September 2009

It’s Not a Sprint, It’s a Marathon

Two things happened tonight in Houston, Texas: The Astros won their final home game of the season, and the Cincinnati Reds lost their 82nd game of the year.

The loss ensures that the Reds will finish below .500 for the ninth straight year, and they accomplished that by taking one huge step backwards.  Many sources had the Reds putting together a breakout campaign this season, finishing in the top half of the division.  Some writers (myself included) thought that they would challenge Chicago for the division title.

Boy, were we wrong.  Among Cincinnati players who appeared in at least 80 games with the team, only one – 1B Joey Votto – has batted over .300 this season.  Batting average may be a much-overrated statistic, but in this case it’s indicative of their overall offensive performance.  The team runner-up in batting average, 2B Brandon Phillips, is hitting just .279.  Not bad, but not exactly what you look for from someone they depended on being a marquee player this season.

Only three Reds in the 80+ games group had OBPs over .350 – Votto, catcher Ryan Hanigan, and OF Chris Dickerson.

The HAVOC pitching staff (Harang, Arroyo, Volquez, Owings, and Cueto) floundered, as well.  Arroyo has been the only one to toss at least 200 innings, and so far is also the only one with an ERA under 4.00 or a WHIP under 1.300. 

And yet these Reds lead our Astros in the standings.  If only all of our games were at Minute Maid Park, where we posted a 44-37 (.543) record. 

The news isn’t all bad for the Astros.  First, Cecil Cooper is gone and the search for his replacement must be on, if only unofficially.  Props to Alyson Footer for mentioning Tim Bogar as a potential replacement – Tim Bogar – who I first mentioned as a candidate back on April 20th.

Second, we got surprisingly good years out of Michael Bourn and Miguel Tejada.  Bourn has improved his OBP this season by about eighty points, which is incredible.  He’s also stolen 59 bases, easily the most in the National League.  Tejada lived up to billing by grounding into twenty-nine double plays, leading the NL so far in that category.

But he also proved amazingly durable – particularly since Cecil Cooper was so convinced that he’d give Miguel extra time off that he completely dismissed Matt Kata in Spring Training because Kata had never played shortstop before.  Well, Kata’s still on the team and Cooper isn’t.

Tejada is currently in the NL’s top ten in AB/SO (12.563), batting average (.308), at-bats (603), hits (186), doubles (leads the league with 44), singles (128), and HBP (11). 

I’m going to be blogging a bit through the remainder of the season, discussing things I’ve learned and mistakes I’ve made in my first season as an MLBlogger.  I was reminded of the grind that the season truly is – there were moments when I was posting 2 or 3 times a day, down to the very end, where I’ve been lucky to get in one or two posts a month.  I entered the mass of unemployment, got another job, moved across town, and began working on a very big documentary project that, while fulfilling a lifetime dream, is also more or less a second job.

There will be an in-depth, position-by-position look at the Astros and their prospects.  There will be an evaluation of what I predicted correctly – and what I predicted incorrectly – as well as a look at how I can improve.

When the 2010 season starts, I’ll be preparing to head out on old Route 66, and I won’t have a lot of time to write, but I’ve met some fantastic people doing this blog, and I intend to continue it, if only part-time, because I value the conversations and friendships that I’ve developed with many of my readers.

It’s hard to believe it’s only been eight months since I decided to start blogging because I was tired of having to explain the Rule 4 draft over and over.  I’ve been tested, and sometimes I succeeded.  More often, I’ve failed.  And that is what baseball is all about.  Learning from failure.  I’ve loved every minute of it so far, and I’d like to thank you all for coming along on the ride.

Ding! Dong! The Witch is Dead!

Sure, the Astros’ entire organization – from Rookie Ball to the Major Leagues – has been eliminated from the playoffs.  Sure, the big league team is in the middle of an eight-game skid that not only has buried them behind the Cardinals, Cubs, and Brewers, but may in fact allow the Cincinnati Reds to catch up.

Sure, we’re lousy, but there’s reason to be optimistic for next year, Astros fans: Cecil Cooper has been fired.

Now, everyone knows I was never Cecil Cooper’s biggest fan.  In fact, I thought he was laughably bad as a manager, and proved that he could handle neither young nor veteran players.  Decisions he made hurt the Astros in nearly every single game – whether it was wasting outs on maddening sacrifice hits, burning through the bullpen, or refusing to give a player a chance to play.

It may be too much to hope that I’ll get my way entirely, with Tim Bogar returning to Houston as a manager, but my fingers will remain firmly crossed.  No matter what happens, it’s great to have Cecil gone.  And long, long overdue.