The end of a streak
added 9/25/2002 by Todd Brody
Jeff Bagwell has put together one of the more amazing streaks in baseball. For the past six years, he has driven in at least 100 runs, scored at least 100 times, drawn at least 100 bases on balls, and hit at least 30 home runs. Amazing. No one else has ever accomplished these numbers for six years straight. But if Bagwell doesn't score a bunch of runs in his last few games this season, this amazing streak will come to an end.
The fact that Bagwell might not score 100 times this season is almost as amazing as the streak itself. Over the last four years, Bagwell has averaged 136 runs. In 2000, the Astros worst year in recent memory, Bagwell still scored 152 times.
The Astros tend to follow Bagwell and runs are down this season for the team in general. This team will likely score 100 runs less than last year's team and nearly 200 runs less than the 2000 team. Yes, scoring is down all over baseball and the Astros are still fifth in the league in runs scored. But as Roy Oswalt can attest, the Astros "should" score more than two runs in two games against the Brewers and Wayne Franklin. After all, we're playing in Minute Maid Park. How is it possible that the Astros are scoring less runs here than in their last three seasons in the Dome?
With the season winding down, and the Astros out of playoff contention, a lot of our focus has already shifted towards next season. The hot stove league starts early when you can't beat the Cardinals. We have all heard about Randy Winn and Juan Pierre and bringing in a centerfielder who can bat lead-off. But let me tell you something. The Astros, more than anything else (including another starting pitcher and a lead-off hitter), need a big bat to hit behind Bagwell. If Bagwell is not protected, teams simply pitch around him, knowing how unlikely it is that he is going to be driven in from first.
We were all hoping that Richard Hidalgo or Daryle Ward would be able to replace Moises Alou in the lineup. Based on his previous numbers, I was certain that Ward would hit forty home runs this season. At least. But it didn't happen. Outside of a momentous shot in Pittsburgh, it seemed that Ward forgot how to hit homeruns. And Hidalgo was lost at the plate all season. Maybe the Astros tried mucking around with Ward's swing during the past offseason, hoping that he would raise his batting average. Maybe the Astros should have left Ward alone.
The problem is that with the exception of Jim Thome (who the Astros don't need for obvious reasons), there are no free agents available who fit the description on a big bat. So the Astros are going to have to make a trade. Here are the three players who I would target during the off-season: Carlos Beltran, Brian Giles, and Larry Walker. Deals with the Royals, Pirates, and Rockies might be possible, simply because those teams are going nowhere. Beltran and Walker probably fit best within the defensive Astros scheme. Giles is the best hitter of the bunch but he plays left-field which, assuming the Astros trade Hidalgo, would create one of the worst defensive outfields in the history of baseball.
Look, any of these trades are going to cost the Astros a lot, both in terms of money and young players. I would assume that a trade with the Royals or Pirates would cost the Astros Jason Lane and Kirk Saarloos and maybe another player. Still want to do the deal? The Astros could be more creative if they deal with the Rockies since the Rockies are desperate to trade Mike Hampton, but Walker is the oldest of the three and poses the greatest risk of injury. And while Walker hits pretty well on the road, his numbers are certainly inflated because he plays in Coors Field.
Monetary cost is also an issue. Walker and Giles each have three more years left on their contracts and are getting paid more than $10 million per season. Beltran is arbitration eligible this season, he's going to get paid, and the Astros are going to want to sign him to a long-term contract. But Drayton McLane must recognize that this increase in payroll can be offset by attendance. The Astros had 500,000 less fans at the gate this season than last and I would venture that the main reason is that the Astros aren't winning. Houston baseball fans are finicky and attendance is going to stink if the team isn't winning. And let's not forget that the Astros are now competing for attention and fan dollars with the Texans and the Yao Ming Rockets.
While I don't believe that Bagwell cares much about his streak (which is really an ESPN creation), I do hope that he finds a way to score seven runs in the next four games. But even if the streak continues, the fact remains that the Astros lack a run producer in the heart of the lineup. The Astros lineup used to scare other teams. Now we count on Geoff Blum and Jose Vizcaino to drive in runs. It just doesn't work like that.