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Thursday, July 21, 2005

Need Proof Astros are World Series capable? Ask Arizona

Listening to the radio this morning, the popular cynical mantra of "The Astros may as well not trade for a big bat for their lineup because one guy, even a slugger like Adam Dunn, is not going to make that big of a difference. This is just not a World Series-caliber team! It may have World Series caliber 1-3 starting pitchers and a World Series-caliber closer, but that's not enough to win the World Series, and that should be our only goal."

Let me first say that I think the average Astros' fan enjoyed the 2004 late-summer and postseason run so much that, despite coming up short of the World Series, the average Astros fan now realizes that there is a tremendous amount of fun to be had in the chase of the pennant itself, even if the ending is not ideal. The Astros' play of late has been for enough of an extended period that the following admission needs to be made: The 2005 Astros are good enough to play in the postseason.

The 2005 Cardinals are 13 games ahead of the Astros and Cubs and are 28 games over .500. However, against non-NL Central teams, the Cardinals are a less impressive 30-23, and since June 1, the Cards are 28-15 while the Astros are 29-14. The games between the Cards and Astros have been close, though St. Louis has won 9 of 11, with the 11 games being decided by a total of 14 runs, and with only 1 of those games being decided by more than 3 runs. A single big bat, like an Adam Dunn, could certainly make a 1-run per game difference (or more), and could alter the outcome of many of those close defeats.

Now as to the premise that the Astros, with or without the acquisition of a big bat, are not a "World Series-caliber" team. For entertainment purposes only, let's make a non-scientific comparison between the 2001 D-Back World Series Champs and the 2005 Astros (as currently compiled):

Catcher: Damien Miller v. Brad Ausmus
---Miller posted .271/.337/.424 with 13 HR and 47 RBI while Ausmus is currently .239/.325/.288 with 1 HR and 25 RBI. Catcher is definitely an offensive weakness for the Astros, but Ausmus putting up Miller-like numbers would not make a huge impact offensively for the Astros. Certainly advantage D-Backs though.

First Base: Mark Grace v. Lance Berkman
---Grace posted .298/.386/.466 with 15 HR and 78 RBI. Berkman is coming off of ACL replacement surgery and is beginning to return to his typical All-Star form, currently sitting at .315/.422/.504 with 8 HR and 39 RBI. Berkman is clearly a much more prodcutive hitter than Grace, although his defense is slightly suspect. Regardless, large advantage to the Astros here.

Second Base: Jay Bell v. Craig Biggio
---Bell was pretty bad (.248/.349/.400 with 13 HR and 46 RBI), and Biggio is currently .279/.342/.475 with 13 HR and 41 RBI. Big advantage to the Astros here.

Shortstop: Tony Womack v. Adam Everett
---Womack was very weak offensively (.266/.307/.345 with 3 HR, 30 RBI and 28 SB), making Everett's subpar numbers look much better (.241/.293/.381 with 7 HR and 36 RBI). Everett's a much better defender at SS as well. Advantage Astros.

Third Base: Matt Williams v. Morgan Ensberg
---Williams had a solid season for Arizona (.275/.314/.466 with 16 HR and 65 RBI), but Ensberg has been sensational so far in 2005 (.291/.391/.594 with 25 HR and 71 RBI). Ensberg crushes the aged Williams here.

Left Field: Luis Gonzalez v. Chris Burke
---The D-Backs clearly dominate this position, but the addition of Adam Dunn could render this matchup much less of an advantage for the Snakes. Gonzo put up an astounding (juiced?) .325/.429/.688 with 57 HR and 142 RBI in 2001, while Chris Burke's numbers, though improving, are not worth mentioning.

Center Field: Steve Finley v. Willy Taveras
---Fins has the slugging, but Willy has the speed. Finley posted .275/.337/.430 with 14 HR and 73 RBI, while Willy's headed for the ROY award with .293/.329/.366 and 23 SB. Willy's speed is a vital cog in the Astros' offensive wheel, though his defense sorely needs improvement. Because of their different roles, it's a close call, with Finley being a slight winner thanks to his D and his experience.

Right Field: Reggie Sanders v. Jason Lane
---Sanders had a great season in 2001, posting .263/.337/.549 with 33 HR and 90 RBI. Jason Lane's numbers are not that good (.240/.290/.466 with 14 HR and 40 RBI) but his power numbers will be close to Sanders at the end of the season, and he may excel now that he's a regular in the lineup again. Slight edge to AZ again.

Bench: Counsell, Bautista, Dellucci, Spivey, Barjas and Colbrunn v. Palmeiro, Vizcaino, Lamb, Quintero and Bruntlett
---The Astros' bench is solid if unspectacular, and the D-Backs bench was stacked with productive role players. Again, edge to the D-Backs, but a rather marginal one.

Postseason Rotation: Schilling/Johnson/Anderson/Batista v. Clemens/Oswalt/Pettitte/Backe
---As good as Schilling and Johnson were in 2001, Oswalt and Clemens have been better thus far, and Pettitte/Backe v. Anderson/Batista is a laugher. The D-Backs proved that it was possible to piggy-back 2 dominating starting pitchers to a World Series title, and the Astros have a better 1-2 and a nearly equal #3. If Pettitte stays healthy, the Astros have an even better starting rotation than that classic D-Back team.

Bullpen: Lidge is infinitely more reliable than BK Kim. The D-Backs pieced together a makeshift bullpen with guys like Swindell, Morgan, Springer, Prinz and Erik Sabel. The Astros really need another arm, but guys like Wheeler, Qualls, the 2005 Springer and Burns at least hold their own against the 2001 competition. Lidge showed last postseason that he can dominate a series by himself, and the Astros therefore have a large advantage again.

All in all, the Astros lineup, for all its faults, is at least as good as the 2001 D-Backs was, and the addition of a big bopper to the heart of that lineup (getting Burke out of LF and onto the bench as a valuable utility man) would give the Astros a clearly better lineup. The Astros pitching is better than the D-Backs as well, and Oswalt-Clemens-Pettitte-Lidge are enough by themselves to push any team in baseball to a long, tight series. Astros' management owes it to its players as well as its fans to pay any cost necessary to acquire a significant bat and a powerful (preferably LH) bullpen arm. Otherwise, years from now, we'll look back and wonder what might have been.


Blogger Tim said...

Scott's continued application of pressure to Uncle Drayton is truly mind-boggling. It's like you really want the Reds to hand over Dunn for Cha-Cha and Mike Gallo.

Thu Jul 21, 06:39:00 PM  

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