Astros-Nationals: Lance Berkman Is on Fire

The Astros won last night, 4-3, on a lucky Carlos Lee single in the ninth with Kaz Matsui on third base that Washington centerfielder Lastings Milledge gave up on. I’m not going to make many fans here, but damn, if there’s any team that deserved to win this game last night, it wasn’t the Astros.

I don’t know how the Astros are winning these things. They’re being outplayed, outhustled, out-hit, and out-pitched. Well, most of the Astros are. Lance Berkman tied the Astros team record last night when he got his eighth straight hit in the fourth inning. A hit which just happened to be a home run. A monster of a home run that landed on the choo-choo tracks.

Roy Oswalt had another weird, mostly substandard performance. Sure, eight of his first nine outs came by way of strikeout, but not before letting Ryan Zimmerman hit the first of his two home runs to put the Nationals up 2-0 in the first inning. He also served up a fat pitch to Zimmerman in the sixth inning, and that homer tied the game at 3-3.

I say I don’t know how the Astros are winning these games – which I partly believe because about 6/9ths of the team is playing like absolute crap – but Hunter Pence, Michael Bourn and Lance Berkman are playing like studs. Like Pence on Tuesday, Bourn nailed a runner at the plate trying to score in the seventh inning, which could have proven to be the winning run.

And bitch all you want about Bourn, just knowing that he and Pence are out there patrolling the vast ground of the poorly-planned MMP outfield almost makes up for the fact that anything hit down the left field line will be an automatic double because it takes Carlos Lee ten years to get to the ball.

Oswalt was equal parts dominating – dominating like 2001 and 2002 dominating – and equal parts getting killed. But when the team needed him the most, he did come through, delivering a laser shot of a single up the middle in the fourth inning to score two runs and put the Astros up 3-2.

But let’s forget all of that. Let’s forget that team is mostly crap and is catching every lucky break. Let’s forget all of that and revel in Lance Berkman. The guy is in some kind of zone, and if he ever gets out of the zone, this team might be in trouble.

SOME MISCELLANEOUS GAME NOTES:

Here’s how hot Berkman has been. He had four hits on Sunday. He had five on Tuesday. He had two hits in three at bats last night. He has 11 hits in his last 13 at bats. In his last five games, he has four doubles, two homers, and 10 RBI. He also has four consecutive multi-hit games. So all hail the mighty Puma.

This stretch of play by Berkman is reminding me of Jeff Bagwell back in his MVP year of 1994. Bagwell just put the team on his shoulders and carried his teammates along, and it’s almost like Berkman is doing that right now. He is really fun to watch.

***************** Speaking of being on a streak… The Astros have won of 12 of their last 16 games, and with a record of 18-16, they now sit in third place. This was also their third straight last-at-bat victory.

Brandon Backe (2-3, 4.42 ERA) gets the start tonight against Washington’s John Lannan (2-3, 3.74 ERA). And I somehow expect the luck for the Astros is about to break because the Astros are trotting out Brian Moehler to start on Friday night in Los Angeles against the Dodgers’ Derek Lowe. And I’m sure the Dodger batters are just waiting for a chance to play around with Chris Sampson, who will be getting the start on Saturday.

***************** Roy Oswalt is tied for the league lead in a stat where a pitcher doesn’t want to be the leader: he has surrendered 11 home runs so far this season. I haven’t crunched the numbers, so I’m not sure how this stacks up with Jose Lima’s NL record 2000 season, but this number is a tad high.

And the Astros pitching staff, as a whole, has surrendered 46 home runs so far, and this, too, leads the league.

***************** When the team doesn’t hit, the team doesn’t win, as almost happened last night. The Astros are 16-5 on the season when scoring four or more runs. But they are only 2-11 if scoring three runs or less. So if the vaunted offense doesn’t work, the Astros don’t win. And with the likes of Brian Moehler and Chris Sampson coming up in the rotation, that vaunted offense – or at least Lance Berkman – better keep hitting.

***************** For those of you who are only accustomed to the baseball stylings of Jose de Jesus Ortiz and Richard Justice, allow me to lead you to this column by one of the best baseball writers in the country, Thomas Boswell. There’s no hyperbole. There’s no reliance on emotion, no gut feelings. It’s just a column on what the Nationals owners have promised, what they have failed to deliver, and what they must do to remedy the situation. It’s a good read. Enjoy. – John Royal


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