Hunkered Down

added 9/26/2005 by Scott Barzilla

As Hurricane Rita passes through the Midwest, I’m reminded of how small and insignificant we are. I haven’t been to work since last Tuesday (I’m writing this on Sunday) and won’t be returning to work until next Thursday. In fact, I’m hanging out right now in our evacuation/vacation house in Marble Falls (Llano County). Watching the storm was a lot like watching the Astros this season. This has been a trying year for Astros fans. We alternate between pride, anguish, and frustration. Yet, here we are on the last week of the season in the heat of another wild card chase.

We’ve hashed, rehashed, and hashed again the limitations this team has. However, as we come down to the end, the accomplishments of this team continue to come to the fore. As the Gulf Coast continues to get blown around and the Texans continue to remain in neutral it becomes imperative that we look at these positives before the season ends.

On the Mound

Roger Clemens- Who would have guessed that the ageless one would put up a season like this. Yes, he has gotten shut out nine times, but he continues to go out there and give everything he’s got. I hate throwing around the hero label. His performance on the day his mother died wasn’t heroic. Saving a child or defending our country is heroic. We can call the performance gutsy.

Andy Pettitte- Pettitte has had the best season of his career. With any run support he’d already have twenty wins and we’re not even mentioning that he is coming off of major elbow surgery. In many ways, he’s actually been more consistent than Clemens if that is possible.

Brandon Backe- Everyone’s expectations of Backe were too big at the beginning of the season. Everyone expected him to duplicate Game 5 of the NLCS. He almost did in his home games this season. Backe is still relatively new to pitching and struggled with his control (and getting corner calls) throughout the season. The key is that he continued to battle and pitched nearly 180 innings.

Wandy Rodriguez- Jeriome Robertson has nothing on Wandy. Wandy won ten games despite being below average for most of the season. Yet, he pitched well in the last month to give us hope for the future.

Dan Wheeler- Wheeler has been twice as good as anyone would expect him to be. His stuff is solid, but he has impeccable control. Wheeler not only has earned himself a full-time big league job, but a fat contract as well.

Chad Qualls- This is Qualls first season in the big leagues and he has been the best reliever on this team over the last four months. He’s durable and effective. More importantly, he’s cheap.

In the Lineup

Brad Ausmus- I’ve dogged Ausmus a lot and he isn’t in the top half of catchers overall, but he has been more than passable this year. Clemens wants him back and if that is all it will take I say go ahead and bring him back.

Lance Berkman- ACL tears are serious business. Berkman has essentially produced in four and a half months what he normally would have if healthy. If he had played six months he would have hit close to 30 home runs and driven in nearly 100 runs.

Craig Biggio- He hits doubles, home runs, and scores runs at almost the same rate as he did ten years ago. Look for Biggio to get a two-year contract in the off-season. I was against this at the beginning of the season and I’m not ecstatic about it now, but as long as he is still productive offensively it’s not a bad thing.

Morgan Ensberg- When you go from 10 home runs to nearly 40 home runs you have to consider it a positive season. A three-year contract should be in the offing.

Willy Taveras- Believe me, Taveras has some serious warts (low OBP and terrible with men on base), but for a rookie that never played at the AAA level he was fantastic. Taveras deserves a big pat on the back, but he also needs to know his game still needs some work.

Jason Lane- Lane has quietly had a great second half and has overall numbers right around where we all hoped at the beginning of the season.

Management

Phil Garner- I don’t like his in game strategy, but he’s a heck of a psychologist. Two years in a row this team has looked dead and two years in a row he has brought them back from the grave. Win or lose he has done a great job.

Tim Purpura- He has done nothing, but this has turned out to be a good thing. I said it before and I’ll say it again: this off-season is the judge.

Drayton McLane- Supposedly, he authorized spending more money to bring Ken Griffey Jr. to Houston. That kind of commit should be commended, but it will ring a lot more true if he opens his wallet to bring in more offense this off-season.

As I write this, the Astros are leading the Phillies by one game. Yes, they may end up losing or they may close it out. However, they’ve closed out the Mets, Marlins, and Nationals when those teams arguably had more talent than the Astros (probably not the Nats). That alone should cause us to be proud of the local nine. If anyone needs any further cheering up we should remember that Ken Griffey Jr. has missed the last few weeks with yet another injury. I’m sure glad he’s not in Houston.

Scott Barzilla is the author of “Checks and Imbalances” and “The State of Baseball Management.”