Good week still leaves club short

added 9/7/2003 by Willie B. Lakey

I should’ve bought stock in the makers of Advil and Tums back in the spring.

With the Astros leaving on a 10-game roadtrip that started off with six matches in Los Angeles and San Diego, I was left with a bad feeling in my stomach earlier this week. But the Astros, and the antacids, got me through it with a nice swing through a couple of locales that have historically given Houston fits over the years.

Now I’m popping Advil trying to figure out all of the remaining math in my head. There’s something around four zillion different scenarios for the rest of the regular season once you factor in the 20 games left for Houston, the 19 on Chicago’s schedule and the 18 on St. Louis’ slate. And the only way I can find so far that absolutely guarantees the Astros earn at least a tie for the NL Central crown is for Houston to go 20-0 the rest of the way.

Nice dream, huh? Of course, the way the season has gone in the NLC, the Cubs would probably win 19 on their own and force a one-game playoff.

Houston can’t really do anything about the Cubs from here on out since Chicago’s North Side MLB entry is finished on the Bayou City schedule. The Cubs blew through Milwaukee this past weekend without much resistance from the Brewers, and now the Astros slip into Wisconsin to face the same foe. Could be a dangerous time, perhaps the Brewers are upset with themselves and out to get back into a winning groove before the season comes to an end.

While it won’t be easy to keep from looking ahead to the Cardinals series next weekend, Houston has to do just that these next four days in Milwaukee. An earlier trip to face the Brewers was just part of a disastrous, 4-9 roadtrip during the second half of April. To top it off, the Astros won’t have Wade Miller in any of the games at Miller Park in Milwaukee. Miller practically owns the Brewers on their own ground, but he won’t pitch there this week.

Houston will have Roy Oswalt as the club’s ace is set to come off the DL on Monday and get the starting nod. Astros fans will literally hold their breath with each pitch Roy O tosses, hoping and praying the groin injury is finally behind him, no pun intended.

It doesn’t get much more exciting than this until the actual postseason. With the quiet exits from the postseason the Houston club's made its last few treks into October, who knows?, maybe this is more exciting. And in an ironic twist, the next four series on Houston’s schedule are against teams in the “Beer Belt” – Milwaukee, St. Louis and Colorado.

Add that on top of an already stomach-churnin’, head-spinnin’ race in the NL Central, and maybe it’s still not too late for me to cash in on the Advil and Tums stock purchases with three weeks left in the regular season!

WINS & LOSSES: Playing for just the ninth time on Monday this season, Houston got their week rolling with a big 10-1 win in Los Angeles, hammering 18 hits off Dodgers pitchers in the process. Craig Biggio, Jeff Kent and Geoff Blum each collected 3 hits, with Kent driving in 6 that included a 4-spot with a ninth-inning slam. Wade Miller allowed just 4 hits in his 6-2/3 innings on the mound to pick up the win.

Fred McGriff homered twice and Wilson Alvarez combined with four relievers to pitch the Dodgers past the Astros on Tuesday, 4-1. Eric Gagne was on the mound for LA to get the final four outs for the Dodgers and give him an MLB record 55-straight save chances converted.

Houston answered with an 8-2 triumph on Wednesday to take the series against the Dodgers. Richard Hidalgo, Geoff Blum and Adam Everett each drove in 2 runs to pace the Astros at the plate. Rookie southpaw Jeriome Robertson saw his record move to 13-7 with a nice effort on the mound and more of the best relief in baseball.

The Astros slid down the Left Coast on Friday and opened a 3-game set in San Diego with a 5-4 nail-biter over the Pads. Jeff Bagwell’s 3-run long fly in the top of the sixth proved to be the difference, along with 3-hit work from five relievers over the final 12 outs.

Houston followed that up with an 11-4 spanking of San Diego on Saturday. Morgan Ensberg’s 2-run, 2-out double in the top of the eighth broke a 4-4 deadlock, and the Astros tacked on 4 more in the top of the ninth to make it look like the rout it wasn’t. Ensberg set career highs with 4 this and 4 RBI in the contest. Ron Villone started but lasted just 3 innings on the mound for Houston as manager Jimy Williams ran through a half-dozen relievers before wringing out a win.

Houston’s chances to sweep the Padres went quickly out the window when Brian Giles popped a 2-run homer in the first inning of Sunday’s game off Astros starter Wade Miller. San Diego eventually skated to a 7-1 win behind the pitching of Jake Peavy, who picked up his second win over Houston in a week, and the Padres bullpen. Houston starting pitcher Wade Miller suddenly went Steve Blass in the fifth inning and saw his record fall to 12-12 on the year.

BUMPS, BRUISES & BREAKS: Roy Oswalt’s progression back from his third trip to the DL this year with groin woes maxed out this past week, and the right-hander was set to be activated on Monday and get the starting nod in Milwaukee.

Now the team will hold its breath this week while Octavio Dotel rests a strained hip muscle. An integral part of the bullpen, the team’s one consistent force all year, Dotel’s condition was to be re-evaluated this week, but for now it looks like he will not be available for at least a week.

DAY-BY-DAY ASTRO-LOGY: The Astros ended the week with 75 wins and 67 losses, putting them a half-game out of first in the NL Central behind the Chicago Cubs. The coming week should be a strange one for the stars and planets while Mercury moves out of retrograde and Wednesday finds a full moon on tap. Brad Lidge (Capricorn) and Jeff Kent Pisces should be his usual shutout self to get the week rolling for Houston on Monday in Milwaukee. Tuesday would be a good day for Billy Wagner (Leo) to either break or add to his club record for saves in a season. Jeff Bagwell and Kirk Saarloos could be a nice pair of Gemini’s for Wednesday’s full moon. Thursday could be a good day to try Orlando Merced’s (Scorpio) stick off the bench. Geoff Blum (Taurus) is Houston’s best bet for Friday. Lance Berkman and Adam Everett (Aquarius) will have their best games next Saturday. Veteran Craig Biggio (Sagittarius) should lead the club on offense next Sunday.

Monday 5-4 . . . Tuesday 13-9 . . . Wednesday 12-10 . . . Thursday 10-11 . . . Friday 14-9 . . . Saturday 10-13 . . . Sunday 11-11

STAR OF THE WEEK: Tough decision this week, but in the end my Shooting Star is going to Billy Wagner on behalf of the entire Houston bullpen. Wagner picked up a pair of saves this week, giving him 39 on the season and tying a club record he’s reached twice before. The southpaw has converted his last 17 save chances and has an ERA of 0.32 over his last 27-1/3 IP.

ON DECK: The roadtrip continues for the Astros as they now head to Milwaukee for a 4-game set beginning Monday (Sep 8). Houston will then come home for a very quick 3-game weekend homestand with the Cardinals (Sep 12-14). After that it’s back on the road to Colorado and St. Louis before coming home to close out the season against the Giants and Brewers.

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