Florida Marlins and Astros clash in Houston

By: Stephen Nover | Friday, April 8, 2011

Just know this when betting on the Florida Marlins: They have some very talented players such as Hanley Ramirez, Josh Johnson and Mike Stanton, but they’re bad defensively and also prone to mental mistakes.

All of this makes the Marlins a frustrating team to back. But at least they’re not the Houston Astros.

The Astros have the worst record in the National League. They entered their three-game home series against Florida batting .214 and with an on-base percentage of .273.

Game 2 of the three-game set at Minute Maid Park is Saturday at 4:05 p.m. PT with Florida’s Javier Vazquez opposing Bud Norris.

There are a number of ‘under’ trends going into this series, including the ‘under’ being 13-6-1 in Houston’s past 20 home contests and Florida going below the total in its last six away matchups.

But based on the weather forecast and how poorly Vazquez and Norris fared in their first starts of the season, there could be a lot of runs scored even with Houston’s weak offense that has averaged 3.3 runs in its first six games and a league-low two homers.

Temperatures in the 80s with 14 mph winds blowing out are forecast.

That’s bad news for Vazquez and Norris, who combined to give up nine earned runs in 6 1/3 innings during their opening outings. They each surrendered two homers.

Vazquez is a 34-year-old high strikeout pitcher who appears on the downside of his career after turning in a 5.32 ERA last year with the New York Yankees. He lost 9-2 to the New York Mets last Sunday as a 125 home favorite against R.A. Dickey. The combined 11 runs went ‘over’ the 8 ½-run total.

A 13-year veteran who went 10-10 last year after a 15-10 season in 2009 for Atlanta, Vazquez may not have to deal with speedy Astros leadoff hitter Michael Bourn. The Houston center fielder is nursing a sore groin.

Norris also is a big strikeout pitcher, too. His strikeout percentage has been in the top 10 during the past two seasons. The 26-year-old third-year right-hander, though, gives up too many hits and walks. He was 9-10 last year with a 4.92 ERA and 1.48 WHIP.

Norris lost 7-3 to Roy Oswalt and NL East Division champion Philadelphia this past Sunday as a 185 road ‘dog. The combined 10 runs went ‘over’ the eight-run total.

The Astros were the last National League team to win a game after dropping their first five games. Still, that’s an improvement from 2010 when they opened 0-8. Houston also had to face Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Oswalt in their first three games followed by a three-game series against the defending NL Central Division champion Reds.

Houston came into this series having won 21 of its past 31 at Minute Maid Park. The Marlins have lost the past five times they’ve faced a right-handed starter on the road. The Marlins also entered this season having dropped four of their last five road games to the Astros.

Florida has only three homers during its first six games. That total should increase with outfielder Stanton due back. He missed five consecutive starts after straining a hamstring in the Marlins’ first game. Stanton slugged 22 homers and drove in 59 runs in only 359 at bats as a 20-year-old rookie last year.

The Marlins have received outstanding bullpen work, compiling a 1.77 ERA through five games. Florida relievers had a scoreless string of 12 2/3 innings going in their previous home series against Washington before it snapped this past Thursday in an extra-inning loss to the Nationals.

This is the Astros’ second of a 10-game homestand with the Cubs and Padres following Florida into town. The Marlins go on to play three games at Atlanta and three games at Philadelphia following Sunday’s finale of this series.

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