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"An April To Forget"

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Reader and sometime contributor Bill Gilbert checks in with a review of April that we are pleased to publish online.

His piece was written before last night's 11 - 2 debacle, and in a follow-up email received after the game, Mr.Gilbert wrote me, "I may have been too optimistic . . . ."

An April to Forget

In each of the past three years, the Houston Astros have been written off as a contender at some point in the season. However, these assessments were premature as the team reached the final day of the season each time with a chance to make the post-season playoffs.

Following a disappointing month of April this year (10-14), the outlook is again bleak. After watching the team for 2 weeks in Florida in March, I was confident that the offense would be improved over 2006 but that there were big concerns about the starting pitching. Just the opposite has happened. The Astros averaged only 4.125 runs per game in April, even with their 10-run outburst last Saturday night, compared to 4.54 in the 2006 season. The pitchers have held the opposition to an average of 4.33 runs per game compared to 4.44 last year and the starting pitchers recorded 16 quality starts in 24 games in April.

With the current starting rotation featuring three pitchers with a combined total of 23 major league wins entering the season, it’s unreasonable to expect the starting pitching to remain at this level. The hitting has to improve and it should, especially with the addition of Hunter Pence.

I was at Minute Maid Park last Saturday night for the first game of the Hunter Pence era and he certainly brings some excitement to the game. I was also at a game at Round Rock earlier in the week where Pence made an excellent play in center field. My only concern about Pence was that he is so aggressive at the plate that he has trouble waiting for a good pitch to hit. Rob Neyer of ESPN.com was at the Round Rock game with me and he felt that Pence should be in the majors.

I hope Roger Clemens hasn’t been watching too many Astro games. The wasted good pitching performances would certainly bring back bad memories. Meanwhile, the Yankees had an even worse April than the Astros with a 9-14 record. However, their problems are different. Their hitters averaged 5.70 runs per game in April while the pitchers allowed 5.43 runs per game. That kind of run support, coupled with the Yankees desperate need for starting pitching and the opportunity to be in the spotlight on a big stage has to look pretty inviting.

BaseballProspectus.com determines the odds of reaching the playoffs for each team based on a sophisticated simulation technique. The odds are updated daily. Before the season, the Astros odds of reaching the post-season were quoted as 21.8%. They are now 9.7%. The Astros have been here before but it is time to get going, particularly with a solid Milwaukee team starting to open up a gap over the rest of the Division.