Crucial Stretch for 'Stros

Four games into an 18 game stretch of NL Central games for the Astros, we are 2-2 with a couple of close wins that had blown saves eventually lead to wins. Yes, the Astros are five games under .500, but don’t write the season off just yet. The NL Central leaders, Cincinnati and St. Louis, are just one game over .500, and neither have truly shown that they can take a choke hold on the Central. Here is why I think you shouldn’t give up hope just yet.

1. The potential offensively is there.

This team will not be remembered as one of the 10 best Astro lineups in franchise history, but it has some elements that could lead to an amount of wins that may shock some non believers. Wallace, Pence, and Bourn have had great starts to the 2011 season, and their rate of play shows no sign of slowing down. With other players yet to come around, such as Lee and Johnson, the Astro offense has shown that it is worthy of more respect than its pitiful 2010 season would argue. Though Wallace will probably cool off some as the season progresses, an emerging Lee or Johnson could give the offense a boost to pick up for some of the drop off. One number that is higher than most would expect and will most likely fall unless franchise records are broken are the batting averages of the pitchers and catchers being above .300. As it balances out over the season, I imagine that the success will still be there from the bats, but it will be more balanced than it currently is.

Also, as I stated in a previous article, a few minor moves in the order could get generate some bigger innings for the team. By maneuvering Wallace in front of Pence, you get a string of four hitters in Bourn, Sanchez, Wallace, and Pence that can get on base. Sure, it’s not a Bash Brothers style of offense, but its the best lemonade we can make with what we have.

2. The pitching staff isn’t this bad

The 4.94 ERA so far this season is second to last in the National League, and has baffled Astro faithful. It is safe to say that most Astro fans had all their eggs in the pitching staff’s basket to start the season, and hope had been lost due to their poor performance as a whole. Myers has strung together some great starts, but the inconsistency of Wandy and Happ is surprising being that they finished the 2010 season so strong. Norris, on the other hand, has put together two consecutive starts that showed great control. This April has been disheartening, but look for it to become a memory as opposed to an expectancy. Maybe it was the hype or maybe it was the pressure, but the staff seemed unsettled to start the year, and they are slowly starting to get into a grove that will equate to more win opportunities.

The relievers, outside of the trio of Melancon, Fulchino, and Abad, have had some terrible innings that have let the Astros get out of games that the starters left in decent condition. Wilton Lopez has been injured for most of the season, and his return will be greatly beneficial to this hurting back end. Lyon is Lyon. I have never been high on him, and never expect him to start a season strong in the first place. Hopefully leaving him in the closer role will make him an attractive sell to a team and he will be gone come the trade deadline.

3. Winning games in division play is the key.

Last season, the ‘Stros went 45-33 against the Central, and who is to say that is not possible again this season? As stated above, no one is a clear cut favorite to win this division, and with Cardinal’s rotation hurting, no one is really poised to make a run at the division outside of Cincy or Milwaukee if their bats carry them. Look to this 18 game stretch to determine how the season will turn out because a .500+, 18 game, Central slug fest will put the Astros in the talk of teams that stand a chance. You can rip them all you want, but this is not the AL Central. Taking care of business in this division will do wonders.

Don’t give up on these guys. It is early in the season, and why not look at the glass half full? If you remove the 0-5 start, this team is playing .500 ball, and 90 wins may win the Central this season. Perk up, Astro fans! It is a young season, and we are not out of it.

Trevor Harris is a contributing writer for Climbing Tal’s Hill. Click here to follow him on Twitter and click here to follow CTH.

Tags: Angel Sanchez Brandon Lyon Brett Myers Brett Wallace Bud Norris Carlos Lee Houston Astros Hunter Pence J.A. Happ Jeff Fulchino Mark Melancon Michael Bourn Wandy Rodriguez Wilton Lopez

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