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Time to Take Shots at Houstn

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  • Time to Take Shots at Houstn

    Last spring, if anyone thought at all about Andy Pettitte, it was as an afterthought. After cycling through the rest of the starting staff of the Yankees, you would finally get to, “Oh, yeah, and Andy Pettitte. He’s not bad, either.”

    As the season ended in the euphoria of the Marlins’ championship, Roger Clemens was set to become a permanent baseball afterthought. He was riding off into the sunset – a sensible enough decision for a man who had turned 41 in August.

    Now, all of a sudden, Pettitte and Clemens are the hottest ticket going – in Houston where they both signed this off-season. It’s been hinted that Houston was several rungs down the sophistication ladder from New York. Maybe this proves it.

    Andy Pettitte is not a bad little pitcher, and I think he will contribute to the Astro cause. But let’s be honest with ourselves, he’s not exactly Curt Schilling. His lifetime ERA is all of 3.94, and he’s had 5 seasons over 4.00 (including last year’s 4.02) and two other seasons over 3.80. He accumulates innings and victories, but a lot of that is an extension of being a Yankee. Last year, he won 21 games. Fine, but he had 6 wins in games where he surrendered four or more runs. His ERA in his four no-decisions was 4.10. Away from Yankee Stadium, his record was 11-4, but accompanied by a sluggish 4.24 ERA. Had Andy pitched for a lesser team than the Yankees, his record – both last year and for his career – would be much less imposing.

    Roger Clemens, of course, is the imposing kind – or at least he was. At 41, he is no longer the Roger Clemens of old on any kind of consistent basis. His post-All-Star-Break ERA was a modest 4.24 and he looked like he was laboring more as the season wore on. Oh, by the way, they’re bringing an aging, fly ball pitcher to pitch in a stadium with two of the shortest porches in the majors? Doesn’t this seem like less than sound reasoning to anyone else?

    Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens are both decently good pitchers. In all honesty, though, they aren’t nearly as good (in Clemens case, not nearly as good anymore) as they are perceived.

    And both of them together won’t offset the loss of superstar closer Billy Wagner. Oh, I understand that Octavio Dotel is set to step in as the closer. He’s a fine hurler with good stuff. But you can never make the assumption that a setup guy – even a dominant setup guy – will be able to hack it as a closer.

    Even if he does handle the change in responsibility as seamlessly as they hope, the other relievers (like Brad Lidge and Ricky Stone) also have to move up and take on greater responsibility. Lidge (5.46) and Stone (3.99) both faded in the second half, heightening questions about the depth of this pen. You can’t just subtract a Billy Wagner out of your bullpen and not weaken it significantly.

    The home opener, I understand, was sold out within fifteen minutes. Astro nation has clearly been sold on the idea that the addition of Pettitte and Clemens has punched their World Series ticket. They believe them to be the missing pieces.

    There are so many pieces wrong – or out of place, here – that I’m not even sure they are looking at the same puzzle. This Houston club is still a pretty good team with above average talent. Of the three “contenders” for the Central title, I believe them to be the most over-rated. They are also the most likely to collapse, entirely.

    One of the misshapen pieces is the age piece. Overall, this is not an old team. But a couple of critical parts do have significant age on them. Some of these careers are beginning to fade, and might fade rapidly from this point. Brad Ausmus is 35 and has hit less than .240 in two of the last three years; Jeff Bagwell, 36 and suffering from chronic shoulder miseries, has hit less than .300 for three straight years (.300 is his career average). Jeff Kent is also 36 and becoming increasingly brittle. Craig Biggio (38) has been under his career average for three of the last four years – and is trying to cover the deepest center field in major league baseball. (Incredibly enough, this only makes him the second oldest regular centerfielder in the game – Arizona’s Steve Finley is 39.) And, of course, we’ve already mentioned the un-retired Roger Clemens.

    If any of these players succumb to age, the results will be damaging. If two or more of them start to fade badly, the Astros will be in a lot of trouble. Remember also that the two holdover pieces in the rotation – Roy Oswalt and Wade Miller – have checkered injury histories of their own. I’m not sure Roy has made it through a complete season yet where his recurring groin problems haven’t cost him at least one start.

    So, what we’re dealing with here is an aging, injury-prone team that has lost it’s dominant closer and added two mid-rotation starters. Remind me again what it is that everyone likes about this team?

    Here are three more pieces to mull over as you’re contemplating this Astro team. These are slight, subtle pieces – things that, by themselves, may not mean a whole lot. But things that – in a tight pennant or Wild Card race might make the difference between baseball and golf in October.

    Except for switch-hitting Lance Berkman, all of the Astros regular lineup are right-handed hitters. Big deal? Well, you do realize that the starting rotations of their two biggest competitors (Chicago and St. Louis) are entirely righthanded – several of them among the most dominant right-handed pitchers in baseball (Prior, Morris, Wood). And so, who are the left-handed hitters off the bench? Jose Vizcaino (a switch-hitter, actually), Mike Lamb and Orlando Palmeiro. Vizcaino is 36 and coming off an injury plagued season where he only hit .249. Lamb is coming off an injury plagued season where he only hit .132. Palmeiro hit a decent .271 last year and was relatively injury-free, although he is also 35. The lefty-righty match-ups are going to work against the Astro offense almost every night.

    Point two – defense. Except for Ausmus and shortstop Adam Everett, this is a poor defensive ballclub. Bagwell and Kent are creaky on the left side of the infield and Morgan Ensberg is range-challenged at third base. The outfield combo of Biggio, Berkman and Richard Hidalgo will watch enough fly balls drop between them to make Pettitte and Clemens reconsider their career choices. With the pitching in Chicago and the offense in St. Louis, the Astros will lament every run they give away on defense.

    And last but not least, Jimy Williams. Jimy is a great baseball man and a great teacher of the game. He’s probably not well suited to be a manager. His teams always play well. His career winning percentage is very good at .537. In eleven seasons managing for three different teams, Jimy has been to the playoffs twice. Given his history, I think the most logical prediction is that Jimy’s team will play very well, again. And almost make the playoffs.
    This game's gotta be played with fear and arrogance - Crash Davis

  • #2
    The Astros are the best bet to make the playoffs in this division.

    And now that they have Pettite they might actually win a series. He's been one of the best playoff pitchers over the past decade.
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    • #3
      Wow, a substantive baseball thread. Not one mention of Condoleeza Rice.

      Good analysis, Joe. While I think you make good points about some of the aging Astros stars, I still think they have fewer question marks than the Cards do.

      But Pettitte, a lefthander, could have difficulty in that ridiculous ballpark.
      I'm always right.

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      • #4
        The Astros season is linked to how soon major league baseball comes in with a new steroid policy - Bagwell and Kent - in my opinion are prime juice suspects - I have no evidence - just a hunch.

        The second key piece is the new closer - can he handle the pressure.
        Turning the other cheek is better than burying the other body.

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        • #5
          Kent, maybe.

          But Bagwell?
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          • #6
            Astros suck and will finish fourth
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            • #7
              Originally posted by kaiser@Mar 30 2004, 01:19 PM
              Wow, a substantive baseball thread. Not one mention of Condoleeza Rice.
              No thanks to the "liberal media"
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              • #8
                We're supposed to take shots at 'em, right?

                Well, the best part of Houston ran down Texas' buttcrack.

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                • #9
                  I don't get it.

                  Wait, eew, I think.
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                  • #10
                    Trig:

                    Yes, the liberal media, exposed again.

                    By the way, opening day is next week, and this may be a difficult year for our man Tony. Having recently signed on for a Cabinet level position with the KAK, is there anything I should be doing to prepare for the season?

                    Ok, now shots at Houston....lessee.....this is harder than making fun of the Cubs....I mean, the Cub fans are such idiots.....rooting for that stupid team year in and year out.....the Astros fans don't seem, well, as dumb as Cub fans......really, Cub fans are the worst.....one of them actually cost the team a trip to the WS last year.....what an idiot, but pretty typical......and now Prior's career is over.....and Roger Clemens' career should be.....but it isn't........ok.......God I hate Roger Clemens.

                    I could really grow to dislike the Astros this year.
                    I'm always right.

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                    • #11
                      If the cards fail, I root for Stros. Simple as that.

                      I got nothing bad to say about them, except I hate Kent.
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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by kaiser@Mar 30 2004, 02:42 PM
                        By the way, opening day is next week, and this may be a difficult year for our man Tony. Having recently signed on for a Cabinet level position with the KAK, is there anything I should be doing to prepare for the season?
                        You're already behind in your assignments!

                        As of today, Tino is VASTLY out performing Moises Alou, yet you failed to gloat about it.
                        2005 Mandatory Loyalty Oath: I love America, our troops, baseball, Moms, and certain pies. I want no harm to come to any of those institutions, nor do I take any glee in their demise.

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Trigfunctions+Mar 30 2004, 02:53 PM-->
                          QUOTE (Trigfunctions @ Mar 30 2004, 02:53 PM)

                        • #14
                          Originally posted by bcruise@Mar 30 2004, 02:57 PM
                          Since you mentioned him, I just have to toss this in:

                          Moises hit an inside-the-park HR today against the Mariners. I swear to God I am not making that up.
                          Shit, which MAriner outfielder broke his leg on that play?
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                          • #15
                            The age issue is valid. I don't see Bags finishing the season on the active list. He's my candidate for the juice-free quick fade. Biggio's due for some JD knees. Ausmus is about done but they have a stud ready to come up. Bergman still runs like a girl. Can't wait to watch Clemens pitch--and bat--in the NL.

                            But Houston still looks more solid than the Cardinals. You gotta respect what they did in the offseason. And I wouldn't mind seeing the old guys put it together one last time.

                            Nicely written, Joe.
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