The Baseball Notebook

June 6, 2010 7:55 PM

How 'Bout Houston?

It happens quietly throughout the season. A team with no business winning games steps up and plays spoiler for teams hoping to climb the ladder. The Houston Astros played that role this week, as they won five of seven games over the Nationals & Cubs. Washington opened the week in the middle of a free-for-all in the NL East. They end it seven games out. Chicago was a team the Notebook predicted to be headed for a summer surge (a prediction not being altered BTW). The ‘Stros took two of three from the Cubbies and left the latter eight back of St. Louis & Cincinnati as the Cards get ready to play on ESPN tonight.

The right bounces of the ball played a role in Houston’s success. They were outscored 35-33 in the seven games, even as they racked up the wins. They won with power, doubling up the opposition in home runs (8-4) and also putting the ball in play—only 35 strikeouts for the week compared to 57 for the Washington/Chicago tandem. Carlos Lee hit two of the long balls, including a big three-run shot today as they took the rubber match in the Cub series. Lance Berkman busted out in a big way, slugging .548 and centerfielder Michael Bourn was similarly productive. Pedro Feliz was a threat for both contact and muscle, and on the mound Felipe Paulino pitched two outstanding games. It all added up to a solid week in Houston, even as Roy Oswalt had a rough go of it. It turned into the kind of week that gives wanna-be contenders nightmares and sends their fans through the roof. Houston gets a chance to play June spoiler again this week, although the competition gradually upgrades—it starts in Colorado and ends in the Bronx with an interleague series against the Yankees.

As long as we’re in the subject of fans going through the roof, that’s exactly where the maddening Mets have to be sending their diehards. Since sweeping the Phils in the early part of Week 8, NYM has lost three straight series. They haven’t been swept in any of them, going 3-6 overall, so it’s not getting the same kind of attention their high-profile wins over Philadelphia, and just prior to that the Yankees, did. But it’s taking its toll and even though they are right in the thick of it at 3.5 back, they let Atlanta be the one to surpass the slumping Phillies. In spite of a fantastic week by David Wright in Week 9, the Mets lost ground because Jason Bay lost his power stroke as quickly as he seemed to have found it, and Jose Reyes again disappeared. This is a club searching for consistency and an identity in a year where the NL East might be more winnable than any of us thought at the outset.

Atlanta may have fallen in 11 innings today in Los Angeles, but it was still a week to remember for Bobby Cox's club. They opened the week by sweeping the Phils and vaulting themselves into first place,and still picked up a road split against the Dodgers, who were equally red-hot. Atlanta's pitching rotation is strong top-to-bottom and Cox seems to have them jelling into the playoff club many of us thought they would be.

With the horses continuing to jostle for position as we settle into June (sorry for the equestrian analogy, but the Belmont Stakes and Drosselmeyer is still on my mind—and whatever happened to favorite Ice Box?. He was slower out of the gate than the Red Sox and as lethargic as the Cubs), here’s a few other teams that had weeks worthy of taking note—

*Detroit had a chance to close the gap on Minnesota, as the Twins lost four of six on the west coast. But the Tigers coughed up two of three in Kansas City, leaving one to wonder if they really recovered emotionally from the unfortunate dramatics surrounding Armando Galaragga’s perfect game that wasn’t.

*Nice week for Texas, as they take a series from the White Sox and then hit the Rays for a couple more Ws. It was enough to keep them in first, as the Angels quietly put together a strong week of their own against KC and Seattle. Managing alone won’t cover for the loss of Kendry Morales, but leave it to Mike Scoscia to make sure his team didn’t wallow in the doldrums over the loss of the slugger when an opportunity spot on the schedule presented itself. LAA and Oakland are hanging in at a game back.

*Is the cup half full or half empty in Toronto? Back on Monday when we defined what we were watching this week (See Recent Posts on right), it was the Jays’ chance to show they belonged, as they took on Tampa and New York. Did the 3-3 showing (lost to the Rays, beat the Yanks) mean they’re on a par? Or did only getting a split at home spell problems for down the road? If there were only two weeks left in the season I’d be inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt. But with 17 weeks still to go, I still feel this clubs’ flaws in the area of getting men on base are too serious to overcome in an unforgiving division.

*Notable stat my wife saw here on the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network and shared with me—if games ended after six innings, the Baltimore Orioles would be tied for first in the AL East. You read that correctly. Those who believe the bullpen is the sole problem with the Birds aren’t imagining things. Given that pens can come together as quickly as they come apart, don’t be surprised if this Oriole team starts causing a lot of problems for contenders this season and becomes one themselves quicker than the 16-41 record would suggest.

See you tomorrow for a preview of Week 10.

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