added 6/19/2009 by Scott Barzilla
The Astros are in last place and have been in quite some time. That is not what makes me angry. Experience has taught all of us that we shouldn't count them out based on that alone. It's not as if there aren't players that are performing above expectations or are just plain fun to watch. If the Astros had the Nationals record, I would still tune in to watch Hunter Pence, Michael Bourn, Ivan Rodriguez, and Miguel Tejada just to name a few.
Here's my problem. We are all big boys and girls when it comes to the game of life. We know there are forces at work that sometimes prevent the best from getting the job. I don't want to get into the who, why, and what for, but one of the reasons why we love baseball is because the best team wins. The best man gets the job. The script is still unfinished. If you want to know who wins then go watch professional wrestling.
The Rangers just handed the Astros their hearts on a silver platter. A Hunter Pence home run and Michael Bourn triple kept them from wearing the big sombrero up to Minnesota. Who expected the Rangers to be good this year? Honestly, everyone worth their salt was picking Las Angeles to win that division and they still very well might. That is what baseball is all about. The reason they are winning is that some players you have never heard of are having big seasons. This is the way it always works.
This bring us squarely back to Houston and why I am so frustrated. It seems that meritocracy works everywhere except Houston. When Mike Hampton went on the disabled list, the Astros didn't call up one of two pitchers pitching brilliantly at Round Rock. They inserted a pitcher that has proven over the course of nearly a season and a half that they are the only team stupid enough to employ him. Maybe that's harsh. On a personal level I like Brandon Backe. However, there is something wrong when he performed worse than all of the players eligible for arbitration and he was the only person to get it. That is hardly a meritocracy.
Fast-forward to Kaz Matsui. Matsui was on the disabled list for the the better part of a month. Edwin Maysonet (who would have been on the team if merit meant anything to the Astros) was called up and immediately stuck as a .300+ hitter. In fact, for much of his time in the lineup he was hitting better than .400. When Kaz Matsui and his .220 average came off the disabled list who was going to start? If you guessed Matsui and his dwindling average you would be right.
This is nothing against Matsui. I lobbied for the team to sign him before last season. I have no doubt that he will probably finish the season in the lineup, but don't you reward the guy that is currently producing at any point? This is the current problem with the Astros. For whatever reason, they seem unwilling to put the best nine guys on the field.
This is where we get to the whole flap over Cecil Cooper's oversight with Ivan Rodriguez. On some level I appreciate where Cooper is coming from. Team performance should trump individual achievement. However, Pudge broke a significant record and that was shone through his teammates' response. By itself, this would be a blip on the radar, but this comes on the heels of a series of miscommunications and botch jobs by Cooper. I'm not sure if Cooper is wholly responsible for filling out the lineup card or how much input he has in who gets called up, but he is seemingly inept at handling the press.
It would almost be better to simply let Cooper go and bring in someone that will simply play the best guy available. If that means jettisoning guys like Jason Michaels or if it means benching Kaz Matsui then so be it. If it means sending Brandon Backe back to his home in Galveston in favor of Bud Norris then so be it. Watching clearly inferior players play is maddening.