It was just last week that the Astros were 8-10, had won six straight and eight of their last ten, and were no longer the worst team in the National League.
Since that time, they've been swept by the Cincinnati Reds and the Atlanta Braves. The pitching, for the most part, has been poor -- excepting Roy Oswalt who should probably sue for non-support -- the defense has been embarrassing, and except for Michael Bourn, the offense is nonexistent.
So with the Astros coming into this week as once again the worst team in the NL -- and a big thank you to the Baltimore Orioles for keeping the Astros from being the worst team in the majors -- it's fair to ask just what has been learned about the Astros.
And the answer is that this is an awful team that can beat other bad teams, but give them some decent pitching to face, and suddenly everybody looks like Carlos Lee who makes Pedro Cerrano look like a Hall of Famer when it comes to hitting the breaking pitch.
The Astros looked awful against the Atlanta Braves this weekend, and the Braves were in the midst of a nine-game losing streak before the series this weekend. But just like the Reds before them, the Braves looked like the best team in baseball when facing the Astros.
Just watching this weekend, it's hard to believe that the Braves are in last place in the NL East. Then again, the only team that hasn't looked competitive against the Astros so far this season is the Pittsburgh Pirates.
It's hard to blame manager Brad Mills for any of this. He was given an awful squad with which to work, and he has only so many options that he can use.
Carlos Lee is nowhere near hitting his weight, still hasn't hit a home run, and barely has more RBI than Michael Bourn who doesn't have many RBI because he's the one guy on the Astros who is consistently getting on base and scoring runs. And while Lee should be benched because his outfield play continues to cost the team, it's understandable why Mills goes with him instead of Cory Sullivan and Jason Michaels.
But what's not understandable is why Kazuo Matsui got lots of playing time this weekend. Especially at the expense of Tommy Manzella's playing time. Geoff Blum even got playing time at short yesterday instead of Manzella.
Supposedly Manzella's not injured, and supposedly Mills isn't punishing for him any kind of transgression. Supposedly it had more to do with Mills wanting to give Manzella time to regroup.
That makes sense, much like continuing to play Lee makes sense.
But does playing Matsui and/or Blum make any more sense? It's puzzling how Blum has been able to stick in the majors in the first place. He's not that great with the glove, and his bat definitely isn't worth the money he's being paid. And Matsui at the bat is currently making Lee look like Babe Ruth.
Yet Manzella sat on the bench Saturday and yesterday while the aging non-entities played.
And if Mills is going to keep jotting the name of Carlos Lee onto his lineup card every night, then shouldn't he jot down the name of Manzella? Manzella's definitely playing better baseball than Lee. He's doing about as well as was expected with the bat, and his defense has been as advertised.
Manzella might be in a funk, but is his funk really any worse than the funk the rest of the players are in?
The Astros are a team that, during this six-game losing streak, has been outscored 37-12 -- the Astros have only scored more than two runs in 11 of their games this season. And they haven't been facing the likes of Tim Lincecum, Barry Zito, Matt Cain, or Roy Halladay -- though Tommy Hanson, Tim Hudson, and Derek Lowe are all quality pitchers.
It's an entire team that, but for some notable exceptions -- Bourn, Oswalt, Jeff Keppinger -- is in one huge funk. So the benching of Manzella just really doesn't make sense.
The 8-16 Astros return home for seven games, starting tonight when they face the Arizona Diamondbacks for four games. The D-Backs were just swept, in embarrassing fashion, by the Chicago Cubs, so they could be just what the Astros need to break out of their collective funk and go on another win streak.
Then again, the Braves had lost nine straight before this weekend. So maybe that funk is just going to keep continue bedeviling the team.
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