added 8/8/2002 by Todd Brody
I'm ready to give it up. Maybe it's time that I stop writing this column and find a new hobby. Because every time I think that I have it right, the Astros prove me wrong.
I said that Craig Biggio was done. Finished. Kaput. So what happened? Since the all-star break, Biggio is batting .345 with a "vintage Biggio" on-base percentage of .406. Biggio is also hitting the ball hard and his OPS is .946. Biggio is hitting so well, that I'm thinking that the Astros should move him back to the leadoff spot in the lineup. Just a few months ago, I said that Biggio should be batting 7th. I don't know if I am ready to give Biggio the new contract he wants, but I'm scratching my head, wondering where I can find that fountain of youth that Biggio discovered.
I was also wrong when I said that the Astros were not going to be able to come back and play competitive baseball this season. When people brought up last year's comeback, I said that you couldn't compare the two teams seasons. Last year, the Astros' comeback was based on the performance of Roy Oswalt and Carlos Hernandez, young pitchers called up prematurely from the minor leagues who performed above their heads. Where was that influx of young pitching going to come from this year? Tim Redding? Hah.
So what happened? Kirk Saarloos, since being called up from New Orleans after a first unsuccessful cup of coffee, has won each of his four starts. His ERA in these four starts is 1.75 and opponents are batting .245 against him. And those aren't even his best statistics. Have you seen his strikeout to walk ratio in these four games? It's a mind-boggling 18:1. Just for comparison purposes, Randy Johnson's ratio is slightly better than 4:1. Saarloos, who won rookie of the month honors in July is being compared by more than just a few people to Greg Maddux. And Billy Wagner's comments, reported by Phil Rogers of ESPN, are most interesting. During Saarloos' complete game against Pittsburgh, "the bullpen phone never rang. Sit down there most nights, and the phone rings off the hook." Wagner says that the relievers were sitting around talking about their SAT scores during the game (now there is a conversation that I wish I could have heard).
And Saarloos isn't the only young pitcher who has done great things for the team. I would be remiss if I didn't talk about Pete Munro, a journeyman signed to a minor league contract during the offseason. Munro is is 2-1 and has a 2.57 ERA. And while Munro will likely be put back in the bullpen when Carlos Hernandez comes off the disabled list, he provided stability to the rotation when little could be found.
As I write, the Astros are sitting a game out of first place in the Central Division and are just a few games out in the Wildcard race. The Cardinals, despite picking up Scott Rolen and Chuck Finley, are struggling. Maybe the Cardinals are slumping. Maybe Darryl Kile's death had a greater impact than I originally believed. And the Reds, with their decimated starting rotation, are fading. At this point it looks like the only thing that can stop the Astros is a baseball players' strike.
It would be unrealistic to think that the Astros can win it all this year. The Astros are one of the worst playoff teams that I have ever seen and teams with young pitching don't usually go far in the playoffs. But I've been wrong before.