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Richard Justice -- So Close, Yet So Far Away

I was reading the dead-tree version of the Chron yesterday, and I began to get very excited. Richard Justice had written this column about Tony La Russa, and about the miracle job La Russa is performing this season, and I thought, wow, someone else finally gets it. Someone else is finally realizing that a good manager can make a big difference for a team with a crappy roster. Just like I’ve been saying.

I’ve been saying Phil Garner was a bad manager despite the sucky Astros roster. I’ve been saying that if Tony La Russa could win with this season’s St. Louis Cardinals roster, he’d be leading the division with this season’s Astros roster. And what shocked me even more was that it was Richard Justice saying this. The same Richard Justice who’s been leading the chorus that it wasn’t Garner’s fault because the team was so bad and that no one could win with it.

Justice finally saw the light, I thought. He finally put aside his Garner’s-a-great-guy bias and looked at the facts.

Then I got to the final paragraphs:

“The Cardinals (64-64) won for the 12th time in 17 games and reached .500 for the first time since April 16. La Russa and his brilliant pitching coach, Dave Duncan, have taken their staff apart and put it back together about three times.

“This season could be La Russa's finest hour. Even when the Cardinals were nine games below .500, even when they were 10 games out of first, he somehow kept them going.

“Now the Cardinals are dangerous. Scott Rolen, Jim Edmonds and other veterans can sense that another championship is within reach. When Cooper studies how other managers succeed, he should begin by looking at these Cardinals.”

So far so good. I totally agree. Now the final paragraph:

“Until the Astros fix their starting pitching and the defense gets better, they're not going to contend. Cooper shouldn't be held accountable for the mess McLane and Tim Purpura left him. He'll be able to prove himself in plenty of other ways.” (Emphasis mine).

Justice has just finished an entire column laying out how Tony La Russa has taken a roster of injured and underperforming players and has positioned them to make a move for the playoffs. He’s told us about how La Russa makes his players to do the simple things and play one inning at a time, and how this approach keeps his teams in every game. Even sucky teams with a pitching rotation in worse shape than the Astros.

Then Justice tells me that even though Tony La Russa can do it, the Astros manager(s) shouldn’t be expected to.

It makes no sense. Don’t write about a good manager overcoming a bad roster, then tell me that other managers who can’t overcome bad rosters shouldn’t be held at fault for not being able to do the same thing.

Isn’t that their frakking job? Otherwise, Jesus Ortiz could run the team.

One more time: the Cardinals pitching rotation is worse than the Astros (the Cards don’t have a Roy Oswalt or even a Wandy Rodriguez able to pitch every two out of five games); many key players are injured and/or underperforming; the Cards have an equivalent of Lance Berkman playing every night, but there’s no Carlos Lee or Hunter Pence, though there are a bunch of Adam Everetts. Yet this team’s winning. And the Astros, which an objective person would see has the better roster, are losing. A lot. The manager can make a difference. And a good manager can win with this roster. Phil Garner was a bad manager. We don’t yet know about Cecil Cooper.

Now, enough of that rant.

The Astros won the game last night, by a score of 7-0, giving Roy Oswalt a win for his 30th birthday. The shocking move was the Craig Biggio started, but batted second in the order. Cooper hit Hunter Pence in the lead-off slot. I love Hunter Pence, but he’s not a lead-off guy, however, I’ve got to agree with Cooper’s thinking: Pence has one of the best on-base averages on the team, and the lead-off guy’s supposed to get on base.

However, some things do stay the same, as Cooper said that Biggio would make his own decisions about playing or sitting.

So the Astros are 1-1 in the Cecil Cooper era. The team finishes out the home stand today with an afternoon game against the Cards. -- John Royal

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