With last Sunday's 3-1 win over the Atlanta Braves, the Houston Astros closed the door on their 2008 campaign.
Given the fact that I was in Dubai for much of the period between April and August, I honestly did not follow the Astros as closely as I normally do. So I really don't have anything too insightful to say about the team other than the fact that, while they certainly struggled at times, they showed improvement over the previous season. They even made things interesting in what, for all accounts, was supposed to be a "rebuilding" year: left for dead after a horrendous stretch in May and June (at one point managing a 5-19 stretch that included an eight-game losing streak), the Astros were able to mount a second-half rally and kept themselves in the NL Wild-Card chase until the last week of the season. (I'm not even going to go into the controversy surrounding the decision to move the Astros' "home" games against the Cubs to Milwaukee due to Hurricane Ike and the effect that move had on the team's Wild-Card chances.)
Aside from the fact that the Astros' 86-75 record in 2008 was a thirteen-win improvement over 2007's 73-89 campaign, Houston also showed a little bit of improvement in their pitching (a 4.36 ERA in 2008, compared to 4.68 in 2007) as well as their hitting (the team batted 2.63 in 2008 compared to 2.60, and that seemingly insignificant improvement was good enough to move the Astros from twelfth in the National League in batting average in 2007 to seventh in 2008). And who would have thought, at the beginning of the season, that new closer Jose Valverde would lead the NL in saves (44) at the end of the season?
I'm merely scratching the surface here - there are folks out there that have a much more informed and detailed insight into the team than I do - but the bottom line is that the 2008 Houston Astros certainly exceeded expectations for the season. Whether it is part of a trend that bodes well for 2009 remains to be seen, but at the very least it shows that, if nothing else, the Houston Astros have a viable and competitive base to build upon for 2009.
With the season over, the Astros bid farewell to catcher Brad Ausmus, who was a fixture of the ballclub for the past seven and a half seasons.