An Offense That's Truly Offensive

added 6/13/2013 by Bob Hulsey

Baseball fandom was simpler in my youth. Even when the Astros were 90-game losers, there was no ambiguity for their fans. Every game had the same objective. But, thanks to SABR and the era of Moneyball decision scientists where losing is winning, strikeouts are good and a high batting average is considered "luck", it is sometimes difficult to remember what you are rooting for.

I'm grateful I can't watch the Astros anymore because I am torn by this inner conflict every time I do. Do I want them to win and give these young Astros some confidence even, dare say, some swag or do I want them to overtake the Marlins for the worst record so we can draft the best talent in 2014? Do I want all-or-nothing sluggers like Chris Carter and Matt Dominguez to take root as stars of the future in Houston or do I want guys who can post a batting average higher than their weight? Do I want the Astros to keep trading good players for A-ball and AA prospects in the hope they'll somehow reach a World Series by 2018 this way?

It all leads to a huge indifference that makes fandom conflicting and difficult. Oh for the days when you could just want your team to win all the games they could and you hoarded good players and fired or traded the bad ones.

Deep down, I still love sweeping the Angels far more than I enjoy being swept by the Royals. Further I wonder why I care at all. What's wrong with me?

The cynicism is mirrored by what we are fed from Washington that high unemployment is good and being spied on by our government or getting singled out for harassment by the IRS based on political affiliation is okay. Wasn't it less than a decade ago critics said the opposite was true? Apparently, this government would rather profile you for consorting with patriots instead of terrorists.

It used to be you could turn to sports to get away from such lunacy but not anymore. Not, at least, if your team is/was the Astros. You are fed so much up-is-down thinking, you aren't sure what to believe. We celebrate the worst record in the Arena League so we can puff with pride about how much our farm clubs are winning, even though the real purpose of farm teams is to develop major leaguers not win games. I suppose, if you are a Hook, you're hooked.

At the start of the year, some decent hitting was being drowned out by terrible pitching. Between Philip Humber, Brad Peacock and Erik Bedard - Jeff Luhnow acquisitions, all - we were out of many games by the third inning and our team ERA could only look competitive if we were in the California League.

That has come full circle now. Bedard has recovered somewhat while last year's starters - Bud Norris, Lucas Harrell, Jordan Lyles and Dallas Keuchel - are pitching some dandies only to be stuck with losses or no decisions because the offense has fallen into a deep sleep.

Throw out an 11-run aberration and a miracle six-run ninth-inning rally on Wednesday night and the Astros have scored 17 runs in ten games this month, including two shutouts on the just-completed road trip. The hitters aren't being dominated by the Verlanders and Darvishes, mind you. They are being dominated by journeymen and guys who weren't even in the majors last season.

For June, the offense has averaged 6.6 hits per game and topped ten hits just once (the 11-run, six-homer outlier). They have wasted some exceptional pitching performances by the starters. Jordan Lyles had probably his best performance in the bigs on Wednesday (three hits, two walks, no runs, ten strikeouts over seven innings) and got no run support at all. Lucas Harrell (two hits, no runs for seven innings on Sunday) also received no support.

In his last six starts, Lyles has been sensational. He has a 1.67 ERA and a .218 OBA over that stretch yet, had it not been for that late six-run rally, the Astros would have been 2-4 in those games. In his last five starts, Norris (2.18 ERA, .254 OBA) has been almost as sharp and Harrell (3.49 ERA, .234 OBA) has been solid too.

The bullpen has been a question mark during that time and has let some good starts get blown up after the starter has hit the showers. Largely, though, it has been a lack of hitting that has let the club down.

Everyone says this is a rebuilding year (like the last three) and to be patient. The best players are still developing in the minors and all this misery will soon be forgotten. Those days can't get here soon enough for me.

Meanwhile, I'll just continue to say Howdy to the feds who are reading my e-mails and listening to my phone calls when I'm not at my not-enough-to-pay-the-bills job and give thanks that I'm living better than I would in a Soviet gulag. We are, after all, in a Brave New World even if it closely resembles 1984.

Ah, yes. I remember the real 1984. Jose Cruz led the team with 12 homers and Mike Scott was learning a new pitch. We all wanted the Astros to win. Life was simpler then.