A Glorious End

added 10/4/2010 by Dr. Bill McCurdy

This column is reprinted, with permission, from The Pecan Park Eagle, Dr. McCurdy's blog.

The weather was nothing short of glorious. On a day in which the Astros and the Chicago Cubs had little left to play for beyond a fourth place finish in the NL Central and a quick-game getaway for tired players heading home, our Houston nine took the standings prize as the Junior Bears chalked up 102 for their latest tally in years on how long it's been since the Windy City North Siders have won a World Series.

Does the number "1908" ring a bell? You bet it does. In Chicago's northern environs, "1908" rings bells that gong louder and much longer than the ones Quasimodo once manned in Paris. There's another number identified as "1945" that rings almost as loud and few others, like "1969" and "1984" that also ping out some painful sound vibrations for Bruin faithful as well.

It is finished. Eight teams live on to compete in the 2010 playoffs while everyone else, Cubs and Astros included, goes home. And who remains? Round up the usual suspects. Everyone but the Rangers, Reds, and Giants are fairly regular attendees at these annual shindigs. Meanwhile, our locals simply put the positive wraps on a lost season that also saw two icons, Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman, move on to a couple of the playoff party clubs.

Counting the blessings of fourth place over fifth and placing considerable hope faith in youth, the future, and the assembly judgment of General Manager Ed Wade, the Astros now move on to the job of rebuilding, restructuring, reconstructing, redirecting, or reloading (pick a "re" word that's acceptable to your tolerance palate for the truth) their roster to the challenges of returning to the winning side of major league baseball.

Several things came off neatly in the Astros’ 4-0 finale victory of the 2010 season over the Cubs. For one, the ancient Nelson Figueroa again pitched like a keeper, working six shutout innings while giving up only six hits while walking two and striking out eight. All of that production on 103 pitches raised Figgy's final record to 7-4 and lowered his season ERA to 3.29. If that doesn't help him qualify s a legitimate candidate for the number five slot in the starting rotation next spring, I don't know what will.

Carlos Lee went 2-for-3, including a third-inning, cork-popping 24th home run deep into the Crawford Boxes. Finding a fielding/hitting left fielder for 2011 while letting Carlos play out his string at first with Brett Wallace as the intern may make even more sense in days to come, unless Wallace suddenly jumps up as a great hitter. We shall see.

Brett Wallace did finally get his first and only triple of the season to lead off the fourth inning. It took a weird bounce off the wall in left center and a safe call on Wallace's slide to pick up what probably will be one of his rarest hitting experiences, but he got it for the books that last forever.

Brian Bogusevic didn't exactly distinguish himself positively on the offensive side Sunday. Starting in center and finishing in left, "Bogie" picked this last showcasing day of the season to earn a "Golden Sombrero" by striking out in each of his four trips to the plate. Ouch! Maybe he was affected by that foot injury that he will now face through surgery. Who knows? I'm sure Brian would prefer any alternative answer to the "I can't hit major league pitching" conclusion that often comes to rookies who earn that amber alienation of affection award for disastrous batting.

Tommy Manzella attempted to break out of his growing "almost as good a hitter and fielder as Adam Everett" comparisons by going 2-for-2 with two RBIs, a walk and an error-free day in the field. I still prefer Angel Sanchez for his more consistent bat and steady fielding, even if his range is more limited.

The Astros finished at 76-86, a game ahead of the fifth-place Cubs and a game behind the third-place Brewers. More importantly, the boys finished 15 games back of the first-place Reds. That's a lot of ground to make up in 2011, but for one thing: I'll bet you almost any of us could go back over the 2010 season, game by game, and find 15 winnable-game losses that would have put the Astros right there, had the outcomes been reversed. Such an exercise wouldn't change the truth, but it could shed a little more light on what the 2010 Astros lacked in detail that ended up keeping the club from being a winner.

I believe this much about that sort of detailed research: Sometimes the details simply confirm the general impressions we are forming about a club's hitting, fielding, team speed, pitching, and game decision-making. At other times, the closer game-by-game specific look at a season may show us some things we may be either missing or glossing over in our surface level evaluations.

The keys to this kind of research are these, I think: (1) Go into the exercise with a clear idea of what you are looking for; but (2) Be open to seeing what you weren't looking for. History is always a teacher, even when it's only available in this year's game accounts and box scores.

Have a nice day, everybody, and remember: For Astros fans and others in our position, the Hot Stove League is now officially in session.

Dr. McCurdy worked with Astro legend Jimmy Wynn on his new autobiography, Toy Cannon, which is scheduled for release this week.