Astros Break Championship Model of the Past. How is that Working?


Before the season began, Rumbunter looked at the home opening series against the Astros as a spot to make some ground, now after the Astros are off to the worst start since the Reagan adminstration, people are becoming upset.  Does the grumbling from the Houston faithful sound familar to Pirates fans?

You gotta get a free agent hitter with that money Nutting!  Why not sign (insert overpaid left fielder/shortstop/first baseman here)?  I can’t believe we didn’t sign Doug ManCaveich?  Countless reporters preach that the Pirates don’t have enough pop to contend this season.  Oh yeh, look at the past gentlemen.

Certainly it will take career years from every player on the roster for the Pirates to be contenders this season.  Career Plus numbers might not even do it according to the stat wizards on the baseball circuit.

Ohh, I hope the Pirates are smiling though, they have recovered from the buy high lose high strategy of the past.  It now appears that coaches are going to be paid to coach our players.  Really coach them.  The fielding has improved.  The pitching has improved.  The hitting has improved.  What gives?  Nothing of great significance has been added to this club except a few new coaches and bench player upgrades.  And the Pirates have cash excess.

It has been a long while, but back in the day the Pirates were known to spend money unwisely on position type players.  Derek ring a Bell?  Well, take a look at the Astros ladies and gentlemen, they spent $100 million on a left fielder and $26 million on a shortstop and $16.5 million on a second baseman.  And zero large investments on pitching.

I specialize in fortune telling today, so my history skills are lacking after much celebration over the Pirates opening day domination.  How did the Astros get to the Series in 2005?  Uhh…not this way right?  All their large investments were in the pitching portfolio.  I think that is a great strategy to follow even though the Astros could care less about their pitching portfolio anymore.

The Astros pitching staff is a mess.  The Pirate staff was the worst last year.  We all know that fact.

But thus far in this early season, and in ”the cross your fingers” world of being a Pirates fan, the pitching staff now seems to have been healed by an assortment of offseason workout regimens and a healthy dose of  faith healer extraordinare Joe Kerrigan.  

I love when Kerrigan pops out of the dugout at the very first sign of trouble from his pitcher.  Did you notice that yesterday with Astros runners on second and third?  I don’t know what he said, but he spent long enough to get the home plate umpire out to the mound and then what did Duke do to the next batter?  Anyone remember that sequence?

The buy our own young pitching and hold  strategy has worked for the Pirates.

In building the most important area of a professional baseball team, the Astros seem to have gone the easy route.  They bought low.  Everyone including me expected they would pursue the big name free agent pitching that was available this offseason.  Kyle Lohse would have looked really sharp in Houston rather than St. Louis (especially after he three hit the Astros the other day.)  Randy Wolf?  Hell, he signed for five million for a one year deal, surely he would have looked good for the Astros.  There a few others they could have signed as well.  But the bottom line is they didn’t.

Instead, it looks something like this now for the Astros on the mound.  Mike Hampton is back.  Alert Pirate Fans.  A retread and we seem to struggle against them.  See Aaron Harang and Chris Carpenter.  Tough pitchers?  NO question.  But for Harang and Carpenter to completely shut down the Pirate offense like they did, that scares me a little bit.  Ok, a lot.

Russ Ortiz was another player that many people didn’t know was still around.  Brian Moehler looked very hittable yesterday even before the game started.  As he threw before the game, he appeared to be lacking any resemblance of confidence.   Moehler left Monday’s game after 21⁄3 innings with a sprained right knee. He allowed seven hits and five runs and in his first start he was hammered for seven runs in 12⁄3 innings.  While his counterpart on the mound yesterday, Zach Duke has been incredibly effective for the Pirates, his confidence and stats have soared.  Duke walks and talks like he just hit 100 clay targets with 90 shells. 

Lance Berkman, Miguel Tejada and Carlos Lee are a combined 0 for 12 with runners in scoring position.  Gulp.  On a team that apparently was going to win games in slugfests, that doesn’t bode well.  “We’ve struggled before,” Berkman said. “We have had stretches where we haven’t hit well, and during the course of the season that’s going to be the case. We haven’t hit well, and that’s all there is to it.

“Part of that is we’ve faced some pretty good pitching. You can’t say, ‘Well, the guy’s terrible and we’re terrible.’ Zach threw a great game and Kyle threw a great game, and it’s tough when you’re not clicking on all cylinders offensively and you’re facing a tough pitcher.”

While the pitching hasn’t been good, it’s the lack of offense that concerns Cooper.  (Of course it is, this team is trying to forge a new path–Offense Wins Championships!)

“If I had answer for it, I’d flip the switch and be off and running,” he said. “We’re doing it as a group. It’s not one individual, it’s everybody. We just seem to not be swinging the bats well. Even the approaches are not what they should be.”

While the Pirates are far from fixed, I commend the efforts of the team.  We could have chased a few free agents around this offseason.  In fact, we had a wish list.  The bench is  improved for the Bucs, but the pitching is the key.  We believed (well maybe better stated is the Pirates believed) in  questionable pitchers Duke, Snell, and Ohlendorf.  It is paying dividends.  Now, if we can keep the pitchers in the minors healthy (wow, was that scary headlines yesterday about Morris and Bart) it seems the grow from within/hold onto what we have model is working.  The staff sits firmly in the top five in all of baseball today.  Sure it is early, but it is so easy to see why you can never enough pitching.

The deals that brought Ohlendorf and Karstens were highly questionable.  But somebody knew that pitching was the key.  Typically when a pitcher allows only two runs as Snell did Sunday afternoon, the club can win.  Sort of remind you of anyone?  Ahhh, who was it?  I am seeing an Astros pitcher, hold on it’s coming to me…. I see him with Roger… oh, yeh.  Andy Petite.  He used to say when he pitched for Houston that it felt like he was always in a playoff game, he had to pitch in such a dominating fashion because of a lack of run support from the offense.

Hmmm…Someone might have been paying attention to Houston’s model from 2005.  They just did it their own way.