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Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Astros: Back to Square One 

The celebration has ended; it's time to play ball! They're already making plans for the World Series up there in St. Louis, but does that bother me? Not really.

The Astros have ridden an "us against the world" mindset all the way to the NLCS, and that big pile of lumber in the middle of the Cardinals' lineup isn't going to scare our guys any more than the Atlanta mystique did. Even if the BBGs stop smiling on us tonight, Houston's going to give it their all, because what do they have to lose?

So we have Brandon Backe (5-3, 4.30) pitching tonight. His numbers on the whole aren't impressive. But he got the job done against Atlanta on Saturday, and he also held this very same Redbird squad in check for five innings on Sept. 28, when Houston was fighting for their playoff lives. He'll give five good innings, even if he does allow a few runs. But expect the Astros to score a few of their own

That's the thing that no one is talking about. All you hear from the talking heads is that the Astros can't start Clemens or Oswalt until the third and fourth games of the series. Brandon Backe and Pete Munro will pitch for Houston? Well that must mean that the Cardinals are going to roll.

Why is that? The Cards don't exactly have Schilling and Pedro over there. Woody Williams (11-8, 4.18), Matt Morris (15-10, 4.72), Jeff Suppan (16-9, 4.18), and Jason Marquis (15-7, 3.71) are solid starters, but they aren't going to shut you down.

Remember Jaret Wright (15-8, 3.28)? Remember Mike Hampton (13-9, 4.28)? Russ Ortiz (15-9, 4.13)? These guys were just as good as anything St. Louis will send to the hill, and Houston only battered them for an NLDS-record 36 runs. And before we throw the bullpens into the mix, remember that Atlanta's overall team ERA was actually .01 better than St. Louis, so it's not like Houston just waited and beat up on a bad bully.

St. Louis has a clear edge on the offensive side. Their modern day Murderer's Row, when healthy, is every bit as potent as those guys in pinstripes that won a few rings back in the 20s and 30s. They hit for average and power, and they call all run the bases. But Houston has a few of those guys, too. The Astros lineup doesn't have to be better than St. Louis to win this series, they just have to be better in four games. They're certainly capable of that.

The key to this series will be patience. Don't get discouraged when St. Louis starts to pile up runs, because they're going to pile up runs. If the Cards jump ahead 5-0, keep battling. Houston can get to these pitchers. And if they drop the first two games on the road, then don't get down, because Roger Clemens and Roy Oswalt can erase that deficit at home this weekend.

This series will not be won or lost in St. Louis. If Houston wins even one of those games, then we've got as good a shot to win this series as we could hope for. The Cardinals are a good team, but they're certainly beatable, despite what Julian Tavarez might say:

"We don't look at the Houston Astros like this is a great team. They are good but we are better than them. We are the best because we've got 108 wins. We've proved it. We are the best."
Last time I checked, those 108 wins don't mean anything anymore. The only way to prove that they're the best is to go through an Astros club that has won just as many championships in the last twenty years as St. Louis: zero.

The pressure's on St. Louis. They're the team with baseball's best record. They're the team with the so much offense they can't even get all of their sluggers on the field. Houston has nothing to lose. By all accounts they probably shouldn't even be here.

But they are here. And they're ready. Play ball.


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