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Pirates-Astros: An Opportunity for the Bucs to Shine

Tom AuSenior Analyst IISeptember 11, 2009

HOUSTON - AUGUST 29:  A general view of the Astrodome as the Chicago Cubs take on the Houston Astros on August 29, 1996 in Houston, Texas.  The Astros lost to the Cubs 4-3.  (Photo by Tom Pidgeon/Getty Images)

Call me an optimist, but I think the Pittsburgh Pirates will "do well" on their next road series against the Houston Astros.

This is in spite of the fact that Pittsburgh has Major League Baseball's worst road record, particularly against the National League Central.

The Pirates have won only 18 games on the road this year. Only six have come against division rivals, and only three since the first week. But two of these have been against the Astros.

One reason is that expectations are so low. Two out of three would be a fantastic result. One out of three would be "not so bad," all things considered.

Three out of three, though unlikely, wouldn't be out of the question. The only unacceptable result at this stage of the game, would be another sweep.

There are two reasons for the optimism. One is that despite their much superior won-loss record, the Astros are sabermetrically barely better than Pittsburgh.

That is to say, they have scored only 12 more runs than the Pirates and given up one fewer. That's about as evenly matched as two teams are likely to be this late in the season.

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The second is that the three starting Pirates pitchers all have better ERAs than their Astros' counterparts. Barring a schedule change, we won't be facing Wandy Rodriguez or Roy Oswalt on this trip.

The worst match up for the Pirates is tonight with Charlie Morton against Bud Norris. Morton's ERA is more than half a point better than Norris,' but that counts for only a little with 5+ ERAs.

More to the point, Morton had his second worst outing of the season against the Astros in July. (The worst was his 10-run, one inning start against the Cubs.)

The presence of two weak pitchers suggests a free-for-all. The Pirates shouldn't be a huge underdog, but they aren't favorites either tonight.

Tomorrow, we have emerging star Ross Ohlendorf versus Brian Moeller. Ohlendorf was beaten rather badly in his earlier encounters with the Astros at home.

But his new, deceptive, overhead delivery since late July suggests that he will now benefit more from his experience with this team, than they will from their experience with him.

On Sunday, we have our staff ace, Paul Maholm, pitch against Felipe Paulino, with an ERA nearly two points higher.

The Pirates' better pitchers (for the weekend), vs. Houston's somewhat better hitters, could make for a surprisingly even series; 2-1 either way, with the "rubber game" of the match being decided by one or two runs, or even a "tie" (at the end of nine innings, and a decision in extra innings).

Then hopefully on to Los Angeles for another "surprise:" At least one out of three, on the road, against the National League team with the second-best record.

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