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10/05/09 1:59 AM EST
2009 season doesn't pan out for Astros
Down years for Oswalt, Puma not what Houston expected
By Brian McTaggart / MLB.com
HOUSTON -- Considering the Astros had the oldest Opening Day roster in the Major Leagues and didn't add any impact players via free agency in the offseason, general manager Ed Wade knew a lot of things would have to go right for his team in 2009. Wade couldn't have envisioned injuries decimating his bullpen, team leaders Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt having subpar seasons or even clubhouse dissension, which helped lead to the dismissal of manager Cecil Cooper with 13 games remaining in the regular season. It all added up to the Astros' second losing season in three years, something they hadn't done since Drayton McLane bought the club in 1993. "We knew a lot of things would have to go right, including Roy winning his normal 15, 17, 20 games and Lance having a big year and Carlos [Lee] having a big year," Wade said. "Those types of things didn't happen for us. It was a combination of a lot of different factors." The Astros were unable to retain pitcher Randy Wolf in free agency and instead tried to fill gaps in their rotation by signing Mike Hampton and Russ Ortiz, neither of whom worked out. Oswalt won only eight games and posted a career-worst 4.12 ERA before cutting his season short because of back problems. The bullpen, which was considered to be a strength coming into the season, saw every relief pitcher except for Tim Byrdak go down with injury, including a lengthy trip to the disabled list for closer Jose Valverde. "Our pitching was a strong as we could make it, probably not strong enough to stand the test of time, so to speak," Wade said. Through all troubles, the Astros were still only a game out of first place in the National League Central after they swept three games from the St. Louis Cardinals in Houston in late July. But a day after finishing off St. Louis, Berkman went on the DL with a strained calf and missed nearly three weeks. With Berkman, who was overcoming a poor start, out of the lineup, the deficit in the division grew. Not long after Berkman went down, Oswalt's back began flaring up and forced him to miss two weeks. By the time the Astros hit September, they were out of the pennant race. But the Astros weren't without their positives. Right fielder Hunter Pence continued to blossom and made his first All-Star team, shortstop Miguel Tejada led the team in hits and doubles, and center fielder Michael Bourn enjoyed a breakout season and topped 60 stolen bases. Unfortunately for the Astros, the bad outweighed the good. Here's a look back at a disappointing 2009. Record: 74-88, fifth place in National League Central Defining moment: Tejada's walk-off single to cap a three-game sweep of the Cardinals on July 22 got the Astros to within one game of first place in the NL Central. Berkman was placed on the DL the following day with a calf strain and would miss nearly three weeks, and Oswalt went on the shelf for two weeks a few days later with back stiffness. As the injuries piled up, so did the deficit in the division. The Astros couldn't recover. What went right: Bourn proved he was a bona-fide leadoff hitter and had a tremendous season. He drastically improved his on-base percentage, played a Gold Glove-caliber defense and became the first Astros player since 1990 to steal as many as 60 bases in a season. ... Left-hander Wandy Rodriguez finally matured into the pitcher the Astros had long envisioned, leading the team in wins, strikeouts, innings pitched and ERA by a starter. ... Lee continued to be an RBI machine, posting his fifth consecutive 100-RBI season while hitting better than .300 most of the season. ... Pence made his first All-Star team and was among team leaders in home runs. ... Tejada proved he can still hit by leading the team in hits, batting average, doubles, at-bats and multihit games. What went wrong: Oswalt, who had 15 no-decisions, won only eight games and logged a career-worst 4.12 ERA before battling back problems for most of the second half of the season. ... Berkman, who missed 18 games with a calf strain, posted some of the lowest numbers of his career as he was unable to reach 30 homers and 100 RBIs and hit well below his career average. ... The signings of aging, injury-prone veterans Ortiz and Hampton to take up two-fifths of the rotation didn't pan out. Ortiz was released, and Hampton suffered a rotator cuff tear. ... The Astros were hit hard by injuries with 19 different players spending time on the disabled list, and that didn't include Oswalt, who missed two weeks in August with back tightness and was shut down Sept. 16. The bullpen was hit especially hard by injuries. ... Darin Erstad and Jason Michaels, expected to be bench anchors, struggled in the first half of the season. Biggest surprise: The emergence of Bourn and Rodriguez, who supplanted veterans Berkman and Oswalt as the club's top offensive player and pitchers, respectively, for 2009.
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.