Two games over .500 for the first time since April 11, the Astros have very quickly gotten themselves back into a groove as slick and as well-oiled as any streak at any time before the sweep in St. Louis. Or, if I were forced to write more simply (and Lord knows I have a hard time doing that), the Astros may be playing their absolute best baseball of the year, right now.
It's gotten to the point where simply reversing the early trends is no longer the story. Right now, for example, the Astro team that outraged fans and ESPN hacks had compared to some of the worst road teams in history has accumulated as many road wins as the Los Angeles Dodgers. And they're only one road victory behind both the Phillies and the Mets.
But no-one's talking about road winning percentage, and rightly so, because there's a lot more than that going on.
Sure, Clemens and Oswalt did lose in St. Louis, but really, Pettitte's superb outing today continued a streak of effective starts that now goes back two solid weeks. By my reckoning, the last starter who got knocked out of the box for ineffectiveness was Wandy Rodriguez, back on July 7. All this quality pitching, back-to-back-to-back has of course left a data trail: the Astros remain second in the league for the month of July in ERA, WHIP, and K/9IP, and find themselves in third in K/BB and OPS against.
It is of course the pitching that drives this team, and it will be the pitching that takes them into the playoffs if they are taken to the playoffs at all. But the raw material for a successful offense is certainly in place, as the team's performance with the bat for the month has unquestionably shown, with or without the sweep in St. Louie. The Astros lead the league for July in (get this!) runs, hits, doubles, batting average, and are second in OBP and slugging.
I don't want to exaggerate the relevance of the Astros' offensive performance this month, and more to the point, during the Pirates series. The fact is, this is NOT a top three offensive team. They're just in a hot streak. But the streak the Astros are in IS the point: Houston is in fact good enough to get hot, and they are good enough that they can be improved by the infusion of additional points of OPS through a trade.
And if you at any point in reading this thought that the post was going to end up being anything other than a plea to management to make a deal that brings in a slugger, then shame on you; you need to pay more attention. . . .
Houston now has four games in Washington, against one of the few teams to have lagged with us or even behind us all year in runs scored. Roger Clemens and Roy Oswalt will start the front half of the series. If they can win their starts and the team can get a split from the starts to be turned in by Backe and Wandy Rodriguez, the team will be at 51-47 coming back to MMP, where they have compiled the second best home winning percentage in the National League.
Perhaps then, six days before the trade deadline, the brain trust will be persuaded to move. But I hope it's before then. . . .