The first half did not go as planned for the Houston Astros, and hosting the All-Star game did not go any better.
Maybe a new manager can turn things around.
Two days after Jimy Williams was fired, Phil Garner takes over a team looking to get back in the NL Central race as the Astros begin a three-game set against the visiting San Diego Padres.
Rather than being at or near the top of the division, as many predicted at the season’s outset, the Astros entered the All-Star break at .500 and in fifth place—10 1/2 games behind first-place St. Louis.
That disappointment led management to relieve Williams of his duties and replace him with Garner on an interim basis. The team will conduct another search at the end of the season.
“The message we wanted to send is that we needed a dramatic change,” Astros general manager Gerry Hunsicker said. “The more new faces, the more new energy that we can bring in here, the greater impact we might make.”
Despite leading the NL Central for much of the first month and a half of the season, Houston went into the break facing a double-digit deficit in the standings for the first time in 11 seasons.
“I had never seen excitement in the Houston sports community like we saw this offseason,” said Garner, who used to manage Milwaukee and Detroit. “Our fans were very excited. They thought we could do something.”
The arrival of Roger Clemens was a big reason for that excitement, and he did not disappoint with a 10-3 record and 2.62 ERA. However, Clemens started the All-Star game in his hometown and was ripped for six runs in the first inning as the NL lost 9-4.
Clemens came out of retirement at the convincing of fellow Houston native Andy Pettitte, who left the New York Yankees to sign with the Astros. Pettitte, however, will go to the mound Friday coming off an unimpressive first half.
The left-hander had two stints on the disabled list and, after going 4-1 in his first five starts, has won only once in his last five. However, Pettitte should be encouraged from his latest start, a four-hit, seven-inning effort in a 3-2 win at Los Angeles last Friday.
“It’s been a long first half for me because of the injuries,” Pettitte said. “It would be an ideal situation for me to be able to stay healthy and try to put together a good second half.”
Unlike the Astros, the Padres put together a solid first half, especially for a team that lost an NL-high 98 games last year. They went into the break two games behind NL West-leading Los Angeles.
“We’ve done a good job,” outfielder Ryan Klesko said. “Generally we’ve been playing really good ball. Obviously we’re going to have to try to improve offensively to go along with this great pitching staff we’ve got.”
Klesko hit just his second homer of the season in Sunday’s 4-2 victory over Colorado. He averaged 26 homers in the previous four seasons.
San Diego’s 63 home runs are the fewest in the majors and its 377 runs scored are sixth-fewest. However, the Padres’ 3.78 ERA is third-best in baseball.
STANDINGS (through July 14): Padres - 3rd place, 2 GB, NL West. Astros - 5th place, 10 1/2 GB, NL Central.
PADRES PROBABLE STARTER: Jake Peavy (5-3, 2.43 ERA). The right-hander is coming off his worst start of the season, and it came against the Astros. He allowed four runs and seven hits with four walks over a season-low four innings in a 5-1 defeat on July 7, his second appearance since spending time on the DL with a strained forearm. It was the first time in 11 outings he’s surrendered more than two runs. Peavy had allowed four runs in 25 previous innings against Houston.
ASTROS PROBABLE STARTER: Pettitte (5-2, 4.14 ERA). His most recent outing was the only time in 10 starts he’s pitched more than six innings. The only time Pettitte faced the Padres, he helped the Yankees wrap up the 1998 World Series as he threw 7 1-3 scoreless innings in a 3-0 victory in Game 4.
OFFENSIVE LEADERS: Padres - Mark Loretta, .323 avg. and 60 runs; Phil Nevin and Brian Giles, 14 HRs; Giles, 55 RBIs; Giles and Sean Burroughs, 5 SBs. Astros - Craig Biggio, .301 avg. and 60 runs; Lance Berkman, 16 HRs and 59 RBIs; Adam Everett, 7 SBs.
SEASON SERIES: Padres, 2-1.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Padres - San Diego is opening a 10-game road trip, which includes visits to Colorado, San Francisco and Los Angeles. … 3B Burroughs is hitting .223 (29-for-130) in June and July after batting .333 through the season’s first two months. … 3B-1B Jeff Cirillo may be in the starting lineup Friday, considering he’s a career .520 hitter (13-for-25) against Pettitte. Astros - RF Berkman, who went 0-for-2 in the All-Star game, has not homered in 23 games, hitting .205 in that span (16-for-78). … 1B Jeff Bagwell is 1-for-12 lifetime against Peavy. … LHP Pettitte is 2-2 with a 6.39 ERA in five starts at home this season.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Padres - 21-20 on the road; Astros - 22-20 at home.
INJURIES: Padres - C Ramon Hernandez (knee), 15-day DL; INF Nevin (knee), 15-day DL; LHP Sterling Hitchcock (ribcage), 15-day DL; RHP Antonio Osuna (elbow), 15-day DL. Astros - RHP Wade Miller (shoulder), 15-day DL.