Bud Norris

Recapping the opening week Silver Boot Series betwen the Rangers and Astros

The opening night of the baseball season came to an exciting start for the Astros and their fans as a young, overachieving team dominated the Rangers, a potential playoff team. The Astros lit up Rangers southpaw, Matt Harrison, scoring six runs off him in less than six innings. Bud Norris looked to be in midseason form, allowing two earned runs in 5 2/3 innings and Erik Bedard channeled his 2007 self, shutting the door by allowing but one hit over the final 3 1/3 innings. The Astros looked like a team poised to shock to baseball world, but perhaps the Rangers just had a terrible game or the Astros just severely overachieved because the next two games exemplified baseball’s polar effect.

The Rangers proceeded to win the series by giving up seven total hits to the Astros over the next 18 innings, quelling the worry of troubled Rangers fans still scarred by the loss of Josh Hamilton. Yu Darvish and Alexi Ogando proceeded to completely shut down the strikeout-prone Astros offense, as the Rangers staff K’ed 30 Astros hitters shut them out in consecutive games. In the series, the Astros also managed to break the record for the most strikeouts by a team in its first three games of the season, with 43.

Not all was bad for the Astros during the series, though. Some of the positives taken from the three games were the emergence of consistent starting pitching and the continuation of Jose Altuve’s consistency. After Bud Norris' solid performance in the series opener, Lucas Harrell held the Rangers to one earned run and six hits in the second game. In game three, Phillip Humber allowed one earned in 5 2/3 innings. In addition, Altuve is hitting .417 and gives fans hope for the Astros to send a worthy player to the All-Star game. In order to get back on track the Astros clearly have to get more disciplined at the plate (especially the middle of the lineup) and the bullpen cannot continue causing all quality starts by Astros starters to be all for naught.

For the Rangers, former Astros great and member of the “Killer B’s,” Lance Berkman, returned to Houston to pester his former team. He went 6-for-10 over the three-game series with three RBIs. Everyone knows about Yu Darvish’s 8 2/3 perfect innings and Marwin Gonzalez, a career .236 hitter, knocking a single up the middle to dash all hopes of history being made in Houston on opening week. Twitter exploded with clever puns like, “Yu mad?” and “Yu can’t always get what Yu want.” Others, such as sportswriter, Bill Simmons, stated his blunt outlook on the Astros future – “Don't worry, we'll get to see someone throw a perfect game against the Astros this season.” In order for the Rangers to return to the playoffs, others in the lineup have to make up for the offensive loss of Josh Hamilton and Matt Harrison, Derek Holland and Colby Lewis need to return to form and become more consistent.

Astros catcher Jason Castro is finally healthy and ready to contribute in Houston.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

Opening day is upon us and the Houston Astros will be celebrating their 50th anniversary when they take on the Colorado Rockies on April 6 at Minute Maid Park.

Last season the Astros went 56-106 and finished last in the National League.

The Astros have named five pitchers to the opening rotation.

Left handers Wandy Rodriguez and J.A. Happ, along with right hander Bud Norris, return from last season’s main rotation. Rodriguez and Norris will serve as the backbone of the pitching staff.

Last season Rodriguez turned in a season ERA of 3.49 with 7.82 strikes and 3.25 walks per nine innings pitched. He also pitched an impressive 191 innings last season which should help keep the bullpen fresh. Rodriguez is also the only player or coach who remains from the Astro’s 2005 World Series squad.

Norris’s fastball has helped keep him in the starting position, and while it has slowed to around 93 mph, his control in the past two seasons has kept it effective. He turned in a 3.77 ERA last season.

Happ did not have an impressive 2011 season. Late in the season, Happ was demoted to the Astro’s triple A affiliate Oklahoma City RedHawks. He posted a 5.35 ERA in 2011 and his offseason performance has coaches hoping he will return to his 2009 or 2010 form where he achieved ERAs of 2.93 and 3.40, respectively. Happ is 1-1 in 2012 spring training games.

Kyle Weiland and Lucas Harrell are the new faces on the mound at the start of this season. Both had ERAs below 4.00 in their respective minor league career. Weiland has posted a 2-1 spring training record this season with a 3.75 ERA. As a member of the Boston Red Sox in 2011, Weiland had a 0-3 record on the mound, giving up 22 runs with 13 strikeouts.

Harrell pitched three games for the Chicago White Sox over two seasons. He posted a 1-2 record for the Sox with a 4.71 ERA. Despite injuries, Harrell makes up for his lack of a fast ball with his powerful sinker.

Last season’s pitching staff ranked 15th in walks given up and 14th in hits given up and owned a team ERA of 4.55, lowest in the National League.

The two most productive hitters on the roster last season, outfielders Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn, both were traded at the end of the season. Jason Bourgeois returns to the 2012 Astros with the highest batting average from 2011 which was .294.

The offense as a whole scored 615 runs, less than the major league average of 694, and was the second straight season under 700. Only four teams had less production at the plate.

Despite this dismal statistic, the 2011 Astros looked pretty good on paper. They ranked first in the NL in doubles, fourth in batting average, and third in total hits. However, they also ranked 15th (out of 16) in home runs and 13th in runs scored. The lack of runs is what hurt last season’s squad.

In the offseason, the Astros only traded out and not in, as far as hitters go. First baseman Carlos Lee will return to the plate as the anchor of the Astro’s struggling line up. Lee finished with a .275 batting average, a team-high 18 home runs, and a team-high 94 RBIs.

Right fielder Brian Bogusevic is also expected to help Lee out at the plate. The former pitcher hit .287 in 2011, but Bogusevic is inconsistent at best against left-handed pitchers.

In addition to trading their top hitters, the Astros also traded their fastest base runners. In 105 games, Bourn stole 39 bases and, after being traded to Atlanta, went on to finish the league with the highest number of stolen bases.

Outfielder Jason Bourgeois, who was second on the team in stolen bases, was traded to the Royals in the offseason.

They are expected to finish about the same in 2012 as they did in 2011 due to the lack of incoming talent.

The 2011 season was the first in franchise history where a squad lost more than 100 games, a statistic that most want to forget. Hopefully the offseason was enough to start the rebuilding process for the Astros as they play their last year in the National League.

SAN FRANCISCO — Matt Downs was facing his former team and he insisted that carried no extra motivation.

Downs delivered a go-ahead single with one out in the 11th inning and the Houston Astros beat the San Francisco Giants 4-3 on Sunday to salvage a four-game split.

“Having Downs get the winning hit against his former team was great,” Astros’ starter Bud Norris said. “I know he’s on cloud nine.”

It was also a special homecoming for Norris, a Marin County native who was pitching in the Bay Area for the first time.

“He was back home and he was absolutely outstanding,” Houston manager Brad Mills said. “He didn’t want to come out and I didn’t want him to come out, he was throwing that good.”

Jose Altuve got things going with a one-out double against Ramon Ramirez (2-3) and Downs followed with a single up the middle. Altuve was forced into action after slugger Carlos Lee left in the top of the ninth with a sprained right ankle, sustained sliding into second on a double.

Mark Melancon (7-4) pitched the 10th and got the win despite allowing Mark DeRosa’s tying single.

Houston went ahead 3-2 in the 10th on pinch-hitter Jason Michaels’ double, then the Giants came back again.

Jordan Schafer lined a tying single to right with two outs in the eighth against Matt Cain to help force extra innings.

Aubrey Huff hit a tying RBI single off Houston starter Bud Norris in the seventh to end a 0-for-15 funk, and singled again in the ninth but the Giants didn’t score. After Huff’s initial hit in the seventh, Norris received a mound visit before giving up Orlando Cabrera’s go-ahead sacrifice fly on the next pitch.

Lee doubled against Sergio Romo in the ninth and hustled to beat the throw from right field. He came in hard to collide with shortstop Cabrera. Lee’s right leg bent and it appeared the spikes on his right shoe got caught on the bag. He grabbed his right ankle in pain as the training staff rushed out to help him off the field.

Norris had only allowed one runner to reach second base before the Giants got to him for two runs in the seventh.