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Friday, September 29, 2023


Astros head toward another weak finish

Astros owner Drayton McLane can’t possibly think this year’s squad has a chance to contend for a postseason berth.

If McLane does, he’s a bigger fool than originally thought.

With Monday’s 5-4 win over the Cincinnati Reds, the Astros move to 49-56 on the season. It was the Astros’ third win in the last four games, but it did little to hide their ugly season.

With Chicago and the second-place Milwaukee Brewers having made blockbuster trades to upgrade their already-solid pitching staffs, it seems a foregone conclusion everyone else is fighting for third place. So why are the Astros pretending their season isn’t a lost cause?

McLane, general manager Ed Wade and rookie manager Cecil Cooper seem to think the Astros can still create some magic. McLane and Wade have given no sign that they’re interested in blowing open the team by Thursday’s trading deadline to start the rebuilding process.

This must be why the Astros acquired left-hander Randy Wolf from San Diego for minor league pitcher Chad Reineke on Wednesday. Wolf, received a no-decision in the Astros’ 11-6 win over Milwaukee on Sunday, and is 6-10 with a 4.79 ERA in 22 starts this season.

Wolf, playing on a one-year contract, has a chance to be a quality starter for the Astros for the remainder of the season, but trading for him is the kind of move a contender makes. The Astros haven’t been contenders since reaching their first World Series in 2005 and probably won’t be until McLane gives Wade the go-ahead to rebuild the franchise.

The Astros could speed up this process by trading high-priced veterans such as pitcher Roy Oswalt, first baseman Lance Berkman or outfielder Carlos Lee; or low-price, quality veterans such as utility infielder Mark Loretta or closer Jose Valverde for prospects to restock their barren farm system. But Wednesday’s trade indicates the franchise will probably stand pat at the deadline and simply play out the rest of the season.

Should this prove the case, the Astros could be setting themselves up for another long season in 2009. This club simply isn’t built to win a division title.

The Astros’ farm system has dried up, and the franchise’s inability to sign many of its top draft picks over the last few years contributed to this. The club has tried to sustain its run through trades and free agency, but some of these moves have failed miserably.

The Astros struggled to 82-80 and 73-89 finishes in 2006 and 2007, respectively. They appear to be headed toward another weak finish this season.

But McLane apparently hasn’t noticed the team’s drastic regression over the past three seasons. If he has, he should at least consider making a few trades to make the team better.

No one is saying McLane has to trade Berkman and Oswalt, two of the Astros’ biggest assets, but this doesn’t mean he needs to stand pat as the franchise crashes and burns its way to another miserable campaign.

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