November 21, 2018

Astros Come to Life in August

September 3, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

In the final month of the Astros forgettable 2009 season, the Astros inexplicably swept the National League Champion Philadelphia Phillies in a 4 game series in Houston.  The 2010 schedule also included a 4-game series with the Phillies, this time in Philadelphia in August.  The result was the same as the Astros brought their brooms for another 4-game sweep.

The Phillies series was pretty much typical of the way the Astros played all month.  The pitching was outstanding with the starters recording 22 quality starts as the Club recorded a 17-12 record in August, by far their best of the season.

The Astros averaged 4.14 runs per game in August while holding the opposition to 3.55 runs per game with the pitchers recording a 3.21 ERA, third best in the league behind the Phillies and Braves.  For the season, the Astros have averaged scoring 3.75 runs per game while allowing 4.53.

The big story for the Astros in August was the roster changes after the trades of Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman.  In the game I attended on Monday night, there were only 3 players in the starting lineup who were on the team at the beginning of the season (Bourn, Lee and Pence).  The team has become decidedly younger with Chris Johnson, 25, Brett Wallace, 24, Tommy Manzella, 27, and Jason Castro, 23 playing prominent roles in their first extended exposure to the major league game.  They are all holding their own and show promise for further improvement.

While the resurgence in August showed that the team can be competitive, there are two areas where the team is well below the major league average that need to be addressed.  One is power and the other is the ability to get on base.  In August, the Astros hit only 15 home runs, 5 each for Carlos Lee and Hunter Pence and only 5 by the rest of the squad.  The only team with fewer home runs in August was the Mets with 12 and the Astros rank last in the NL for the season.

For much of the season the Astros had an on-base percentage (OBP) under .300.  The presence of Jeff Bagwell in the dugout in August has reportedly had a positive impact with the players in their approach at the plate but the OBP of .311 in August was still well below the NL average and left the Astros tied with the Pirates with the lowest OBP in the NL at .302.  The biggest part of the problem is the low walk rate.  The Astros drew only 60 walks in August, the lowest in the major leagues.  They also rank last in the majors in walks for the season and Astro batters have the fewest strikeouts in the NL.

Despite these continuing problem areas, the team had a number of highlights in August, primarily in pitching.  Wandy Rodriguez, Brett Myers, J.A. Happ and Bud Norris each made 6 starts in August and all had winning records led by Rodriguez with an ERA of 1.34.  Emergency fifth starter, Nelson Figueroa, made 3 strong starts in August with a 1-1 record and an ERA of 2.28.  Brandon Lyon filled in as closer for the injured Matt Lindstrom and converted 9 out of 9 save opportunities.  Astro pitchers held Ryan Howard to 1 hit in 16 at-bats with 10 strikeouts in the sweep of the Phillies and they held Albert Pujols hitless in 10 at-bats in the sweep of the Cardinals at the end of the month.

Offensively, Hunter Pence hit .322 in August and Chris Johnson hit .306.  Carlos Lee drove in 25 runs and Michael Bourn stole 12 bases.

Fans, writers and analysts have been pushing Astros management for over a year to break up the aging team and get younger.  This is exactly what General Manager Ed Wade has done and so far the results have been encouraging.   If the team can maintain the momentum in September that it built in August, the disappointing season will end on a high note and create optimism for next year.

A SABR member since 1984, Bill has attended 15 SABR Conventions and has given presentations at 13 of them. He has also written articles for The National Pastime, The Baseball Research Journal and other publications and web sites. He was the leader of SABR’s Larry Dierker Chapter in Houston for over 10 years and, after relocating to Austin, founded the Rogers Hornsby Chapter in Central Texas. For the past 16 years, he has worked for Tal Smith Enterprises on salary arbitration and has attended many arbitration hearings.

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