Astros know they need to get bats going
Club has struggled offensively, ranking last in various categories
HOUSTON -- This time last week, the Astros were basking in the glow of a three-game sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates that had them within two games of reaching .500 and had made their 0-8 start seem like a distant memory.
All the good vibes and momentum were swept away in a week filled with poor hitting and shoddy fielding that resulted in a six-game losing streak, which the Astros carried into Monday's series opener against the D-backs at Minute Maid Park.
Houston entered Monday with an 8-16 record that is the worst in the National League, but the players maintain the club is much better than it has shown.
"I scratch my head, I'm frustrated and I'm sure the fans are frustrated," first baseman Lance Berkman said. "I have no answers. I think if I did, I wouldn't be playing. I'd be a consultant and go around to every team and fix their problems. Certainly the onus is on the offense -- we have to get something going."
The Astros, entering Monday, ranked last among baseball's 30 teams in runs, total bases, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, extra-base hits, walks and home runs, ranked 29th in hits and were tied for 28th in doubles and 25th in batting average.
Berkman, who missed the first 12 games, was hitting just .211, and fellow middle-of-the-order bats Carlos Lee (.191) and Hunter Pence (.213) were struggling just as badly. Lee hadn't homered in 89 at-bats this year.
"We've been getting hits, but not the timely ones," Pence said. "If we do hit the ball hard, it's typically right at someone. We haven't found any ground-ball holes. Also, it's a pressing thing. You start pressing when things haven't happened and you start trying to do too much. We have to start having fun again."
Houston's lack of power has been staggering. The Astros hit nine homers in their first 24 games, and two players in the D-backs' lineup Monday -- second baseman Kelly Johnson and third baseman Mark Reynolds -- had each hit that many.
"I got a question the other day about the lack of power on the team and the reason we're not scoring runs, and I said that's not the point," Lee said. "To score runs, you've got to get guys on base, get them over and get the big hit. You can go in a game and score 10 runs and not hit a homer. We just need to get on base and get timely hitting. The other day, we got nine hits, the Braves got nine hits, and they got hits with people on base and we didn't. It's as simple as that."
But Berkman said power is vital.
"You can score runs quickly without having to put three or four hits together, because it's tough to do that in the Major Leagues," he said. "For me, the key to being a good offensive club is getting on base and on-base percentage and hitting home runs, and we don't do either."
Astros general manager Ed Wade remains confident guys like Berkman, Lee and Pence will begin hitting like they have done in the past.
"If you look at our club, it's guys with track records and who are going to be successful in this game," Wade said. "We have to face the fact Lance came back with his knee surgery with two rehab games and has done a pretty good job for us, but he missed almost all of Spring Training. Anybody who expected Lance to come back and go off on an 18-game hitting streak is probably deluding themselves, because we do think Spring Training is important.
"The more he gets regular opportunities and the more he can go out there and stay healthy, he's going to find his footing and do what he's always done. It's been a struggle for Carlos, and I defy anybody to say at the end of the season that Carlos isn't going to be standing here with 100-plus RBIs."
Like his boss, first-year manager Brad Mills believes the best is yet to come.
"I'm sensing, just from watching these guys play, there's so many guys that have the potential and have done so many things in the past that when they do start playing to their capabilities, it's going to be pretty exiting, a lot of fun to watch -- not just for me, but for everybody," Mills said. "They continue to go about their work and do the right thing to prepare and get ready to play. It's only a short matter of time before that thing gets turned around and really gets going."
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.