Astros-Cubs: Lack of Quality Starts Finally Catches Up to Houston

It would be easy to blame the bullpen for Tuesday’s 11-7 Astros loss to the Cubs. It would be easy, but it would be wrong. It would be easy to blame Cecil Cooper’s season-long mishandling of the bullpen for Tuesday’s 11-7 loss to the Cubs. It would be easy, but it would be wrong. Sure, they’re all at fault, but there’s only one real culprit in this loss, and that’s the starting rotation.

The Astros have been cruising lately, winning eight of their last ten coming into Tuesday’s game, and while some were trying to raise thoughts of the team getting into the playoff race, those who were watching closely saw some troubling signs. Troubling signs involving the starting pitching and their lack of quality starts.

A quality start is defined as a starting pitcher pitching six innings while surrendering no more than three runs in those six innings. Coming into yesterday’s game, the Astros had had only one game out of the last nine where a starting pitcher had tossed a quality start. And that was last Tuesday when Brian Moehler gave up two runs in 8.2 innings while defeating the Cincinnati Reds.

In the other eight games, the starters had gone 5.1 innings, 4.1 innings, five innings, 4.2 innings, five innings, six innings (but four runs), five innings, and five innings. That means the bullpen had been pitching a lot of innings. So when Wandy Rodriguez gave up six runs in the first two innings yesterday, the Astros appeared to be out of the game. But the offense came to life, and they were actually able to take a 7-6 lead into the bottom of the seventh inning before the bullpen collapsed, surrendering five runs in the seventh.

Yes, I’ve come to expect better pitching from Chris Sampson, but like Doug Brocail – who also had a bad outing – Sampson has pitched a lot of innings out of the bullpen in the past couple of weeks, trying to make up for the deficiencies of the starting staff. And this time, the bullpen just couldn’t cover.

Maybe the Astros will return to winning form Wednesday. But until someone in the starting rotation besides Brian Moehler – who was excellent in his outing Monday but couldn’t go more than five because of the overly long rain delay – I would expect more games like that on Tuesday. And it’s not because the bullpen is bad (and yes, I’m coming around on the Astros bullpen), it’s because they’re worn out and tired.

The 54-58 Astros finish up the series with the Cubs this afternoon at 1:20. Brandon Backe (6-10, 4.72 ERA) gets the start against Jason Marquis (6-7, 4.68).

SOME MISCELLANEOUS GAME NOTES:

One thing I learned early on in law school is that when making an argument to behalf of your client, make sure your client doesn’t do or say anything to undermine your case. Which brings me to Monday night’s game. Yes, the game should have been stopped after five innings – it was an official game after all. But there was no grand conspiracy to keep playing so the Cubs would have a chance to win.

Brett Dolan and Dave Raymond and Jose de Jesus Ortiz should know better than to make that argument. Dolan and Raymond were particularly bad with this argument during Tuesday’s game, and they were outraged that Cubs general manager Jim Hendry lauded the work of umpire crew chief Wally Bell. The problem was that, Lance Berkman, of the Houston Astros – one of the supposed victims of the grand conspiracy – also lauded the work of Wally Bell, telling the Houston Chronicle that “[P]eople want to say the umpires should have [stopped the game]…The umpires are under pressure from the league. Those guys are trying to do a job out there. This crew is a great crew…I don't blame them.”

So, Dolan and Raymond should have conferred with Berkman before crying about a conspiracy, because Berkman’s comments destroy their theory.

Another thing I learned in law school is that, if you’re going to cite a case to support an assertion, then you better make sure that citation really says what you say it says. So, Mr. Ortiz, if you want to claim that Wally Bell is to blame for the game continuing, and that Wally Bell is to blame for putting the lives of the players in danger, and you use a quote from Lance Berkman to support that allegation, then you should really make sure that Lance Berkman does indeed state that Wally Bell put their lives in danger, because otherwise, your case goes out the window when the judge instead reads a Lance Berkman quote saying that “Those guys are trying to do a job out there. This is a great crew…I don’t blame them.”

I think the umpires should have stopped the game. But I don’t believe there was a grand conspiracy, and on the basis of the proffered evidence, the case is not proven. You gentlemen would flunk law school, and your case would be kicked out of court.

***************** And while I’m picking on Brett Dolan and Dave Raymond, I’ve got one further thing. In the first inning, the Cubs’ Reed Johnson was hit by a pitch. Dolan and Raymond were upset because they didn’t think Johnson made an effort to get out of the way of the pitch. Now this is one of my pet peeves, because I really think that umpires should do more to stop this. But I don’t remember Dolan and Raymond bitching about Craig Biggio who pulled this stunt all of the time.

All that I ask for is a little consistency. Is that really too much to ask? – John Royal


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