Like me, my little sister is a baseball fanatic. She used to be an Astros fanatic but now cares more about her fantasy team than any single team. I told her this would happen (she’d never played any kind of fantasy sports), but she didn’t listen.
She’s also in first place, while I’m 9th (out of 10 teams).
I sent her a text message tonight with one simple question: how in the world do the Astros pull off this improbable run to the playoffs every single year?
The truth is that I was one of the fans that had written this year off as a disappointment. The team had a horrible first half, and I was aghast when Ed Wade made trades for LaTroy Hawkins and Randy Wolf. I went public with the belief that we should trade Roy Oswalt and Carlos Lee and begin the rebuilding process.
I was wrong, apparently. Since the All Star break, the Astros have the best record in baseball. They’re now 4 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers in the race for the NL Wild Card spot with 17 games left to play.
Is it likely that the Astros will make the playoffs? No. The odds are heavily stacked against them.
But I thought the odds were heavily stacked against them going into the All Star break, and look where we stand now. Two months ago I would have laughed if you said we would be only 4 games out going into the middle of September. Yet, here we stand.
Randy Wolf has been a fantastic addition to the club. He’s 4-1 since joining and has pitched at a level far above what I assumed he would do. Likewise, LaTroy Hawkins has been nearly perfect since joining the Astros bullpen after being discarded by the Yankees earlier this season. And Roy Oswalt has been one of the best pitchers in baseball after early season struggles.
The craziest thing about this improbable run is that they are doing it with major injuries to starters. Carlos Lee is out for the season and Kaz Matsui can’t stay healthy. Somehow, someway, the team is getting fantastic performances from role players and bench guys.
Take Monday night, for example. The Astros couldn’t seem to get any runs on the board, and then a 28 year old making his first MLB at-bat hits a home run to put the Astros on top to stay. That’s what I’m talking about — the Astros are getting clutch hits from people up and down the lineup. Ty Wigginton has been the best hitter on the team over the past two months, and Darin Erstad has played his role brilliantly.
If the Astros do somehow pull off another miracle and pass the Brewers for the NL Wild Card spot, then I think Cecil Cooper probably deserves manager of the year. Ed Wade deserves executive of the year honors, because this team he’s patched together shouldn’t be performing like this. Yet, they just keep on winning.
By Friday, the Astros could be 2 games back from the Brewers, and that would mean that we have a real race on our hands. I know the old saying is that you “never say never,” but I said “never” about two months ago. They are doing it again, and regardless of if they come up short or end up winning, this team has accomplished much during the second half of the season. If they can start doing this all year long, we might be able to finally hang a World Series championship banner from the roof at Minute Maid.
I’ll be at the game on Friday, and I look forward to jeering extra hard at the Cubs. Hopefully we can add another sweep of Chicago; even if we don’t make the playoffs, just making life difficult for the Cubs and their idiot fans is enough for me.