The Houston Astros have reached the midpoint of a disappointing 2011 season. I was cautiously optimistic about this team entering the 2011 season and thought they would struggle because they are a young team but still be competitive and show improvement from last year.
Some players have showed noticeable improvement from last season, while others have taken a step back and over the next few days I will be handing out grades for all the Astros’ players but first I wanted to hand out some awards for the first half of the year.
Best Hitter: Hunter Pence has to get the award here as he has been just crushing the ball over the first half of the season and leads the team in hits (97), doubles (22), home runs (9), RBI (53). He also has the highest batting average of all the regular starters with a .314 average. He has the second longest hitting streak of the 2011 season at 23 games and had another hit streak of 15 games earlier in the season. He has really stepped up since the Astros traded franchise players Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman last year and is on his way to being the face of this franchise.
Best Pitcher: This award was a two person race with Wandy Rodriguez edging out Bud Norris. Wandy is the only starter with a record above .500 at 5-4, has the lowest ERA (3.21) of all the starters and has become a workhorse for this staff, going deep into games. The scary part for hitters is that Wandy usually gets better as the season goes on and really locks in in the second half of the season. Hopefully, he can do that again this year.
Most Improved: This award has co-winners as I could not decide between first baseman Brett Wallace and starting pitcher Bud Norris as both have made great strides from last season to this one. Brett Wallace is hitting .291 with 19 doubles, four home runs and 22 RBI. He has started to regress a little bit over the past few weeks but I don’t expect it to last very long and think he will have a strong second half to 2011.
Many thought Bud Norris was suited more coming out of the bullpen because he didn’t have the pitching repertoire to be a starting pitcher. He has proved those doubters wrong this season becoming a strikeout machine for the Astros. He has one of the highest K/9 in the majors at 9.09 and already has 100 strikeouts, 21 more than the next pitcher. He is second for Astros’ starters with a 3.36 ERA, not far off from Wandy.
Most Regressed: This award has to go to Brett Myers, who many thought was the ace of this staff and has taken a step back in 2011. Myers has a 3-7 record with a 4.60 ERA but the home run has been his biggest enemy this year. He has given up 22 home runs in 17 starts already this season, which is two more than he gave up all last year in 30 starts. The home run total for Brett Myers is the highest in all of MLB and if he wants to get back to 2010 success, this will be the first thing he needs to correct.
Most to Prove: Jim Crane will be taking over the Houston Astros most likely sometime in the next month and will be evaluating everything top to bottom in the organization. The second half of the season could be an extended job interview for everyone and the guy with the most to prove is manager Brad Mills.
This season has been a disappointment as the Astros have the worst record in MLB at 28-53. The bullpen is a mess and there have been a number of questionable moves made by Mills. He did do a great job with this team in the second half last season after Oswalt and Berkman were traded and got the team to play above .500 ball. He will need another similar performance this year to most likely keep his job.