What’s Really Happenin’, Raj?
by Karl Wright
May 9, 2006
After a terrific April and a solid start to May, the Astros are probably the second most surprising team in their division, right behind the Little Red Machine. After a closer look, though, I wonder why this early-season performance comes as such an unexpected development. Take a look at last year. The lineup that nearly brought them to the summit of postseason glory last October is the same one you see on the field now (minus Burke, plus Wilson, of course). So, it's gotta be the pitching that is performing above expectations. This, put mildly, is an understatement. The Astros starters began the week with a NL-best 3.57 ERA, despite a 2-4, 5.06 ERA start from Andy Pettitte. This means that Oswalt, Rodriguez, Backe, and Bucholz have come through on the mound and the ‘Stros have a solid rotation top to bottom. So, the obvious question at this point is, "Who needs to pay $3 million a month for Roger Clemens’ services?"
The Astros, that’s who.
In all fairness, I think any of the other teams who are competing in the Clemens Sweepstakes (Yankees, Red Sox, Rangers) would benefit greatly from having the Rocket toss for them. The big difference between the Astros and these other clubs, however, is that Clemens is the only
guy owner Drayton McClane would be willing to shell out this kind of cash for. Period. Whereas the Yankees and Red Sox could afford to pay Oil Can Boyd $1 million a year on a flyer, just to see. The Rangers don’t enjoy that kind of cash-flow, but then again, they aren’t exactly a Clemens away from the World Series, like these three other teams. This brings us back to the Astros.
As good as their starters have been so far, you’d be naďve to believe that the rotation, in its current configuration, will continue posting these numbers. Especially when Backe is hurt and your sixth starter is Fernando Nieve. If you’re an Astros fan, you’re much more comfortable with Bucholz or Rodriguez as your sixth guy, with Oswalt, Clemens and Pettite headlining your staff. Not to mention that as good as solid as the bullpen was last season, they are that limp this year, as Wheeler has looked suspect and Lidge has already blown 3 (!) saves. Looks like starting pitching is going be even more important as the season progresses for Houston.
The bonus in all this is that Clemens may actually be better for the Astros this year, if he were to be signed. After posting back-to-back Cy Young-ish seasons for Houston, he faded in the playoffs in both years. He actually choked up a lead against the Cardinals in game 7 of the 2004 NLCS and looked downright bad in Game 1 of the World Series last year. Perhaps Clemens, knowing that he faded down the stretch in the last couple seasons, decided that the way to cure that problem is by shortening his season, thus allowing him to pitch in the postseason like he normally would during June or July. I’m not suggesting that the Astros win the Fall Classic last year if Clemens was healthy for Game 1, but a victory in that opener may have changed the storyline of that series significantly. The Astros need him desperately if they have any shot at getting into and succeeding in the playoffs. So, what’s happenin’ now, Raj?
Karl Wright currently resides in Dallas, TX and is still bummed that “What’s Happening?” was canceled…twice. TV execs are wastes of skins sometimes. Give Karl some feedback at email@example.com. You can read more from Karl at www.thesportsfarm.com.