The Gloom Starts To Gather For The Astros

Categories: Sports
With the MLB non-waiver trade deadline fast approaching, the Houston Astros are a listing ship quickly going under. The Astros just lost three of four games to the Chicago Cubs and have gone from surging toward first place to trying to hold off the Milwaukee Brewers for third place.

The latest disaster in Chicago saw the Astros starters pitch just 15 of 38 innings in four games -- Wandy Rodriguez pitched seven of those innings on Monday night. Roy Oswalt had to leave his Tuesday start after 1.2 innings because of a back problem. Mike Hampton made it through four innings against the Cubs on Wednesday, but he gave up eight hits and nine runs during that time. And Russ Ortiz pitched himself off of the club yesterday, lasting just 2.1 innings while giving up nine hits and nine runs.

Oswalt was sent to Houston to have his back examined, and he is rejoining the team in St. Louis today where he will be evaluated as to his availability for his scheduled start on Sunday afternoon. If Oswalt can't pitch, then minor league phenom Bud Norris will be making his first-ever major league start. Norris pitched three innings of relief on Wednesday and did a respectable job. But I have the feeling the Astros would prefer that Oswalt be available to make the start against the division-leading Cardinals. And with Oswalt starting, that would leave Norris available to take the rotation spot of Ortiz, who was waived after yesterday's disaster.

But moving Norris into the rotation won't solve the Astros problems.
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Photo by Aaron M. Sprecher
As of now, the team's only consistent performer is Rodriguez, and Rodriguez has never been up against this kind of pressure in his career. Hampton, meanwhile, is only able to pitch against the Pittsburgh Pirates -- four of his six wins this season are against the Pirates -- but unfortunately, for Hampton and the team, the Astros don't face Pittsburgh again mid-September. Then there's Oswalt who is battling an injury, and Brian Moehler. Norris hopefully takes the fifth spot, but of that group, the only pitcher who consistently pitches deep into a game is Rodriguez. Which means the bullpen is being used an awful lot.

And of course, there are problems with the bullpen. LaTroy Hawkins is on the disabled list with shingles, plus he's facing a possible suspension when he returns. Chris Sampson is fresh off of the DL, and he had to put in a lot of innings against the Cubs, so his availability for the Cards might be doubtful. Tom Byrdak and Jeff Fulchino also threw a lot of innings against the Cubs. Wesley Wright is recovering from dehydration. About the only guys who are truly ready to go are Doug Brocail, who's just off the DL, Alberto Arias, and Jose Valverde who didn't pitch much against the Cubs because the Astros were being blown out.

Even if all of the pitchers were healthy, the team wouldn't be facing an easy series against the Cardinals this weekend. First, the Astros are going to have two of the best pitchers in the majors against them this weekend as the Cardinals pitch Chris Carpenter on Saturday and follow up with Adam Wainwright on Sunday. Then there's the fact that the Astros offense is once again disappearing. That's not helped by the absence of Lance Berkman who is on the disabled list, but it's also not helped that Cecil Cooper keeps putting Kaz Matsui in the starting lineup.

And this Cardinals team is also a bit different-looking than the one the Astros swept last week. Added to the Cards' starting lineup are outfielder and power bat Matt Holliday, who hits behind Albert Pujols in the lineup -- in his seven games since joining the Cards, Holliday has 13 hits in 25 at-bats including five doubles, a homer and six RBI. The Cards have also added former Astro Julio Lugo at shortstop, and Mark DeRosa has become a fully contributing member of the team after coming off of the DL.  

But who knows, before the deadline hits this afternoon, Drayton McLane could order that the team be blown up, which could mean no more Miguel Tejada, Jose Valverde, and Ivan Rodriguez. Or Drayton could order the destruction of the team's future by having the likes of Hunter Pence, Michael Bourn, and Bud Norris traded as part of a desperate attempt to make the playoffs. Or then again, there might not be anything happen.

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