added 7/11/2005 by
Now that the Astros have discovered what it takes to win there is more excitement and interest in the club. And one of the most frequent topics of discussion is what can they do to improve the team for the rest of the season.
There is no solid answer. The pitching staff (compared to most--including teams leading divisions) has little need for change. Perhaps a real lefty short man would be nice and Wandy Rodriguez to suddenly become a three year veteran would help, but the core group of five starters plus relievers Lidge, Wheeler, Qualls and Springer have really pitched quite well. So, I don’t expect any changes of significance on the staff.
The outfield has little power, but swinging a deal to add a bat is tricky. Even omitting the financial concerns finding an outfield hitter who would be worth whatever the Astros would have to surrender is no sure bet. General Manager Tim Purpura is doing his best to stay on top of who or what might be available. Whether making a move would be helpful in the short term or smart in the long term is what he must consider.
Could this club make the playoffs with the same cast? Certainly it is possible, but the odds are stacked against them. For one thing they would have to continue playing at very close to the same pace they have been in recent weeks. The starting pitching should be good enough to keep them close in most games. Will the hitting perform consistently enough especially against the better pitchers on the good teams to score enough?
When you get right down to it, based on what we have seen so far, this club had enough to win again (or at the least contend for a title or wild card) even without Beltran and Kent. What if Berkman had not been hurt playing touch football? What if Bagwell’s shoulder had finally not forced him off the field? Don’t you think the club would be in better shape right now than they are? I do. Biggio is not showing his age offensively. Ensberg has become at least for this season a superstar. Taveras, although hardly a finished product, is making his presence felt in every game.
Don’t give up. Having a good road trip after the All-Star break could make things even more interesting when the club returns home on July 25th.
Now for some answers to various odds n ends... I got into radio and television after majoring in the same at Butler University. I began by doing play by play for both football and basketball for the school. My career touched down in Terre Haute, Honolulu, Peoria, Buffalo and San Antonio before Houston. I broke into professional sports doing radio play by play for the Buffalo Bisons baseball club and into major league professional sports with the San Antonio Spurs on TV...then the Rockets and finally back to my number one love baseball in Arlington and for the past 11 seasons in Houston. My greatest influence was Tom Carnegie-- still the lead PA announcer at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He was formerly sports director for a TV station in Indianapolis who taught the sportscasting class at Butler. Things he taught I still follow.
Some have asked about more crowd involvement by our crew. We stuck Brownie and Dierker in the Crawford boxes on Thursday 7/7. The problem with doing too much of that is that we can’t get too far away from the reason we are really working--to broadcast the game itself.
The new sounds on the FSN graphics can be disconcerting I will agree. I reach for my cell phone almost everytime that initial ringing sound is heard. I suspect we will all get used to them and mentally turn them out.
Minute Maid Park is the BEST of the new parks in baseball in my opinion when everything is taken into consideration. And remember, when I go on the road I REALLY learn the ins and outs of the ballparks! Of course, having a retractable roof and thus potential air conditioning scores the most points. However, the sightlines are as good or better than any...the open concourse is a major plus (neither The Ballpark nor Camden Yards are open)...location and ease of ingress and egress for parking is top notch. By the way, don’t complain about parking prices. The average cost in Houston is STILL much lower than the average nearly everywhere else. Minute Maid does not score well when it comes to scenic beauty. The layout has the skyline only visible to those down the right field line. Pittsburgh, and San Francisco win that award. Cleveland is good and so is Baltimore. The Ballpark in Arlington is the most impressive from the outside and the most massive. But it is so very hot, there is no view and closed concourses rate it lower to me. Philadelphia’s new facility it top flight as is San Diego’s. But when all things are taken into consideration...that retractable roof makes the difference and gives MMP the edge.... One other thing to consider...the surroundings and activity. Wrigleyville is tops, but Fenway Park’s surroundings are fun. San Diego’s Petco is located wonderfully. All the new parks that were located in downtown areas score well on this scale. Some better than others, but all within walking distance of major entertainment areas. Philadelphia and Arlington do not.
Now to something entirely different... Greatest Astro team of all time? I consider two clubs in that class. The 1998 Astro team had the most talent and balance. But the 1980 Astro team had the best collection of over achievers. And, if the 1980 club had not lost J.R. Richard midway through the year they would have been World Champions in my opinion....
Those are my thoughts...always happy to hear yours. The Astros booth site is always open and available even if we don’t promote it much on the air. You can reach me (and through me to Brownie, Dierk or JD) by either going to http://www.foxsports.com and typing in astros booth in the search box or directly to firstname.lastname@example.org. I will answer 90% of the questions or comments if they call for replies.
-- Greg Lucas
If you would like to submit a question to Greg for inclusion in the next installment of this column, e-mail here.