Remember when Houston had a major league franchise?

I had a whole blog post written in my head for when the Astros beat the Diamondbacks tonight.

It was about the final 44 games and how the Giants and Diamondbacks are basically playing an abbreviated season.

You will forgive me for almost jumping the gun. I mean the lowly Astros had a 5-1 lead going into the 8th inning. I mean even HOUSTON could hold onto a 4 run lead over 2 innings.

They even had a 2 run lead with 2 outs and 2 strikes in the bottom of the 9th.

So forgive me for thinking the Astros had a shot to win.

I didn’t expect a 2 out game tying homer from Paul Goldschmidt who was in AA about an hour ago,

And I didn’t think slumping Chris Young would get a walk off shot.

Sorry that the idea of the Diamondbacks getting 7 unanswered runs in the last 3 innings hadn’t crossed my mind.

So the minor league franchise in Houston is on pace for 110 losses. The franchise has never had a 100 loss team. This one is all but assured that.

The Astros would have to go 25-19 the rest of the way to avoid a 100 loss season.

If tonight is any indication, that is an impossibility.

But the worst crime they committed? They prevented me from using a blog post that I all but wrote in my head.

The bastards.

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A Christmas gift for Padres fan: Optimism

This Christmas, some baseball fans should already be pessimistic about their teams chances in 2011.

The Pirates are obviously not going to be good and their losing season streak will no doubt reach a shameful 19. The Royals waved the white flag with the Greinke trade. The Mets and Cubs are a year away from a massive relief of bad contracts expiring. The Diamondbacks should have another year wandering in the desert. And the Nationals will probably stink again even though they seem to think they are on the verge of contending.

You would think that I would throw the Padres onto the scrap heap of hopeless teams, especially after dealing Adrian Gonzalez and inevitably sending Heath Bell packing before Opening Day.

But I can’t. I think there are too many reasons to be optimistic in PetCo Park, and I don’t just mean the ability to get a decent seat.

First of all, they are still LOADED with pitching talent. Mat Latos looks like he will be an All Star for a while. Clayton Richard looks like a steal from the White Sox. And even though Jon Garland has skedaddled and taken his 200 innings with him, there are other options. Aaron Harang has come to town and while he has been kind of lousy the last few years, he is moving from the hitters haven of Great America Ballpark to the pitcher paradise of PetCo Park.

Also Tim Stauffer, Cory Luebke or even young Simon Castro could step in and fill out the back of the rotation.

And their 2010 bullpen was a never ending parade of effective arms. Whenever I saw the Padres play (and as a West Coast resident I saw them A LOT) they always pulled out some reliever that I hadn’t heard of before but had some sickeningly good numbers.

Seriously, besides the biggest baseball fans or residents of the Gaslamp District, who the hell heard of Ernesto Frieri, Luke Gregerson, Edward Mujica, Joe Thatcher or Ryan Webb? If Heath Bell is dealt, ONE of those guys could step in and pitch the 9th.

And if Bell is dealt, Padres GM Jed Hoyer seems to be pretty good at actually getting useful players in return. Clayton Richard came over in a deal for a broken down Jake Peavy. Casey Kelly, brought over in the Adrian Gonzalez trade, could be in the pitching staff this year. Gonzalez also yielded Anthony Rizzo who could fill in at first base and Raymond Fuentes who could be in the outfield by 2012.

Take note Pittsburgh. Just because you trade expensive players doesn’t mean you have to dump them for no value in return.

And I think some of the moves they have made have made the team better. Jason Bartlett and Orlando Hudson are a terrific middle of the infield and should be an improvement defensively. And Brad Hawpe is just a season removed from being an All Star. The Padres don’t need All Star production from him… just hit well enough to not have first base be a hole.

And in the light of what happened in 2010, many of the young Padres experienced meaningful games in what was supposed to be a rebuilding season. If they went 2-8 between August 26th and September 5th instead of 0-10, they would have been playing in the playoffs. As it were, they won 90 games and lost the Division to the eventual World Champions.

And the Giants will inevitably take a slight step back in the wake of their World Series title, the Diamondbacks are rebuilding, the Dodgers are a mess and who knows what will happen in Colorado. The NL West isn’t the AL East with super powers gobbling up super stars.

And what else did the Giants championship teach us? With a good pitching staff, you don’t need to be an offensive powerhouse to win. The Giants upgraded their offense from “A FEMA level disaster” to merely “terrible” and look where they ended up.

If Bell could fill in a hole or two in the line up and the young pitching takes advantage of the ballpark and the improved defense, they could have a winning season. And in the NL West, a winning season could mean contention in September.

And what else can you ask for in September than meaningful games. So be optimistic this Christmas morning, Padres fan. You may not have the sexiest team, but you do have reason to look forward to 2011.

Go ahead and have images of National League West titles dancing in your head.

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I can’t call the Padres chokers

I know it would be easy to call the Padres choke artists… heck you might even have the numbers to back it up.

On August 25th, the Padres looked like a team of destiny. They improved their record to 76-49. They were up by 8 games in the loss column over San Francisco with 37 games to play.

The Padres had a better record than anyone else in the National League by 5 games in the loss column and were on a run where they won 12 of 15 games.

And then it happened.
The 10 game losing streak.
Squandering a 6 ½ game lead in 16 days.

Finishing the season 14-23.

And now out of the playoff picture. The playoffs start this week and the Padres are playing golf.

On the surface it looks like a huge face plant.

But let’s call Doc Brown and go back in time.
Going into this season, the Padres (with the NL’s second lowest payroll) look like they would be sitting with the Nationals, Pirates and Mets as the few National League teams with no hope.

The only questions going into 2010 were “Where is Adrian Gonzalez going to be traded?” and “Should the Padres deal Heath Bell as well?”

What if I told you a Padres team that EVERYONE seemed to have picked for 90 losses would actually be a 90 WIN team?

That they would be in contention for the entire season with arguably the deepest bullpen in baseball and make it all the way to the last day of the season before being eliminated?

That they would play 3 “lose and your season is over” games on the road and win the first 2?

You’d think I was crazy and demand to know the physics of time travel.

But I think the season should be judged based upon expectations and outcomes. A team whose payroll is less than what the Red Sox paid for Tim Wakefield, J. D. Drew, Mike Lowell, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Josh Beckett this year, is not expected to win more games than the Red Sox.

But they did.

A team with a no name rotation and line up (save for Gonzalez) is expected to contend.

But they did.

They didn’t choke. They destroyed all expectations. If they started off horribly and then caught fire and made it to 90 wins, they’d be considered a triumph.

This isn’t going to look pretty for San Diego’s underrated tortured history. But this wasn’t a choke.

If the METS did this, it would be a choke. But then again the Mets didn’t even contend despite paying $95 million more for their players.

But that is another post.

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