If you’d told me a month ago that the Houston Astros would be only a few games out of first place and would be at .500, I probably would’ve said, “Yeah, right! And President Barack Obama’s about to change his party affiliation to Republican and According to Jim will be resurrected once again on ABC this fall!”
Yet that’s where Houston is right now, and one has to wonder what the future holds.
A few years ago, the St. Louis Cardinals (a team I actually have lots of respect for), ran away with the NL Central and won the World Series. Last year, the Chicago Cubs looked poised to break their 100-year curse and win the World Series—only to be humiliated in the opening round of the playoffs by the LA Dodgers.
With the Cardinals and Cubs not the teams they were during those times, is it possible Houston could become the sleeper pick to win the division and possibly—just possibly—win their first-ever World Series?
If they do, here are things that need to happen
Consistency in Pitching
Roy Oswalt has struggled this year, and he’ll need to show he can pitch great every game the way he did in 2005. Yes, there have been times when he’s received little run support, but, if Houston has any chance of success, he has to be successful. Same goes for Wandy Rodriguez and the other starters. And for the bullpen.
Manager Cecil Cooper Must Assert Himself
Russ Ortiz was upset recently about being taken out of a game, while Cooper felt he’d thrown enough pitches. The two supposedly have cleared the air, but teams can fold when their manager can’t control the team.
I am reminded of Billy Martin pulling Reggie Jackson out of a game on national television over what the late manager perceived as Jackson’s lack of hustle. I also remember one-time Boston Red Sox manager Joe Morgan asserting to disgruntled Jim Rice, “I manage this nine!”
Houston’s had both kinds of managers over the years—fiery types like Hal Lanier and friendly types like Art Howe. Both were fired, and one has to wonder if Houston will ever find a manager that’s a perfect fit for their team. Someday, I’d love to see Craig Biggio or Jeff Bagwell managing the ’Stros. Both were highly-respected as players, so that’s a start.
Sure, Houston beat up on the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates and Washington Nationals recently, but they’ll have to show that they can get on base and drive in runs against pitchers who aren’t glorified career minor leaguers.
It bears repeating: When the Arizona Diamondbacks won the 2001 World Series against the New York Yankees, they did so by first battering Atlanta Braves pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine in the NLCS and then miraculously getting to Yankees ace closer Mariano Rivera in Game Seven.
Is this the year Houston will win its first World Series in 48 years? I don’t know, but anything is possible. The 1988 Dodgers won the World Series easily over the powerful Oakland Athletics despite low preseason expectations.
The 1906 Chicago White Sox, dubbed the “Hitless Wonders” due to their .230 season batting average, still won the World Series over the Chicago Cubs that year despite hitting .198 in the Fall Classic (believe it or not, the Cubs hit even worse at .196 despite a .262 seasonal batting average).
And of course we remember how the 2003 Florida Marlins were going nowhere at 19-29 until Jack McKeon took over as manager. The team ended up pretty well, winning the World Series.