Thursday, July 30, 2009

Astros Update - Where's the Leadership?

The Houston Astros are perhaps my favorite sporting team. I grew up idolizing Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio. Some of my fondest memories were trips to the Astrodome to watch the Astros. I languished through years of playoff frustration, rejoiced when I saw them take the field in the 2005 World Series, and now I see my team approaching a major crossroad.

The Astros have always been known as a veteran team who knew just when to turn it on during the second half of the season. With the steady leadership of Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio the team would hit their stride after the All Star break reeling off record amounts of victories on their way to the playoffs. Bagwell retired after the 2005 season, unable to play with an arthritic shoulder. Biggio recorded his 3,000 hit in 2007 and bid the team a tearful farewell. The Astros haven't been the same since.

In 2008, the first year without the two Houston icons, the Astros seemed right on pace to take the wildcard with yet another second half surge. However, Hurricane Ike had other plans. When key divisional games with the Cubs had to be rescheduled, the Astros lost their chance at the 2008 playoffs. It was easy to write it off at the time as a major distraction. Players and coaches were worried more about their homes and families than a silly game. Yet in retrospect, the cracks had begun breaking apart the rock.

For a second, I thought the Astros of old were back in 2009. Right after the All Star game, the Astros split a series with the Dodgers and swept the Cardinals. They were righting the ship, hitting and pitching well. Yet the past two weeks have been a shock back to reality. Series losses to both the dysfunctional Mets and surging Cubs have left the Astros teetering at .500 and at serious risk of losing any chance at another miracle playoff run.

Is it a lack of talented pitching? Is it ice cold hitting? I say no. The Astros have shown flashes of brilliance in all areas. It's an utter lack of consistency. One night it's 7 innings of strong pitching wasted with a blown save by the bullpen. The next it's 8 runs scored negated by 12 runs allowed. These Astros just don't perform as consistently as they used to. It's simply a lack of leadership which has deteriorated the club's focus night in and night out.

Without the steady, hard working examples provided by Bagwell and Biggio the Astros have lost their way. Players just don't seem to give the same effort they used to, and it shows on the field. Tejada, Berkman, and Lee are no replacement for Biggio, Bagwell, and Ausmus. While our current players may try to be leaders, they simply don't seem to command the same respect as the retired legends. With another series with the Cardinals coming tomorrow, will the current crew be able to right the ship, or is it time for the Astros to start searching for new legends to build the franchise around?

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