Mediocrity Breeds False Hope in Houston

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The National League Central is not a very good division. Unfortunately, the combined mediocrity of the division has given postseason wishes and playoff dreams to a couple of teams who frankly don't deserve to be in the conversation.

Pity poor Houston beat writer Jose de Jesus Ortiz who has been witness to some inspired play since the All Star break and wrote these words in response to the Astros' latest win over the division-leading Cardinals:

Could the 2009 Astros be destined for something special? I believe so.

The Astros have had turmoil in the clubhouse, major injuries to key relievers, a player out because of open-heart surgery and a coach out for nearly a month after having a cancerous kidney removed.

Still, with a rotation that many so-called baseball experts ridiculed, the Astros are on a roll. These players have a ton of pride, and you can bet that many of them are playing with chips on their shoulders, including Miguel Tejada and Ivan Rodriguez.

Tejada and Rodriguez don't want to get traded, which is why they often ask me what I'm hearing.

I told Tejada and Rodriguez Monday that if the team keeps winning and surges in the next week, there's no way they'll break up the team. Tejada is well aware of his trade-bait potential.

On an individual level, I feel for Tejada and Rodriguez despite their quixotic desires to succeed on this team. Having faith in one's team is an admirable trait and believing that a team can overcome even the most difficult obstacles is a feeling I wish more players and beat writers espoused. But taking a step back and examining the current state of the team, it makes much more sense for the 'Stros to start wheeling and dealing everything that isn't nailed down.

After all, their winning record is due mostly to luck since they have a negative run differential. They rank smack in the middle of the National League in on-base percentage, fielding independent pitching, and UZR. Having two front-line pitchers and Lance Berkman is not enough to contend even in a weak division like the NL Central, especially with an inexperienced manager like Cecil Cooper.

Worst of all, they have the second toughest remaining schedule in the NL, while their division rivals the Brewers, Cardinals, and Cubs have some of the easiest rows to hoe. Perhaps their upcoming weekend series with the Mets will earn a couple more wins and add momentum to the "let's not trade away our best chips" discussion, but after that, it's a steady diet of teams with winning records straight through the end of the year.

General manager Ed Wade has at least assured the fans that the Astros will not be buyers in the next ten days because the team cannot afford to add player salary or trade away prospects. Rightfully so since the Astros team coffers are bereft of fundage and I'm not exactly sure they even have any trade-worthy prospects (they have only one dude, Jason Castro, in the latest edition of Baseball America's top 100 prospects).

So yes, now is the time for Ed to explore offers for Tejada and Rodriguez and relievers like Jose Valverde and LaTroy Hawkins. The return may not be stellar, but these guys will all be free agents at the end of the season, so ship 'em out while the gettin's good. As for beat writer Jose de Jesus Ortiz, I wish him good luck with his faith in a club that still trots Geoff Blum out to man the hot corner every day.

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The Astros think they are contenders after they faced Todd Wellemeyer last night? Magic Wandy Rodriguez pretty much owns the Cards line-up (even Pujols). It was a perfect storm game that shouldn't be indicitive of either team's playoff chances.

That said, the NL Central does suck.

If you can get ANYTHING for LaTroy Hawkins, you do the deal. Also, is there a more hackneyed phrase than, "so-called experts"?

@Gorge: yes, "the hot corner" is far more hackneyed.

@Colonel: wow, Albert Pujols HATES the curveball this year. Unless, of course, Brad Lidge to start throwing it.

What does Cecil Cooper's inexperience have anything to do with it? Get Mike Scioscia in there! It'll fix their FIP right the hell up.

Also, I propose a merger of the "Astros" and "mediocrity" tags.

"Worst of all, they have the second-toughest remaining schedule in the NL"? What's the difference between .485 (first-half opponent strength) and .505 (second-half) in actual games -- two? three?

I think their age will catch up with them, but if strength of schedule is really the worst thing facing them, they might as well roll the dice and play on. 85 wins might take that division.

I don't disagree that the numbers suggest that the Astros will falter but as an owner or GM you can't just give up b/c you're obviously playing over your heads. Those that argue for a salary cap remember that what you will get will look very similar to the NL central now.

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