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      Someone Stop the Astros For Real!!
    The Houston Astros were out of the race not too long ago. Right?

    It doesn't seem too long ago that there was clamoring in the media (here, here, and here) that the Astros should cut their losses and re-trade Carlos Beltran (who they acquired earlier in the year from KC). Well, so much for that idea, it turns out all they really needed to do was fire Jimy Williams.

    After dumping Ol' Boy Jimy the Astros caught fire. Since being 44-44 at the break, the Astros have gone 30-19 under new coach Phil Garner to claw their way within 1 1/2 of the Wild Card leading (and now terrified) Cubs.

    I've usually hated firing a manager mid-season, especially with a team playing around .500, but watching the Marlins under Jack McKeon, and now the Astros has converted me. Makes you wonder what the front office of other listless teams are thinking. When you lack ingenuity, why not copy?
    Listless club + new manager = chance to turn around a doomed season.
    Ahem. Phillies. Cough. Mets. Everybody has theories about what caused the turnaround. Its real easy to give all the credit to Phil Garner, but don't forget about the biggest change come the All-Star break. Remember that trade for Beltran? Oh, yeah, Beltran hitting .266/.381/.612 for the Astros might have helped.

    Harold Reynolds and John Kruk (I know, I know) have a theory. Last night on the four letter they claimed the turnaround was due to the new Astros manager. Under Garner, the Astros have been stealing more bases, moving runners up, hit & running more. Under Jimy Williams, the Astros just waited around for the 3-run homer "that never seemed to come". While its nice that they have sympathy for the way the game used to be played, its just wrong. Observe,
                W-L   RS/G   HR/G   BAA/OBP/SLG    ERA   WHIP
    Pre ASB 44-44 4.5 1.0 264/338/415 4.14 1.33
    Post ASB 30-19 6.0 1.6 279/360/481 4.13 1.35
    Thats an improvement from a home run every 35 at bats to a HR every 22 ABs. Much of this is a result of Beltran's 22 home runs, but Berkman, Bagwell, and Kent have also been hitting better after the break. So overall, the Astros are hitting much better and pitching about the same. They are scoring a run and a half more a game, and all of their offensive component stats are better. But the Parrot that Is Harold Reynolds is required by contract to state the phrase "they're manufacturing runs" at least twice every half hour show, so lets at least look at that.

    For those of you paying attention, Jimy Williams was getting press for bunting TOO MUCH this year. Under Jimy in the first half the Astros bunted more often than any major league team, with 0.7 sacrifices a game. Since he left, the Astros have only had 0.5 a game. So no small ball there. And if Jimy was waiting around for the 3-run homer, then he must have flunked Earl Weaver School.

    Maybe they are hit & running more, I have no idea, but at least they are running more. Thats easy, the stat guys for Baseball Tonight must have looked at the team stats page. They've stolen 47 bases since the break to the 25 pre-All Star steals. Uh, guys, remember this guy Carlos Beltran? Enter his 22 steals and the best base-stealing % in MLB history. Does anybody want to guess that the rest of the increase is due to the 24 point in their team's OBP? They're not running more often, they've just had more chances to run. Wih 2 more baserunners a game, OF COURSE they are going to steal more bases.

    Its just one more chance for the Run Manufacturing Parrots to speak up about the good ol' days. And one more chance for me to waste my breath. The Astros are hitting more home runs. They getting on base more. They're hitting the snot out of the ball. Only the Red Sox have scored more runs since the All-Star break, and they don't have a pitcher batting four times a game. I don't know why they are hitting better, it may be the new coach. But can we at least drop this manufacturing runs malarkey.