Astros title would be a miracle
Despite offensive woes, pitching could key win
In the middle of May, the Astros were 15-30. Manager Phil Garner said, "Right now, we just have to get back to .500. Once we do that, we can move on."
At that point, I thought the team would have trouble getting back to .500, let alone moving on. The first three starting pitchers were excellent. The last three relievers were just about as tough. In between, there was a mound of uncertainty. The lineup was weak, and relatively slow afoot. Outside of Willy Taveras, there were no legitimate base stealers. The Astros had very little power and had a lot of trouble scoring runs. In fact, they had trouble scoring a single run.
Now the Astros are the National League Wild Card team. Who would have thunk it?
From that day until this one, they have gone 73-44, good for a .624 winning percentage. You can't play that well that long on good pitching and good luck. There has to be more to it, but I can't figure out what it is even after watching every game.
Well, actually, I can figure it out. The Astros allowed fewer runs than any other Major League team. I've always preferred a team that is stingy on defense to one with bountiful hitting. The 2005 Astros supported that theory, just as the Dodgers in the 60's and Cardinals in the 80's.
Actually, the Astros resurgence started about two weeks after Lance Berkman returned to the lineup from a knee injury. Once he got going, the team started scoring more runs. Then Morgan Ensberg got hot and carried them for a while. All along the way, Craig Biggio got big hits and ended up with a career-high 26 home runs. Jason Lane drove in a lot of runs in the second half, too. Still, there were teams that scored a lot more runs than the Astros and had similar pitching.
The headline in the Houston Chronicle said: "1914 Braves Miracle is Matched." Well, not exactly. The Astros won the Wild Card; the Braves won the pennant. Still, you get the idea. It's been 91 years since the last time a team has gone to the playoffs after falling 15 games below .500.
The 2005 Astros are more like the Miracle Mets of 1969 than any team I have seen since. The Mets had a few decent RBI men -- Tommie Agee, Cleon Jones, Ed Kranepool and Ron Swoboda. That's about all the offense they had. They were not a fast team. They just scored enough runs to allow their great pitchers a chance to win. They blew by the Cubs in early September and never looked back.
Most people thought the Mets would have to outpitch the Braves to win the pennant. Instead, they outhit them. The '69 Braves had Orlando Cepeda, Felipe Alou, Hank Aaron, and Rico Carty. The lineups were a mismatch, but the Mets took advantage of a weak Braves pitching staff and moved on to face the Orioles in the World Series.
The Orioles had a more experienced team. Their lineup wasn't the best in the business, but it was better than the Mets. And the Orioles had comparable pitching. The Mets had more trouble scoring than they had against the Braves, but they were absolutely brilliant on the mound as they became World Champions.
So can the '05 Astros become a "miracle" team? I doubt it, but I doubted they could even get to the playoffs. The '14 Braves not only captured the pennant, they swept Philadelphia in the World Series.
For the Astros, it will be more difficult. They will have to beat the Braves in the first round, and the Cardinals or Padres in the second round just to win the pennant. Then they will have to beat an American League team to win the World Series.
I don't think they can do it. But if they do, it will be no less miraculous than the '14 Braves or the '69 Mets.
Larry Dierker , a broadcaster with and ex-player and manager for the Houston Astros, is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.