How good should we feel about Lance Berkman's return to the Astros?

Remember six days ago when I was all doom and gloom about Lance Berkman returning to the Astros? I don't know if I am overly persuasive (my ego hopes this is the case) or if the facts themselves lead to dreary conclusions, but apparently the majority of you were feeling the doom and gloom vibe, too. Eitherway, this is how we felt about it in cold, hard percentages:

Time Frame Percentage
Late-April 12.4%
First Week of May 15.1%
Mid-May 26.3%
Late-May 7.7%
Sometime in June 8.9%
After the All Star Break 5.4%
We may never see Lance Berkman in an Astros Uniform Again 24.3%

 

Only 12.4% of us had it correct. The rest of us—myself included—are pessimists. Not that we were pessimists irrationally so, though. The news—six days ago—was that the Puma could only do short sprints at 75% and that he needed to be 100% before he could get back into an Astros uniform (i.e. the Astros weren't going to let him come back, play a few games, take a few off, and play that game for as long as necessary). It seemed nearly impossible that he would be back before the fourth month of the year had ticked away. Apparently six days makes a world of difference in Lance Berkman's knee.

Over the weekend, Lance made the all too familiar trek up 290 to Round Rock (for myself and Evan, at least). There he wasted no time playing 11-12 innings (I've read conflicting reports), going 3/6 with a HR and 2B. Alledgedly, he has experienced no meaningful pain or swelling in the knee. What excites me the most is that he hit a double, played multiple innings of actual baseball, and has nothing truly negative happened. That is a big deal.

So, how excited should we be about this development? I'll start with a quote from the man, himself:

[T]his is definitely to the point now it's manageable. Before, when I tried to push it that one day [late in Spring Training], I just could not do it. But this is different. It's still a little bit swollen, but it's manageable.

And now to the more objective opinions of an man who specializes in injuries and athletes, Will Carroll:

He needs to get out there and do as much as he can while he can, because it's clear this is a problem that will linger. Just don't spin this as he's back "early." It's possible they can manage it well enough that he doesn't miss a game the rest of the year, but that's far from likely.

This is what I read into the information at hand: Lance Berkman's knee, about six weeks out from surgery, is about as good as it's going to be. But there has been a change in the expectation of how the Astros and Lance Berkman view a full recovery. The change is that Berkman will probably never get back to "100%," and swelling, stiffness, and—possibly—surgery to clean out his knee again are likely on the horizon. Thus, it makes sense to play Berkman as much as possible while things are going well, but we should not view this as the return of the offensive/defensive stalwart we know and love.

Having Lance Berkman back in an Astros uniform tonight will make me feel a lot better about the state of the Astros, but I won't be able to shake of the doubt in my mind surrounding his ability to stick in the lineup. Every diving play, stretch at first, or sprint down the lines will result in a spike in my blood pressure. I think the answer to how good we should feel about Lance Berkman's return to the Astros is easily summed with two words: cautiously optimistic. Though cautious we should be, there is nothing wrong with being excited to have the Astros only great bat back in the lineup (just keep in mind clack's wise words of caution regarding what to expect from that bat). In terms of mushy, subjective stuff, Lance Berkman's return should do a lot for the psyche of his teammates, and maybe that will imbue them with the ability to perform offensively.

Here's to cautious, heavily tempered optimism. That and speculation as to who will be dropped from the 25-man roster.

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