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HOUSTON ASTROS STUMBLE OUT OF THE GATE

4/14/09

 

When the Astros were in the midst of attempting to rebound from what was shaping up to be one of the worst spring training records in the history of baseball, Houston Astros skipper, Cecil Cooper made a bold prediction, 90, as in how many wins that he thought his team could attain this season. Many baseball writers and analysts laughed hysterically at the prediction and muttered sarcastic retorts under their collective breaths, chalking up the remark as a way to rally his players around the idea of winning.

Houston Astros hats & merchandise Lance Berkman was the first Astros players to rally to the cause and take a stand with Cooper and his bold prediction. Whether it was Berkman’s position of clubhouse leader or if he was trying to be the voice of reason, he defended Cooper’s prediction stating, “Why not.” Berkman brought forth some valid points, if the lineup stayed healthy, if Mike Hampton and Russ Ortiz can stabilize the back end of the rotation, the Astros had a shot at winning Cooper’s 90 games. Of course, those are some big ifs.

With the late additions of C, Ivan Rodriguez and 3B, Jeff Keppinger, the Astros had the makings of a solid lineup, filled with veteran presence and experienced run producers. The Astros put together, what Cooper believed, and offensively potent lineup. What Cooper has received so far this season is a potently offensive effort. The Astros are mired in a five game losing streak that has seen the team batting average fall to .234, 25 Th in the league. With runners in scoring position, a situation that has not come often for the team this year, the Astros rank dead last. To make matters worse, Carlos Lee, Miguel Tejada, Ivan Rodriguez and Berkman have combined to muster only 3 HR and a grand total of 5 RBI.

The offense hasn’t been the only thing that has stalled either. Roy Oswalt, staff ace and perennial all-star, is off to a rather slow start. Oswalt has given up 3 HR and 9 ER in his twelve innings of work and Brian Moehler, who was a pleasant surprise last season, has been hit like a piñata. In Moehler’s first two starts this season, a combined four innings worth of work, he has yielded 12 runs on 15 hits and his ERA has climbed into a low orbit that some NASA astronauts rarely ever get a chance to achieve at 27.00. Mike Hampton was not sharp at all in his first start either.

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Although the Astros have stumbled out of the gate in 2009, there have some positive points. Michael Bourn is hitting .318 with an OBP of .348, a marked improvement over last season and a testament to his effort this off season and during spring training to be more patient at the plate and make better contact. Hunter Pence continues his development into a star, and is batting .308 with 2 HR and 15 TB, which lead the team. Another pleasant surprise has been Wandy Rodriguez, who through two starts, has given up 4 runs in 12 innings of work, while striking out 8. Wandy pitched a gem in his first start at Minute Maid Park against the Cubs, but was not a factor in that decision. The problem with Wandy has always been how ineffective a pitcher he was away from Minute Maid. Wandy may have finally put those doubts to rest as he twirled another gem in St. Louis on Sunday, though he did surrender a two run blast to Albert Pujols in the loss. Still, Wandy has settled into the number two pitchers spot nicely, and hopes to build on what was considered by many, a solid spring training effort.

Cooper was, in many peoples opinions, on the hot seat at the end of last year. That seat has continued to strengthen from a glowing ember into a slow burn for Cecil Cooper, and if the losing ways continue and the Astros continue to stumble, Cooper will find himself engulfed in a full out blaze that can only be extinguished by the drowning waters of the unemployment line.

 

By: Jordan Fleck
MLBcenter.com Houston Astros correspondent


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