The Astros Will Not Be 0-162. 1-161, We're Not So Sure
The good news? The Houston Astros won a baseball game yesterday, defeating the St. Louis Cardinals 5-1 to win get their first victory of the year (they lost 5-2 to St. Louis on Monday, and the Cards won 2-1 on Wednesday night). So those of you who picked the Astros to go 0-162 for the season just lot your bet.
More good news. Michael Bourn is doing the job he's being paid to do. He's the only regular starter on the team who is hitting the ball consistently. His on-base percentage is .412, and his batting average is .394. And every now and then manager Brad Mills lets Jeff Keppinger escape from the bench, which is a good thing since Keppinger is also capable of getting on base at a good clip, and he does something that is unheard of for an Astro player, he takes pitches and draws walks.
Bourn had two hits and scored twice yesterday, and Keppinger had two hits and three RBI.
Now the bad news.
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If not for Bourn and Keppinger yesterday, the Astros would probably have tied the team record for consecutive losses to start a season. Carlos Lee was 0-for-the St. Louis series, going 0-for-4 yesterday. He's yet to get an extra base hit this season. His average and slugging percentage are a healthy .086, and his on-base percentage is a solid .111.
But Lee's not alone in his failure. Hunter Pence is hitting a robust .121, with an on-base of .121, and Kazuo Matsui is nothing if not consistent, consistently bad, with his .095 average, and his .095 slugging percentage of .095.
The Astros will be taking on the Cubs, in Chicago, for three games starting today. There is more good news here as the Astros won't be facing Astros killer Carlos Zambrano. The bad news is that Brad Mills has shown no inclination to sit Carlos Lee, and appears to have sit Matsui yesterday only because it was a day game following a night game, and because he's fragile.
It should be an easy decision that Matsui should be benched, and that he should stay there. Keppinger has shown that, so far, he's able to get on base in a consistent fashion this year, and the Astros need another bat to go along with Bourn's. The defense won't suffer, and there really should be more than one batter in the Astros lineup for opposing pitchers to fear.
However, the Astros are spending a lot of money on Matsui, so the probability is that he'll keep trotting out to second base for most games.
Pence actually got a hit yesterday, and over his career, he's shown an ability to play the outfield. Lee, however, is doing nothing that should allow him to be playing left field everyday. Nothing, that is, except sign a huge contract that has made him the ultimate of all albatrosses, the left fielder who should actually be a designated hitter but who is now hitting even worse than Adam Everett at Everett's worse.
Lee has so looked bad at the plate that he's been swinging at pitches that not even Enos Cabell would have swung at, and anyone who remembers Cabell knows that Cabell would swing at anything.
But let's face it. Even if Mills thought he could get away with benching Lee, the basic truth is there's just nobody to play in his place. Jason Michaels is the Geoff Blum of backup outfielders, which means that if he's starting everyday then your team really, really sucks.
And Cory Sullivan is remarkable only because he's on the team as a backup yet has absolutely no connection whatsoever with the Philadelphia Phillies.
So while Lee deserves to be planted on the bench or, better yet, booted off of the team so that he can play at being rancher full-time, there are just no other options.
Felipe Paulino will be pitching for the Astros today, and he'll be facing off against Carlos Silva. Roy Oswalt should be able to get the win for the Astros on Saturday as the Cubbies are sending Pittsburgh Pirates reject Tom Gorzelanny to the mound. The series will end with Ryan Dempster going up against Wandy Rodriguez on Sunday before returning home to face the Florida Marlins next week.
Oh, and for the curious, there is, as of yet, no timetable for the return of Lance Berkman to the lineup, though it is hoped that he can start a rehab assignment in Round Rock this weekend. But while it be good to have a legit three-hitter in the batting order, anybody expecting the return of Lance Berkman to completely turn around the team is as delusional as Drayton McLane.