Not to Say We Told You So, But...

I see the Astros brass finally came to their senses and demoted Brad Lidge . I can only wonder at what took Drayton McLane so long to come to this conclusion. And I say Drayton McLane because, as I wrote last week , removing Lidge from the closer’s role was above manager Phil Garner’s pay grade.

Brad Lidge has been demoted to a pitcher who will pitch in the sixth and seventh innings. For you non-baseball people, this means that Lidge has gone from closer to mop-up duty while bypassing the role of set-up man. Lidge will primarily be pitching only if the game’s a blowout, and that’s if it’s the Astros who are being blown out.

What angers me is how the team ignored this situation. Albert Pujols beat up on Lidge way back in October 2005. Lidge then got beat upon during the 2005 World Series. Lidge had problems last season. It was blamed on mechanics, or tipping of pitches, lack of confidence, etc. For a period, Lidge was even replaced by Dan Wheeler.

The point is that Lidge’s performance isn’t a surprise. I argued before the season that the Astros should’ve traded Lidge while he still had some value, before he got beat on again. But nobody listened. The team didn’t need to listen because Lidge spent the off-season working with Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens. And it didn’t matter that he was getting beat on in spring training because he was working on his mechanics. Now that it’s too late, he’s demoted.

In many ways, this resembles how the organization is run. This is a team that reacts to the situation, not one that forces the action. When the team gets off to a bad start, it’s pointed out that this has happened in the past and that the team still went to the World Series. Problems with the pitching? Don’t worry, Roger Clemens will be back in June. Or July. Or August. And Morgan Ensberg’s not hitting, why that’s not a problem because he did hit in the first half of the 2005 season. As for Jason Lane, well it doesn’t matter that he can’t hit because the pitchers like having him in the outfield because of his defense.

I could go on, but that would be pointless. The Astros are content. The team sees no reason for improvement. This is essentially the team that made the World Series. So, why change?

Yes, the Astros added Carlos Lee this off-season. But the offense was so pitiful last season that the team was forced to make a move. And yes, Woody Williams and Jason Jennings were brought in to shore up the rotation, but neither of these guys is as good as Clemens or Andy Pettitte.

You’ve read my comments on the Astros. You know I think that this is a bad team. And I know you’re sick of reading it from me. Well, I’m sick of it, too. But I’ve got to write what I see. This is a bad team that the management has made no real effort to improve. Sure, most of the teams in the NL Central are bad. And sure, maybe the Astros will have another patented second-half surge. But the surge didn’t work last year. Why should it work this season?

Benching Brad Lidge might be a short-term answer. But this team needs more than just short-term cures. Unfortunately, it appears that the Astros management team isn’t capable of working in a long-term environment. -- John Royal


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