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Going For A 6-1 Homestand: Cubs vs. Astros Preview, Thursday 7/30, 1:20 CT

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The Cubs had three postponements in the first three months of 2009 -- one per month; that's more postponements than in the last three years combined. One of them was on Friday, May 15 -- that's the game the Cubs are making up today. So, naturally, rain is in the forecast:

Today: A 40 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms after 1pm. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 79. Southwest wind between 5 and 10 mph.

So, if you are going to the game, bring rain gear, and hope that the 40% chance stays away from the ballpark area, or at least holds off till after the game is over.

Other morning baseball notes: ESPN's Tim Kurkjian had an interesting piece yesterday on pitch counts and why 100 pitches is such a "magic number" these days.. Particularly interesting is this quote from former major league pitcher Orel Hershiser:
"Since 1968, I believe the intensity of every pitch has gotten harder and harder in the big leagues," said Orel Hershiser, the National League Cy Young Award winner in 1988. "In 1968, guys threw over the top, the ball went downhill and became a moving fastball. When they lowered the mound in 1969, they took away the pitcher's leverage. They took away the plane of the baseball, and a straight pitch became more on the plane of the bat. At that point, pitchers had to move the ball so it was not on the plane of the bat, and to do that, they had to increase the intensity on every pitch. Movement became a key, not just velocity. So with all the elements we have today, if the intensity of one pitch is increased by, say, 10 percent, then 125 pitches becomes 115, which becomes 110, then becomes 100."

Now, I don't think we'd want to go back to 1968, known as "The Year of the Pitcher", when the AL batting title was won by Carl Yastrzemski with a .301 average and the entire National League hit .243 (comparison point: the 2008 NL hit .260). However, Hershiser goes on:

Hershiser made his major league debut in 1983. "I could rest at certain times during the game: two outs, no one on, seventh hitter up in the National League," he said. "I didn't want to show all my bullets at that time, so I'd throw a BP sinker away and get a ground out. If the guy got a hit, no big deal; you had the eighth and ninth hitters up. But you can't do that today with these lineups. You can't throw only 80 percent of what you have. You can't get by with a get-me-over curveball. What used to not be a big deal is now a huge deal."

This, I think, is the more important point. Pitchers used to save some of their best stuff for the later innings, so they could still fire 95+ fastballs past hitters in critical situations in the 8th and 9th innings, if they got that far. Starting pitchers don't do that today -- they are going all-out from pitch #1, knowing that they don't have to go past the 6th or 7th. It's a psychological thing as much as it is physical. Is it better? Not necessarily. It's just different, the way the game has changed in the last 25-30 years.

Good cases in point: today's starting pitchers.

Today's Starting Pitchers
Kevin Hart
Kevin Hart
Cubs
vs. Russ Ortiz
Russ Ortiz
Astros
2-1 W-L 3-5
2.08 ERA 4.75
9 SO 62
16 BB 45
1 HR 6
vs. Hou -- vs. Cubs

W-L G GS CG SHO SV BS IP H R ER HR BB K ERA WHIP
2009 - Kevin Hart 2-1 7 3 0 0 0 0 21.2 17 5 5 1 16 9 2.08 1.52


W-L G GS CG SHO SV BS IP H R ER HR BB K ERA WHIP
2009 - Russ Ortiz 3-5 24 12 0 0 0 0 83.1 86 47 44 6 45 62 4.75 1.57

The last time Russ Ortiz was scheduled to pitch against the Cubs I made fun of him. That was a really bad idea -- he went out and threw 5.1 scoreless innings, but was long gone by the time the Astros won that game on June 11 in Houston in 13 innings. So instead, I'll laud Ortiz for his work in curing cancer, solving difficult problems in international diplomacy and saving thousands of puppies. (And just in case you were wondering, Aramis Ramirez is 6-for-16 vs. Ortiz with a homer, and Everyday Koyie Hill is 4-for-7.)

Kevin Hart, who threw very well against the Reds last Saturday, will be making his first career start against Houston. He has made one career relief appearance against the Astros, on April 5, 2008 at Wrigley Field; the only current Astro to get a hit off him that day was Michael Bourn, who tripled.

Today's makeup game is on WGN -- same as the original May 15 date, which was also supposed to be a WGN game. It's also on FSN Houston. For other games today see the MLB.com Mediacenter.

MLB.com Gameday

Baseball-reference.com game preview

SB Nation game preview

Please visit our SB Nation Astros site The Crawfish Boxes.

Overflow comment threads will post today at 2:15 pm, 3:15 pm and 4 pm CDT.

Discuss amongst yourselves.