added 4/30/2006 by Scott Barzilla
The Astros finished the first month at 16-8. What a difference a year makes? Last year the Astros were near the bottom of the Central and apparently ready to check it in. Now, the Astros are the third best team in baseball. The only problem is that the best two teams are also in our division. I guess it isn't the comedy Central anymore.
Even with the 16-8 record there are issues. The euphoria of a quick start is dashed when you consider how many home games and series the team has had against the bottom feeders. Yet, as fans are often fond of saying, "you can only beat the teams on your schedule." In most seasons, it is the record against those bottom feeders that decides which teams go to the playoffs. So far, so good. Without further ado, here's the lowdown on the first month.
The beginning of this discussion should always start with the starting rotation. Roy Oswalt is 4-1 and even he is allowed to lose to the Reds at some point in his career. Yet, it has been the performance of Wandy Rodriguez and Taylor Buccholz that has everyone talking. The pair is a combined 6-1 and have seven quality starts to their credit. Fernando Nieve hasn't been bad considering the herks and jerks in the schedule.
The hitters have been good as well for the most part. No one expects Brad Ausmus to hit .330 with a .400+ OBP, but it sure is good to see for a month. Since the all-star break in 2005, he has quietly turned himself into a productive hitter. Adam Everett still doesn't draw enough walks, but he did hit better than .270 for the month. The keys here was his willingness to hit the ball the other way and work on making contact.
Craig Biggio and Wily Taveras have been their normal selves at the top of the order. Biggio has stared forty in the face and chuckled. He hit 10 doubles in the month and led off two more games with dingers. In one month, he passed Willie McCovey in the all-time extra base hits list and is nearing Henry Aaron on the all-time doubles list. Yet, it has been Jason Lane that has impressed me the most. Yes, he is hitting under .250, but he drew 21 walks coming into play on Sunday. He drew 32 all of last year. If he continues to do that he will approach Berkman/Ensberg numbers.
Of course, I can't neglect Morgan Ensberg and Lance Berkman. Poor Lance Berkman is on a pace to hit more than 60 home runs and drive in 150 runs, but few are talking about him. For his part, Ensberg is quietly becoming the best third baseman in the National League. The pair carried the offense last season and they appear ready to do it again.
Not all of the offense has been pretty. Poor Preston Wilson can't win for losing this month. Wilson himself hasn't done anything he doesn't normally do. His five home runs put him squarely on pace to hit the 30 home runs the club expected him too. His strikeouts are also a normal thing. Seven consecutive strikeouts are bad and the .230ish average is bad, but the club knew what they were getting when they brought him in.
Andy Pettitte started 3-7 last season, so his 1-4 start can't be all that surprising. Yet, I can't put him in the ugly category because he has been very good in all but two of his starts. If he has any luck he would be 3-2 right now and people wouldn't be that concerned. Still, I guess one of the starters has to suffer from bad run support.
You knew I would bring up the bullpen at time point. In the grand scheme of things, 8 out of 10 saves isn't bad, but two in a row is tough to take. Considering most of the pen, Lidge counts as a positive. Chad Qualls had a disastrous month, but he also started slow last year. Dan Wheeler has been decent, but not as good as last season. Yet, it is the two-year contract that Trever Miller got that is looking ugly right now. Miller and Gallo might be the unwilling victims of a combustible nickname contest. Phil Garner needs to be checked for mental illness anytime he brings one of those guys into a close game. The same could be said for Zeke Astacio, but he is somehow 2-0 in all the mess. Sometimes it makes you wonder what the baseball gods are thinking.