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Astros Find the Confines VERY Friendly and I Eat My Hat...


If you would have asked me in late July or early August, I would have told you that the Astros, as a franchise, were screwed. In my first week here I stated that I'd be just as happy if we stumbled through the rest of the season, finished in the last half of MLB, and got our 1st round draft pick protected so that Ben Sheets' opportunity cost would decrease. It was harsh and met with a lot of criticism, but I felt totally betrayed by this franchise and throughly justified in that opinion. The trade deadline had come and gone and all we did was acquire more old/broken players instead of capitalizing on an opportunity to grow for the future. The odds us of making the post season, statistically, were better then than they are now, but it seemed impossible. I don't know that they are anymore.

Roy Oswalt had started the season obviously not 100%, Wandy sat out the first month of the season, JR Towles was overwhelmed, Michael Bourn was overwhelmed, and Hunter Pence just seemed lost. While I knew that our players were vastly underperforming, I also questioned the evaluation of their talent. I saw problem after problem pile up, and it hurt.

HighLeveragePerformer and I got in into blogging this season after we vehemently disagreed with another Astros blogger's postulation that the Astros were screwed this year. According to that person, we couldn't be much better than a 75 win team -- at best. We both knew that was wrong or a least felt like it was. HLP wrote a guest post on that blog and argued that there was enough talent out there for this team to be a .500 team, +/- 2 wins was the cushion he gave. I helped him tweak parts of it and the gist of HLP and mine's defense of that position rested on the following: Backe would have to be a solid 2/3 starter, Wandy would have to be just shy of an ace, Roy would have to be Roy, Towles and Bourn would have to live up to expectations, and the bull pen would have to be rock solid. For two solid months of this season, none of that was true. In spite of falling short of what I considered the only way this team could find success, it has. A lot could be luck, but some of it has been the statistically elusive clutch factor. .500 looks like a very legitimate reality, and the play-offs are 6.5 games away from a team that really only has one pitcher and a bunch of question marks -- and that one guy is getting abused.

While the Brewers seem to be imploding slightly, we still have other teams we have to leap frog -- making play off hopes seem all the sillier. Regardless of whether or not the Astros play baseball in October, they have succeeded in making baseball in September worth watching. Ultimately, that's all any fan of a team can ask of it. While we could debate the merits of that statement, there is something more important that I have come to realize. We seem to have found the right formula for scoring runs and our pitchers seem to have found their strides. Those elements only coexisted for three weeks in May before that. In spite of the staff ace being awful for half a season and the guy everyone counted on being number two missing significant amounts of time, the team has managed to win baseball games. If the organization was Risk Neutral, it could concieveably just resign everyone on this roster and all it would require is Roy Oswalt not being terrible for half a season and suddenly we could easily be legitimate play off contenders. Have Wandy healthy and maybe we're challenging for the NL Central. It would be stupid, but that's the kind of luck this team has had to deal with this year.

I DON'T believe that is a good plan, it would be stupid to be Risk Neutral in this situation, but a Risk Adverse strategy actually make since in light of our recent success. It didn't to me a month ago. If Ben Sheets were added to this team and he pitched 130 innings of Ben Sheets baseball, that alone makes up the difference in us being 6.5 games out of the Wild Card -- even if Roy Oswalt was awful for 90 games.

We have a lot to be excited for, not just a series sweep against an interdivisional rival who happens to be the best team in the NL, but because we're on the cusp of being a great team again. It feels good to have something to hope for, even if this house of cards is built on a shaky foundation of luck given our Pythag W/L record. The next four weeks will be exciting to watch (or at least the next week at a minimum) and the offseason will have the same air of excitement to it as 2006-2007 did. Only this time, we have a GM at the helm who, though made some seemingly boneheaded decisions, has, by and large, seen most of his moves be justified. I took my hat out of the Ed Wade fan club's ring, but I'll throw it back in.

National League Wild Card Standings

Milwaukee 80 59 .575 0 Lost 3
Philadelphia 76 64 .542 4.5 Lost 1
St. Louis 75 65 .535 5.5 Lost 1
Houston 74 66 .528 6.5 Won 8
So close, yet so far.