HOUSTON ASTROS vs. CINCINNATI REDS
Frustrating, annoying, mind-blowing. These are just a few of the adjectives that Astros players are using to describe their most recent poor start to a new season. In an off season that saw the Astros bring on a new veteran presence in Ivan Rodriguez and Jeff Keppinger and a bold prediction by manager Cecil Cooper to win 90 or more games this season, you would figure that the Astros were slated to start the season off with a bang. Instead, the Astros have begun with a whimper. The Astros were hoping to return to Minute Maid and right their foundering ship against a team that they have had significant successes against in the past few seasons: the Cincinnati Reds. But this time around, the Astros let this series slip through their fingers, and their ship has taken on a few more leaks to boot.
Before the season began, many writers and analysts came to the same conclusion about the Astros: the bullpen would be the solid, the offense would produce, and the starting pitching behind ace, Roy Oswalt, would be suspect, resulting in another frustrating year. Most agreed that Cooper’s prediction of 90 games would not be a reality and that 75 wins would be more probable. Oh, how wrong the so-called professionals can be. The Astros starters have been excellent. Collectively, the starting rotation of Oswalt, Wandy Rodriguez, Mike Hampton, Russ Ortiz and Felipe Paulino (who is filling in for the injured Brian Moehler) has a 3.21 ERA, but only a 2-4 record to show for their efforts. The team’s bullpen has been its Achilles heel. It has posted a 2-3 record while collecting a 4.28 ERA. The Astros bullpen has one save in five opportunities this year, and that just won’t cut it. The offense has faltered and is ranked 14 Th in the league. One thing that the analysts did get right was their prediction that the Astros will not win 90 games with this team. Wait, no, I take that back – the analysts got that one wrong, too. If they fail to win 90 games this year, it will not be the team’s fault; the blame will rest with the manager, Cecil Cooper.
In what can only be described as a series of head-scratching managerial moves and decisions, Cecil Cooper has made one bad decision after another this season. Don’t get me wrong, I like Cecil Cooper. I think he was a great player, but not a good manager. In the first game of the season, with the Astros down two runs, two outs in the seventh frame and Aaron Heilman pitching, Cecil Cooper decided to pinch-hit for Roy Oswalt. As Darren Erstad began to take a few practice swings in the on-deck circle, Cubs manger Lou Piniella made a call to the bullpen and brought in Neal Cotts, a hard-throwing lefty, to relieve Heilman. Cooper took the bat out of Erstad’s hands and replaced him with Jason Michaels, preferring to match up a right-handed bat against the left-handed Cotts. Michaels ground into a force at second, inning over. At first glance, this doesn’t seem to be a big gaffe, but in the ninth inning and with the Astros in need of a left-handed bat the Astros are forced to turn to an unproven commodity in Jason Smith, rather than Darren Erstad, who had an official at bat in the seventh inning but never took an official swing. Time and time again, Cooper has been out-managed and out-maneuvered by other managers, not just this season, but last season as well.
Local ESPN Radio Houston talk show host Carl Dukes actually conducted a poll to see where most Astros fans were placing the blame. Many callers were blaming Cooper. Dukes asserted that it is the organization and owner who are at fault, stating, “They are the ones that brought these players in, and Cooper is just doing the best with what he has to work with.” Really, this is the argument that we were trying to make. It is a manager’s job to get the players to do what they are being paid for. That’s why managers are paid big money, and good managers are paid even more to shoulder those responsibilities. Take a look at Joe Maddon of the Tampa Bay Rays, Tony LaRussa of the St. Louis Cardinals and Fredi Gonzalez of the Marlins. All have succeeded and exceeded expectations going into seasons because they were good in-game managers and made the best of what was available.
Yes, blame should fall squarely upon the shoulders of the players as well, and there is plenty to go around after the first 13 games of the season, but it is time for Cooper to start managing better and taking the blame upon himself and stop pointing the finger at other people. The Astros continue their home stand with the red-hot Dodgers coming to town, and if their plight continues, their organization will definitely start to question whether the decision to pick up Cooper’s option for next season was a wise one.
By: Jordan Fleck
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