Game Time: Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman -- Five Thoughts
I know it's only three games. I know they were playing the Brewers. I know my judgment may be clouded by the fact that they actually won all three games, getting great pitching in the process. But I actually enjoyed going to an Astros game for the first time in a long time this past Sunday.
Photo by groovehouse Actually enjoying a game at Minute Maid?
Don't get me wrong, I know there are worse places to spend a Sunday afternoon than watching even BAD baseball. I get that. But we're talking in relative terms here. The Astros had become not just a bad baseball team, but they had become old, stale, boring, and even at times a little bit unlikeable.
They are still bad, but now the same tired formula at least appears to have been placed on the shelf. (I don't think Uncle Drayton will ever throw it away -- see "Rebuilding, Drayton's denial of" below) Does this mean that all of the age, boredom, and unlikeableness (made that one up, a doozy) went out the door with Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman headed north?
No, it's more unilateral than just the trading of two guys. How about I share with you my first five thoughts after a weekend to digest all of the transactions of the weekend? Sound okay? Good....
1. The biggest adjustment for Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman will be the thirty minutes after the games.
I remember a couple years ago in 2008, I was in the middle of covering my first full baseball season as a media member. I remember 2008 for two things --
First, the Astros were actually somewhat competitive in spurts that season and were playoff-relevant until they had to go play home games against the Cubs in Milwaukee after Hurricane Ike. Carlos Zambrano effectively ended the Astros season with a no-hitter against a lineup that had roughly four hours of sleep combined in the previous five days. (Karma being what it is, someone hid Zambrano's meds shortly after that and he doesn't seem to have located them since.)
Second, the Red Sox and Yankees both came to Minute Maid Park that season. My dad, a lifelong Red Sox fan and partial season ticket holder, came into town for the Red Sox games and I managed to get him into Cecil Cooper's post-game press conference with me after one of the Astro losses. In a room with about five media members present, Cecil Cooper got asked five softball questions, gave his canned Cooper answers, and he left.
My dad, born and raised on watching whoever was managing the Sox have to face a twenty minute media grilling every night (even after wins), looked at me and said "That's it?" It was almost like he was questioning my manhood for being part of such a soft media town.
From there, we went to the Red Sox clubhouse and Jason Varitek (Sox catcher and eight-hole hitter) had about a dozen reporters around him. He'd have had more except the other two dozen or so were gathered around Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Jonathan Papelbon, etc. In short, it was a zoo.
What is my point with this? Media-wise, New York and Philadelphia are a lot like Boston (and not really at all like Houston). The interest in both cities is rabid, the accountability is acute, the judgment is harsh (and not always fair). Roy and Lance are hired guns with little to no equity built up with the northeast media. The pressure is probably greater on Roy because he's viewed as more of a savior, as a more integral part, and the Phillies still have work to do just to make the playoffs. Plus, he's got another year to deal with it if it doesn't go well.
Roy's postgame press conference after his first start lasted longer than his last couple months worth of postgame media sessions in Houston combined. Granted, they'll get shorter -- it was his first game -- but not much shorter.
2. Hunter Pence just had his floaties removed.
At some point the Astros have to find out what they have in Hunter Pence. He is 27 years old and has actually been incredibly consistent, if very average. The problem is the results that he has been consistently cranking out I think fall short of (a) what the organization's expectations are for him and (b) what the average fan's impression is of him.
In short, a 25-home run, 80 RBI, .270/.325/.450 level of output is not where the person who is now being marketed as the centerpiece of your team should be settling in statistically. Hunter is still a relative bargain at $3.5 million, and is still under the Astros' control for three more offseasons, but the breach that's been left behind from a perceived leadership standpoint will give him an opportunity to attempt to make it partially his clubhouse. I'm not sure he's got the makeup or bandwidth to seize it. We'll see.
3. These trades have mysteriously made Carlos Lee a little less offensive to me.
When the Astros had the air of a team that conducted its business like they thought they could actually win a pennant, I was supremely offended by Carlos Lee -- his girth, his sloth, his smile while hitting .237, pretty much everything about him offended me. Because inherently if you think you can win, Carlos is everything that runs counter to that. Overpaid, doesn't give a shit about winning, I'm seriously getting angry thinking about it.