I didn’t think I’d be writing this, but here I am. The Houston Astros are in second place in the National League Central. It’s July. It’s the second to last Friday in July, and yet the Astros have a better record than the Cubs, Brewers, and Reds; the Cardinals have a game and a half lead on Houston.
The problem: Lance Berkman just hit the disabled list. It goes without saying that Berkman is a vital clog to the Astros. He leads them in on-base average, slugging percentage, ISO, wOBA, and just about any other offensive stat of consequence. Berkman’s replacements aren’t so good, in fact, Berkman’s infield mates aren’t very good. In his absence, Chris Coste has taken over the first base duties. That leaves Kazuo Matsui, Geoff Blum, Jeff Keppinger, and Miguel Tejada rounding out the infield. Here’s a look at their wOBA to date:
Throw in Matt Kata and Darin Erstad for good measure and the Astros still only have one better than league average hitter standing on the dirt. None are too stellar with the glove either, which leaves the Astros in a rough predicament. They don’t have the young pieces to acquire a stand-in first baseman, or brand new second baseman. Instead, they’re left to make do with what they have. With so little depth a playoff run seems fairly hard to imagine.
Truth is, I’m not sure how they got to this point. Matthew showed them as the luckiest team in baseball recently and I think the shoe fits. They have top heavy talent. On offense four players are worth 2+ WAR and Carlos Lee/Ivan Rodriguez are worth 1+. After that, only two other batters over a half a win. Same can be said for their pitching staff. Two starters over two wins, one starter with a win, a reliever in Chris Sampson who is quite good, Russ Ortiz doing swingman duties, and that’s it. Those are your players with 0.5+ WAR.
They have a ton of negative valued players though. The pitching staff has Geoff Geary, Doug Brocail, and Brandon Backe (amongst others) to thank for -2 WAR while the batters should send parting gifts to Jason Smith and Jason Michaels; -2.3 WAR without counting the pitcher contributions on offense. That’s -4.3 WAR. If you take Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee off the team to date, they combine for 3.8 WAR. That’s how bad some of the players the Astros are relying on are.
Maybe they can sneak into first place for a few days, just for their fans sake, but it’s not going to last long. Frankly I might be a bit irked as an Astros fan, all this luck is going to cost Houston a nice draft pick for their efforts.
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