As happened after the 1980 season, the Astros tried to return to glory after the 1986 season and settle the unfinished business of reaching the World Series. But they got off to a bad start, aged quickly and hit bottom after a few fruitless bids. Old favorites like Nolan Ryan, Jose Cruz, Terry Puhl and Alan Ashby moved on, sometimes against their wishes. But the moves made room for the new decade's heroes.

Changes were taking place off the field too. The Astrodome underwent a facelift which included the elimination of its giant scoreboard in 1988 to make room for additional seating. Dr. John McMullen actively sought to sell the team and rumors of a pending move out of Houston soon resurfaced. After 25 years, the Astros were less stable financially than in the beginning yet the on-field prospects were as stable as they had ever been.

To summarize the frustrating title defense, a look at Nolan Ryan's statistics might explain a lot. Ryan led the league in ERA (2.76) and strikeouts (270) yet lost twice as often as he won, finishing with an 8-16 record. He would have also led the league in losses if it weren't for teammate Bob Knepper, who lost 17.

Knepper's ERA ballooned more than two runs a game to 5.27. The low point came on June 3rd in Chicago when he surrendered nine runs in the first inning en route to a 22-7 loss.  The two pitchers alone represented a 13-game setback from the year before.

Mike Scott won 16 games while Jim Deshaies tallied eleven but they were alone among starters with winning records. The bullpen story was similar. Larry Andersen and Dave Smith had outstanding years but Charley Kerfeld hurt his elbow and was ineffective all season.

Smith went two months before giving up an earned run, averaged almost 1.5 strikeouts per inning and saved 24 games. His ERA was a stingy 1.65 for the season.

The hitters had a somewhat solid year although there were no outstanding performances. Six Astros reached double figures in home runs, led by Glenn Davis who hit 27. Five regulars hit .280 or above led by Billy Hatcher with a .296 average. Hatcher led the team in steals with 53. Bill Doran, Kevin Bass and Alan Ashby all turned in solid seasons at the plate. Hatcher's season was tainted, however, when he was suspended for 10 games on Sept. 1 for using a corked bat in a game against Chicago.

The magic that Hal Lanier seemed to have the year before crashed in around him. Houston struggled to stay above .500, finally landing in third place with a 76-86 record, a 20-game drop from the year before.

The plunge led to the introduction of two young players to the lineup. After trading third baseman Phil Garner to Los Angeles, the Astros brought up Ken Caminiti to replace him. The switch-hitting rookie belted a triple in his first game and showed exceptional range on defense. He shared time with Denny Walling at third.

Gerald Young, a pencil-thin outfielder with exceptional speed, was the other new face. He dazzled with a .321 average and 26 steals during a two-month call at the end of the season. Along with Caminiti, Lanier could now put five switch-hitters in the batting order.

For a team that had everything break their way one year, the odds caught up the next. As a veteran-laden team, the window of opportunity for a title was quickly running out.

By Astro Daily
Alan Ashby, Astrodome, Bill Doran, Billy Hatcher, Bob Knepper, Charlie Kerfeld, Dave Smith, Denny Walling, Gerald Young, Glenn Davis, Hal Lanier, Houston Astros, John McMullen, Jose Cruz, Ken Caminiti, Kevin Bass, Larry Andersen, Nolan Ryan, Phil Garner, Terry Puhl


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