Posted on September 18, 2012 at 11:50 AM
Filed Under: Baseball Bloggers Alliance
| Houston Astros
| St. Louis Cardinals
Tonight, the Houston Astros come into Busch Stadium for the last series as members of the NL Central. While the rivalry may have faded some in the past few years, there was nothing like Astros-Cardinals games for most of the last decade. The teams swapped the top spot and it seemed like there was always a race between the two. We all remember the playoff series of 2004 and 2005, but it was the late push by the Astros (and slump by the Cardinals) that almost kept the Redbirds out of the playoffs in 2006.
While the rivalry was intense, for the most part it was professional. It was hard to hate players like Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell and Lance Berkman. Carlos Beltran did his best to dismantle the Cards by himself, but for the most part there was never the animosity against him that there was against players like Brandon Phillips from the fan base. Brandon Backe excepted, the two teams got along and respected each other.
One of the great members of the Houston blogosphere is Astros County
. James and I have gotten to know each other via emails and projects over the past few years. When I started up the Baseball Bloggers Alliance
, James was one of the first members. Search this site and you'll find many mentions of the site, including a couple of years ago when we tried to do something each time the two teams met. We'll miss having James on the NL Central season preview show and interacting with him regularly. (Of course, we'll still have Twitter: you can find him @AstrosCounty
To commemorate the last two series between Houston and St. Louis as rivals, James and I have dusted off the old playbook. He'll be posting a Q&A with me on his site during this series (edit: it's up now
) and next week we'll mark the last series in a different way. (Stay tuned!)
For now, though, keep reading to find out his thoughts on Houston's move to the American League and just exactly when the Astros may rise again.
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C70: Now that the end of the season is coming and the move to the AL is getting closer, what are your feelings about that? Are you resigned to it, looking forward to it, or some other emotion?
AC: By now I'm resigned to the fact that it's just inevitable. I had a sudden flash of anger all over again when the schedule came out last week, and I saw Baltimore, Seattle, and Toronto on the schedule instead of Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, and Arizona. The five stages of depression come and go - I'm at Bitterness now, with a trip back to Anger (and Bargaining, though that's the least helpful Stage). It's going to be fun when the randomness of baseball means that the Astros beat the Rangers - and see their bandwagon fans get confused about just what is happening. My favorite part of the night is the moment Rangers fans realize that they're not going to win the game.
C70: I've suggested that Mike Matheny should put Lance Berkman at the top of the lineup for one of these games in Houston, let him be recognized and immediately pinch-hit for him. If Matheny were to do that, what kind of reception would Berkman receive?
AC: I think he would be applauded. Berkman didn't leave under the same cloud that Oswalt did. Of the two, I think most Astros fans harbor more ill-will towards Oswalt (who actively wanted out of Houston, and seemed like he was dictating the terms) than Berkman. Even though Berkman ultimately went to St. Louis, the Cards beat the Rangers, which was fun. If Berkman's career does end this season, it would be nice to give him a round of applause.
C70: Not withstanding the recent series win against Philadelphia, it's been a tough year to be an Astros fan. What is the most encouraging thing for the future that you've seen over the last few weeks?
AC: That they're actually winning. Crazy fact: The Astros have won as many games in September (eight) as they won in 46 July and August games. It would have been so easy to roll over and just play it out. So the fact that they're actually playing reasonably well is encouraging heading into 2013.
C70: From what I gather, the minor league system for the Astros had a pretty solid season. How long before that translates into results at the big league level?
AC: Absolutely. The Astros farm system is as strong as it's been in 15 years. They didn't have a minor-league affiliate with a winning record in 2011, and had six of their eight affiliates over .500 in 2012. I think we'll start to see the fruits of that effort slowly trickle in for next season. I'd be surprised if Jon Singleton wasn't the starting 1B on Opening Day 2013, and Jarred Cosart has a strong chance to make the rotation out of Spring Training. Most of the actual talent is at Double-A and below - so 2014-2015 will be big years for the franchise.
C70: Will Brett Wallace ever develop into the star that he was expected to be when he was drafted by the Cardinals? Or is he just going to be a solid player with flashes of greatness?
AC: Jeesh. That's a great question. I feel as though the Astros really stunted his development over the last season and a half - sitting him against left-handed pitching when they were 25 games out of 1st place. That said, his OPS+ is actually over 100, so he may be coming around. But it's important to remember that he's only had 741 Major-League plate appearances, so it's possible that he's coming into his own - though later and not as dynamic as most expected.
C70: Now that the Cards won't have to face him regularly, could you please reveal what the special secret or spell that Bud Norris had over the Redbirds?
AC: I honestly have absolutely no idea. For a guy with a career .758 OPS against and a 1.42 WHIP against, his domination of the Cardinals is unreal. Against St. Louis he's 7-4 (and he only has 26 career wins), with a 2.61 ERA/1.16 WHIP and a .654 OPS-against. Ridiculous.
C70: How tough has it been to blog about this team? I know that even small losing streaks can make it tough to drag myself to the keyboard, I can't imagine what it was like while the Astros were losing 34 of 38.
AC: The hardest part is trying to have a sense of humor. There's only so many times you can have a post that says "the Astros have lost XX games out of their last XX." Luckily for me, my wife and I had our first child in the middle of that streak, so I didn't see much of anything Astros-related, besides Quick Pitch at 3am. The other writers of Astros County probably now have a drinking problem.
There's room for creativity. I'm working on a post relating the exact moments over the last two seasons that the Astros traversed Dante's levels of hell. That'll be fun.
C70: Which team are you going to be miss the least after the move? Which team are you looking forward to seeing regularly the most?
AC: I have an unnatural, unexplained hatred of the Rockies. So, of course, MLB made them Houston's "prime rival," whatever that means. There is no team I'm looking forward to seeing regularly from the AL, as they play baseball with a silly set of rules.
C70: From what I understand, new uniforms and logos are on the way for next season. Have those designs been released (either officially or unofficially) and if so, your thoughts on them?
AC: That's true - the designs haven't been released, or really alluded to in any concrete way. We do know that there will be a return to the orange and navy, which will be a welcome change. I'm really looking forward to that.
C70: Any final thoughts about the St. Louis/Houston rivalry? You gotta admit, we had a good run there for a while.
AC: It was really fun for a long time. The Astros and Cards finished 1st and 2nd in the NL Central five times in six seasons 2001-2006. Those NLCS(-es?) in 2004 and 2005 were among the most nerve-wracking times of my entire life. I still harbor ill will towards Jim Edmonds. I'm truly and honestly going to miss it.