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More connections between the Astros and Rays

Do any of you read the blog of Joe Posnanski, the excellent baseball writer in Kansas City?  I don't read it all the time, but when I do read it, I find what he has to say fascinating.

His recent blog about the AL Champion Tampa Bay Rays made me think about more connections to the Astros...this time, I'm not talking about Wheeler and Miller, but some more historic notes.

I was attracted to his blog today because it was entitled "Big Game Garza and Other Thoughts."  Before Game 7 of the ALCS, I wrote that either Garza or Lester would earn the reputation as "big game pitcher" as a result of the game. Posnanski can turn a nice phrase, and I was particularly taken with his description of one of the typically silly comments by one of the TBS broadcasters:

Now, I don’t really want to delve into the logic of this statement, in large part because I fear that it will be like some inescapable language maze and I’ll end up wandering the dark forever.

I'm not going to get off track and talk about the broadcaster's statement; you can read about it in his blog for yourself, if you are interested.

The fascinating part of his blog was the discussion of the Rays' pitching, which has to make you feel great, if you are a Tampa Bay fan, and leaves the rest of us in awe.

Think about this for a minute:

Matt Garza will turn 25 in November.

Scott Kazmir won’t be 25 until January.

James Shields will be 27 in December.

David Price will be 23 on Opening Day.

Andy Sonnastine, Edwin Jackson, J.P. Howell are all 25 or 26 next year.....

It’s an obvious point but: This team is pretty much built to beat the Yankees and the Red Sox for the next five years. The Rays are just the 10th team since Pearl Harbor Day to have three young starting pitchers with ERA’s of 118 or better.

1. Tampa 2008 (James Shields, Matt Garza, Scott Kazmir)
2. Cubs 2003 (Kerry Wood, Carlos Zambrano, Mark Prior)
3. Oakland 2002 (Barry Zito, Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder)
4. Oakland 2001 (Zito, Hudson, Mulder)
5. Mets 1985 (Ron Darling*****, Dwight Gooden, Sid Fernandez)
6. Houston 1971 (Don Wilson, Ken Forsch, Larry Dierker)
7. Minnesota 1970 (Tom Hall, Bill Zepp, Bert Blyleven)
8. Cleveland 1966 (Luis Tiant, Steve Hargan, Sudden Sam)
9. Milwaukee 1953 (Lew Burdette, Johnny Antonelli, Bob Buhl)
10. Detroit 1942 (Hal Newhouser, Hal White, Virgil Trucks)...

But here’s the thing, as far as I can tell none of those teams had a fourth guy who might end up being the best of the bunch — that’s David Price. You realize he became the youngest man EVER to finish off a Game 7? And he struck out J.D. Drew with the bases loaded — overwhelmed J.D. Drew, really.

The Rays really could have FOUR NUMBER ONE STARTERS next year. I gotta be honest with you, I don’t care if the Yankees****** spend a billion jillion shmillion dollars, I don’t care if my friends Bill and Allard create some new scouting-statistical nirvana in Boston. I’m not sure anyone is going to beat a team with four No. 1 starters.

As I said, that is a pretty awesome pitching set up for the Rays over the next few years.  Of course, pitching injuries can ruin the best laid plans, and you never know when they will occur (sometimes in bunches).

But did you notice the connection to Astros' history in his listing of teams with similar young starters?  Yes, the 1971 Astros, with Don Wilson, Larry Dierker, and Ken Forsch.  And in 1972, the Astros acquired another young (22 years old) starting pitcher, Jerry Reuss, a lefthander who would put together a lengthy and good career.  So the Astros might have been in a position to have 4 No. 1 starters.

However, as I alluded...the best laid plans oft go astray.  Dierker and Wilson would encounter arm injuries, but would later make comebacks from surgery. Wilson, however, died tragically before he could accomplish a lot more.  Reuss was traded by the Astros after two years, and at age 26 with the Pirates posted a 138 ERA+ and was an All Star.  The trade of Reuss was another chapter in the Astros' 45 year (unsuccessful) effort to acquire a top catcher.  Reuss was traded for a young catcher, Milt May, which the organization trumpeted as the next Johnny Bench.  (May would be traded two years later for Mark Lemongello.)

Posnanski also discusses the comparison which is sometimes made between the Rays' B.J. Upton and Eric Davis.  He concludes that Upton could be better because of his ability to take walks.  However, that brought to mind another player from that 70's era Astros' team: Cesar Cedeno.  When Davis was a young player, people would say, "he could become the next Cesar Cedeno."  So I wondered how does an early Cedeno compare to Upton?

I should emphasize: Cedeno was an incredible talent.  At age 19 he posted an OPS+ of 114 and an OBP of .340 in the major leagues.  At ages 22 and 23,  Upton has posted an OPS+ of 136 and 111.  Between the ages of 21 and 26, Cedeno posted an OPS+ as high as 162 and no lower than 127.  Cedeno, like Davis, has shown more power than Upton.  And Cedeno nearly matches his OBP ability: at ages 21 and 22, Cedeno's OBP was .385 and .376, compared to Upton's .386 and .383 at ages 22 and 23.

My point?  Well, I suppose just an opportunity to talk about a former Astros' CFer.  Upton may be good.  But don't count on him becoming as good as Cedeno.  Cedeno was an incredible baseball talent.