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An All-Star Night and Contest Winners

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I hope you didn't blink Tuesday night, because you might've missed Michael Bourn's only real screen time in a 3-1 National League victory in the 81st annual All-Star Game. Bourn struck out on three pitches against former Astro Jose Valverde in the ninth inning.

Considering Valverde struck out Diamondbacks' center fielder Chris Young next and Cubs' center fielder Marlon Byrd last in the inning, there's no shame in that for Bourn. It was actually pretty funny to see Byrd smiling at El Papa Grande when he wouldn't swing at those nasty splitters. Even in a pressure situation when "Now It Counts," these guys could still have fun. That was pretty cool.

Of course, Bourn got almost as much screen time for his celebratory jump together with Byrd and Young after the final out was recorded. Timmy expressed my concerns about him continuing the habit in the game thread:

The Astros wouldn’t dare do it not with Carlos Lee in at the end of the game. Someone could be very seriously injured, just ask Adam Everett

All joking aside, I was pretty nonplussed by Bourn's time in the game. He didn't get to make any plays defensively and only got the one at-bat. He didn't even get a chance to show off his speed on the base paths. I also counted at least three plays that Bourn would have either made or made look easy. The first was on that bloop single by Derek Jeter that Byrd just missed catching. With Bourn's speed, he could have made that play easily (as we've seen him do time and again). If he had been playing left field, Bourn definitely wouldn't have butchered that fly ball catch by the warning track like Holliday did. But, that's more about picking on Holliday's questionable outfield defense than anything. Finally, Braun's amazing diving catch was...amazing, but I have to think Bourn would have made that play just as easily. It was kind of a sinking liner, so I'm not sure he could have caught it without diving, but I'm pretty sure he makes the play as well.

Overall, though, it was a pretty strong defensive night by the NL outfielders, including Byrd's game-saving play on David Ortiz in the ninth inning. I can't complain about Bourn not playing earlier, nor can I grouse about him moving over to left field. With Young and Byrd, that's a pretty stacked defensive outfield. I happen to think Bourn is the best defensive center fielder in the National League, but I'm okay with Young playing out there for an inning with Bourn.

At any rate, let's get back to fun stuff. Two contestants successfully guessed Bourn's line. SteveBartman_MVP and clarkgagag both guessed that he would be 0 for 1 with a strikeout. Clarkgagag came closest to guessing the score by correctly picking the NL to reign supreme. Thus, he wins a free copy of the Trade Deadline Primer. Thanks to everyone who participated.

For those not so lucky, you can still purchase one on your own, you can download a free 1/4 book sample of the Twins Primer here, and you can sample the TCB one below, where I have given you a little of the content in the Astros summary. Enjoy!

What's Working?

The starting rotation is one of the few bright spots in 2010. Roy Oswalt found life after his back injury and is putting together a monster season. Brett Myers was one of the savvier free agent pickups of the offseason, as he’s pitching like a No. 2 starter for No. 4 money. Felipe Paulino grew a beard and started to harness his 98 MPH fastball. Sure, he only really throws two pitches, but they’re GOOD pitches.

Maybe Bud Norris and Wandy Rodriguez have struggled some, but having solid contributions from three of the five starters is gravy for the Astros. After all, Paulino could have lost his rotation spot to Brian Moehler in spring training and both Oswalt and Myers were coming off injuries.

If anyone in this rotation were getting run support, at least two of those three could be up for second place in the Cy Young voting (after Ubaldo, of course). Oswalt and Paulino have been robbed of more wins this season by the Astros scoring under two runs that they must be going crazy.

Still, this team was supposed to be built on pitching and defense. It’s nice to see Ed Wade got one of those things right.

What’s Not Working?

In short, the Astros offense has been terrible. Not just bad, not just awful, but horrendous in ways not seen since the Deadball Era. And I’m not really exaggerating... much. Houston is on pace to score less than 550 runs for the first time since 1968. They also might drop 100 runs scored from their 2009 total.

What’s happening? For starter’s, Houston began the season without their main offensive weapon in Lance Berkman. The Big Puma was recuperating from an injury to his knee that was drained during spring training, causing him to miss most of April. In his absense, Carlos Lee, Hunter Pence and Geoff Blum made up the middle of the Astros order and hit right around .200 for that stretch. It took Lee and Pence nearly a month to pull their averages up over the Mendoza line.

The problem isn’t just Berkman’s missing time. Since he’s returned, averages have gone up but there has been precious little power production. They’re on pace to hit less than 100 home runs this season, which would be the first time since 1992 they hadn’t hit triple digits in dingers.

The sad thing is there is no easy way to fix the problem. The Astros won’t cut/trade Mr. Big Contract Carlos Lee, even though he’s part of the problem and they have minor leaguers who can fill his position. There are no quick fixes here, so get used to a lot of 3-2 games.

What’s Next?

Will Drayon McLane approve a firesale? The Astros are so bad and have so many holes that no player on their rosters should be off-limits. That includes Gold Glover Michael Bourn, fan favorite Pence and rookie phenom Norris and especially big-contract veterans like Oswalt and Berkman. I'd like to see each retire as an Astro, but I also want to see a winning season in the next decade.

What the Astros shouldn’t do is make any more ill- advised trades for veterans. Those are the kinds of moves that got their farm system into the mess it’s in now. Trades like Ben Zobrist-for-Ty Wigginton just don’t work for teams not in contention.

The problem is their owner’s motto is "Are you ready to be a champion?" In the 18 years McLane has been involved with the team, the Astros have never rebuilt. There have been no painful Glenn Davis-to-the- Orioles trades, nor the deadline seller deals like Larry Anderson-for-Jeff Bagwell, because McLane refuses to give up. It’s a miracle Wade was able to convince him to sell on Pudge Rodriguez last season in August.

Still, the Astros tend to play better in the second half of the season, which is the worst- case scenario for its fans. This team is not one of the worst in baseball talent-wise. They have been playing that way for the first 10 weeks, but many of their players are due to regress upwards. Once that happens, they might move up into the middle of the pack in a diluted National League Central. They’re just good enough to hang around, but not good enough to sneak into the playoffs, which is a dangerous combination. Down that eternal road of contenting-yet-not-contending lies the Blue Jays and the Orioles.

Ultimately, the Astros should follow a model similar to the San Diego Padres, who may have gutted the team, but also brought up young, marketable players and are contending a season after trading away Jake Peavy.

Until the Astros realize they need to make some wholesale roster changes, they’ll stay bad enough to be a punch line but good enough not to land a game-changing draft pick. Goodbye Anthony Rendon and Matt Purke. Hello, Mike Kvasnicka.