Phil Garner took over the Astros' managerial duties on July 16. (Matt York/AP)
HOUSTON -- The Astros returned from the All-Star break with a new manager, a couple of new coaches and a brand new determination to turn the season into something other than a Major League disappointment.
They had everything on their side, especially the schedule, which gave the Astros 18 home games in their first 23 contests after the break.
Now that it's over, all they have to show for it is a 7-11 mark that includes four series losses, one win and one split.
"I think anybody would tell you that when the schedule favors you at home, it's in your favor," manager Phil Garner said. "I felt like the way the schedule has broken down, we play teams in our division on an even basis. The most we play anybody is nine games from this point on.
"We had 18 out of 23 games at home after the All-Star break. Certainly it was in our favor and certainly we blew a golden opportunity to move up in the standings. I guess we're going to make it tough on ourselves. We're going to have to do it the hard way, instead of the easy way."
Including their 5-2 loss in Sunday's series finale with the Expos, the Astros are two games under .500 (29-31) at Minute Maid Park this year. They are only slightly better on the road with a 26-25 mark.
Jeff Bagwell / 1B
Weight: 215 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R
"Losses are losses, no matter where you are," Jeff Bagwell said. "We've established that we're very mediocre here and we're very mediocre on the road. It really doesn't matter where we're playing."
Now the Astros must prepare for what awaits them on the East Coast. They begin their second-longest road trip of the year on Tuesday with the first of a three-game set with the Mets.
"[The Mets have] had some tough times, too, recently, so they've kind of fallen out of the radar picture," Garner said. "It's the same deal. It doesn't matter. Whoever we play now, we have to beat them to get to where we want to be.
"We're not taking care of our business right now. It doesn't matter what the other team's doing. We're not taking care of our own business. That's what we need to focus on -- to do our things, and then the games will take care of themselves."
Cooking for charity: According to Irene Hunsicker, wife of GM Gerry Hunsicker, the Astros wives' cookbook -- "From Home Plate to Your Plate!" -- has been selling like hotcakes.
Of the 8,000 cookbooks that were printed, only 800 are left unsold. All proceeds go to the Uterine Cancer Research Program at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, and so far, the books have raised $117,000.
"We want to get to $125,000," Irene Hunsicker said.
The cookbooks are available at 21 Academy Sports & Outdoors locations, plus at The Shed at Minute Maid Park and three Aramark locations in the ballpark. Cookbooks can also be ordered online at astros.com.
The cost of the book is $20, plus $5 for shipping and handling.
Pending callup: Left-hander Carlos Hernandez made his scheduled start for Triple-A New Orleans on Sunday, which puts him in position to possibly make a start for the Astros next Saturday in Montreal.
The Astros may need Hernandez to start in place of left-hander Darren Oliver, who is still recovering from fatigue in his shoulder.
Hernandez, who has held opponents scoreless in four of his last six outings, is 8-4 with a 3.74 ERA over 21 starts this year.
Minor honors: The Astros recently named their minor league players of the month for July.
Hernandez was named New Orleans' pitcher of the month after going 3-1 with a 1.42 ERA over 31 2/3 innings. Mike Coolbaugh was named the Zephyrs' offensive player of July. He had a .286 average, five doubles, eight homers and 21 RBIs. Chris Burke was named New Orleans' defensive player of the month after making 64 assists, 50 putouts and contributing to nine double plays.
For Double-A Round Rock, Jared Gothreaux was named pitcher of the month. He was 3-0 with a 2.86 ERA over 22 innings. Mike Rodriguez, who hit .352 with a homer and three RBIs, was the offensive player of the month. Brooks Conrad was named best defensive player after recording 60 putouts and 86 assists, in addition to helping turn 20 double plays.
For Class A Salem, Jailen Peguero was pitcher of the month. Although he was 0-2, he allowed just three earned runs over 25 innings, good for a 1.08 ERA. Patrick Peavey was the top offensive player. He batted .321 with eight RBIs. Ryan Stegall, who had 23 putouts and 48 assists, was the defensive player honored.
Class A Lexington's Mitch Talbot was named pitcher of the month after he compiled a 3-1 record and 2.25 ERA. Scott Robinson hit .342 with 11 doubles and 13 RBIs to garner offensive player of the month honors, while Saul Torres was honored for his defense after contributing 18 putouts and 51 assists.
Class A Tri-City's Rodrigo Escobar was named pitcher of the month, going 3-0 with a miniscule 0.39 ERA. Mario Garza batted .284 with 11 homers and 33 RBIs, earning offensive player of the month honors, while defensive honoree Louis Santangelo threw out 10 of 17 potential base stealers in 18 games.
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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