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Series Twelve: Astros at Marlins

Another near sweep that never came to be this weekend, as the Rockies snuck out of town with a win against Al Leiter yesterday.

The going doesn't get any easier this week, as the Fish start the week with a three game set against the Astros and then travel out west to play the Padres.

The pitching matchups are expected to be as follows:
Game One (tonight): Clemens vs. Burnett
Game Two (tomorrow night): Backe vs. Moehler
Game Three (Wednesday night): Oswalt vs. Willis

Those, my friends, are some exciting pitching matchups. Well, at least they are in games one and three. Those are playoff quality matchups. Besides, it could be the last chance you have to see Clemens live and in person (and yes, I know we all thought that's what we were seeing in Game 4 of the 2003 World Series).

Anyways, on to the mascot interview with Junction Jack. Today's interview is not sponsored by anyone, as our previous sponsors' checks didn't cash.

: Junction Jack, welcome to Fish Stripes!

: Thanks for having me Grover!

: Now Jack, you're probably not a mascot that a lot of our readers are familiar with, as you're pretty new to the "game" - but in your brief career at the major league level, you've been pretty accomplished.

: Well, thanks again Grover! That's very kind of you to say. Mostly I'm just like every other mascot - except that I really live up to my name and I can hit the long ball with the rest of them.

: So I've heard. Are you going to defend your mascot home run derby championship title this year in Detroit at the All-Star game?

: I'm going to try to. If I win it would be three years in a row. But you know, we mascots aren't held to the performance enhancing drug testing standards that the players are, so I suspect that some of my peers may be juicing in an attempt to take my crown this year. I just want my fans to know that I'm clean and will defend my title with honor.

: Whatever. Get off your soapbox. Let's talk real baseball. The Marlins get another crack at Roger Clemens tonight. I think some of them are a little embarassed about the impromptu standing ovation they gave him during the 2003 World Series. What can we expect from Roger tonight?

: Well, he's having a heck of a year so far - despite what his win - loss record might tell you. He's only 1 - 1 on the year, but he has a 1.29 ERA and more strikeouts than innings pitched. Some folks will tell you that the Rocket doesn't bring it like he used to anymore - he is 42 you know - but he's still striking out more than one guy per inning.

One weakness of Roger's that the Marlins might be able to exploit is how he handles baserunners. He doesn't have a great pickoff move and he tends to focus on the batter more than the baserunner. So if Pierre and Castillo are on the bases a lot tonight, they could cause some trouble.

The problem, of course, is getting on base against Clemens. Opponents are batting only .182 against him this year, with an OBP of .248.

: I noticed you guys got another bat back over the weekend.

: Yes, the "real" home run derby champ, Lance Berkman, rejoined the lineup last week. Lance missed the first month of the season while he rehabbed from a torn knee ligament - which he suffered playing flag football in the offseason. He doesn't even have a dozen at bats yet, but his presence in the lineup is a sign of good things to come for the club. He's an important part of the lineup.

: But why's Lance playing first base? Don't you guys have a future Hall of Famer at first?

: Well, Bagwell's probably a future HoFer, but he's really struggling with some shoulder problems. Folks have been speculating that his condition is only getting worse. While Jeff is a really tough guy, he's having trouble playing during the six weeks between his cortisone injections.

Plus, the Astros have a little more depth in the outfield - particularly with rookie Willy Tavares being pretty impressive.

: It's a shame to hear about Bagwell. I'd noticed he hasn't started since Tuesday. What about the 'Stros other (probable) future Hall of Famer - Craig Biggio?

: Biggio keeps pluggin' away. He's hitting over .300 and can still steal a bag when necessary. He's back to playing second base exclusively - which probably helps to make him more comfortable.

: What can you tell us that we probably don't know about the Astros bullpen?

: Well, John Franco's not a Met anymore - he's a 'Stro. He hasn't been asked to pitch a whole lot - at least not in terms of innings. He's racked up 4.1 innings in 11 outings. I'd expect to see him once or twice this series late in the game against Carlos Delgado. In that matchup you've got two veteran lefties who haven't seen a lot of each other in their careers. The Astros have to like that.

Brad Lidge, of course, is our closer. He's been good so far. Absolutely dominant in terms of strikeouts - 22 Ks in 13.1 innings.  But he's given up more hits than innings pitched too.

Little known Dan Wheeler and Russ Springer have eaten up a lot of innings for us out of the pen so far. Both have been excellent - combining for an ERA of about 2 and a quarter.

: Doesn't sound like that gives us much to look forward to if we knock Clemens or Oswalt out of the game early.

: No, not really - but Backe, tomorrow night's starter, is pretty hittable. He's racked up an Al Leiter-like 6.81 ERA. And, as another example of how meaningless win - loss records are for pitchers, he has two wins - one more than Roger Clemens, despite having given up 27 earned runs in 35.2 innings. That's as many earned runs allowed as hits Clemens has given up (and Clemens has thrown about seven more innings).

: Last question: what's your prediction for the series?

: That's tough. Tonight and Wednesday night's game are tossups. Moehler's been pitching well though and Backe hasn't, so I give the Marlins game two. I'd also probably have to give the Marlins the edge in game three, as Willis has been spectacular so far this year. But Roy Oswalt is just as capable - if not more so - of throwing a shut out every time he's out on the hill. That game - and tonight's - could be classics though. It wouldn't surprise me to see both pitchers tonight rack up double digit strikeout totals.

: Thanks Jack! And good luck defending your home run title in Detroit in July.