First things first for this edition of the Houston Astros, according to Manager Phil Garner, get to .500. If this squad can go 5-2 this upcoming week leading up to the All Star break, they will do just that. This minor goal, in turn, will also place them right with the Cubs for 2nd place in the NL Central. Granted, Houston is not gonna catch St. Louis, the Cards will be clinching the division sometime in early to mid September, but the NL Wild Card is not out of the question.
On Sunday afternoon, Roger Clemens shut down the Cincinnati Reds to move the Astros to four games below .500, and also within 6 games of the Atlanta Braves, the current Wild Card leader. All the talk of Clemens return to the NY Yankees, or even an in-state swap with the Texas Rangers have come to an abrupt halt. Considering the Rangers recent struggles, and the impending suspension of their ace, Kenny Rogers, looks like Houston has the best chance of the two Texas teams of making postseason play.
This feat is amazing for a team that began the season without Lance Berkman, forced to start basically an “all rookie” outfield to open the year, and losing team captain Jeff Bagwell for the season early on. The injuries to Berkman and Bagwell, coupled with the inability to resign the top catch in free agency, Carlos Beltran and allowing Jeff Kent to head West , left this teams offense in shambles. And it showed, until a few weeks ago.
The turnaround: Willie Taveras and Craig Biggio have been getting on base in front of Berkman, Ensberg, and Lane., Berkman is getting his swing back after missing the first month and a half of the season. Ensberg has began hitting for power again, and has solidified his hold on 3rd base (and what should have been an All Star game appearance, imo), and Lane has realized he can hit Major League pitching, and it’s built his confidence. Most importantly for the offense, Phil Garner has shown patience with these hitters, and allowed this lineup to take shape.
It also doesn’t hurt when you have three pitchers like Clemens, Oswalt, and Pettitte who can go deep into games and not expose a thin relief corps. And as a lineup, you know you don’t have to spot these guys 5 runs for them to win. Unfortunately, early in the year, these guys were getting very little (or no) run support.