The Astros’ weekend series in San Diego ended much the same as their other recent encounters with playoff-caliber clubs. The frustrating part is that they legitimately could have left town 4-0 instead of 1-3, as Houston’s starters were brilliant. But the Padres wouldn’t be where they are this year without some brilliant pitching of their own, and when you pit the league’s worst offense against the league’s best pitching, you don’t expect to score a lot. The opportunities were there for the Astros, but like any good team, the Padres found a way to work out of trouble and come up with just enough to win. I’m seriously impressed by San Diego’s squad this year, and I think they’re the real deal – very reminiscent of the ’05 Astros, with stellar pitching and just enough offense. Mat Latos is a hoss. (Peavy who?)
Of course what could be a better remedy for another mini-losing streak than the Pittsburgh Pirates? I don’t mean to rag on the Pirates the way that most have ragged on the Astros this year; I really do feel bad for Pirate fans. Houston baseball fans have nothing to complain about compared to those in Pittsburgh. But the Pirates continue to be the only team in the NL Central worse than the Astros this year, which has been reinforced by their head-to-head play. Houston looks this afternoon to make it 6-0 against the Bucs, and Roy O makes his fourth attempt at career win #143. Please? Please?? Brad Mills has already announced that Roy will be first out of the gate on July 16 following the All-Star Break – also against Pittsburgh – so he’s got as good a shot as ever to at least tie Joe Niekro’s 144 Astro wins before he’s wearing a different uniform. I still expect Roy to be traded this month, but it looks more and more like that will happen later than sooner, so he could potentially make as many as three more starts for Houston following that July 16 game, including their game against Milwaukee on the July 31 trading deadline. It would be a crying shame for Roy to leave Houston without that career wins record in his pocket, after all that he’s done here and as well as he’s pitched this season.
Almost last night felt like 2004 again. Four home runs in one game? Lance has now homered in three straight games, Carlos Lee in two straight, and last night Hunter Pence (along with Jeff Keppinger) decided to join the party too. Two or three good games does not a turnaround make, but that’s hugely encouraging for Houston fans nonetheless. The 3-4-5 slots have slumped together this year more than they’ve surged, which has arguably been the greatest source of this team’s struggles. Chris Johnson has also been a huge breath of fresh air at the plate; it may be unreasonable to expect him to continue hitting over .300 the rest of the year, but if he can maintain a respectable average and toss in the power that he’s capable of, the lineup suddenly doesn’t look too bad 1-6. Houston fans are used to a “black hole” in the 7-9 slots from the Ausmus/Everett days, but the 3-4-5 struggles this year have been made even more frustrating (or despairing) by an even bigger black hole 6-9. Whenever Brad Mills rested one of the Big 3, the lineup fell off a cliff after 1-4. If the new 1-6 can sustain production from here on, Houston is poised for a much better post-All Star season than pre – still not a playoff-caliber club, but at least respectable. Of course, this is all subject to who gets traded this month, too…
The Astros All-Star question has been answered since my last entry, and I’ll confess I was surprised that Michael Bourn was the answer. I still think that Roy was arguably the only Astro this year actually deserving of the honor, but his candidacy was hurt by a logjam of pitchers with stellar stats. It’s been suggested that Roy could have legitimately been chosen over Chris Carpenter of the Cards, which I agree with, but if you’re going to replace Carpenter with anybody, Mat Latos has the strongest case. That said, I’m not unhappy with the Bourn selection, and I actually think it’s rather cool. I had hoped (and still hope) that Michael will develop into an All-Star caliber player one day, so I’m glad to see him get this honor, even if it wasn’t expected this soon. He is the Astros’ only league leader in a major stat (stolen bases), and he was a Gold Glover last year; with several spectacular catches recently, including a game changer last night, he’s demonstrated why he should be well on his way to Gold Glove #2 this season. So he’s already a star in those aspects. His batting average is just that – average – but I can also understand Charlie Manuel’s desire to have him on the team, as he’s exactly the kind of player who could prove extremely valuable in the right situation if it’s a close game. He was the Astros MVP last season, and he may be en route to repeating that honor this year, so I don’t think it’s a bad pick, and I look forward to seeing him play (hopefully) next Tuesday. Congrats to Michael!
Bernardo Fallas tweets
that the Astros have given Russ Springer a tryout today. I honestly didn’t think he was still playing! But given the bullpen struggles (and frequent injuries) this season, I don’t think it would be a bad idea to give Russ another shot, if he’s up to it. We’ll find out soon, I assume.
And one further note about last night’s game – Brian Moehler. You hate to hear any time that a guy gets hurt, but if it has to happen, at least it couldn’t really happen at a better time than this. After starting last night, Mo wouldn’t pitch again before the All-Star Break anyway, so he’s got until the end of next week to recover. Felipe Paulino should be ready to come off the DL after the Break himself, so he could take Mo’s rotation slot if Mo needs to miss some time. If they’re both healthy after the break, it’s decision time for Brad Mills, but he’s got plenty of time for now to wait and see.
No runs on one hit for Roy in the top of the first, and Big Puma just homered in his fourth straight game, so it’s 1-0. Let’s go ‘Stros!