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Matchup/Game Thread Game # 88 vs. Cardinals

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Anthony Reyes Roger Clemens
1 - 3, 3.30 1 - 2, 2.76
I'm sure that some of you recognize tonight's game for the auspicious one it is, and not just for its being Roger's fourth start, or for its being the key to the St. Louis series, which may end up being the key to the second half.

No, the reason today's game is noteworthy is that it's number 88 of the season, and is thus number 324 under the Phil Garner regime.

Two full seasons for Phil Garner, tonight. As I'm sure even those who don't follow the Astros all that closely will recall, Phil Garner took the manager's job during the All-Star break in 2004, after 88 games, with the Astros floundering at .500 under Jimy Williams.

Fast forward two years later, and (if we get the outcome we all want today) you will see the Astros floundering at .500 under Phil Garner. But if you've got your ear to the railroad tracks these days, you'll hear none of the rumors about Garner that were swirling around Williams prior to his firing. Is Garner skating a little bit?

The old cliche is that the manager receives too much credit when a team wins, and too much blame when it loses, and I agree with that. The 15% of those kind enough to vote in the poll next door who said they thought Garner costing "us games with his ingame decisions" was the biggest key to the disappointing season so far are certainly entitled to their opinions, but I can't say theirs is an opinion I agree with.

I do have some issues with the reflections of the manager you can glimpse in overall team play, but on the whole, if I were inclined in any direction, I'd say that Garner has done a very good job.

Flash back now to Spring Training this year. What were the key points that we were all making to the nonbelievers out there? What were the keys to the winning season we all knew was coming?

Let's review, and see how many of those items have come to pass:

1) Lance was gonna be healthy, and have a typical Berkman year. -- OK, we've gotten this one. Lance may be the reason we're not looking up at the Pirates.

2) Brandon Backe was gonna step up, and take the place in the rotation vacated by Roger Clemens. -- Brandon was on his way to doing exaclty that, and had a sensational first start in his pocket when he sprained his elbow April 14, and he's been AWOL ever since. Backe's absence made a number three starter out of Wandy Rodriguez, a number four starter out of Taylor Buchholz, and a major leaguer out of Fernando Nieve. While Wandy and Taylor and Fernando have had some success, at various times this season, each has looked like an impostor in the role into which they were thrust.

3) Jason Lane was gonna bust out with a .270-30-90 season -- Man, I knew this. It was a no-brainer. Instead, Jason has been a huge hole in every lineup he's played in, and he's playing in less and less of them. I still believe that Jason Lane is a major league player, and that he does in fact have a season like the one we envisioned inside him. But that certainly does not mean we'll see any of that in 2006.

4) Willy Taveras was gonna hit .300, OBP .350 and steal 50 bases. -- Nope.

5) Morgan Ensberg was going to maintain -- Our beloved third baseman has wild variations in his game, and always has, but the .240 batting average (right now) is starting to overshadow the 18 homers (through June 4).

6) The bullpen would certainly be capable of stepping up, and picking up any of the slack generated by the weakened starting rotation-- Hah!!

And I won't even bring up Andy Pettitte. But basically, except for Lance freaking Berkman, Garner has gotten less than he'd hoped, less than he expected from every key contributor. And this on a team most people not living in Houston assumed would go .500 anyway. Well, 75% of everything that can go wrong, has gone wrong, and still the Astros will probably limp into the All-Star break with a .500 record, or maybe (if the BBG's are kind) a game over.

If you have to wonder about Gary Gaetti's job, I don't think you should have any doubts about Phil's.

Was over at the Baseball Prospectus Adjusted Standings page again yesterday, and while naysayers could make the claim that regression is thus inevitable, the Astros have outperformed their first, second, and third order won-loss records. Seems to me, this is coaxing wins from places where there should be none, and it further seems that if you're gonna give anybody credit for that overperformance, it would be the manager.

Running out of space and time; I might go into some reasons you might think Garner hasn't done a good job on the morrow.

****
Like we were saying, start number four for Rocket, and it's against Reyes, who might be the best gauge of the Cardinals' recent woes: he's only 1 - 3 with that 3.30 ERA.

Roger has a 4 - 1 record against the Cardinals since coming to Houston, with a 2.51 ERA. Scott Rolen is 5 for 16 off him with four extra base hits; Edmonds is 12 for 50, with five extra base hits.

And of course we got to Reyes for 3 runs over 6-1/3 on May 30. The Astros won but Reyes did not take a decision.