Astros End Season on a Low Note
The Houston Astros limped to the finish line in 2009 with a 74-88 record after being swept by the lowly Mets on the final weekend. Starting on September 1, the Astros went 11-20 as the Club fell short in all aspects of the game.
After a winless road trip (0-6) in mid-September, Manager Cecil Cooper was replaced by Third Base Coach, Dave Clark on September 21 on an interim basis. While Clark brought some energy to the position and established better communications, the team did not perform any better with a record of 4-9 in Clark’s 13 games at the helm. A search is currently underway for a new manager and Clark is one of the candidates.
The Astros were well below the National League average in both hitting and pitching. The team scored 643 runs, an average of 3.97 per game and allowed 770, an average of 4.75 per game. Only Pittsburgh and San Diego scored fewer runs and only Washington, Milwaukee and Arizona allowed more. The team On-Base Percentage was .319, ranking 13th in the league. The team ERA of 4.54 also ranked
13th. The Astros led the league in grounding into double plays with 153.
Despite their problems, there were some bright spots in the final month. The Astros swept a four game series against the Phillies in Minute Maid Park early in the month. Miguel Tejada, after slumping in August, finished strong with a 21-game hitting streak including a couple of 4-hit games and he led the league in doubles with 46. His 199 hits were second only to Craig Biggio’s 210 in 1998 in the team’s 48-year history. Michael Bourn continued his breakout year, leading the league in stolen bases with 61 and playing sensational defense in center field which should win him a Gold Glove. Rookie Bud Norris recorded 4 strong starts in September before being shut down after reaching a pre-set innings limit. He pitched 55 innings with the Astros, slightly exceeding the rookie threshold of 50 so he will not be classified as a rookie in 2010 when he should be in the starting rotation.
Tejada led the team in hitting with an average of .313 and Carlos Lee led in home runs with 26, one more than Lance Berkman and Hunter Pence. Lee also led in RBIs with 102 while batting an even .300. Berkman, in an off-year, led the team with a .399 on-base average and a .509 slugging average, but saw his career batting average drop from .302 to .299.
Wandy Rodriguez, the only pitcher on the staff with more than 8 wins, became the staff ace with a 14-12 record and an ERA of 3.02. Roy Oswalt, hampered by nagging injuries, had his worst season with an 8-6 record and a 4.12 ERA. Jose Valverde had 25 saves and LaTroy Hawkins had 11. The bullpen experienced considerable turnover and a total of 18 pitchers won at least one game.
Rebuilding the minor league system is continuing but, for the second straight year, all of the domestic Astro minor league teams had losing records. The 2008 draft class, led by No.1 pick, catcher Jason Castro, looks promising. Castro played well at Double-A Corpus Christi after a mid-season promotion. He should be at Triple-A Round Rock in 2010 but will be given a chance to make the big league roster in spring training. College outfielders T. J. Steele, Jay Shuck and Jon Gaston, all drafted in 2008, had strong showings at High Class A, Lancaster, California in 2009 and should be at Corpus Christi in 2010. High school pitchers, Ross Seaton, Jordan Lyles and Brad Dydalowicz, also drafted in 2008, pitched well at Low Class A Lexington and could also be at Corpus Christi in 2010.
The Astros losing record in 2009 was only their third since Jeff Bagwell’s rookie year in 1991. However, two of the losing seasons were in the last three years. The team obviously needs some reinforcements in order to be competitive, especially in the starting rotation. Some tough decisions must be faced in the off-season with Tejada, Valverde, Hawkins and Geoff Blum eligible for free agency.