Mills Needs to Drop Carlos Lee In The Batting Order, And Fast

The Astros' offense has been a nice surprise so far in 2011. Can they keep it up?

They may currently be cellar dwelling, but the Houston Astros stock is on the rise. After an 0-5 start, they are a passable 7-6 since. They may still have a bullpen which resembles swiss cheese and a lineup that has nine home runs, two more than league leader Troy Tulowitzki, but we have some positives to revel in.

Over the last 13 games, they have outscored opponents 62 runs to 49. In that space of time the team ERA stands at a solid 3.3. And that's the offense scoring 4.8 runs a game. 

Even with Humberto Quintero and Angel Sanchez cooling off, Chris Johnson and Bill Hall yet to make it out of the starter's blocks, the Astros offense has surprised quite a few people, currently sixth in the NL for runs scored, but 15th for walks and home runs. 

Sweeping the Mets would give the team a needed fillip as they head off to Miller Park. And strangely enough, the Astros are just two games away from first place in the NL Central, as four teams have a 9-9 record, prompting USA Today to compare the division to Wacky Races. 

As regards the lineup, the old-school members of the class may say, if it ain't broke, why fix it? But as I see it Mills should shuffle the deck before he is forced to. He's been black-balled into dropping Hall in the order, and to an extent putting Brett Wallace in front of Johnson, but this may have always been his inclination, since Wallace is a left-handed bat. 

Last week, TCB's Native_Astro suggested this order: Bourn, Sanchez, Wallace, Pence, Johnson, Lee, Hall and Q/Towles. Angel Sanchez might really start to cool down, but he did lace a knee-high fastball into right field the day before yesterday for a pivotal 2-run single against New York Mets' reliever Bobby Parnell

Wednesday they scored a run on a balk and another on an error, last night they got their first run on an R.A. Dickey wild pitch. They all count though.

My reasoning is that the guy with the BB% of 12.1 should be in the heart of the lineup, and not the other bloke with an ugly 2.7 BB rate (that's Wallace and Lee's rates respectively). Ideally I would also like to see J.R. Towles batting second, but for now Sanchez can stay where he is. Since Hall left with an ankle complaint we may see Matt Downs in at second base over the next few days, and even though we are talking about small sample sizes, Downs does have nearly double Hall's OPS. 

The ideal scenario would be for Wallace to have a season like Daric Barton had last year, but even I do not think the Astros' first baseman will reach 110 walks at a rate of 16%. 

Even more surprising, Wallace's comments on OBP caused a few raised eyebrows two weeks ago sort of suggested that he would not alter his plate approach to draw more walks. Maybe Mike Barnett saw these comments and had a word in the young man's ear. 

Carlos Lee might be having a dream in the field right now, to everyones amazement, but he was an average clean-up hitter even before this regression. Still, whether Mills shuffles the pack or not, the evidence seems to suggest that the Astros will be scoring their runs in scrappy fashion, having just four home runs that have plated multiple runs. 

They rank dead last in the NL in sac flys, with a staggering total of one. 18 games in and they have one sac fly. Something has to give. Either their home run and walk rate leaps up, and they continue to score at their current rate, or they will stop getting lucky, scoring runs on groundouts and errors, and I would rather the former than the latter happened.

Mills will have to do a fair bit of nudging and cajoling, and he should remember when he leafs through his copy of 'Baseball Managing for Dummies' that being proactive is far better than being reactive. 

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