Friday, July 29, 2005

Ezequiel Astacio vs. Pedro Martinez? No problem, says Brad Ausmus. I'll just push a run across with a little suicide squeeze, then end the game with yet another walk-off hit. And he even thought enough to take off his helmet before getting mobbed by his mates.

Something's going on here, folks. Something's in the air. A little magic. I mean, if Brad "Mr. 300 -- Slugging" Ausmus can win a game practically by himself, we just can't do wrong.

In fact, Jack and I worry about Nationals Syndrome. That is, thinking we're better than we are because we're playing better than we are. Make no mistake: I think we have a great team and we're playing out of our minds. But look at our recent wins. Very much like the Washington Nationals back in June. And look what's happened to them. The point? With the trade deadline looming, we ought to make some moves to ensure we keep up this torrid hot streak. Not necessarily drastic, but enough to get things going. After a lousy offseason, Purpura needs to show he can make a move when it counts.

So, I offer my last-minute trade thoughts (Caution: they may differ from Jack's). If I were Purpura (and one time I actually came down with a disease called Immune Thrombocytopenic purpura, so I guess I'm close...), here's what I would do:

Trade Burke for J.C. Romero. Some would say this is tomfoolery. They might be right, since Burke might turn out to be a Marcus Giles-type. Of course, he might turn out to be a Luis Rivas-type, too. One thing's for sure, he ain't Chase Utley. That guy's good. The fact of the matter is, Biggio is still a very productive player at 2B. I want him to play next year, and as long as it takes for him to get 3,000 hits. I'm sure every decent Astro fan will agree with me. Burke has talent, but we aren't getting the most out of him since we aren't starting him everyday at second base. We ought to trade him, not just for his benefit, but for the team's. If we make no other trades, this one will increase PT for Lane, Lamb and the incredible Orlando Palmeiro. Romero is a very good lefty reliever. A great ERA but he's walked a few too many batters to be considered elite. I'd keep Gallo as well (who, by the way, now has a sub-3.00 ERA and sub-1.00 WHIP) to have two good lefties in the pen. (Harville goes to AAA to work on throwing a new pitch. It's called a strike.)

Get Adam Dunn, whatever it takes. Yes, Cincy is asking for a lot. And yes, we could probably get him as a free agent after the 2006 season. But I want him NOW. And we need him--now. Even if we need to give up a lot. Young power hitters seem to be going by the wayside. Besides Cabrera, Pujols, Teixeira and Blalock, how many young sluggers are out there? Not too many. Dunn has a .967 OPS, fifth in the NL (tied with A-Ram and one point ahead of MoBerg). The more I read about the trade market, the more I believe sellers will have to crack in the next 48 hours. The Reds may hold onto Dunn if the find a buyer for Junior (the Yanks?), but I think they will be forced to lower their demands by Saturday. Backe's injury might hurt things, since he's the "proven major leaguer" the Reds have said they need. Backe's got good stuff, but it misses too often. If he finds some control, I bet he has the potential to become a Brad Penny kind of pitcher. But more than likely he'll stay a fourth starter throughout his career. At least he can bat, right? I would trade Backe, Lane and a prospect other than Zeke (Buchholz? Nieve?) for Dunn.

Next, acquire Jose Cruz Jr. I know what you're thinking. And no, I'm not high. I'm not sure if Cruz is on waivers a la Danny Graves or Corey Patterson, but we ought to get him somehow. If we do have to trade for him, I'm sure it wouldn't take much. I mean, the D-Backs freakin' demoted him even though he gets on base 34.7% of the time. That's just about as good as their two big pickups last offseason, Shawn Green (.351) and Troy Glaus (.353). I'm sure he'd love to play for his daddy, and it would be nice for him to play for a team that appreciates him. He's got the right field all to himself. Plus... another switch hitter!

Finally, I'd tell Everett to stop trying to hit homers. Let the big boys take care of that. Stop swinging for the fences and take a lesson from Taveras: Get on base however you can (but good job hitting that bomb off Pedro today).

So, here's who we got on our Championship team:

CF Taveras (.691)
2B Biggio (.836)
LF Berkman (.945)
3B Ensberg (.966)
1B Dunn (.967)
RF Cruz Jr. (.783)
SS Everett (.658)
C Ausmus (.637)

Bench: Lamb, Palmeiro, Bruntlett, Vizcaino, Quintero

Staff: Oswalt, Clemens, Pettitte, Wandy, Zeke, Burns, Springer, Gallo, Romero, Qualls, Wheeler, Lidge

Suddenly this team looks a lot better. The two rookies at the end of the rotation scare me, but both are improving. Romero-Qualls-Wheeler-Lidge is domination. This lineup would get the job done. I hate to lose Burke, Backe and Lane, but you can't get attached to players who -- let's face it -- aren't that great. Besides, something tells me Dunn, Romero and Cruz are a touch better.

Now then, some notes I picked up on Clemens' back is bothering him, but he pitched through the pain on Wednesday. "I was fortunate," he said. "Every time I went out for the warmups, it was stiff. But it came around and I got better."

Backe's injury doesn't seem like it's too dangerous. "It's a little aggravating," Backe said. "I'll certainly be back in a couple of weeks. I just hope it's back to 100 percent instead of 90 percent." Me too. And while you're in the hospital bed, look at your numbers. Hope your walk total doesn't give you a heart attack. Anyway it'll be nice to see what Zeke can do while our hitters are putting up crooked numbers.

Finally, I think I may have another contender for next year's catcher: Robert Fick. He seems to have matured, both mentally and physically, from the "bad boy" of the Tigers and Braves. Chek out this year's stats in 112 ABs: .295/.360/.420 for a .780 OPS. That's good. It's tad higher than his career .755 OPS, but he's just over 30 and seems to have found his swing again this year. Plus it looks like Ramon Hernandez wants to stay in San Diego, and I'm sure they want him there.

Next up:

Friday: Wandy vs. Benson
Saturday: Pettitte vs. Glavine
Sunday: Oswalt vs. Ishii

C'mon Wandy!

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Mike Lamb!

Tied at 1-1, Lamb crushed Ryan Madson's second pitch in the bottom of the ninth inning into the upper deck in right field, giving the Stros a 2-1 win and Oswalt his 14th victory.

The dude has been going crazy: four homers in his last six games. The announcers keep talking about how he's swinging the bat well, he's just getting unlucky with where the ball ends up. I believe it. His stats look terrible (in fact, in his last six games, his only hits have been those four home runs). Still, he's looked decent at the plate lately and I have faith he'll pick up his numbers. Maybe not to last year's stats (.288/.356/.511 !!!), but somewhere in the .750 OPS range.

Tonight he started against righty Jon Lieber, but didn't get a hit until the ninth. He's been starting a lot lately, and it's looking more and more like Garner is going with tandems. That is, he'll start Palmeiro and Lamb OR Burke and Lane depending on the pitcher. Not a bad idea, since Lamb and Palmeiro both crush righties. (A weird split: Lane cannot hit lefties. He's hitting .192 off them! Just more proof that he's actually a left-handed batter)

Word is we're still trying for a Dunn deal (pardon the pun), but it's gonna be a tough compromise for both teams. Backe, Lane, Astacio and Nieve is way too much. I don't see why they would want Lane and I don't really want to give him up. I'd hate to see Backe go -- two rookies filling out our rotation scares me. But something like Backe - Burke - Nieve sounds about right.

If the trade talks fall through I hope ol' Scrap Iron keeps starting Lamb at first. Burke has been playing very well lately, but still appears in over his head. A .630 OPS is not gonna get it done in left field.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Houston 7, Philadelphia 1
Astros record: 52-47

Andy Pettitte continues his July domination, giving up 1 ER in 7 IP. For the month, he gave up 4 ER in 32 IP. Craig Biggio and Lance Berkman each had 2 HR's, and Jason Lane added another. Pretty sweet win. It's a great matchup tonight - Roy Oswalt vs. Jon Lieber.

I just finished reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Pretty good, with a cliffhanger ending. If you've read it and want to know more, check out this link. (Warning: major spoilers!)

It hailed this morning in Flagstaff. You don't normally expect hail at 10 am on a July morning, but that's monsoon season for you.

More disc golf and tennis today. Go 'Stros!

Monday, July 25, 2005

The Astros take 3 of 4 from a slumping Washington Nationals team. We're really looking good at the moment. Andy and I watched every pitch from yesterday's 14 inning 4-1 win, capped by Eric Bruntlett's 3 run HR. Our pitching staff is pretty good right now: Qualls, Wheeler, Springer, and Lidge combined to pitch 7 IP in relief, allowing 1 H, 1 BB, 0 ER, and striking out 9. Oh, and Wandy Rodriguez looked tough, putting up a 7 IP / 3 H / 1 BB / 1 ER / 4 K line. Next up: the Phillies @ Minute Maid, who are a half-game in front of us in the wild-card race. The pitching matchups:

Pettitte vs. Lidle
Oswalt vs. Lieber
Clemens vs. Padilla

Wow! I'll be watching.

Friday, July 22, 2005

I'm back from a river trip, and it's good to see the Astros are still doing well. We haven't made any big Adam Dunn-sized moves yet (though I still believe we'll trade for another bat), and yet we're 49-46 thanks to dominant starting pitching and Lance Berkman, who is now at .314 / .419 / .500 after a slow start to the season.

As of right now, the National League wildcard race looks like this:

Atlanta 54-42
Washington 54-42
Houston 49-46 (4.5 GB)
New York 49-46
Philadelphia 49-47 (5.0 GB)
Chicago 48-47 (5.5 GB)
Florida 47-46 (5.5 GB)

Those NL East teams are sure to beat up on each other quite a bit, but the Braves just got Mike Hampton, Tim Hudson, and Chipper Jones back, so they look to be the ones to beat.

Supposedly the Reds are now asking for a package of Backe / Lane / Astacio / Nieve for Dunn, to which I say NO. I think Adam Dunn is the premier young power hitter in the game, but even I can't justify giving up that much for him. I stand by my proposed trade of Burke / Astacio / Bucholz for Dunn.

Mike Burns appears to have adjusted to the major leagues (3.94 ERA in 16.0 IP, and only 1 ER in his last 10 IP). It's good to see a minor-league lifer get a chance and do well.

Phil Garner says he plans to play Orlando Palmeiro and Mike Lamb more, meaning less playing time for Chris Burke and Jason Lane. It seems like a bit of over-managing to me. You can say that you're playing Palmeiro more often because he's playing well and you expect to him to keep it up, and you can say you're playing Lamb more because he's NOT playing well and you expect him to break out of his slump, but you can't have it both ways all the time.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Four-game sweep at Pittsburgh rights the boat. And we didn't even need Oswalt and Clemens. Zeek and Wandy both pitched well in Tuesday's doubleheader and our offense came alive in all four games, outscoring the Bucs 34-8 in the series. Not bad. Let's keep it up against the struggling Natties.

Peter Gammons reports the Reds are no longer looking to trade Dunn or Kearns. I hope we keep going after him, but we need to make a decision quickly: are we actually contending this year or not? If we are, we ought to trade for another bat. If we ain't, we need to hold onto our prospects (Zeek, Burke, Lane, Nieve) for the next two to three years. Remember, we can always trade for Dunn next year or simply wait to sign him after the 2006 season.

What is going on with Orlando Palmeiro? I knew he was hitting well, but this is ridiculous! He's hitting .312-.372-.505! That's 166 points higher than his career OPS. He's seeing the ball real well.

And Pettitte! He hasn't given up more than ONE RUN in each of his last six starts! His ERA is well under 3.00 and he no longer has a losing record (7-7). Go Stros!

Saturday, July 16, 2005

After a fantastic finish to the first half -- sweeping the Dodgers and Padres -- the AStros climbed back to one game over .500 for the first time in a long, long time. I swear we were 15-30 like two weeks ago. No mas.

Unfortunately, we had to stop in St. Louis this weekend and the results so far have been agonizing. Friday night's game was the best game of baseball I've seen in a long time. (Well, the best since I went to Wrigley for the Cubs-Pirates game that afternoon -- Jerry Hairston hit a grand slam off the fat of the foul pole -- it was sweet!) Check it out. I roll into Piece, home oif Chicago's best pizza, about 9 p.m. Stros are down 2-1 and Izzy is coming in. Game over, right? No. Palmeiro (who is having a fine year as our fourth OF, and probably should be startng over Burke) slashes a double to right. Ausmus bunts him over. Lamb up, two quick strikes. High and outside pitch from Issy and Lamb pokes it over to left field just deep enough for the run to score. Textbook.

Thirteenth inning: Lamb up again with two on, two out. Bloops a single that scores a run. Game over, right? Well, Russ Springer agaisnt the heart of the Cards lineup doesn't sound too safe. Springer walks Eckstein but gets two quick strikes on Edmonds. At 2-2, Springer throw an inside breaking ball that Edmonds chases and whiffs. One down! At this point, I almost want to walk Pujols. Larry Walker's hitting cleanup, amybe he can bounce into the GIDP. Garner elects to bring in Chad Harville who's throwing heat, 97 mph. Pujols fouls a few back, then pops up to left. Except the ball keeps going deeper and deeper.

I thought there was something suspicious when Pujols dropped his bat and started walking to first. I didn;t know why Garner wanted to bring in a flame-thrower to face Pujols, the guy crushes fastballs. But when Harville dropped his head I knew something was awry...

Taveras and -- I think it was Berkman in left now -- converge near the dugout in left-center. Their eyes are glued on the ball and Berkman's yelling at TAveras to take it. Taveras takes a few small steps towards the wall and leaps up and over. He twists his wrist back and tries to backhand the ball with his left hand. And I swear if I didn't see the ball hit his glove and disappear for a split second. Then the ball dropped into the bullpen for the walkoff home run.

I was crushed. But what a game. Tonight I couldn't watch the game. I was busy playing beach ultimate all day. Which rocked. But apparently Oswalt gave up 4 runs (three on a Walker homer). Marquis pitched eight, serving up a two-run Ensberg blast in the first (Is it too soon to start taking him for granted?). But that was it. Ensberg also hit into a costly double play with two on and one out. We only managed six hits and never really threatened.

Clemens goes tomorrow against -- gulp! -- Chris Carpenter, the NL All-Star Game starter. MIght go another 13 innings, this time scoreless.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

I made a long post about the Adam Dunn rumors, and Blogger decided to screw me yet again. Here's the gist of it:

Adam Dunn is a very, very valuable property, just had a 956 OPS, 108 walks, and 46 HR's last year AT AGE 24, and his most similar player (according to baseball-reference) is Reggie Jackson. I also think that based on his stated desire to play in Houston we should be able to sign him to a long-term deal. A team built around Berkman / Oswalt / Dunn / Lidge / Ensberg and filled in with cheap, young, role players could be an excellent one.

Who should we be willing to trade? Well, in order of guys I'd least like to trade:

1) Ezequiel Astacio - his trade value is quite low right now, and hidden behind his ugly ERA so far in the majors is an excellent BB / K ratio. Plenty of pitchers struggle in their first exposure to the big league.
2) Fernando Nieve - He's young, and has excellent minor league numbers.
3) Chris Burke - I don't think this is a great fit with the Reds, but I wouldn't mind trading Burke to get Dunn if that's what it takes. Burke is still not hitting much and there is simply no space for him to play here. He is not a left fielder.
4) Jason Lane - I was a big Jason Lane fan coming into the year, but we're 83 games in and he still is'nt drawing walks and has a sub-.300 OBP. Good power, but not Dunn-like. Oh, and he's 29 years old. Not a youngster.
5) Taylor Bucholz - his 6-0 record at AAA is misleading - his rate stats are ugly.

So I guess my ideal trade would be Burke, Lane, and Bucholz for Dunn. Keep Dunn in LF (where he's been above-average for his career), move Berkman to RF (where he's also been above-average), and find a 1B (Self, Lamb, trade for Aubrey Huff, Ryan Howard, etc.).

My main point is that as good as Dunn is, we shouldn't trade ALL our pitching prospects to get him. Just most of them, if we have to, because 25 year-olds with the potential to put up 8 years of 1000-OPS seasons in a row are fairly rare.