Wait'll next year and hope...

So now it has come - that time that we have dreaded for the past six months. The end of baseball season. No more nightly visits with Brownie and JD. No more astonishingly balletic moves to gasp over, no more unjust umpires to moan over, no more ecstasy of victory or agony of defeat. The Astros' season is over.

The season ended on a high note as they shut out the Cubs, but over the last week to ten days of the season, they had lost the momentum that they had enjoyed since the end of June. Suddenly, they were in a funk, playing with no more energy than they had during the first several weeks of the season when they were truly awful. They looked tired and out of their depth and they limped to the end of the season.

For a while there in late August and early September, I had high hopes for the end of their season. I thought they would at least finish in third place and might even overtake the Cardinals for second place in the division. It was not to be. They finished fourth out of six. Now, we'll just have to look forward to spring training and hope that next year will be kinder to our team. It would help a lot if they could learn to play as well in April and May as they do in July and August.

Meanwhile, of course, the season isn't over for eight teams, as the playoffs loom in just a couple of days. On the last day of the season, San Francisio clinched the Western Division of the National League and Bobby Cox's Atlanta Braves clinched the Wild Card, so Bobby has one more chance to go to the Big Dance before he retires. Unfortunately, his Braves are so hobbled by injuries that it is hard to see how they could go very far, but you never know with a short series.

In the long marathon of a 162 game season, every team pretty much ends up where it deserves to end up, but in a five or seven game series there isn't always time for the cream to find its way to the top. On paper, right now, the Phillies are far and away the best team in baseball, but they don't play the games on paper, and emotion can sometimes carry athletes to highs they didn't know they could reach. I am quite sure that there are no players in baseball who would love to win for their manager more than the Braves would right now, but will that emotion be enough?

In the American League, I must say my heart is with Tampa Bay and Minnesota. Speaking of cream rising to the top, year after year, the Minnesota Twins, with few marquee players and a minuscule payroll, seem to find a way to end up at or near the top of their division. They must be doing something right. Maybe the Astros should pay attention to how they do it.

Maybe by next spring, the Astros' management team will have picked up some valuable lessons from these successful teams. Anyway, we fans will wait till then and hope.


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