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Progress Report

Well, we’re one month into the season. Is it too soon to say that I told you so? Actually, it probably is too early. But let’s just say that I’ve hinted at what may come to be.

The Astros are 10-14 for April. The team’s in last place in the mostly mediocre National League Central, five games back of the deceptively good Milwaukee Brewers. The Astros started the season by losing four straight. They finished the month by losing seven of eight games.

(And, for anyone who’s wondering, the Chron’s beat writer had the team going 15-10 for April.)

April should’ve been a good month for the Astros, what with six games against the Pirates, three with the Cubs, and two with the Reds. Instead, the Astros are 0-6 against the Pirates, 2-0 against the Cubs and Reds. But they were 2-4 against the Brewers and lost two games to the Phillies – a team that was slumping badly when the Astros arrived in Philadelphia.

Hey, things could be worse, though. The Astros could be the New York Yankees. The Yankees are in last place in the American League East, behind even the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Joe Torre’s job is on the line. And the pitching staff is so decimated by injuries that Andy Pettitte’s been having to pitch relief on his off-days. Then again, the Yankees are scoring lots of runs, and the injury-depleted pitching staff is a legitimate excuse for losing.

The Astros can’t use that excuse.

Now, before Hunter Pence was called up, the Chron’s Jesus Ortiz was asking for suggestions to fix this team. Calling up Pence from Round Rock was a good start. But there are still many things that need fixing.

Chris Burke was given about 70 at bats to prove himself. He failed. Morgan Ensberg, Jason Lane, Luke Scott, and Adam Everett have had several seasons to prove themselves. When will they be benched?

Well, if it was me, they would be benched right now.

Mark Loretta’s a former all-star second baseman who also plays third, short, and first base. He’s a career .299 hitter. And Mike Lamb is hitting the ball so far this season. He plays first, third and outfield. It’s time to think about putting Loretta at third and Lamb at first – where his defensive liabilities can be hidden. Lance Berkman needs to move back to right field. That takes care of the lousy hitting Ensberg and the Lane/Scott platoon in right. That leaves Everett and Biggio to deal with.

Yes, I know Biggio’s aiming for 3,000 hits. But if it comes to 3,000 hits, or winning, the Astros should be choosing winning. As it is, even batting nearly 30 points less than Biggio, Burke’s on-base percentage is a lot higher. That means that Burke is on base a lot more than Biggio. And if Berkman and Lee are going to earn their money, there’s got to be someone on base for them to knock in. My plan is to rotate Burke, Biggio, and Everett in-and-out of the lineup since Burke can also play shortstop. And since Biggio’s average is lots better than at home than on the road, Biggio can play more at home and keep the idiots at bay.

The preferred batting order would be Loretta leading off, Burke/Biggio/Everett batting second, Berkman batting third, then Lee, Pence, Lamb, Burke/Biggio/Everett, Ausmus, and the pitcher. This may not help too much, but getting the deadweight of Ensberg, Scott, and Lane out of the way can’t hurt.

I don’t think the Astros can fix the pitching problems. Roy Oswalt is solid. And Chris Sampson and Matt Albers have been promising. But Jason Jennings is on the DL, Woody Williams is 0 for April, and Wandy Rodriguez is, well, he’s Wandy Rodriguez. And, except for Dan Wheeler and Chad Qualls, the bullpen’s worthless.

But the big thing this team needs to change is management. That means that Purpura and Garner have to go. Garner’s supposed to be a player’s manager. Which means that he’s lousy on strategy. And seeing how this team is sloppy and lifeless, it appears that he’s lost the team. There is no easy solution, but his replacement cannot come from within the ranks. I’d like to see some old-timer like Frank Robison get the chance. He did wonders with mediocre talent in Montreal/Washington, so just think what he could with the mediocre talent in Houston.

And the man responsible for assembling this team, GM Tim Purpura needs to go as well. I’d suggest that Drayton look away from the team, and look at teams like Minnesota or St. Louis and steal one of their young guns and give him a chance to run a team. Otherwise, it’s just like the European royal families. The incest got so bad that the bloodlines were watered down, and the same thing’s happening here.

Drayton should also find someway to get Jeff Bagwell involved. He was a fantastic base runner, and there are a lot of guys on this team who can’t run the bases – yeah, Berkman, I’m talking to you.

This is a dead team. Except for Hunter Pence, no one’s shown any life on this team. And the team’s playing like a bunch of dead men walking. My suggestions will never be made. I know that. But I wanted to suggest something. And that’s what I’ve done. If anyone else has any suggestions, let’s hear them.

Oh, of course, I could be wrong about everything and the Astros are going to come to life and run away with this division. It’s happened before.

But I doubt it. – John Royal


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