Remember last April, when we were all expressing concern about closer Brad Lidge even as the Astros sat atop the NL Central? Well, those days are over. The Astros are now sitting at .500, a good 7.5 games behind division-leading St. Louis. They have lost eighteen out of their last twenty-six games. May, indeed, has not been a kind month for the local team.
Now, legendary pitcher Roger Clemens has agreed to postpone his retirement - again - to play with the Astros for the remainder of the 2006 season. Will his presence help lift the Astros out of their current rut and get them back to the postseason for the third year in a row?
While Clemens will no doubt be a huge boost to the team's struggling starting pitching, there's still the problem of an inconsistent bullpen. Lidge is still having problems and some relievers are downright unreliable. And it's not likely that Clemens will do much to help the Astros' anemic offense; the club's .256 batting average is 12th in the 16-team National League.
So I'm inclined to agree with Chronicle columnist Richard Justice: while Clemens will do his part and be a lift for the team, he by himself is not going to pull the 'Stros out of their current tailspin. His teammates need to step it up as well.
There's no reason to believe that the Astros can't do it; they came back from situations worse than this, after all, in 2004 and 2005 to reach the postseason. And while past performance is not an indicator of future results, this team was 19-9 just a month ago.
And that was without Roger.