Astros-Cubs: Houston Lose to Chicago, Remain in N.L. Central Cellar

Richard ZowieCorrespondent IMay 7, 2009

KISSIMMEE, FL - MARCH 02:  Pitcher Mike Hampton #11 of the Houston Astros throws during a spring training game against the New York Yankees at Osceola County Stadium on March 2, 2009 in Kissimmee, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

First, let me preface my comments by saying that as someone who spent many years attending a Baptist church (like Houston Astros owner Drayton McLane), I'm sure he's a nice guy. Heck, he teaches Sunday School. Any nicer, he'd probably be driving an ice cream truck and giving kids Popsicles and Rocky Road ice cream cones for free.

But I digress. While McLane is a wonderful guy, I question his skills as an owner.

Here's why.

Back in 1999, Astros pitcher Mike Hampton finished the season with his best pitching ever, going 22-4 with a 2.90 ERA. He was a runner-up that year in the Cy Young voting (Mike Scott in 1986 is the only Astros pitcher to win the award for league's best pitcher).

Aha! Houston had a left-handed pitcher who's just what they needed to finally win their first N.L. Pennant and World Series!

Normally, with a year left the management will extend the contract of a great performer to keep them.

Instead, McLane decided Hampton's asking price was too high. Figuring Hampton would leave via free agency after the 2000 season, "Drayton McMullen" traded him to—of all teams—the New York Mets.

Now, Hampton's back with the Astros after seven years. Hampton, 36, came into this season with a career win/loss record of 141-105 and a 4.01 ERA. Not too shabby, considering the injuries he's had to deal with.

No, not the Jim Palmer "injuries" of—allegedly—complaining of a sore neck from sleeping on a hotel pillow that was too soft, but injuries all the same.

Hampton's also a great hitting pitcher (a .242 lifetime average—excellent for a pitcher—with 15 career home runs).

Last night, Hampton pitched for the Astros in the first of their two-game series against the Chicago Cubs (a reader pointed out it was a home game and not a road game as I'd mistakenly written in my previous blog post).

The result?

The Cubs did something many teams have been able to do against Houston pitching in the past few years--they scored first-inning runs. By the time the 'Stros got up to bat, they trailed 4-0. They would go on to defeat Houston 6-3.

At 11-16, Houston remains in last place in the National League Central Division.

Hampton's line on the game: 5.1 innings pitched, seven hits, five runs (three earned), four walks and four strikeouts. He falls to 1-2 on the season with a 4.91 ERA.
Hampton signed a one-year contract before the season, so if he continues pitching like this and has any injuries, chances are it'll be a one-year deal in Houston.
On a positive note, Hampton did go 1-2 with an RBI single to raise his season batting average to .273.
This season, Houston has scored 109 runs while yielding 130.
...Update on Lance Berkman: last night he went 1-for-3 with a walk and a seventh-inning, two-run home run (courtesy of an opposite-field home run to the Crawford Boxes). He's at .194, .006 of a point below the Mendoza Line.