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astros achieve liftoff

here's another dispatch from a remote province of SB Nation:

our astros affiliate is called Crawfish Boxes. what a lousy beat that is, i thought a couple months ago. but that's right about when the beat got good: the stros have won 29 of their last 42 and are above .500. i wrote the Crawfish bloggerspondent, rastronomicals, to find out what gives, and he sent back some excellent information:

i suspect most stl fans are the same as me: i stopped paying attn to the astros on or about may 15, and now all of a sudden here you guys are in 2d place and in position for run at the postseason. so what the hell happened to turn the 'stros around ---- did they make a lineup change, or did guys just start hitting? did you hit a soft patch in the sched? get someone back from an injury? i think most stl fans are totally clueless and could benefit from some info. also: what's the prognosis moving forward for adding a bat (adam dunn or otherwise)? or do you think the 'stros will end up being sellers by july 31?

On May 24 the Astros were 15-30. Now they're 44-43, which is a record that last year's team had. Here's what happened:

  1. the starting pitching, 1-2-3, which was great then, has stayed that way. The five slot, which was a disaster, has solidified. [wandy rodriguez has been houston's #5 starter since may 23.] Only # 4 Backe isn't pitching at his best right now.
  2. we have had a soft spot in the scheduile: two series against Colorado, one against the Reds, the Pads and the Dodgers at the right time. The biggest test, in Batimore? We were swept. But 2 of 3 from Texas I thought said something two weeks after being swept there.
  3. Ensberg had 4 homers through May 12. He had 3 homers on May 15, and 17 since. As Berkman has hobbled through his rehab, Ensberg won us a few games in late May and early June all by his lonesome.
  4. Of course we were without Berkman for the month of April, and he hit .234 for May. But he hit .308 for June with a .966 OPS, and his .399 OBP overall is about where it should be, with some more power still to return.
  5. Ausmus is a .240 hitter, Everett is a .250 hitter, and [rookie 2b Chris] Burke should end up being a .260 hitter---and they were all hitting sub-.200 for most of April. The first two are defensive players and not expected to hit for high average, and Burke is a rookie, but they've got to do something. Everett is hitting .333 for July, and Ausmus is hitting .393 for the month. Only Burke has not gotten real hot, but he did hit .244 for June with a .610 OPS--certainly not great but much better than earlier.
  6. Willy Taveras is a freak--doesn't walk and doesn't hit for extra bases, but he is an uncanny rally-starter nonetheless. He's so freaking fast, he hits a nubber or even a ball to the medium hole and beats the throw -- which at home really gets the crowd going -- and then he's a threat to steal, which gets the pitcher nervous, and good (sometimes weird) stuff begins to happen. He's gonna score 100 runs, you watch.
  7. Chad Qualls and Russ Springer stunk out of the bullpen earlier and have been rock-solid for a while now.
  8. Dan Wheeler has been better than Brad Lidge, and Lidge ain't been bad either.
With an adequate offense, pitching and defense can take you a long way. I seriously doubt we're gonna aggravate the Cards, but given the Nationals' swoon that everyone predicts, there is no reason an Astros team that goes out and gets a slugger couldn't win the wild card. So yeah, buy. Adam Dunn would be a good start.

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at rastro's request, i responded with a state-of-card-nation dispatch to the Crawfish, which should be posted up there sometime today. check it out. rastro promises to show up during friday night's game thread, so give him a shout. you never know, we could end up facing these guys in october again . . .