Originally posted on Fox Sports Houston  |  Last updated 5/23/12
Before the season began, many people thought the Astros in their rebuilding mode were destined to lose over 100 games for the second straight season. The club was without any established hitters in their prime and the new young regulars had not proven anything yet in the major leagues. The pitching staff was headed by an under achiever with a great arm and a veteran lefty who had only been a .500 pitcher during his career. But so far, led by those two pitchers, things have changed. Bud Norris has been living up to all that has been hoped from him and more. Things were rocky in April, but since May began he has won four games with an earned run average of 0.35. Fellow starter Wandy Rodriguez has won four games overall with an earned run average for the season in the low 2.00 range. It may be contagious. J.A. Happ has been superb in his last two starts. With one inning exception Jordan Lyles has been impressive when he has been able to work. And Lucas Harrell has been a solid "hang with 'em" type starter. He has not been as impressive as the big two, but with any offensive help at all has shown he can certainly compete. The bullpen has been "shut down" in close games. And the Astros are 20-23. Yes, that is still under .500, but it is a long shot better after 43 games than Houston has been since 2008. If you remember 2008 was the last season the Astros were relevant in a pennant race. They were not eliminated until September 26 -- after the 159th game. Players on that team included several that are still around in baseball, although not Astros, with Michael Bourn, Lance Berkman, Hunter Pence, Ty Wigginton, Edwin Maysonet, Humberto Quintero, Jose Valverde and Randy Wolf being the most prominent. Wandy Rodriguez is still an Astro. He is the only one. Funny thing in doing my research I was reminded that Kaz Matsui was the regular second baseman on the last Astro winning team. It has been fashionable to kick him as a player the club should have never acquired. Yet, in that last winning season he hit .about .295 with 20 stolen bases. He was good when the club last was. After 43 games that year the Astros were 24-19. They were two and a half games off the National League Central lead. This season they may be under .500, but only four games off the top spot. They finished the season 86-75 After 2008 and prior to this season the 43 game point has not shown the Astros in a good spot. In 2009 they were 18-23 en route to a 74-88 record. In 2010 they were 15-28 and finished at 76-86. Last year they had an identical 15-28 and ended at 56-106. After losing a team-record 106 games in 2011, a finishing mark of 74 to 76 wins would be a tremendous improvement. Before the season began most fans and front office types would have been happy for a finish like that... an improvement of 18 to 20 games. Now, however, that may not be the case. Baseball has a long season and a team's current pace and improvement doesn't always hold. The same obviously holds for clubs that are talented but get off to slow starts. Things tend of even up. However, if the Astros pitchers can continue to show that they can keep games within range, even the offensive holes in the current lineup can be hidden somewhat. No team can be a big winner with the lack of offensive production coming from the Houston corner outfielders so far unless it is picked up at positions that are not usually expected to provide it. Jed Lowrie at shortstop has picked up some of the missing power, but not enough to cover the lack of help from others. At some point Astro pitching may not be quite as strong as it has been. The hitting needs to come around. In the mean time fans can at least be happy knowing this club is on a pace through 43 games to be the best Astro team in the last four years. That would be something to build on.
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