Actually, the true "halfway" point of the season has long passed. The Astros played their 81st game on June 28, and they will have only 67 remaining when they open the proverbial second half with a home game vs. the Cubs. The Astros have a lot of ground to make up during that time, and if they're truly going to make a push, they'll have to improve nearly every element of their game.
Up until now, they've been streaky -- good pitching here, decent offense there, but nothing that lasts very long or gets them rolling in the right direction for more than a week or so.
In other words, it'll be all about consistency -- or, lack thereof.
Manager Cecil Cooper's focus is on the pitching, while general manager Ed Wade sees the offense as the make-or-break element of the second half.
"When you stop to think about the month of June, Roy [Oswalt] was solid in June, [Brian] Moehler was solid in June, Wandy [Rodriguez] came off the DL and was solid," Wade said. "We've had some opportunities to have some pretty good pitching. Unfortunately, the offense got flat at certain points in time, and we're going to go as far as our offense carries us."
And in June, the offense carried the club to a paltry 10-16 record.
"The reality is, if the pitching gets us deep enough into games and pitch the way they are capable of doing, we think we've got enough," Wade said. "We just haven't been as consistent as we need to be."
Cooper is surprised that the offense went through such long stretches of ineffectiveness, but his main goal for the second half is to see more "lights-out pitching."
|ASTROS TOP PERFORMANCES|
5/2, HOU 7, MIL 4 -- Astros homer-happy
Houston blasts five homers, ncluding three straight in the sixth, in a come-from-behind win.
5/6, HOU 6, WAS 5 -- Berkman's big day
Lance Berkman goes 5-for-5, scores four times and steals two bases.
5/15, HOU 8, SF 7 -- Late jacks spark win
Darin Erstad ties it late, then Lance Berkman wins it with a walk-off homer to overcome a six-run deficit.
5/24, HOU 4, PHI 3 -- Erstad's terrific throw
Darin Erstad guns down the tying runner at the plate in a game-ending double play.
5/27, HOU 8, STL 2 -- Pence produces
Hunter Pence goes 5-for-5 as the Astros pull into a tie with the Cards.
"I figure, you get lights-out pitching and you can win the 2-1's and 3-2's," Cooper said. "We've got some big [hitters] in there who can pop one with a man on and give you that win. So I would say if there's one place I could make it the best of all, it would be pitching. That's not to say my guys have not done a decent job. It's just that pitching is a key to it all. It always is."
Through July 5, Astros starters were 26-32 with a 4.66 ERA and produced only 39 quality starts over 89 games. They also had given up a staggering number of home runs. Through 89 games, the Astros had allowed 122 homers -- the most of all 30 teams. The Brewers gave up 112, and no other team in baseball had allowed more than 100.
Through 89 games, the Astros posted losing records during games started by Oswalt (8-10), Brandon Backe (7-11) and Rodriguez (5-6), while they're 7-4 in game started by Chris Sampson and 6-5 in games started by Moehler.
Run support is somewhat of an issue. Astros pitchers are close to the bottom of the league in terms of runs per nine innings, ranking 11th of the 16 NL teams.
Wade would like to see improvements in all areas, with the understanding that a 180-degree turnaround is not going to happen overnight.
"We have to figure out a way to play up to our capability for an extended period of time, and not get to a point where there's an expectation that you're going to win four games in one day," he said. "It all sound like a cliche, but it's the truth. You get to a point where you say, 'Man, we've got to pick this up. Things have to happen. We've got to make it happen.' Well, you can only make it happen one game at a time.
"We've shown over an extended period that we are capable of doing it and we just have to grind it out. You have to hope somebody gets hot along the way, or a couple of guys get hot along the way, and put some big numbers on the board."