome Robertson, is part of the reason the Astros felt confident enough to release veteran Shane Reynolds back in March.

Trachsel (9-7, 4.55 ERA), has been a consistent starter for the Mets over the last couple of years. Over his last 5 starts, he has struggled with a 6.48 ERA. Trachsel though, has not been prone to many long losing streaks in the recent past and is coming off a great start against the Cardinals in which he gave up 1 run on 5 hits in 6.2 innings.

The Astros are one of those teams who look better on the field than their numbers would indicate. As a team, the Astros are very unspectacular statistically (offensively) despite playing in Minute Maid Park. They are one of those teams that find a way to win. I usually reserve comments like that for teams that don't have as many big name players as Houston does, but it seems the title fits for this team. They have a good offense, just enough starting pitching and a great bullpen led by fireballers Billy Wagner and Octavio Dotel, whom are capable of ending games in the 7th inning.

Surprisingly though, I look for the Mets to take two out of three from the ‘Stros. Leiter can be untouchable when he is in the middle of a hot streak, as he currently is. Though the Mets will be without Jason Phillips for at least the first game, Tony Clark has been hot and has a pretty good track record against Ron Villone. The Mets also have a decent shot at taking the third game though Redding has been pretty impressive in his last 5 games going 4-1 with a 2.57 ERA. Maybe I'm crazy, but its usually teams like this years Mets that make life difficult for playoff caliber teams with a lot to lose.

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