Preparing for the stretch run

added 7/1/2001 by Raymond Desadier
What is the point of getting to the post season if we don’t do anything when we get there? Winning the Central is old news; been there, done that. Now it is time to reach the next level and Astro management needs to do everything possible to put us in the position to do so.

No matter how good things are, there is ALWAYS room for improvement. That applies to our lineup and definitely to our pitching staff. I offer four questions in need of answers or at least guesses.

WILL THE YOUNGSTERS TAKE US ALL THE WAY?

Maybe, maybe not. Shane Reynolds is solid in the post-season (3.38 ERA in 24 IP) and there is a very good chance of getting decent to solid outings from either Wade Miller or Roy Oswalt. In the event that that doesn’t happen, we need another guy to turn to, and our options are very limited.

1. Scott Elarton - I think we should swap him with Tony McKnight for about 2 starts and give Elly a chance to work out the kinks in New Orleans. After his 2 minor league starts Elarton can return and if he shows vast improvement then he can be our other post-season starter. If not then…

2. Trade – While Elarton is in the Big Easy, Gerry Hunsicker can be making inquiries about a trade for an above-average veteran starter, like say Pedro Astacio. I would rather us not make a trade but if Hunsicker can find the right deal then he should probably jump on it. Package up Brian Powell, one of our AA outfielders, Kyle Logan or Jason Lane, and I’m sure a deal could be made.

3. Octavio Dotel – The only way that Dotie gets back into the rotation is if Ron Villone, Jim Mann, or Scott Elarton can step up and be at least 75% as effective as he has been. Villone definitely has the potential but potential is NOT enough. Mann has been lights out in New Orleans (3-1, 19 saves, 1.45 ERA in 43.1 IP), but has a mere 2.2 innings in the majors. Elarton was outstanding in relief in ’98 and ’99 but his woes may follow him to the bullpen. Now that Dotel has been using his off-speed pitches more effectively, it will be interesting to see him get another shot at starting.

WHAT ABOUT BRAD?

Despite our overwhelming offensive attack, there is still a gaping whole occupying the 8 hole. Brad Ausmus has truly been suffering at the plate, perhaps to the extent of nullifying what he offers defensively.

My suggestion for Elarton spending some time in Triple Alpha may be what Bradley needs as well. He needs to regain his confidence and how better than by bashing washed up veterans and frustrated young ladder climbers impatiently awaiting promotion. Scott Servais can certainly do no worse at the plate and Tony Eusebio can play a little more during the 2 to 3 week hiatus.

Ausmus means a lot to this club, but it is time for him to start carrying his weight with the stick.

IS CASTILLA THE SOLUTION?

Vinny Castilla has started to look better at the plate and sports a .276 batting average through Sunday’s game. .276 is a much higher average than Chris Truby’s Ausmus-like .133 average, but has it been more productive? The answer is no. Here is why:

Vinny: .276 AVG, 8.2% RBI Pct, 24.2 AB/HR, 16% Double Play pct
Chris: .133 AVG, 9.8% RBI Pct, 17.1 AB/HR, 4% Double Play pct

Although Truby wasn’t collecting as many hits, his hits were more meaningful, and when he was getting out, he wasn’t taking as many guys with him (double plays).
So if Truby was producing more runs than Castilla with a .133 average, how many more runs could he produce if he hit .100 points higher? Since he is batting .335 in New Orleans, I think .233 in the big leagues would be a cinch with .250-.260 well within reach.

It’s definitely worth consideration while Gerry is re-tooling for the second half.

IS THE BENCH WARM ENOUGH?

The injury to Bill Spiers left quite a crater in the Houston bench. Hopefully Orlando Merced will get well and continue his success. He along with Tony Eusebio, Daryle Ward and Jose Vizcaino have fared well but Charlie Hayes has been, well, you know.

Hopefully Mendy Lopez will get the chance to continue impressing Alan Ashby and Hayes can be sent packing. If Castilla were willing, he too could help solidify the bench in the event of Truby being promoted.

IN CONCLUSION

IF the Astros could enter the final two months with a solid 1-2-3 punch in the rotation while maintaining a solid relief corps and average 4 and 5 starters, IF Brad Ausmus can raise his average about .50 points, IF the third base production could increase even a little bit, and IF the bench can survive without Duct Tape, this team can undoubtedly go all the way.

Sounds pretty iffy to me!

rjdesadier@hotmail.com

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