|ATLANTA -- The Houston Astros lived by the long ball this season and saw their World Series hopes die for lack of the same in the postseason.
The Astros, who hit 208 home runs and scored 847 runs this season, came up with only three and six, respectively, in the three-game sweep by the Atlanta Braves. Unable to manufacture runs, Houston's playoff run ended in familiar fashion: for the fourth time in five years, the Astros reached the postseason, but failed to advance past the first round.
"There's no question our lineup is very one-dimensional," first baseman Jeff Bagwell said. "We don't run the bases very much any more, we don't hit and run, we don't bunt.
"But you know we're still running out 3-4-5-6-7 (in the batting order) and all of those guys have hit close to 40 home runs. That kind of lineup can still win, but in close ballgames with great pitching, it's a little more difficult.
"There's no question our lineup is very one-dimensional. We don't run the bases very much any more, we don't hit and run, we don't bunt."
--Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell
Only two Astros finished in double-figures in steals this season and Julio Lugo led the team with 12 total. Houston attempted only 64 steals, the fewest in club history.
But in baseball, you dance with the ones who brought you, so the Astros weren't about to start running in the playoffs. That lack of a running game has cost them, particularly when they've faced a strong right-handed pitcher who could negate the home run threat.
Opposing pitchers could focus on the hitters because they could ignore Houston's baserunners. Giving a Greg Maddux or a Tom Glavine that kind of advantage proved to be fatal. The 1-0 loss in Game Two underscored the problem.
"We don't have a running team anymore and some times it does cost us," second baseman Craig Biggio said. "But we have three guys who drove in 100 runs and a bunch of guys who hit 30 or more homers, so do you really want them to run? Of course not."
GM Gerry Hunsicker said speed is a commodity he'd like to add to the team next year if he can do so without weakening the team elsewhere.
"We're in the same position today as we were on the this day last year as we were trying to plan for the future," Astros manager Larry Dierker said. "We wanted to try to improve our overall team speed, diversify our offense where we had some left-handed hitters, right-handed hitters, some speed and some power, and just the kind of offensive club that can generate a few runs
against a tought pitcher and occasionally score a lot of runs when the opportunity is there."
Dierker says he doesn't like to run any more because he's reluctant to have runners thrown out and "run the team out of a potential big inning."
"And we don't do a lot of it and I think you need to run a lot to get good at it," he said.
Unfortunately for Dierker, the lack of a running game usually doesn't become glaring for his team until they run into playoff-caliber pitching. Against the Madduxes and Glavines of the world, an offense needs to try everything in the arsenal to scratch out as many runs as possible.
The long ball is nice, but clearly it's not working for Houston in the playoffs.
Jim Molony is a regional writer for MLB.com based in Houston.