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Finding A Silver Lining In An Astros Nightmare

Six months ago, I peered into the crystal ball and tried to divine all the things that could go wrong and make the Astros 2010 efforts devolve into an unwatchable mess of tragedy. The result of my effort was deep, mournful depression about how tenuous the Astros 2010 seemed to be. My preparation for the article was to list out "situations" I could see arising on my lunch break. Five minutes later, I had to stop because I had written a rough draft of the article without even thinking about it.

I knew that the Astros had been pieced together with duct-tape and chewing gum, but the speed with which I was able to topple the whole structure down was gut-wrenching. It wasn't like I had high hopes for the Astros either. Just a few days earlier, clack and I published the results of our projection for the 2010 Astros. We found them to have a true talent level of 79 wins (it seems like so long ago, to me, that I was DQ).

Even with the low expectations, by the time I got finished with my five minute scratch work, I had arrived a nightmare situation that would be drawn out into these words:

Oswalt and Norris both make a early June exit to the DL, from whence they shall not return...

...By July, either Lindstrom or Lyon has gone down, too.

Two weeks before the All Star Break, Tommy Manzella, who has been struggling with his glove and bat, is sent back to AAA to regain...they'll say his confidence, but it'll basically be an option to AAAA purgatory.  The entire pitching staff, who have been harmed by Manzella's less than adequate glove, continue to get screwed over by the wonder tandem of Blum and Keppinger at SS.  

Then, while making his morning coffee over the All Star Break, Kaz Matsui herniates two disc in his back because he didn't stretch properly before reaching for coffee filters.  Edwin Maysonet, who has been our new bench guy, takes over at SS, but Keppinger and Blum just slot over to 2B.  By August, Chris Sampson has to leave to get Tommy John, and whomever is left from Lyon/Lindstrom falls apart, too.  The last six weeks of the season make the last six weeks of 2009 look like the last six weeks of 2005.

I fully expected to check in later and find the comments filled with "Oh God, the sky will fall" type comments. The piece was instead greeted with a quite of bit of silver lining finding. It caught me off guard—quite a bit. Perhaps because of how taken aback I was by it, I have searched for those silver linings throughout the season. For whatever reason, that sentiment has been running high in me and I read through my nightmare scenario and thought, "most of this happened (not for the reasons I thought it would) and this season has me feeling better about the Astros in August than I did in April."

So I want to rewrite my nightmare scenario in the context of the silver linings that have written themselves into it.

By the time June rolled around, the Astros were not an enjoyable team to watch. Apparently they weren't even an enjoyable team to play for, either. Roy Oswalt's trade demands had been writ large in the national media and Lance Berkman was very diplomatically saying that he would be OK with getting out of dodge. Tommy Manzella was about to hit the DL with a broken finger and Kaz Matsui had been DFA'd. Pedro Feliz was a vacuous waste at the hot corner. Felipe Paulino was on the DL and Bud Norris was, too. Matt Lindstrom's balky back was beginning to form storm clouds on the horizon.

A month later, though, Chris Johnson was a baseball hitting machine and Jeff Keppinger was continuing to show that he can be more than just a lefty hitting specialist. Brett Myers was close to setting the Astros single season record for consecutive starts of 6+ IP by Astro (and a nice little extension). Roy Oswalt would be traded in a move that would bring Brett Wallace to Houston and create the leeway to trade Lance Berkman to the Yankees. In what felt like an overnight change, the Astros were a rebuilding team full of youth, promise, and...interest. Bud Norris returned from the DL sporting improved fastball command and, what feels to me, just better mound presence and execution.

In essence, everything that I predicted six months ago that would derail the Astros and make them unwatchable has happened. Yet, they are more watchable after the fact than they were before.

The average age of the starting nine has dropped drastically from what it was to start the season. Instead of watching a group of veterans, patched together with duct-tape and chewing gum, there are a few players with geniue promise to watch adjust to their first taste of the big leagues. There is also a corps of mid to late twenties players that are maturing before our eyes and we are starting to see good things from them.

Are the Astros suddenly world beaters? No. But there is intrigue to behold. Will J.A. Happ stabilize into a number two or three starter? Did Bud Norris just need some down time to recoup and regroup? Will Jason Castro put it all together behind the plate and catch a break at it?

While we await the resolution of those questions, we are still being treated to winning baseball. Heck Michael Bourn took Roy Halladay yard. This is exciting stuff.

The impetus for just about every one of the factors contributing to my nightmare scenario were not the ones I assumed they would be. Regardless, the Astros still find themselves in the same situation I had envisioned. Instead of going belly-up, Ed Wade has gotten creative (Angel Sanchez, Nelson Figueroa, Brett Wallace) and players like Fernando Abad and Wilton Lopez have been given opportunities to shine (I have liked what I have seen in Abad). While you guys may not have fully predicted this outcome, you in essence you were right. The silver lining Astros have been more enjoyable to watch than the skies of blue Astros. Just look at the change in the Fan Confidence Poll over the last two months.