Astros are almost average

The Astros now stand 16-18, making those two blown saves by Jose Valverde stand out even more. There’s something about being above .500 that makes a big difference in your outlook.

Still, they started 1-6, so since then they are 15-12. Nothing horrible. Let’s run down the team player by player.

Catcher Ivan Rodriguez: Pleasant surprise. His bat’s been OK after a slow start, certainly an improvement over Brad Ausmus. The Astros have allowed only 13 stolen bases, second lowest in the league behind the Cardinals, against six caught-stealings. I was thinking that was a big change, but it’s not. Teams stole only 47 bases against the Astros last year.

First baseman Lance Berkman: You say he’s in a slump but his contribution has been about average. This reminds me of his 2007 start, when he hit one double in the first two months of the season. He finished that year on-basing .386 and slugging .510.

Second baseman Kazuo Matsui: He hasn’t missed much time with injury. He plays a decent second base. He is not hitting, so naturally he has batted leadoff most of the season because, you know, he’s a veteran and Cecil Cooper doesn’t like to play anyone under 30. He has never been a good hitter, but he’s a little better than he’s been this year.

Third basemen Geoff Blum/Jeff Keppinger: Blum hasn’t done much with the bat, five doubles and no homers. His defense is good. Keppinger kills left-handers but most pitchers throw right-handed.

Shortstop Miguel Tejada: He has played pretty well and obviously Cooper likes him because he has aged so much more quickly than the other players. I’ve written a couple of posts urging Cooper to give him a day off, and Cooper then said he was going to do that, and now there’s a rainout in Chicago so he won’t have to. I still expect a fade, but maybe it won’t be as bad as last year’s was.

Left fielder Carlos Lee: He is hitting the way he normally does, maybe a little better. He is fielding so well that the Astros actually send in an older guy for him as a defensive replacement.

Center fielder Michael Bourn: Tremendous improvement over a year ago. Now has OBP up to .382, which is excellent. Maybe when he turns 30, Cecil Cooper will decide to let him hit leadoff.

Right fielder Hunter Pence: Is it unnerving to you to watch Pence throw? It looks funny to me, like he’s short-arming a basketball shot. But … good player having good season.

Reserve outfielder Darin Erstad: The Astros got picked on for signing him a year ago and he had a perfectly fine reserve-outfielder season. This year he’s doing nothing with the bat.

Reserve outfielder Jason Michaels: No problems.

Reserve infielder Jason Smith: He’s 0-for-21. He has 15 hits in his past 100 at-bats, dating to 2007. Seriously, there’s no one better for the job that he has?

Reserve catchers J.R. Towles and Humberto Quintero: Haven’t played much. They aren’t 30 yet.

Starting pitcher Roy Oswalt: Just OK so far, too many home runs allowed.

Starting pitcher Wandy Rodriguez: Best player on the team. He has been fabulous.

Starting pitcher Mike Hampton: I can see him getting better; he’s had some control and efficiency problems. But I wouldn’t give up on him, and the Astros don’t have anyone better yet.

Starting pitcher Brian Moehler: Obviously he’s been getting mashed but his defense-independent stats are OK. In 16 innings he’s allowed one homer and five walks. He’s struck out 12. His batting average against on balls in play is a whopping .458, which seems likely not to continue. Again, there’s not a pipeline of starting pitchers available.

Starting pitcher Russ Ortiz: 20 walks in 24 innings. Brutal.

Starting pitcher Felipe Paulino: I don’t see him as an effective starter. I still like my idea of splitting the fifth starter job between him and Ortiz. Four innings each, every fifth turn.

A couple of the relievers have been good — Chris Sampson, a favorite of mine, and LaTroy Hawkins. I’d have no problem handing the closer ball to Hawkins if someone would provide any kind of return for Jose Valverde. Geoff Geary tried to pitch hurt, which didn’t work.

It’s very difficult to see them breaking to the upside of 83 wins without a big change. They are competent professional baseball players, for the most part, but most of them are on the wrong side of their primes.

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