Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Back by popular demand...

As I'm writing this the Cubs are down 7-3 to the Reds in the 7th and the Astros lead the Cards 2-1. If both scores hold up we'll be withing A HALF-GAME!! How the heck have we done it?

Well, we've been a little lucky. We've been absolutely dominant in close games for the past month or so. It seems like when we lose we get smacked around, but we're pulling out tons of 1-0 and 4-3 victories, and that's what we need.

Our starting pitching has been The Big Two, Brandon Backe, and Munro 'n Hernandez. But we've found ways to win, and whatever we're doing, I'm liking it. Best of all, if we can pull out a victory for the Rocket tomorrow, we finish our season against the Rockies at home while the Cubs play the Braves and the Giants play the Dodgers. Lovely. I'm actually starting to believe this could be done. And if it does happen, against all odds, a front two of Oswalt and Clemens, with Qualls (who has been tough latey) and Miceli (a little nervous there) getting it to Lidge, who has quietly set the record for most strikeouts by a reliever IN HISTORY, we might have a fighting chance.

Anyway, count me back on the bandwagon. Go 'Stros!

One thing I would like them to at least consider would me playing Chris Burke more at SS or (I like this one) moving Ensberg to SS and playing Lamb at 3rd. Vizcaino, after a hot stretch, has been pretty damn bad lately.

Other than that, though, life is good. More to come soon.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Ok, so it's been a little while. Say...a couple of months or so? Well, moving to Arizona, river rafting, learning how to teach, and starting grad school all combined to pretty much dominate my life for a while there.

Speaking of 'dominating', the Astros were getting dominated for most of my absence, only to turn it around and win 20 of their last 25. Who knew? Now we're up 7-1 in Game 1 of a huge series against St. Louis.

For a while there I had pretty much given up on the Astros. The good news? This allowed me to appreciate baseball 'in general', rather than obsessing over one team. And it reinforced my desire to work in the baseball industry. So that's what I'm going to do. Baseball internship this summer, low-level job after my Master's in Stats, and work my way up to GM. Yup: that's the plan.

I really love my new hometown of Flagstaff, Arizona. It's got a (slightly deserved) reputation of a 'liberal mountain hippie town', but it's aaaaaall right anyway. About 50,000 people (half of those are involved with Northern Arizona University in some way), lots of bars, cool restaurants, bike trails (I've driven in my car about five times in the past month...you can bike everywhere), disc golf courses...it's paradise.

But the real reason why I love this place is:


The guys (and girl...just 1) that represent the new class of GTA's (Graduate Teaching Assistants) are insane. And, the best. No, seriously, they are hilarious, outgoing, athletic...here's an example. The GTA coordinator (this tough Nebraskan named Jeff Rushall who's had all the GTA's over to his house for dinner twice) mentions the math department always does a rim-to-rim Grand Canyon hike in October or November. So now I'm hiking every weekend with two other guys (Frank from NY, Mike from Nashville! the college connection!) just to prepare for the big hike.

Or there's a department picnic, and afterwards all the new GTA's play a round of disc golf (after I begged them to..haha). And of course I win (shot 4-over, not that good but good enough) but some guys are naturals and are talking about playing again soon.

Or there's knotball, a great game we invented that involves a rope tied to a tennis ball that you then have to swing from a knot about halfway up the rope and throw the ball into a trash can. Not the best description, but it's AWESOME. I'm currently 4th out of 9....I'll move up yet.

It's just an amazing group. Think "Scrubs" but with teaching math instead of...saving lives. Not quite as dramatic, maybe, but just about as funny.

Check back more often, if there's even anyone still reading.

And go 'Stros!

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Jack, you ignorant slut. Time to start posting again. We're a half-game back of the Cubs for the Wild Card!

We won our ELEVENTH straight game Tuesday night, as Oswalt (who just became a father earlier in the day) pitched into the eighth inning to pick up his ninth win in his last eleven starts. Carlos Beltran and Mike Lamb once again led the offensive attack. Mike Lamb!?!? Where did this guy come from? (That's right, the New York Yankees) He's 8-for-13 with 10 RBI in his last three games! Morgan who?

Clemens goes against Jose Acevedo to wrap up our season series against Cincy. Such a shame, too... I was getting used to walloping those guys. Rocket hasn't thrown well his past three outings or so, but he's managed to keep winning thanks to the Astros' new found bats. Let's make it an even dozen in a row. Then it's off to Pittsburgh, where we'll play five games in four days. We gotta take advantage there and at least win the series. With our slated starters (Hernandez, Munro, Redding, Backe) it doesn't look good. But who knows? I'm glad to see Timmy back. And the way Backe has been pitching lately, we really could take this thing.
A note about Oswalt: He is in the Cy Young race. Like his team, he has to leapfrog a few guys. But he's definitely in the mix. Consider the other contenders:

Schmidt: It's his award to lose, although he's been trying his best to do just that. He's allowed six earned runs in each of his last three starts, including a thumping in Denver last night. His numbers have taken a hit (3.19 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 215 Ks). Post-All Star ERA: 4.43

Unit: He's good (2.80, 0.89, with 249). His team's not (He's 12-13).

Sheets: Call him Unit, Jr. Check out his numbers (2.93, 1.00, 217). Too bad he also has a losing record (10-11).

Pavano: Who? Exactly. No one knows about this guy, but his numbers speak for themselves (3.09, 1.18 and 16 wins). He strikes out nobody, but if the Marlins pass us for the Wild Card, give this guy all the credit. Beckett and Burnett have better stuff and Dontrelle is more popular, but Pavano has been the ace for the Marlins and the reason why they're hanging around this year.

Rocket: Oh yeah, this guy. Great story, only really really good numbers (3.27, 1.21, 177 Ks). Like Schmidt, he's really fallen off in the second half (4.48 ERA).

Oswalt, meanwhile, has won 9 of his last 11 starts, and has 17 on the year (thanks to that win in relief). His ERA (3.59) stands a half point higher than his career average, and none of his stats can match Schmidt or Johnson or Sheets. More importantly, he's been on a tear down the stretch. Without him, we'd be below the Brewers. If he keeps this up (and maybe if he's the NL's only 20-game winner), he stands a chance.
Random thought: last year, with our season on the line, we sent Jeriome Robertson to the hill, who got precisely one out. We got trounced by the Brewers. This year, if our rotation stays as is, Our last three pitchers will be Hernandez, Munro and Backe. This is not good.
Another random thought: Napoleon Dynamite is the best movie ever. I'm being serious.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Jack, you ignorant slut. Time to start posting again. Don't you realize that the Astros are now... let's see... ONE-HALF GAME OUT OF THE WILD-CARD? Crazy. Just crazy. Eleven in a row for the second best win streak in franchise history. Tied with San Fran at a half-game behind Chicago.

Oswalt pitched well enough for the win and the offensive attack was once again led by Beltran and MIKE LAMB! Where did this guy come from? Oh yeah, New York. He's hitting homers daily and has gone 8-for-13 with 2 homers and TEN RBI in 3 games!

Clemens goes tomorrow against Jose Acevedo to complete our season series with Cincinnatti. Too bad, we absolutely OWN the Reds. Oh well, we got five games in four days against the Pirates next. Keep it rolling...

Meanwhile, Brandon Duckworth and Tim Redding just got called up to join Chris Burke and Willy Taveras as our September call-ups. Taveras has been used just as he should be: as a pinch runner. Burke has been a pinch-hitter without a hit to his name. But he's getting some time at second base, spelling Kent. Timmy will pitch in Thursday's doubleheader at Pittsburgh. Here's hoping Timmy does well. I understand that unless another Astro gets hurt, Timmy will be ineligible for the postseason roster. Just as well. He hasn't pitched well all season, including AAA ball.

A note about Clemens and Oswalt: these guys are definitely in the Cy Young race. Think about the other contenders. Johnson and Sheets must be twins. You can't tell their numbers apart: one has a 2.94 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, and 213 Ks; the other has 2.80 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, and 249 Ks. They are also a combined 22-24. Yikes. (P.S. They also both absolutely own the Braves.) Pavano strikes no one out, but has 16 wins! His lack of Ks and the fact that nobody know who the hell he is will keep him out of contention. Schmidt, meanwhile, is falling apart. He's allowed 6 earned runs in each of his last 3 starts. Clemens, likewise, hasn't had a consistent second half. His ERA is now over 3.00 for the first time all season (By the way, that is still INCREDIBLE).

That leaves Oswalt. His numbers are not great. Nowhere near Randy's or Sheets' or Schmidt's or even Pavano's. His 3.59 ERA is a half-point higher than his career average. But he's got wins. Seventeen of them, to be exact. Most importantly, he's been a steam roller down the stretch. He's won eight of his last 10 starts, and picked up a win in relief. Haha.

It's still Schmidt's award to lose. But if the trends continue (Schmidt bad, Oswalt very good), he might stand a chance. Oh yeah, and he's a daddy now. Congrats Roy!

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Players signed through 2005: Pettitte, Ausmus, Bagwell. Players eligible for arbitration: Lidge, Everett, Ensberg, Lane, Bruntlett, Backe, Gallo, Harville, Hernandez, Qualls. Players for whom we hold an option : Kent, Biggio. I'm not sure what the situation with Clemens is, but I'm assuming his 10-year personal services contract negates his ability to sign with some other team. Whether or not he'll sign with us (I've heard that he's seriously leaning that way) is yet to be determined. He sure likes to wait it out though.

The big question is, which All-Star do they sign between Berkman, Beltran and Oswalt. I think Oswalt should be our first priority. Sure, his groin gave out last year, but this year he's avoided the injury bug and can now be relied upon as a quality ace. A nice, juicy 3-year, $30 million contract would fit nicely.

So: Berkman or Beltran? Their career stats:

Berkman .301 .416 .561 .977
Beltran .285 .353 .492 .845 (182/209 SB)

Berkman is 28; Beltran 27. Both are switch-hitters. Beltran plays tra-mendous defense in center; Berkman looks foolish in left or right. Still, Berkman gets on base at a higher clip, and absolutely smacks the HELL out of the ball. And while his career OPS is more than 100 points lower than Berkman's, Beltran is the talk of the town. Everyone's talking about him getting $12 million per year. No one seems to be talking about Berkman.

I say we retain Oswalt and Berkman. I bet we can get both for around $10 million per year. We all know they'd be worth that price. Despite what Beltran has done for us this year, I just don't see how we can afford him. We could move Biggio back to center (shudder), or call up Willy Taveras next year. Burke and Lane would get a chance to play full time, as we bid farewell to Kent. Next year's projected lineup and rotation:

Biggio CF $3 million
Everett SS cheap
Bagwell 1B $17 million
Berkman LF $10 million
Lane RF cheap
Ensberg 3B cheap
Burke 2B cheap
Ausmus C $3 million

Oswalt $10 million
Pettitte $7.5 million
Hernandez cheap
Redding / Backe / Duckworth / Munro / Buchholz / Qualls cheap

Jack keeps telling me we're screwed for year to come. I don't think this looks so bad.
We are now 2.5 games back of the Cubs and the Giants for the wild card, thanks to a 3-game sweep of the Reds. This afternoon, Kent and Berkman led the offensive onslaught that has somehow ben missing all year. Kent hit a grand slam and Berkman went 3-3 with a solo homer. Both have hit six homers in the last eight games. In the series, the Stros hit 10 homers and outscored Cincinnatti 28-6. We've won 14 out of 17 since August 15.

But let's not get too excited. Like Larry Dierker reminds us in his article for the Houston Chronicle (http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/ssistory.mpl/sports/bb/2771727), we still have a ways to go — and four teams to leapfrog. Still, we have a relatively easy schedule for the remainder of the season. Our next 10 games come against Pittsburgh and Cincinnatti, and we only have three series against playoff contenders (St. Louis 2, San Fran). The Cubs also have an easy schedule; their only difficult series come against Florida (twice) and Atlanta. The Giants, Padres and Dodgers each share two series against one another, so they will hopefully beat up on each other. Florida might have the toughest road — they face Atlanta, Chicago and Philadelphia twice each.

Well the point is, we gotta win. The past three seasons, it seems like we've had major problems 1) beating the teams we're supposed to beat and 2) ending the season with a bang. But it's been a long time since we've been the underdog. I suppose it might be easier — or at least more exciting — to be playing catch-up instead of looking back over your shoulder all the time.

More importantly, though, I'm 21 now. And it's great.