Wednesday April 27th, 2005

What is with all this Cardinals talk? Has everyone forgotten that Houston still has a team? I'm just curious if anyone is aware that the Astros currently boast a team ERA of 3.52, fourth-best in the National League. When Lance Berkman comes back, teams will have to pitch to Jeff Bagwell, so look for Houston to start scoring more runs. -- Billy, Austin, Texas

The Cardinals still are the best team in the division, but I said before the season started, as too many people were writing off the Astros after they lost Jeff Kent and Carlos Beltran. When you have Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Roy Oswalt and Brad Lidge, that's the foundation of an excellent pitching staff that will keep you in games almost every night. Berkman definitely is needed, but I still think Houston will need a veteran bat before the trading deadline in July.

What do you think of Colorado's young hitters such as shortstop Clint Barmes and outfielder Brad Hawpe? Although the record may not reflect it, the Rockies are more than capable of playing with the big boys. If they had a decent bullpen, the Rockies easily could post a winning record. -- Peter Bloomquist, Sedalia, Colo.

The Rockies are a long way from being a winning team. This offseason will be critical for them after some big contracts finally come off their payroll. Chalk this year up to getting some serious playing time for young players, which allows them to figure out who will be part of the turnaround and who will not. One other thing: You're right about getting a decent bullpen, but that's harder to do in Colorado than anywhere else. Because Coors Field taxes a pitching staff so much, the Rockies need a greater stockpile of pitchers than all other teams.

It's not quite true that the Marlins single-handedly are making it seem like pitching is back for baseball. Look all over the NL East, which features such pitchers as Mike Hampton, Tim Hudson, John Smoltz, Brett Myers and Pedro Martinez. With that kind of pitching, any division would seem like a hitter's nightmare. -- Thomas, Durham, N.C.

You're right about the pitching in the NL East. It's been great. Throw in Jon Lieber and John Patterson into that group. It's the most balanced division in baseball. Before the season started, I said the wild card will come out of the East, and April hasn't changed my mind.

With Wade Miller about to come off the disabled list, does it make sense for Boston to trade some pitching for a second baseman to replace Mark Bellhorn? He is only adequate on defense and strikes out a lot. Maybe the Sox can trade for Texas' Alfonso Soriano? -- Steve Landry, Bel Air, Md.

With David Wells out, John Halama goes into the rotation until Miller is ready to come back. The Red Sox have plenty of offense. Bellhorn still takes his walks and is productive for a back-of-the-order hitter. There's no way Boston should be thinking about trading any of its pitching.

To my surprise, and I'm sure I am not alone, Toronto is off to a decent start (10-11) considering how tough the AL East is. The only possible explanation for this is your presence during their training camp. What's your secret and did other teams approach you for your services? -- Matt Lachance, Montreal

I guess I should have tried the Royals' camp, because it's obvious that the Blue Jays were too good of team for me to earn a spot. I just hope they remember me when they divide their playoff shares. Actually, I did have other teams in mind, but the Jays were the first team I approached and the only one after they were gracious enough to allow me in their camp.

How could John Schuerholz, one of the shrewdest GMs, be foolish enough to rely on Andruw "0-for-25" Jones as the cleanup hitter? It also doesn't help the Braves that Rafael Furcal swings for the fences like he's trying to break Barry Bonds' single-season home run record. Will the Braves' bats ever come alive? -- David Fenton, Atlanta

As you know, Schuerholz doesn't make out the lineup, and Jones is prone to some prolonged streaks, good and bad. I've always thought of Jones as an underachiever. Don't get me wrong. He's still a productive hitter, but I don't think he's matured much as a hitter. He still gets himself out way too much and doesn't use the whole field enough. Like Houston, Atlanta needs another bat. No way they go through this whole season with Raul Mondesi and Brian Jordan as their corner outfielders. They'll look for help from their minor league system.

Thank you for referring to a rivalry between the Orioles and the Nationals as a possible "Parkway Series." Every other idiot, including the headline writer of your column, says incorrectly "Beltway Series." First of all, it is the Baltimore-Washington Parkway that runs nearly directly from Camden Yards to RFK. The Washington Beltway does not come near RFK at all, and it is a good 40 miles away at its closest from the Baltimore Beltway. "Parkway Series" is the only moniker that makes sense. Anyone who uses Beltway betrays his own ignorance. -- Larry, Bethesda, Md.

Thanks for setting everybody straight. Now if you could possibly explain the street system in Washington D.C. ...

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