No more Mr. Nice Guy (cont.)
Posted: Monday August 27, 2007 10:15PM; Updated: Monday August 27, 2007 10:30PM
That said, this team is not without talent. Oswalt is one of the best in the league. Berkman, even in an off year, is still very good at first base, a power threat who still has a few good seasons left in his 31-year-old switch-hitting body. Carlos Lee, whom Purpura signed to a $100 million contract last winter, is not good defensively in left field, but he drives in runs, something this team badly needs. Rookie centerfielder Hunter Pence is a star in the making. Outfielder Luke Scott can help. Maybe Chris Burke, the on-hand heir apparent to Biggio at second, can, too. There are youngsters on the roster now, and more coming in September, that could play a part in the team's near-term future.
No, it's not the most talent in the NL, by any means, but it doesn't have to be. That may be the hardest part to swallow during these past two years. The Astros are talented enough to compete in the NL Central, where a .500 record earns a spot a mere 1½ games out of first place right now. But they haven't competed, not since they were swept by the woeful Pirates, at home, in the first series of the year.
"We have a pretty good team, I think," said Cecil Cooper, the bench coach who takes over for Garner, on an interim basis, for the rest of the year. "We just need to go out and play better."
A lot of factors, beyond the losing, went into McLane's decision to start anew. Some wonky trades, including the one last winter with Colorado for pitcher Jason Jennings, who is out with an elbow injury, chipped away at Purpura's standing, as did the inability to re-sign either Pettitte or Clemens. The Astros couldn't sign two draft picks this year, which hurt, too. But if there's one screaming indictment of the people who have been running this team, it's their inability to get the most out of the offensive talent. In their World Series year of '05, the Astros were in the bottom half of the league (11th) in runs scored. Last season, they were 12th. This year, they're 13th.
It's easy to blame catcher Brad Ausmus, shortstop Adam Everett, the aging Biggio, an underperforming Burke and former Houston players like Morgan Ensberg and Willie Taveras. But Cooper, who hit .297 in a 17-year career that ended in 1987, says that much of the talent on this team has been untapped.
"To me, it's all about the approach -- you know what that guy's going to do to you, and how to approach that. And, sometimes, we don't change. We do the same things over and over," Cooper said. "So there'll be some changes in that regard."
All of it's too late for this year, of course. With 31 games left, it will be all that Cooper and the front office can do just to keep the Astros ahead of the Pirates when the final day comes. A long offseason follows, run by a new GM (who probably will be hired before the end of the season) and possibly a new manager.
McLane, who makes a habit of asking people in his organization if they're "ready to be a champion," talked Monday about getting more invigoration and enthusiasm into the franchise. He harped on leadership. "No, we're not rebuilding," he said at the news conference at Minute Maid Park. "We're bringing in leadership ..."
Whatever they're doing, at least McLane and his Astros are finally doing something. This sitting around playing nice guy stuff, as fun and refreshing and easy as it may be, never works out in the long run.
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