added 7/16/2008 by Bob Hulsey
Our website had a little outage during and after Tuesday night's All-Star Game. Judging from the flood of calls and e-mails I received, nobody noticed. But, we're back. If a cat gets nine lives, AstrosDaily.com is probably on its fourth or fifth.
I'm sure the question on more fan's minds is "Will the Astros come back this year?". Sitting in last place in the division isn't a particularly rosy position and, even an optimist is unlikely to forecast The Good Guys finishing above third or fourth. But I doubt many people knew how strong the N.L. Central was going to be this year and how tough a road the Astros were facing.
To compare, the Astros, at 44-51, are just seven games under .500. Were they in the N.L. East, they'd be 7-1/2 games behind the front-running Phillies. Were they in the N.L. West, they'd be a mere three games behind division-leader Arizona. Instead, they're staring at a 13-game deficit in their division and 8-1/2 back in the Wild Card race.
The top THREE teams in the National League all come from the Central Division. Unfortunately, Houston isn't one of them. We won't even be playing spoiler as often as you might think. We just have one series left with the Cardinals this year, six games with Milwaukee and 12 with the Cubs. What we will see is plenty of the Reds (13 games) and the Pirates (10), which should be good since both will be holding their annual fire sales in the next few weeks.
Call me crazy but I think the Astros still have one more run at .500 in them although I think that's as much as we can hope for the rest of the season. To do that, they are going to need at least two starting pitchers to step up and be consistent winners. Wandy Rodriguez is capable of doing that. Brandon Backe and Brian Moehler, less so. Obviously, a lot will hinge on the health and performance of Roy Oswalt.
The hitters, too, need to pick up the pace. It's a shame Carlos Lee (now batting over .300 and second in the league in RBIs) didn't make it to New York with the All-Stars but I hope he takes the snub personally and punishes the league's pitchers for getting overlooked.
Lance Berkman has had a stellar year but, believe it or not, he's been that good before. Check his 2001 stats at the Break when he hit .365 with 25 homers and 79 RBIs. He finished .331/34/126 that year. It would be disappointing if he finished 2008 with the same numbers.
The Miguel Tejada we saw Tuesday night is one we've been missing since May. He made a sparkling defensive play, hit a pair of singles and hustled his way into what looked like it might be the game-winning run.
Alas, the Astros lately resemble the N.L. All-Stars. They can be impressive yet never seem to get the key hit or the critical out when they need it most and eventually bleed to death. Any bounceback is going to have to include Tejada and Hunter Pence hitting like we know they can.
It would be sweet if Michael Bourn and J.R. Towles figured out some things in the second half of the season and began hitting up to expectations. Towles, I'm sure, will get turned around eventually. Bourn, I'm less confident in - particularly after years of waiting for Gerald Young, Eric Yelding, James Mouton and Brian Hunter to put it all together.
Some want to blow up the Astros for the second time in less than a year. I don't expect any major trades but I'd be happy to see a few of the older veterans get a chance to experience another playoff run if a few decent prospects can be had in return.
Sometime soon, the Astros will need to decide whether they will be sellers in this year's trade market or simply bystanders. I'm guessing they will be mostly onlookers but perhaps "Ed Twade" has another surprise or two lined up for us. Nonetheless, keep the Maalox handy as you watch the Astros in the second half but don't stop watching just yet. The schedule gets better and if they can string some series wins together, they may just come out north of .500, which wouldn't be such a bad thing when you consider all the changes that have been made since last October.
Regardless, AstrosDaily will be here to document it, even if we have to expend a few more lives doing so.