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The Astros exited the National League playoffs over the weekend, about as
quickly as they came in. This franchise has never won a postseason series,
and over the past five years, is 2-12 in 14 Division Series games.

A disproportionate amount of blame has fallen on the shoulders of the team’s
two best players in that timeframe, Jeff Bagwell and Craig
Biggio
. Bagwell and Biggio have a postseason record that pales in
comparison to their in-season work:


             AB   H   2B   3B   HR   BB  SO    AVG   OBP   SLG
Biggio       44   8    1    0    0    6  10   .182  .280  .205
Bagwell      46   8    0    0    0   12  16   .174  .345  .174


The "Killer B’s," as they’ve been known (along with, at various
times, Derek Bell and Sean Berry and Lance Berkman),
haven’t matched their regular-season work in the postseason, that’s for
sure. And as is often the case when that happens, their intestinal fortitude
has been questioned, with nasty labels applied to them and their teammates.

There’s a much simpler explanation: they’ve faced disproportionately good
pitching in that time. In their four trips to the playoffs, the Astros have
drawn the pitching-rich Braves three times. In 14 playoff games, they’ve
faced Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux three times each, John
Smoltz
twice, and Kevin Brown once. In the other five games,
they’ve seen guys like the 1999 version of Kevin Millwood, the 1998
version of Sterling Hitchcock and the 2001 version of John
Burkett
.

In 14 games, they’ve faced a starting pitcher with an seasonal ERA in the
2.00s five times, the 3.00s eight times, and just once have they seen a
pitcher with an ERA in the 4.00s (Glavine in 1999). The composite seasonal
ERA for all the pitchers they’ve faced–not weighted for innings thrown in
the various Division Series–is 3.16. In a hitters’ era, that’s simply
awesome.

One more illustration. The following chart shows the NL ranking of each
opposition starter in the season they faced the Astros, as per Michael
Wolverton’s Support-Neutral tools:


Year  Ranks

1997: 1, 3, 7 1998: 3 (two starts), 14, 50 1999: 4, 6, 12, 21 2001: 6, 9, 10


Anyway you slice it, the Astros have run into some vicious pitching in
October. It hasn’t helped that before the first two games of this year’s
first round, all the Astros’ previous Division Series games had been played
in good to excellent pitchers’ parks: the Astrodome, Turner Field, and
Qualcomm Stadium.

This shouldn’t be interpreted as an apology for the Killer Bs. They haven’t
done the job at the plate, and no doubt they would be the first one to say
so. But rather than question their abilities, or imply that their lack of
performance says something about their character, look at what they’ve had
to face each year.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by
clicking here.

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