added 4/9/2009 by Scott Barzilla
The hardest thing to do in baseball is take a collection of a few games and get any kind of empirical meaning out of them. It's awfully tempting to take the first series of the season and run away with all kinds of generalizations. Of course, all games count the same as well. Losing two of three to the Cubs at home isn't good if the Astros want to compete with them for the division crown.
At the same time, we trail them by one game in the standings with 159 games to go. Hopefully, that creates some level of perspective as we look at the first series. Anything we say has to be seen as a very small part of the season overall. If seamheads agree on anything it is that sample size makes all the difference. Traditionalists would agree with that point as well even if they may not use the technical terminology.
That being said, one of the disconcerting things I see as an Astros fan is what I might call a total disregard for objective logic. Pudge Rodriguez has a long and storied track record. Taking walks has never been a part of this equation. Making a lot of contact has also not been a part of this equation. He had fifteen seasons with 100 or more games played. He has 50 or more walks in exactly one of them. He drew 11, 26, 9, and 23 walks in the past four seasons consecutively.
While he hasn't had 100 or more strikeouts, he had 86 or more every year between 2001 and 2007. His 67 last season is a bit decieving given the fact that he had more than 100 fewer plate appearances than normal. So, you stick someone that swings at just about everything in the two hole? This doesn't seem to make a whole lot of sense. Yet, that wasn't the most bizarre decision Cecil Cooper made.
Cooper spent a long time explaining that Hunter Pence should hit seventh because he is right-handed and Geoff Blum is left-handed. Having Blum in between Tejada and Pence would keep other teams from bunching right-handed specialist deep in the game. Ah, so you are willing to sacrifice two thirds of the game for the final third. In other words, Pence's final at bat is worth more to you than the first three. That makes a hell of lot of sense.
Of course, before we jump on Cooper we have to recognize that none of these decisions made a hill of difference all series. They won the only really close game and any mistakes that were made in the opener weren't related to Cooper directly. Baserunning mistakes and fielding errors shouldn't be laid at the manager's feet. These are professionals that should know better. Besides, if Cooper emphasized anything over the last two seasons it has been fielding and baserunning.
We also have to be very careful not to dump a lot on Brian Moehler's plate. One start doesn't a season make. Roy Oswalt has had even a few of those over the course of his career. Of course, what separates the Cy Young candidates from the Anthony Youngs is how often they blow up and what damage they allow to happen when they do. Moehler is not going to win the NL Cy Young award. Maybe even more important is the fact that Russ Ortiz looked good in his outing and still gave up three runs in three innings.
Generally the bullpen work was good even if they didn't achieve ultimate success throughout most of the series. Latroy Hawkins got lit up for one home run, but this is another one of those sample size kind of deals. We shouldn't look at any individuals in the pen until the end of the month at least. It's time to just watch baseball and enjoy it for what it is. The Central is compact enough to where we really can't know where everyone will shake out.
As for me, I will wait until the Cardinals series and enjoy the good baseball. I've always been a bigger fan of the rivalry between the Astros and Cardinals than the Astros and Cubs. Everyone will be watching intently to see what Mike Hampton does or doesn't do. Don't fret too much unless he pulls up lame. Most of these guys have between 25 and 30 starts to go (should they stay healthy).