added 9/1/2003 by Willie B. Lakey
For most of the last two months it’s been the Cardinals and Cubs chasing the Astros. Granted, it’s been a slow and often lackluster pursuit reminiscent of the infamous afternoon drive OJ Simpson took through Los Angeles a little more than nine years ago.
As boring and frustrating as the last eight weeks have been, at least it was Houston being chased. Now the Astros find themselves doing the chasing, and with the calendars now flipping to September there isn’t much time left to win the race.
Houston’s lethargy in the 2003 campaign is finally catching up to them. Splitting a dozen games at home might finally be the straw that broke their backs this year. Especially when you realize they were 4-2 against the Cubs and Dodgers, the two best teams on the homestand, and 2-4 against the Reds and Padres, the two teams they really should’ve beaten.
The schedule favored Houston in August, but the Astros didn’t take advantage. Of the 28 games on the team’s slate for the month, 18 were at home. But the Astros managed just a 9-9 mark in those 18 contests. Add in their 4-6 record as visitors in August, and it’s hard to understand how they’re within a game of first as August comes to a close.
The schedule now works against Houston, both in terms of the home-road split (10 at home, 16 on the road) and in terms of the opposition. Granted, there are half a dozen matches against the Cardinals. But there are also 12 games against clubs from other divisions, and that makes it more difficult to really gain ground.
Six of those 12 games out of the division are this week in LA and San Diego. Chavez Ravine has been the site of many an Astros disappointment. Three more are about two weeks from now in Colorado, with Denver a site of several Astros horror stories. And the other three are near the end of the year against a tough San Fran club that is looking to get back to the World Series. As important as the Cardinals games will be, the dozen games against NLW opponents could really be the difference makers.
And no matter who the Astros face from here on out, playing .500 baseball just ain’t gonna’ cut the mustard any longer.
WINS & LOSSES: After taking Monday off, Houston got off to a rip-roaring start with an 18-4 rout over the Dodgers. Astros hitters took advantage of 9 free passes and added 17 hits, including homers by Jeff Kent and Jeff Bagwell, in the laugher. Ron Villone got the start and the win for the Good guys.
Houston followed that with a strong 6-1 win on Wednesday behind excellent pitching by Wade Miller and the bullpen. Jeff Bagwell homered as part of a 4-run first inning, all the offense Miller would need. Miller allowed just one unearned run in his 7 innings of work, walking 1 and striking out 5 to even his record at 11-11.
Houston went for the sweep on Thursday but fell short as Los Angeles pulled out a 6-3 win. Jeromy Burnitz drove in 3, including a pair with a double in the third inning off Tim Redding. Houston managed to chase Dodgers starter Wilson Alvarez early, but the LA bullpen limited the Astros to just 2 hits and no runs over the final 13 outs of the game.
The San Diego Padres then came to town and knocked Houston out of first-place in the NL Central by taking 2 of 3 games over the weekend. The series opener on Friday was over almost before it started as Phil Nevin and Mark Loretta went deep on Jeriome Robertson in the top of the first before skating to a 7-1 win. Adam Eaton started for San Diego and worked 7 strong frames for the win.
Houston looked like they would take Saturday’s game easily before the club eventually held on for an 11-6 win. Houston led 7-1 behind Jared Fernandez’ knuckler and the bat and glove of Lance Berkman. But the Padres rallied with a 5-run seventh to pull within 7-6 before Houston’s bullpen got the tourniquet on and Astros hitters piled on a few more runs.
San Diego wrapped the series up won Sunday with a 3-1 triumph. Padres starter Jake Peavy allowed a first-inning homer to Morgan Ensberg, but that would be the extent of Houston’s offense on the day. Ron Villone was the tough-luck loser, taking a shutout into the seventh frame before finally tiring. Mark Loretta’s 2-run single proved to be the fatal blow.
BUMPS, BRUISES & BREAKS: Roy Oswalt’s return draws closer each day. He has been throwing on the side the last week and trying to get on schedule for a return to action as early as this coming weekend in San Diego. Roy O will reportedly throw on the side once more this week, probably Tuesday, and a decision could be reached after that.
CH-CH-CH-CHANGES: Houston made a couple of roster moves this week, but both were aimed at setting up their September roster to give them more options should the club make the playoffs. Both Wade Miller and Jared Fernandez were sent to Double-A Round Rock and their spots on the big league roster taken by C-1B Mitch Meluskey and infielder Eric Bruntlett. The Meluskey move is especially interesting since he’s rejoining the club after leaving a few years ago on less than friendly terms.
DAY-BY-DAY ASTRO-LOGY: Houston ended the week with a record of 71-65 that leaves them 1-game behind St. Louis in the NL Central. The Cubs trail the Astros by another game-and-a-half. This Monday will belong to all Virgo’s, including third-sacker Morgan Ensberg. Brad Ausmus (Aries) and Bill Wagner (Leo) will have their best games on Tuesday. Wednesday will be a great day for those born under the sign of Aquarius (Lance Berkman, Adam Everett, Tim Redding). Jeff Kent (Pisces) will get the Padres series off to a good start on Friday. Saturday will be a good day for a couple of Jeff’s, Bagwell (Gemini) and Blum (Taurus). And next Sunday will belong to Craig Biggio and his fellow Sagittarians Ricky Stone and Octavio Dotel.
Monday 4-4 . . . Tuesday 13-8 . . . Wednesday 11-10 . . . Thursday 10-11 . . . Friday 13-9 . . . Saturday 9-13 . . . Sunday 11-10
STAR OF THE WEEK: My Shooting Star this week goes to Lance Berkman, with honorable mention to Jeff Bagwell. Berkman batted .313 for the week (5-for-16) with a homer, three doubles, 5 RBI and 7 suns scored. Berkman seemed to be on base all the time as he added 10 walks to his total, giving him a. 577 on-base percentage last week. Jeff Bagwell blasted 3 homers, drove in 5 and scored 8 times on the week.
ON DECK: Houston’s longest and most disappointing homestand is over now, and the club has to make a quick trip to LA for three games (Mon-Wed). After taking Thursday off the Astros move south to San Diego for a trio of games next weekend. Houston will then come home via Milwaukee where they have a 4-game match versus the Brewers Sept. 8-11.
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