We’ve endured years of this shit. Most of the oughts, in fact, have been plagued with an offense so anemic that it makes Powder look like George Hamilton. I understand that there was a need to make over the pitching staff after The Debacle of 2000, and I applaud the club’s efforts in that vein. Pitching and defense wins championships, they say, and the Astros made their only World Series appearance behind some tremendous pitching.
Pitching…Pitching…isn’t there another part to that? Oh yeah, defense. WTF? The Astros have staffed themselves with an infield, outfield and bench that can either hit a ball, or catch a ball, but not both. So when you put a “hands team” out there you lose a squeaker and when you put the “stick team” out there you lose a laugher. By “laugher”, I mean a Shakespearean tragedy where the Fates are all PMSing simultaneously and the poor sod on the mound hesitated when they asked him if they looked fat.
Currently, and obviously, Biggio is the everyday starter at 2B and will be until he gets #3,000. This is a fact of life, as is his statuesque defense and noodle arm. But consider the options: Burke is a solid glove man (at this position) but is currently lighting up AAA pitching to the tune of .170, and he is in no way, shape or form a leadoff hitter (he may also have an small desert in his vagina). Loretta can hit and defend, and maybe even lead off, but then who bridges the enormous gap between hitting and fielding exhibited by the other candidates for 3B?
Speaking of which, Lamb is showing why he cannot be a regular starter at 3rd, or anywhere else for that matter. His glove was always known to be suspect, but when there are no runs being scored to overcome defensive fuck ups, his frailties become hugely magnified. And when he plays everyday, his bat looks very ordinary. Iceberg is a complete disaster, and probably needs different surroundings if he’s ever going to get any kind of stroke back.
Lee is being the professional hitter that he is being paid to be. But he cannot run, either on the bases or in the outfield, and he doesn’t snag anything that’s not hit straight to him unless it has more hang time than Judge Roy Bean. Berkman is a defensive slot machine and is not hitting. The latter will change but we’ll just have to suck it up and enjoy the comedy defensive stylings of a man who was once undone in the outfield by a plastic grocery bag.
Continuing our random trek through the Astros, I will say little about PENCE!! as this is way to early to see what he is going to be. In RF we have another split like the one at 3rd. Scott isn’t hitting like we all hoped he would and his defense is ok if you ignore the humped back throws (aren’t you supposed to have an arm to play RF). Lane is probably the most talented outfielder on the roster, it’s just a shame, and increasingly fucking irritating, that he cannot hit a baseball for love nor money.
I have deliberately avoided Everett and Ausmus to this point, because I do not believe that their lack of offense is an issue. What Everett saves with his speed and range, and what Brad extracts from the pitching staff (I don’t think his part in Wandy’s turnaround can be underestimated) is more valuable than any increase in BA from those positions.
So what does all this mean? To me, this means that the Astros are one mightily fucked up club at the moment. Instead of being able to capitalize on the surprisingly excellent pitching, they are hamstrung by being unable to put out a line up that can win a game with either bat or glove. I believe wholesale changes are required, but doing that during a season is never easy. Maybe a blockbuster trade involving a dozen players and maybe more than one team would do it, but how you move Lane, Ensberg and Burke off the team and get back serviceable players without having to cough up a couple of pitchers (good ones), I do not know. What I do know is that those three have to go.
But more than that, more than just to poor make up of the roster, is the horrible, horrible approach to hitting. I don’t know what Sean Berry is up to as the current occupant of the ejector seat that is the Astros’ hitting coach, but this team has had a fucking awful approach at the plate for years. Now, however, there’s a whole new epidemic infecting the hitters: watching strikes. It used to just be Iceberg, but now, day in and day out, up and down the line up, Astros are admiring fastballs down the pipe like they were Weird Uncle Limey in a Miami bar, sipping a cocktail and watching the chicks rollerblade by. I’ve never played this game for real, but I’ve played bat and ball games before, but when you get something that comes right into your wheelhouse you better swing at it because that’s your job.
OK, so perhaps the first time through the order there may be need for some patience. This doesn’t excuse the interminably high number of called strike threes we’re seeing, but it does excuse taking strike one. First time through the order. When you have someone throwing a first-pitch fastball to almost everyone, and you’ve seen him already that evening, and you get a first pitch fastball, you should be beaten with sticks if you’re not ready to hit it. Keep doing it on strikes two and three, and you should be strung up by your skin until you’ve screamed all the evil out of you.
The Astros are in the lower third of the NL in average, runs and hits, and not much better in slugging. And there’s some real shit in the National League. Soon, the Astros will have some flexibility with the Biggio situation, but there’s no good solution available unless they fix the desperate and immediate concerns at 3B. If Lance wakes up and joins Lee in the land of the living, if PENCE!! keeps going and if they can get someone for the hot corner that will allow Loretta to play 2B after #3,000, this club can do some damage. Until then, keep watching and keep Sam Cooke in your head:
There’ve been times that I’ve thought I couldn’t last for long
But now I think I’m able to carry on
It’s been a long time coming
But I know a change is gonna come