Even as the Astros burst into the second day of August 2012 with their cage-rattling August start to the month hanging out the window as a 13-4 loss to the Brewers, there’s still time to review the worst July in franchise history. Thanks to Bill Gilbert of the Rogers Hornsby Chapter of SABR, here’s another take on the July trail that we hope is eventually best remembered as “the road less traveled.” Unfortunately, for now, it seems to be the only road available to the Astros.
Thanks, Bill. Your long-term, always well-considered evaluations of the Houston Astros are important to all serious followers of the club.
Astros Rewrite Record Book for Futility in July
By Bill Gilbert
The Astros had the worst month in their 51-year history in July with a record of 3-24. After starting the month with six straight losses, they beat Milwaukee 6-3 in what would be Wandy Rodriguez’ last win in a Houston uniform. They then came right back for another win nine days later over San Diego, the last win for J.A. Happ for the Astros. That’s when the problems really started as the team reeled off a 12 game losing streak before Lucas Harrell beat Pittsburgh, 9-5. The team finished the month with 2 more losses.
Offensively, the Astros were last in the league in July with a batting average of .230, a slugging average of .351 and 3.15 runs per game. The pitching was even worse with an ERA of 5.95, the highest in the major leagues. The pitchers issued a major league high 96 walks and also allowed a major league high .296 batting average. The bullpen converted only 2 of 10 save opportunities.
Of greater importance were the five trades that were completed in July. In addition to Rodriguez and Happ, Carlos Lee, Brett Myers, Brandon Lyon, Chris Johnson and David Carpenter were also traded away. In return, the Astros received 15 prospects, currently in the minor leagues, and two fringe major leaguers. The trades significantly weakened the 2012 team but the team was likely to finish last in any case. After four dismal seasons, a complete rebuild was obviously needed and General Manager, Jeff Luhnow, had indicated this was coming before the season started. However, a rebuild of this magnitude is almost unprecedented. Luhnow has been very decisive and has received favorable comments from baseball insiders for what he has been able to accomplish. However, it will be at least three years before we will know how successful these moves were.
A reasonable expectation might be that the team will show some improvement next year and further improvement in 2014. By 2015, the team could be in contention if some of the prospects develop and some other moves are made. Unfortunately, it will be more difficult with the Astros moving to the American League.
As for bright spots in July, there weren’t many. Jose Altuve played in his first All-Star Game (and possibly his last since he will be competing with Robinson Cano, Dustin Pedroia and Ian Kinsler in the American League). Scott Moore led the team with five home runs, the only player with more than two and Carlos Corporan batted .385. Both are veteran minor league journeymen, filling in for injured major leaguers. Harrell was the best starting pitcher in May with an ERA of 3.03 but won only one of his five starts.
What can be expected for the rest of this season? Not much, unfortunately. The pitching staff has been decimated with the loss of Rodriguez, Happ, Lyon and Myers. Bud Norris and Lucas Harrell are the only reliable starting pitchers and the relief pitchers have been unable to get the job done. Francisco Cordero, 37, was obtained in the Lyon deal, presumably to fill the closer role but he has failed in his three save opportunities with a record of 0-3 and an ERA of 18.00, the same as Brian Bogusevic.