added 6/8/2010 by Bob Hulsey
The scowls and frowns of Astros fans eased a bit this past week with a 5-2 homestand that offered several bright hopes for a rebound in the near future. But that winning streak should be put into context.
The 3-4-5 part of the order, as predicted, is starting to hit their way back to career norms. Hunter Pence, in fact, is almost there. His .277 batting average and nine homers (through Sunday) are just a little off from what his first three seasons would project one third of the way through 2010. His OPS (.768) and his RBIs (27) still have some catching up to do to match career norms but the RBIs were bound to suffer while the team was in a near-historic scoring drought.
Lance Berkman, too, is starting to climb back to normalcy. His .266 average is 30 points under career norms and his overall numbers need to catch up too but there's still four months left to do it in. Carlos Lee's numbers (.217, .634 OPS, 28 RBIs) are still way down with only his eight homers approaching career average. Yet, Lee showed this past week that his bat may be thawing as well.
Brett Myers has pitched solidly all season. Felipe Paulino seems ready to turn his year, if not his career, around. Replacing LaTroy Hawkins and Jose Valverde with Brandon Lyon and Matt Lindstrom has worked quite well.
So, should the Astros stop the pity party and make a run for the title this year? Absolutely not.
Truth be told, the Astros have been in gradual decline since peaking in 2004 (yes, I contend the 2004 roster was better than the 2005 World Series team that rode hot pitching and a few career years to the Fall Classic). They sold tomorrow for today in order to afford the pieces to be champions and the bills are now due. Any objective view of the franchise is that they need to get young and rebuild rather that put off the inevitable.
Ed Wade and Bobby Heck get that. I think Drayton McLane, at long last, gets that. The first two months of ineptitude, if perhaps exaggerated by collective bad starts by the lineup's run producers, was the wake-up call everyone needed to see the rebuilding light.
The Astros are not contenders in 2010 and likely won't be in 2011 or 2012. One can either deny it or embrace it and prepare for the future. Even if the Astros went on a month-long winning streak, the truth remains the same.
The summer draft going on this week is an important part of this rebuilding equation but it is only one part. A strong international development program to find and sign top players in Central America, South America, the Pacific Rim and elsewhere is essential as are scouts who can find underutilized players in other organizations who can fill roles in Houston. Personally, I've been impressed with many of Wade's under-the-radar bullpen finds (Jeff Fulchino, Gustavo Chacin, Wilton Lopez and Alberto Arias were all cast-offs from other teams).
McLane milked the fruits of the Gerry Hunsicker regime as far as it could go but all ballplayers age and decline. Berkman and Roy Oswalt represent the last two remaining stars from the glory days and it will be painful to watch them go but it will be even more painful for the Astros if they don't. Whatever talent those (and other veterans) can bring back in trade improves the rebuilding process which must take place.
I love winning. I always want to win and my step is happier when I can report another Astros victory instead of bemoaning another Astros defeat. Yet, we need to prepare ourselves to root for a new generation of stars - some of which are now in our farm system while some of them are yet to be - and accept the hard truth that the Astros of the early oughts are in the past.
McLane and Wade receive a lot of bashing amongst the fans and on the internet but I have no doubt that both want the best for the franchise and are doing what they can to turn around the club. They would be wise to not let short-term success distract them from the long-term goals they have set.
Even as they escape from the basements of the National League and the Central Division, fans must be mindful of the overhaul that must take place before the Astros will be champions again. Trade off any veterans that can bring a good prospect or two in return. Most true fans will understand.
I'm still rooting for an Astros win every night but I know that liquidating several veterans, while leading to more losses this year, will ultimately result in more wins later and a quicker return to title contention.