Rough Times In H-Town

added 4/16/2009 by Daniel "Tex" Cohen

Very few true blue fans of baseball this off-season gave the Astros much of a chance to make a rumble for the season following the spring. The image most had of this group was either 1) the 1999 All-Stars gone old or 2) the downgraded 2008 roster. Ed Wade seems very comfortable with uncertainty, to the point where he favors it in nearly all situations. When the time came to decide between repairing Brad Lidge or getting a new closer, he pulled the trigger like John Wayne. Unfortunately, the shot may have better resembled what might be produced by Leslie Nielsen.

The Astros sit with a lineup that includes several former all-stars, a few solid bats and plenty of nigh auto-outs upon which NL pitchers love to feast:

Michael Bourn? Yummy! Give me another strikeout!

Geoff Blum? Here Geoff, hit this on the ground and get me out with a double play.

Miggy? We know you're not comfy in that box without your juice, hero!

The Astros have lost much more than win shares and other pertinent, new-age stats. They have lost any semblance of a killer instinct. With Roy Oswalt again sitting alone at the top of the five-man rotation (depending, of course, on the upcoming performance of Wandy Rodriguez), the bullpen now feels more pressure than ever.

Maybe it's good we traded Lidge.

Three men in the pen have performed beautifully and three have flopped. That might work out okay if the pitching rotation were your usual 1-5, but this group is relying on performances better than average from men that have recently been below average. Depending on Hampton, Ortiz and Moehler to become fierce and competitive enough to keep this team afloat is somewhere between a prayer and a roll of dice.

The good news is that some of the best players on this team have faltered lately, suggesting that an improvement from these men could slingshot the team to the next tier. Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee have not yet begun to hit and Roy Oswalt has not yet begun to pitch. Those three men are the best players on the team. Their performances must be spectacular and they have so far slumped.

The bad news is that some of the bad players have likewise overachieved. Bourn will not finish with a .320 batting average and a .348 on-base percentage. We should be happy if he finished with either one. Expect his walk totals to stay at this pace (he has walked twice this season so far) and his strikeout totals to increase. Also expect less balls to go through the infield or die on the grass. Bourn is fast, but no one can outrun Lady Luck forever.

Hunter Pence’s hot start has been encouraging but he has not put up numbers like this before. There is a chance that Pence will realize the potential of his tools and become an all-star this year. There is also the potential that he will regress to the mean and we will lose just that much more offense.

Meanwhile, given the track record of Kaz Matsui and the recent performances of Ivan Rodriguez, there is little reason to hope for all-star output from those two positions. Kaz's best years have come in Colorado and his season in Houston last year was a bit of an outlier in his career. He is not generally a .214 hitter, but any Astros fan from the '90s knows that this team has watched its share of .275 hitters drop into the .220s.

The fielding is decent in some parts of the park and awful in others. Bourn is great and Pence is spectacular, but Lee moves like an ox. Kaz is great at second, but fans should never expect much defensively from Tejada. Rodriguez can still throw down to second and tag at the plate, but a few outfielders, one infielder and a catcher do not a defense make.

Ed Wade may want to put together a strategy for how he can explain to Drayton McLane that the team will not compete this year. They should loosen the coin purse or trade off assets for minor leaguers.

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