Astros' ills easily cured
Astros' ills easily cured
Hot Berkman would put to rest 2007 tombstone
By JOSE DE JESUS ORTIZ
Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle
A reporter asked Brad Ausmus on Friday afternoon, "How can we fix the Astros."
"We're fine," Ausmus said. "We're going to be fine. Hold off on your tombstone."
You all remember the tombstone, right? It ran in 2005, not long after the Astros fell to 15-30. Oh, yeah, 2005. That's the year the Astros went from dead to red-hot, becoming the first team since the 1914 Boston Braves to reach the World Series after falling 15 games under .500.
Sure, April has been a disaster with many players hitting way below expectations. It's too early to tell what Chris Burke can hit given consistent playing time in the majors, just as it's too early to tell what Luke Scott or Jason Lane can produce.
But unless he's injured, and he's said he is not, baseball history shows that a player of Lance Berkman's caliber and established pedigree will find his way back to his usual excellence.
So just imagine that the Astros will make a trade soon to acquire an All-Star slugger real soon.
You'll fit him right in front of Carlos Lee, and boy will that help boost the offense. He'll be from Texas and go by the nicknames of "Big Puma" and "Fat Elvis."
He'll be a community leader, preaching to young children about living the way the Good Lord wishes. Oh, and he might even hit above his weight again.
It's silly to say Burke lost his starting job for a reason other than his performance, and the classy Burke is enough of a fighter to claw his way back in hopes of proving he's worthy of playing daily.
But the reality is that if Berkman were hitting better, the Astros would have been playing better and Burke's struggles wouldn't have been exposed as much. If the Astros were playing better, winning consistently and in first place instead of last place in the division Friday night, there might have been reason to leave Burke in the starting lineup.
Astros general manager Tim Purpura and manager Phil Garner were correct to say Burke was not the sole reason the Astros had lost seven games in a row. They also rightly said they don't expect Hunter Pence to be a savior.
The Astros don't need a savior. They just need Berkman to play like, well, Berkman. Dan Wheeler has the makings of being a quality closer, and the rest of the bullpen has performed well, while Brad Lidge tries to work his way back to form. The highly respected Dave Wallace is working magic with the young Astros pitchers. If they continue to make strides, Roy Oswalt gets decent run support and Jason Jennings and Woody Williams bounce back from their right elbow problems, there's no reason the Astros cannot win the National League Central, which is much deeper this year and more likely to have teams beat each other up.
The time is now, though, fellas.
I wasn't bright enough to have envisioned the 2005 tombstone idea. It was all sports editor Fred Faour's idea, and Ausmus knows we're not afraid to get the graphics department involved if a team stinks.
If you don't believe Ausmus, just ask the Texans what they think of our editorial cartoon that ran last season after they blew the opportunity to take Reggie Bush or Vince Young and then struggled again.
The Astros have been among the most consistent winners in baseball since Drayton McLane bought the franchise. He added a $100 million slugger in November, and Lee has produced. Now, they just need Berkman and the rest of the offense to carry their load.
Look no further than him to find the answer to the Astros' 2007 problems.
Just last week, a reporter asked all 30 correspondents from the Chronicle's Major League Baseball notes network for an example of a player who is blocked from reaching the majors on the team they cover.
As you might imagine, we nominated Hunter Pence. In light of Pence's promotion, it pays to look around the majors to find the quality players blocked in the minors, as submitted by our network. Not surprisingly, the Los Angeles Dodgers' first base/outfield prospect James Loney, the young Houston product, was cited early and often as the example of a premier prospect blocked from reaching the majors.
Because Nomar Garciaparra re-signed, Loney is back in the minors, although he led the minors in hitting last year with a .380 average at Class AAA Las Vegas and hit well in his short stint in the majors before being one of the Dodgers' best postseason hitters.
Last edited by Bstros; 04-29-2007 at 08:10 AM.