“When Will It End?”

By Bill Gilbert, Guest Columnist, Pecan Park Eagle, Labor Day, 2012.

Bill Gilbert, SABR
Roger Hornsby Chapter

I was in Houston to take in the Astros last two games in August against the division leading Giants and Reds.  The games were a good representation of the way things have gone this season and illustrated where the Astros stand in comparison with the league’s elite teams, losing the games 6-2 and 9-4 to finish the month with a 6 game losing streak.  The Giants game drew a crowd of 12,835 (paid), the lowest ever at Minute Maid Park which prompted a comment from a TV sportscaster that it was so quiet, you could hear babies cry.

The Astros completed the month of August with a record of 5-22, a modest but disappointing improvement over the July record of 3-24.  The two-month record of 8-46 has to be one of the worst in baseball’s long history.

Normally when a team struggles, the chief fault can usually be placed on either the pitching or hitting.  In the Astros case, it is both.  The Astros rank near the bottom of the major leagues in virtually every important pitching and hitting category.  Among National League teams, only the Rockies (5.22) have a higher ERA than the Astros (4.76).  On the offensive side, the Astros rank last in the National League in runs per game (3.49), batting average (.238) and on base percentage + slugging average (OPS) (.675).  August was even worse with 2.78 runs per game, a batting average of .224 and an OPS of .629.

When the rebuilding effort reached full steam in July with the trade of several veteran players, it was expected that the remaining team would have difficulty competing.  However, it was not expected to be this bad.  The highlight of the month was an improbable two game winning streak against the Brewers on August 10-11with two walk-off wins, their first of the season.  One of the wins was in extra innings, the first time that the team had scored a run in 12 extra-inning games.

The Astros were left with a team composed primarily of young players with limited experience.  The starting pitchers were very inconsistent, winning only 3 games in August (two by staff ace Lucas Harrell) and the team was left without a pitcher with closing experience after the trades of Brett Myers and Brandon Lyon.  The Astros converted only 2 of 5 save opportunities in August, both by Wilton Lopez.

On the offensive side, there were few bright spots in August.  Brett Wallace and Tyler Greene led the club with 4 home runs and Jason Castro batted .305.  Jose Altuve continues to lead the team in hitting (.294) and batted .285 in August.  Third baseman, Matt Dominguez, obtained in the Carlos Lee trade, came on strong after being promoted late in the month with a triple, double and single in his first game and a home run in his second game.

Manager Brad Mills was replaced in August by Tony DeFrancesco on an interim basis. The month of September should see the debut of some of the prospects obtained in trades and some serious playing time for players from the minor leagues as Astro management continues to assess the readiness of the younger players to compete in the major leagues in 2013.

Bill Gilbert

9/2/12

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