Are the Astros For Real?

Mack RosenbergContributor IJuly 23, 2009

DENVER - MAY 14:  Starting pitcher Wandy Rodriguez #51 of the Houston delivers against the Colorado Rockies during MLB action at Coors Field on May 14, 2009 in Denver, Colorado. Rodriguez earned the win as he pitched seven innings recorded 11 strike outs and gave up no walks as the Astros defeated the Rockies 5-3.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

The N.L. Central race in shaping up to be a nice one to keep your eye on as we enter August. The Houston Astros are one of the teams that is now just one game out and tied with the Cubs for second place. At 48-45, these two teams will most certainly keep up their pace with the Cardinals, who may be falling off the mark especially after making what I think is a stupid trade in getting rid of Chris Duncan for 95-year-old Julio Lugo.

But that's another story for another day.

The story for this day continues to be the Astros, who finished off a sweep of the first place Cards last night in walk-off fashion when Miguel Tejada hit a two-RBI single to left field in the bottom of the ninth. The 'Stros have won three in a row and seven of their last 10 games. They're certainly a team that could win this division, and Wandy Rodriguez—not Roy Oswalt—is the guy they'll be counting on to pitch them to the playoffs. 

The 30-year-old starter has taken over the role of ace in this rotation, and he's flourishing. He leads the team with a 2.72 ERA, also good for seventh in the National League. He has 10 wins and has already started 20 games for Houston. He'll end up with 15-17 wins if the offense keeps it up because there's no question he will.

Even Oswalt hasn't been terribly disappointing, but it's a far cry from his usual numbers. His ERA is usually early threes at the most. He's got a 3.66 mark to this point in the season, and only six wins. Oswalt has been healthy, so that hasn't been his problem. I think he's just starting to decline at this point in his career. He doesn't have that dominance he once had. Still, he is the number two guy in this rotation.

In fact, Oswalt has been red hot of late. He's gone seven, nine, six, and eight innings in his last four starts, while giving up five earned runs in that span. He's been a key player in these last two months as he, and the rest of the team have made their runs.

Okay, let's look at the offense. Lance Berkman hasn't let up on his slug fest this year, as he's clubbed 18 homers and 55 RBI this season. The real number to look at here is his .525 slugging percentage. Berkman, I feel, has always been that guy you can count on for 30 jacks, and over 100 RBI. He hasn't let anyone down yet and I don't think he will.

The middle of this lineup is the reason why this team has always been a threat in the N.L. Central. You have Berkman, Miguel Tejada, Carlos Lee, and Hunter Pence. This is a great blend of youth and immense power. However, Carlos Lee has been playing a slightly different role this season. He seems to be the guy that drives the runs in more than just the guy that hits every pitch over the wall. Lee has 58 RBI, and only 15 long balls.

I have no problem with this, though. It's good to have guys who hit home runs like Lee playing slightly different roles. Tejada is having a career year, batting .327. He's gotten the clutch hits for this team, no doubt.

Those are just a few of the key pieces on this Astros ball club that could put them over the top in the central. Houston is one of those interesting clubs in that they've only been to the playoffs twice since the 2004 season. However, they either made the world series or the league championship series in those two appearances.

Anything's possible in this game and if Houston keeps playing this hot, they're in business.