We continue our look back at the 2010 MLB season with part two of our NL Central review.Â Part One can be found here.
Houston Astros (76-86)
The penny finally dropped in Houston.Â Â Â The Astros had beenÂ treading water for several years in the hope that their veterans and a few hardy souls could somehow spring a surprise and stumble into the postseason.
It didn’t happen and, Astros owner Drayton McLane aside, no one thought it would.Â Rebuilding is not a pleasant process but if you haven’t got the financial resources to restock with a few top free agents every year, at some point you have to cut your losses and accept that you have to start again.Â
The Astros finally reached that point in 2010 and parted ways with Roy Oswalt and Lance BerkmanÂ midway throughÂ the season.Â The first half of the season had been terrible with themÂ as Houston went 8-14 in April and 9-20 in May, leaving them 12.5 games out as the calendar turned to June.
From 1 August onwards, the Astros went 32-27 to at least provide some enjoyment for the fans at Minute Maid Park.Â However, many a team has fallen into the trap of mistaking a nice end to an already-lost season as being a sign of genuine progress.Â Â It’s the sort of thing the Astros have done in the past, but the recent announcement that the team is up for sale suggests that they really will be heading into a new era now and making a break from the past.
Just to end on a positive note, credit should go to Ed Wade for his decision to take a flyer on Brett Myers over the 09/10 offseason.Â Â Wade is no stranger to signing ex-Phillies, but in this case it worked out brilliantly.Â Myers pitched very well for the Astros in 2010Â and deserved his contract extension, giving the team a decent veteran to lead the pitching staff over the next few years.Â
Chicago Cubs (75-87)
Another era ended in the National League Central in 2010, possibly even a career.Â Lou Piniella’s tenure as the Cubs’ manager came to a disappointing end with a lacklustre season in Wrigley and it looks like he has called time on his managerial career, although it’s not inconceivable that he could be tempted back if the right opportunity presented itself a year or two down the road.Â
As always, it was an eventful year in Chicago.Â Â Carlos Zambrano was temporarily shifted to the bullpen andÂ then blew his lid one time too many and was sent home after a ridiculous outburst in the Cubs’ dugout during one undistinguished start.Â He pitched well when he returned from exile (and anger management classes) and maybe this will be the event that finally makes him take control of his emotions.
The CubsÂ got a very welcome bounce-back season,Â albeit one shorted by injuries,Â from Geovany Soto, Marlon Byrd proved to be a solid free agent pick-up and Starlin Castro had a promising rookie year.Â They also produced one of the most unlikely stories of 2010 when Carlos ‘scrap heap’ Silva started the season with an 8-0 record and used up all of the Cubs’ luck.
The team picked up when Mike Quade took over on an interim basis for the last 37 games (24-13) and the Cubs recently decided to appoint him on a permanent basis as Piniella’s successor.Â Was it just ‘a nice end to an already-lost season’?Â We’ll find out in 2011.
Pittsburgh Pirates (57-105)
Is Clint Hurdle the ultimate optimist or a pessimist?Â Does he think that the Pirates’ fortunes are finally about to change or does he just think that taking on a job where the last guy lost 105 games is a shot to nothing (lose 100 games and you’ve made a five-win difference in your first season)?
Maybe there’s a bit of both sentiments mixed in, alongside the ever-powerful draw of gettting one of the 30 Major League managerial gigs.Â And aÂ spot of madness.Â
Whatever his reasons, the former Rockies manager has left theÂ bountiful life of being the Rangers’ hitting coach to managing the team with the longest streak of losing seasons in North American sports history (and counting) after John Russell was fired at the end of the 2010 season: another desperately poor year in Pittsburgh.Â At the start of the season, many thought Russell was on borrowed time,Â partly becauseÂ his contract was apparently due to expire at the end of the year.Â It turned out that theÂ Pirates had extended his contractÂ over the 09/10 offseason to coverÂ the 2011 seasonÂ and didn’t tell anyone until June.Â It was a strange state of affairs that sadly summed up how theÂ franchise has been run forÂ much of the last two decades.
Sports fans are unrivalled in their ability toÂ find reasons for optimism and Buccos fans have a few to cling to.Â Â Andrew McCutchen is an outstanding young talent andÂ that was plain for all to see from his performances in 2010.Â Â Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez and Jose Tabata all had their moments in their rookie years, whileÂ Evan Meek had a highly encouraging first full season in the bullpenÂ and James McDonald pitched well in eleven starts after being acquired from the Dodgers for Octavio Dotel.
The Pirates have been diverting money towards the amateur draft and international signings over the last couple of years, which certainly makes a lot of sense.Â That doesn’t excuse such a long period of hopelessness though. The fans in Pittsburgh deserve much better than this.