As the 2010 major league baseball season nears its halfway mark, Houston Astros’ observers wonder whether this miserable season can be salvaged in the second half.

The addition of four young non-pitching prospects to the team’s roster last week was somewhat encouraging as they got plenty of playing time and produced some better-than-average offensive statistics. We’re referring to third baseman Chris Johnson, outfielder Jason Bourgeois, catcher Jason Castro and shortstop Oswaldo Navarro.

However, the defense hasn’t been too shiny and the base-running blunders have been excessive, but the reason the Astros didn’t win more games with these fresh faces in the lineup wasn’t entirely their fault.

The real culprits in this offensive-less dilemma can be traced to big-contract millionaires Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee who haven’t done squat to help their team turn things around. And third baseman Pedro Feliz is just another big bust recruited from the Philadelphia Phillies’ scrapheap by incompetent general manager Ed Wade.

Not helping the Astros’ tough situation is facing baseball’s hottest team, the Texas Rangers, for six Interleague games. Their lineup looks like a legitimate “Murder’s Row” with big bats in the lineup from top to bottom.

It’s difficult to determine whether the Rangers’ starting pitchers are good or just able to operate with a plethora of runs each game. Nevertheless, the Texas Rangers’ 46-29 record is their best in franchise history for the first 75 games through Sunday night’s 10-1 whipping they handed the Astros. Texas also is 28-12 at home so far this season.

And Houston’s ace Roy Oswalt was the starting and losing pitcher in that mismatch, giving up eight of those runs in less than five innings. The Astros were trying to win the rubber game of the three-game weekend series at Arlington.

Roy O. got banged around plenty in his 4 2/3-inning stint, giving up a monstrous two-run homer to hot-hitting Josh Hamilton that traveled 468-feet and was the second-longest home run ever at Rangers Ballpark. The blast extended Hamilton’s major-league-leading hitting streak to 21 consecutive games.

The Rangers pounded out another home run by Michael Young and three doubles off Oswalt, who surrendered eight runs in his short stint on the mound, with a season-high seven being earned. Roy also ranks third in the major leagues for getting the fewest runs support from his teammates, which are just under three runs per game.

“I was just missing my spots pretty much,” said Oswalt of his worst outing of the season. “It doesn’t matter, really, whom you throw to, if you throw it over the middle of the plate, you’re going to get hit.”

Remember, Oswalt wanted out last month and said he’d waive his no-trade clause if the Astros would just please trade him to a contending team. But the big question is: What team would want a starting pitcher with a huge contract and a 5-10 record?

If Oswalt remains with the team and continues on the course he’s set so far this season, he very easily could be a 20-game loser. And that certainly won’t look so good on his resume. However, the Texas Rangers have expressed an interest in obtaining Oswalt in a trade. Like someone once said, “If you can’t beat them, join them.”

Berkman also informed the Houston management that he would be happy to overlook the no-trade clause in his contract if it would help the team for the future. Again, what team would want an aging star who’s hit less than .250 over the last season and a half?

Lee might have a good shot at being traded to an American League team that is in need of the designated hitter. But as an outfielder, Lee is a butcher.

Hopefully, the four youngsters that joined the Astros last week can be helpful in straightening out the team. The Astros did split the six games against opponents with winning records that involved the new faces, so maybe the rehabilitation process has already begun.

Johnson and Castro have played the most of the foursome and through Sunday are batting .302 and .313, respectively. Bourgeois was hitting at a .400 clip before going 0-for-4 Sunday and dropped down to a still respectable .286.

Navarro, who was called up when shortstop Tommy Manzella went on the disabled list with a broken index finger, got his first major league hit Sunday.

There’s no telling what course of action the Houston Astros’ front office will decide to take before the trading deadline at the end of July, but with a 29-47 record going into Monday’s three-game series at Milwaukee followed by four games at San Diego, the Astros are headed for a 100-loss season, which would be the worst record in franchise history.

KWICKIES…Sunset Grove golfers Craig Couvillion and Dave Young played in a two-man best ball tournament sponsored by ESPN at Tour 18 in Houston Sunday and won with a net score of 6-under par 66. The local golfers advance to the Regional ESPN tournament in Austin next month with the winner there going to the National Championship Tournament this fall in Las Vegas.

And while on the subject of Sunset Grove golfers, Bob Hood made an eagle-2 on the Par 4 No. 5 hole while playing with The Thundering Herd last week. Bob holed out from 100 yards with a pitching wedge.

The major league’s oldest player, 47-year old Jamie Moyer of the Philadelphia Phillies, made major league history Sunday when he surrendered his 506th home run, surpassing former Phillie Robin Roberts for that dubious honor.

Long-hitting left-hander Bubba Watson overcame a six-stroke deficit to win his first PGA Tour title by beating Texan Scott Verplank on the second hole of a playoff Sunday in the Travelers Championship held in Cromwell, Conn. Watson fired a four-under par 66 in the final round and then won the $1.08 million first-place check on the second extra hole.

Orange native Michael Arnaud finished in a tie for second place in last weekend’s Beaumont Open, which is part of the Adams Golf Pro Tour played at the Beaumont Country Club. Arnaud was 19-under par in the four-day event to tie former Kelly High School golfer Anthony Broussard and collect a check for $5,596.50. Scott Abbott of Dallas won the tourney with 21-under par and won $11,200 for his effort.

JUST BETWEEN US…Former West Orange-Stark all-stater and University of Texas first-team All-American Earl Thomas is wowing his teammates at the next level with the Seattle Seahawks. In the last day of the final off-season minicamp, according to football writer Greg Johns for the Seattle Post Intelligencer, “Earl, covering about 15 yards of field in a flash, made a diving interception of a Matt Hasselbeck pass that catapulted his teammates into joyous celebration. It was one of those rare moments, even on an NFL practice field, where you see one athlete moving so fast that everyone else seemed in slow motion.”
Hasselbeck, preparing for his 13th NFL season, has been impressed with what he’s seen from the speedy free safety. “He’s very fast and he’s a playmaker,” Hasselbeck exclaimed. “In terms of talent and speed, he’s as good as anyone we’ve seen.” Johns summed up what he’s seen so far of Earl when he wrote, “Presuming Thomas is just touching the surface, the Seahawks could well have found the big-play free-safety they so desperately need roaming center field.”