The good news…The Astros have won their last three series, including this weekend’s home tilt with the Pirates of Pittsburgh. They’re climbing (ever so slowly) back to .500 and after a pretty bad start to the season are only 5 games back of the wildcard spot in the National League.
The bad news…The Astros played the Pyrites two of those three series and the hapless Rockies the other. Despite the recent good stretch, they’re still dead last in the National League Central. They still have the 7th worst record in Major League Baseball and they’re are still looking up at the business end of 9 other teams for a playoff spot.
It’s all a matter of what you want to see, I suppose. While it’s cool to go 7-3 over the last 10 games, and be the “hottest” team in the division over that span, it’s akin to being the hottest granny in the nursing home. (Please forgive anything you might have just read that lead your mind towards granny-porn. Limey.) In the grand scheme of things, the questions remain: Are the last 3 series representative of a team that is starting to turn things around? Or is this a team that just got one over on two of the only teams playing worse than they are? It’s easy to assume that’s the case, but this is the same team that struggled to split two games with Washington a few weeks ago. More to the point, after 55 games, does anyone know what the Astros are capable of this season? Are the last 117 going to be any different?
Through the first two months, the 2009 season has been an amalgamation of questionable decision making, cancer, piss-poor defense, a face-plant, injuries, and woeful inconsistency at the plate. It hasn’t been pretty, but maybe it looks worse because of the various side-shows that have made it alternatingly fascinating and unbearable, sort of like Rock of Love I, II and Bus. Take away the on-going Cecil Cooper drama, Sean Berry’s cancer, this site’s fascination with Alyson Footer’s career choices and what are we left with? A team with a pair of All-Stars who have played more like Lenny and Squiggy than Berkman and Oswalt. A team with exactly zero off-season acquisitions working out the way the front-office hoped. A team with a bullpen that is almost completely different from the one that ended last season, in terms of personnel as well as role. A team full of aging, high priced veterans heading towards the end of their careers. A team with only 8 players under the age of 30. All of these thing has lead at least one interested observer to state on the record that it may be time to start rebuilding with younger players. That interested observer is one Drayton McLane.
How significant is this apparent change of heart from the man who has as recently as this spring publicly declared, “We don’t rebuild, we reload”? Well, it’s a lot more significant than what account is making direct deposits in Footer’s bank account. For the first time besides fanboy handwringing, there is legitimate reason to believe that unless the Stros make a significant run between now and July 31st, veterans like Ivan Rodriguez, Miguel Tejada, Darrin Erstad, Geoff Blum, Kaz Matsui, Mike Hampton, Jose Valverde are going to be shopped. The franchise may put a real premium on getting pieces for the future for the first time since the early 90’s. The very recent (yesterday) move of Jason Castro to AA Corpus Christi may be the first really transparent move towards getting this franchise “ready” for 2010. Or 2011. For a franchise that usually shows all the foresight and planning of a dog chasing a tennis ball across a linoleum floor, this is a very big deal.
On the other hand, if the Astros were to win 7 of their next 10 (Cubs, Diamondbacks, Rangers, Twins), the Astros would be only a game under .500 and in the thick of another wild card race. Win the 7 of 10 after that (Twins, Royals, Tigers, Padres) and Houston is “allofasuddenlike” 39-36 with 12 of their last 14 at home before the All-Star break. Five of those are against the Nationals. The point is, the season is absolutely still salvageable. Oswalt will eventually get the cortisone shot he needs, Berkman will start hitting the way history suggests he will, the bullpen will start getting some healthy bodies back. If thats the case, the real question becomes, does Ed Wade have the ability, or the inclination to go to McLane and tell him, “What’s going on on the field is an anomally. We still need to move some of these players”?
Either way, the remainder of the season is going to be an interesting one. If the Astros are competitive up until the break, and can come close to the second half of 2008 (which I still have to believe is the real hope at Union Station, despite any lunch-time talk) that will be a lot of fun. This team was a hurricane away from the playoffs last year. If they trip on their collective dicks over the next 30 games, we get to see just how good a general manager Ed Wade really is. It’s also possible that the Astros can deal a Miguel Tejada or a Jose Valverde, get prospects for 2010 (or 2011) and stay in the hunt this season. It’s up to the on-field talent to chart the course from here on out.
And now for something completely different…
In a very short amount of time, Hunter Pence has risen to the forefront of not only the
Astros roster, but the very center of the TalkZone subconscious. He even has been granted the unique and not-at-all-0verdone honor of having a area of seats graced with his name, “Hunter’s Lodge”. As such, he has earned several nicknames…Gunther, Thunderpants, Pane in the Ass, and simply PENCE!!!
I would like to humbly suggest a new addition…