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Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Astros: April/May splits 

Houston opens June play with a 27-23 overall record. They went 13-9 in April, before falling to a 14-14 .500 May mark. Just for kicks, I thought I'd compare that to their recent playoff seasons, including last year's almost playoff season.

First, a quick glance at overall records from those campaigns:
97: 84-78
98: 102-60
99: 97-65
01: 93-69
03: 87-75
04: 87-75(based on current pace)
Now for the April/May splits:
97: 15-11...11-17
98: 17-10*...16-12
99: 13-9...16-11
01: 12-12... 14-13
03: 11-15...18-12
04: 13-9...14-14
So, only two of those teams posted sub-.500 records in the first two months: the non-playoff team and the most suspect division champion of the Wild Card era. What does that say about this year's club? Honestly, nothing for the time being. But I think it does speak to the improvement of the Central. Houston has already played at least three games against every division foe, and have winning records against all but St. Louis (4-5) and Cincinnatti (3-5). You could really say that the difference-maker so far was the four-game sweep at the hand of the Reds. A mere split there changes the May record to 16-14, and the end-of-season projection to 94-68.

Going forward, I think those past marks most certainly indicate a need for a strong month at some point. Both of the division-winning teams that actually won a postseason game managed to have a breakout month along the way, which allowed Houston to clear some room atop the division. Again, for kicks, let's include June in those splits.

97: 15-11...11-17... 14-14
98: 17-10*...16-12...17-10
99: 13-9...16-11...16-12
01: 12-12... 14-13...15-12
03: 11-15...18-12...13-12
04: 13-9...14-14...TBD
None of those clubs had a losing month of June, and again, the only two that came close were the bottom-feeders of the bunch. That tells me that Houston really needs to make a charge this month. Of course, that's fairly common sensical.

Here's my reason to think they will. Up until this point, the Astros have sorely underachieved. I'm stating the obvious, of course, but remember that 87-75 projection? According to Bill James' Pythagorean W-L, Houston's run totals so far indicate a projected record of 100-62. Though final records rarely match the Pythagorean, the numbers are usually close -- closer than the 13 game gap between the two current projections.

Houston't Pythagorean projection has been influenced by a wide difference between one-run games and blowout games played thus far. Teams usually have about a 1:1 ratio in that comparison, but the Astros have managed to play in twice as many blowouts as one-run games in 2004. And a 14-5 record in those contests (versus a 3-7 record in one-run games) has inflated their Pythagorean record.

What does all of that mean? I think it means that the Astros are going to end up with a much better record than their current pace suggests -- probably in the 95-plus-or-minus-3 range. By the way, the Pythagorean projection shows those division-leading Reds with a .500 record when October rolls around. That sounds about right to me.


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