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Peter Gammons on the 'Stros

Discussion in 'Houston Astros' started by drapg, Mar 17, 2003.

  1. drapg

    drapg Member

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    Houston deserves a happy fate
    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    By Peter Gammons
    Special to ESPN.com
    March 16


    KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- It is still difficult to fathom that the Houston Astros have never won a postseason series in their 41 years of existence. They lost two of the greatest league championship series ever played, to the Phillies in 1980 and the Mets in 1986. In this current team's run -- which included four first-place finishes in five years -- they were stopped in 1998 by a superhuman Kevin Brown and the next year lost to the Braves when Billy Wagner's arm creaked and Walter Weiss made a series-deciding diving stop to save John Rocker.

    "One of these years, aren't we due for a break?" asks Craig Biggio. Indeed, they are. But while owner Drayton McLane spent the money to bring in Jeff Kent, every year that baseball's economy puts the screws to middle and upper middle class teams like the Astros, the more difficult it becomes. Biggio first came up with the 'Stros when Ronald Reagan was president, and at 37 is moving to center field 11 years after moving from catcher to second base. His sidekick, Jeff Bagwell, will be 35 in May and plays through a chronically arthritic shoulder.

    It is because of Bagwell and Biggio that it's hard to be unbiased when it comes to this team, because everyone would like to see them play the role of pile jumpers. "We've got a chance this year," says Bagwell. "We can be pretty good. It will depend, as it does with everyone, on pitching. Big market teams can invest in being deep. Teams like us have to really work at it and hope to find solutions."

    Biggio has worked very hard to make the transition from second to center to make room for Kent. He says "the move from catcher to second would be like you stepping in against Randy Johnson. It took me two years to be comfortable. This is easier."

    He takes early work. He takes balls live off the bat in batting practice. He has shown that he can make routine plays, he can go to the gaps (he made an outstanding play in right-center Friday on a ball hit by a right-handed batter that was tailing away from him) and that he has instincts. "What I want is to be able to play shallow," says Biggio. "In my opinion, the balls that kill you are the balls that drop in shallow center field. I want to catch them."

    Biggio in center allows Lance Berkman to play left, hit and not put pressure on his knee. If Biggio gets his on-base percentage back up to the .380-.400 area, the Astros will have a dynamic offense, with Bagwell, Berkman and Kent in the middle. Richard Hildalgo has shown some power this spring, but he's now a 4.7 runner, so Jason Lane, who has had a very good spring, will play some in right. How Jimy Williams plays it at shortstop (Julio Lugo, Adam Everett) and third between Geoff Blum and Morgan Ensberg remains to be seen.

    Bagwell's shoulder, in his words, "is never going to get much better." The great first baseman throws only on occasions, and can seldom turn the 3-6-3 double play, an art he turned better than any right-handed first baseman. "But I am better at the plate this spring," he says. "I'm driving balls to center and right-center that I couldn't do last year. So that's encouraging."

    This likely will be, at best, an average defensive team with the exception of team fulcrum Brad Ausmus. So, as Bagwell says, how they fare in the division with the Cardinals, Cubs and Reds will be determined by the middle of the pitching staff.

    They have two potential 20-game winners in Roy Oswalt and Wade Miller. They have arguably the best back end of the bullpen in Octavio Dotel and Wagner. It's what comes in between that will determine their fate.

    Shane Reynolds has diligently worked to come back, and has thrown well. Brian Moehler, who averaged 12 wins and 195 innings a year for the Tigers from 1997-2000, is healthy (86-89 mph consistently) and will sit in the fourth spot. The fifth spot is to be determined between rookie left-hander Jeriome Robertson (he of the funky delivery and 12-8 2.55 record at New Orleans) and Tim Redding.

    The first outing for Brad Lidge after knee surgery came this week, and was encouraging. He's a power arm that could give them significant help in front of Dotel and Wagner -- if he's healthy, and that's an "if" that has plagued his career. They have been trawling for a left-hander out of the bullpen, and signed Bruce Chen after he was released by Cincinnati.

    "What's happened with the economics is that there seems to be more parity than there's been in a long while," says Astros GM Gerry Hunsicker. "In each division, there are a lot of teams that believe that if certain things break right that they have a pretty good chance. We're one of them."

    And few teams deserve to have those things go right more than the Houston Astros.

     
  2. arkoe

    arkoe (ง'̀-'́)ง
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    What's that about Lane supposed to mean? The only right field he'll see is in N.O. unless Hildalgo's groin injury ends up being serious or one of the other outfielders gets hurt.

    I'd rather keep Zinter instead of Ensberg or Everett. I hope I'm wrong and someone can correct me on this, but neither have really seemed to improve much recently. Vizcaino can back up the left side of the infield as well as the right. For now, I say screw Everett and Ensberg.
     
  3. MadMax

    MadMax Contributing Member

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    i haven't seen how everett and ensberg have done this spring...but i agree with you. i'd love to be wrong, but i don't see either being everyday players at their respective positions.
     
  4. xiki

    xiki Contributing Member

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    Zinter is what makes sports great. There has to be a 25th spot for him in Houston, the Bigs!
     
  5. rrj_gamz

    rrj_gamz Contributing Member

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    I think the Stros' are for real...

    Of course, I say this every year...

    We got the bats, now we need consistent pitching 3 - 5...
     
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