Astros-Reds: Houston Wins Again, and Tony La Russa Should Be Manager of the Year (Not to Imply Those Two Things Are Related)

You’ve got to give it to the Houston Astros. It seems like every team has a patsy that it can beat upon from year to year, season to season. For the Astros, this patsy appears to be the Cincinnati Reds.

The Astros pulled out the victory yesterday, defeating the Reds, once again, by the score of 3-2. The victory wasn’t easy, however, as Brandon Backe, who cruised through the first 6.2 innings, ran into big trouble with two outs in the seventh. The Astros had the 3-0 lead going into the top of the seventh – two homers from Ty Wigginton and one from Humberto Quintero – and Backe was pitching a quick, efficient game. Until Brandon Phillips got a bunt single with two outs. Followed by a Jay Bruce triple. Then Backe walked the next batter after getting a 0-2 count, then he gave up a single to Corey Patterson. And just like that, the score was 3-2 and the Astros were in trouble. So Cecil Cooper went to his bullpen, and Doug Brocail, LaTroy Hawkins and Jose Valverde were able to shut down the Reds for the rest of the game, locking down the Astros victory.

The Astros won two of the three games to win the series, and to increase their record to 68-66. Surprisingly for a series involving two sucky teams with even suckier pitching staffs, all of the games were well-pitched by the starters, and were, for the most part, well-played.

The Astros finish out the month of August by taking on the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals, which some fools predicted to be even worse than the Astros this season, are currently battling the Milwaukee Brewers for the National League wild card spot. Randy Wolf (8-11, 4.86) gets the start tonight against Kyle Lohse (13-6, 3.96). Brian Moehler (9-5, 3.99) gets the Saturday night start against Braden Looper (12-10, 3.94). And Wandy Rodriguez (7-6, 3.94) closes out the series on Sunday afternoon against Todd Wellemeyer (11-5, 3.87).

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The Astros will race the clock to get out of the city before Gustav arrives on the Gulf Coast as I’m sure they will be taking a flight out after Sunday’s game. Of course, seeing as how they’ll be playing the Chicago Cubs for three games starting on Labor Day afternoon, I’m thinking they may wish that they were staying here and taking their chances on Gustav taking out Louisiana. I haven’t seen the Cubs rotation for the series, but for the Astros, it should be Roy Oswalt on Monday, Brandon Backe on Tuesday, and Randy Wolf on Wednesday.

***************** Wandy Rodriguez has had some difficulties this season. But apparently, they’re not because he’s mediocre, it’s because he’s been tipping his pitches. That’s all fine and well for this season, but damn, how do they explain the rest of his career?

***************** One of the big disappointments this season has been Michael Bourn, who was supposed to be the answer in centerfield. Cecil Cooper is now promising that Bourn will see a majority of the centerfield playing time in September as the Astros try to figure out if he can be the answer. The funny thing, to me, is that Cooper says part of Bourn’s problems this season have been related to his lack of playing time. Gee, Coop, you don’t say. I wonder who would be responsible for that lack of playing time? The manager maybe? And then, the day after Cooper promises Bourn more playing time, he starts Darin Erstad – yeah, yeah, I know, Cooper said September, not August.

Which is just one other thing I don’t understand. Why wait until September to give him the playing time? Why not just start now? The Astros aren’t going to the playoffs, and the admission that he’ll get the majority of the playing time in September shows that Cooper doesn’t think the playoffs are happening either. So why sit him until September? Why not just throw him out there now?

****************** I’m not the world’s biggest fan of the whole “let’s play corner infielders in the outfield” thing. Especially when that corner infielder is someone like Ty Wigginton who’s not exactly the best corner infielder. That said, Wigginton has been hot with the bat this month. His two homers yesterday gave him a total of ten for the month. Only Jeff Bagwell has ever hit more home runs in August as an Astro.

****************** And I never thought I would write this, as I’ve thought that Tony La Russa has been one of the most overrated managers in baseball for years thanks to the likes of George Will and Buzz Bissinger. But damn, if anyone deserves to be the National League Manager of the Year this season, it’s got to be Tony La Russa.

One of the arguments I’ve heard in the past for why Phil Garner and Cecil Cooper can’t be blamed for how bad the Astros have played is that they just don’t have talented rosters. Well, I want everybody to take a look at the Cardinals roster. The Astros definitely have the more talented roster – except for that stud named Albert Pujols. La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan have saved the career of Kyle Lohse, who didn’t sign until midway through spring training and who the Astros passed over in favor of Shawn Chacon, and they have turned failed closer Braden Looper into a quality number two/three rotation starter. Maybe, maybe, these guys could do something with Brandon Backe and Wandy Rodriguez, but they would be about the only ones I would have faith in for turning those two into quality starters.

So my hat is off to Tony La Russa. This season, at least, he deserves that genius tag. – John Royal

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