Thursday, May 19, 2005
But then the bullpen came in and did a nice job, with Harville, Qualls, Burns, and Astacio combining for 4 IP and 0 ER. (Mike Burns had looked excellent so far, and I like the 'inventiveness' of having Astacio pitch an inning in what is essentially a bullpen session day for him. Speaking of Astacio, his ERA isn't pretty at 6.88, but his 4-to-17 walk to strikeout ratio is impressive for a 25 year old.)
And the offense showed signs of life late, led by Palmeiro and Biggio's 3 hits, Mike Lamb's 3 walks, and Todd Self's 2 run PH homer in his first major league plate appearance (Congrats, Todd!) The 'Stros loaded the bases in the 9th inning with 2 outs, but Adam Everett lined out hard to Troy Glaus, and that was that.
Couple of news and notes:
Phil Garner says Jason Lane and Orlando Palmeiro will be splitting time. This a blow to my fantasy team, but I don't disagree with it at this point - Lane has seen his late-April 1000 OPS drop all the way down to 707, and his .281 OBP is awful. He's going through the first 'slump' of his career (only because he hasn't played enough in the past to have a real slump), so it makes sense to play Palmeiro a little more (you can't argue with his 349 / 396 / 488 line and solid defense) while Lane works through some kinks. I just hope that Lane wins back the job fairly soon, since Palmeiro is much better suited to a 4th or 5th OF role.
Craig Biggio continues to stay hot with 3 hits last night, but I can't help but be concerned about his playing time. So far he has played in 38 of the Astros' 39 games; the last two years, he's played in 153 and 156 of a possible 162 games. And in those past two years, his OPS has fallen from 775 pre-All Star Break to 744 post-All Star Break in 2003 and 843 to 759 in 2004. In other words, Biggio is 39 years old, and playing a difficult defensive position - he needs more days off, because it's clear that he has worn down in the 2nd half the past two years. This is where Chris Burke could come in handy; unfortunately, he's in AAA. So as much as I hate to do this, I think we need to give Viz (or Bruntlett, I guess) at least a weekly start at 2B. Otherwise we could be looking at an exhausted Biggio in August and September.
Lance Berkman is starting to make me just a little nervous. I'm confident he'll be fine, but he's late on everything - 90 mph fastballs down the middle of the plate become foul balls into the LF stands. He's still only had 34 AB's this season, so he's got plenty of time to pick it up, but if his bat slows down just a little bit, that 6 year / 85 million dollar deal may not be such a bargain; Lance is already 29 years old.
Mike Lamb is still struggling, so I'd like Todd Self to get a few starts at 1B, but I have to give Lamb credit for some tough AB's last night - he drew 3 walks, and saw at least 8/9 pitches or so in all of them. I expect him to bounce back to his career 745 OPS; I just hope it's as a backup corner infielder / pinch-hitter than as our starting 1B for the entire season.
Adam Everett is looking better at the plate - he had 2 hits last night, and could have easily had 4 - his liner to Troy Glaus ended the game, and he also lined out to CF. I hope he keeps hitting hard ground balls and line drives, because early on in the season he kept hitting weak flyballs and popouts; not what you want to see from a guy with his speed. Willy Taveras is sometimes guilty of this same thing. His swing looks a little long to me,
Speaking of speed, how come Everett has fewer SB attempts (4) than Biggio, Lane, and Ensberg?
I had almost forgotten about Nomah! when it comes to next year's FA crop. He'll be an interesting case this offseason - who's going to want to give him a multi-year deal with his injury concerns? I'd love a similar one-year + incentives deal that the Cubs gave him this year. Sign him and Ramon Hernandez, and you've got an offense again.
Tuesday, May 17, 2005
Taveras / Lamb / Biggio / Berkman / Ensberg / Lane / Everett / Chavez / Oswalt
I guess Lamb is a decent fit at the #2 spot - he rips fastballs, and he might see a few more hitting 2nd. I really hope Jason Lane gets it going soon - we need a 850 OPS from him.
Monday, May 16, 2005
However, as is evidenced by the Pirates's recent claiming of Mike Restovich off waivers, there is no shortage of right-handed hitters who can play arguably the easiest defensive position there is (1B) and put up some solid offensive numbers. There's no need to break the bank looking for one. I guess the silver lining to Bagwell's injury is Morgan Ensberg can finally rest easy knowing that he should start pretty much every game at 3B this year, barring injury.
GM Tim Purpura has made, in my opinion, some solid 'cheap' moves in the last month or so, nabbing Tom Martin, Brooks Kieschnick, and Humberto Quintero in the Tim Redding trade. Here's hoping he can make at least one more, and find a cheap RH bat to platoon with Lamb and Self at 1B.
I can't take credit for the idea - this was posted on the Astros ESPN forum, but I kind of like it. The Royals are unspeakably awful this year, and Sweeney is making 11 million, so you'd think they'd trade him without much hesitation. Ideally we trade them something like Lamb and a decent prospect (Rodriguez? Gothreaux? Brooks Conrad? Luke Scott?) for Sweeney, and play Todd Self at 1B for Sweeney's inevitable injuries. Yeah, Sweeney's not worth 11 million, but as of right now we have a pretty gaping hole at 1B and the Royals should be pretty desperate. I think that Sweeney is only signed for one year, so if Bagwell is determined to come back, and I'm sure McLane will give him every opportunity to, he can come back next year to try and cement his Hall of Fame chances (he should be a lock anyway).
Joe Morgan and Jon Miller, the generally excellent ESPN Sunday Night Baseball announcers, mentioned the idea of trading Biggio to a contender that needs a 2B (Yankees?) at the deadline. I think it's an interesting idea, but it won't happen. McLane would never allow it - you don't trade players that you've built statues in honor of out front of the stadium. Clemens, maybe - Biggio, no.
Sunday, May 15, 2005
Backe really had a serious curveball working tonight - if batters can't lay off it, he's going to rack up the K's. He really seems to feed off the crowd's energy at home - maybe that explains his ridiculous splits (4.26 ERA at home, 4 / 21 walk-to-strikeout ratio, 7.54 ERA away, 7 / 10)
Ensberg had a 3 run HR in the 1st (opposite field), and 2 solo shots to LF in the 5th and 8th innings. He's now hitting .325 / .419 / .581 (exactly a 1000 OPS) with 7 HR and 18 RBI, and is looking like the Ensberg of 2003. What's even more impressive is that he did this hitting in front of the fearsome foursome of Viz / AE / Ausmus / Backe. He has to move up in the batting order, hopefully to the 2 spot, because...otherwise....Palmeiro is going to start there a lot. And that might mean a lot of what happened in the 1st innings: Taveras walks. Palmeiro sac bunts to 2nd. It happened again in a later inning, but Taveras stole 2nd first, and Palmeiro sac bunted to 3rd. As good as our pitching has been, it is RARELY worth sacrificing an out for a base, particularly early on in the game. Jimy Williams was particularly fond of that move; I hope Garner doesn't make the same mistake his unpopular predecessor made.
However, the game was overshadowed by Jeff Bagwell's announcement that he will have shoulder surgery next week and will miss 3 months. I had mixed emotions upon hearing the news - Bagwell has been a great player for a long time, and we'll miss him, but if there was some kind of surgery that he could have had, why wouldn't he have had it earlier or during the offseason? Regardless, it's a shame that it has come to this. I honestly don't expect Bagwell to come back at all - will he want to hurry back if / when we're out of contention by the time he can play again?
The big question this brings up is who's on 1st? It looks like the options are:
I'm sure you can guess who I'm going to eliminate first - Viz is below-average offensively and defensively for a MIDDLE INFIELDER, much less a 1st baseman. Every box score that has Jose Vizcaino batting 5th or 6th as a 1B cuts me to the bone.
Of the next 3, I'm pretty tired of moving guys to positions they're not used to (Lamb as an OF, Viz as a 1B, Burke as a LF). So leave Lance Berkman in LF. That narrows it down to Lamb and Self. Man, I really wish they could platoon, but Self has the nerve of hitting lefty. He also has the nerve of putting up .400 OBP's wherever he goes, and he certainly has a better glove than Lamb. I think you see where I'm going here. However, it's true that Self has never played at the major league level before, so he should have an adjustment period. I can only hope that Garner will be patient with him, since Self could provide us with a much-needed OBP boost at the top of the lineup. But wait - you can't have your 1st baseman bat at the top - he has to be in an RBI spot! Well, the Dodgers seem to be doing ok with Hee Seop Choi batting 2nd.
Anyway, Lamb is a known commodity - he'll hit around .280 / .350 / .475 or so (his career average is .280 / .336 / .411, so I might even be overstating his case), which is pretty strong....for a pinch hitter, or a backup 3B. It's not great for a 1B. And his glove is rough. I'm not saying Self will be the next Bagwell, but he just might be the next Mark Grace, and put up something like .300 /.400 / .450. Man, I hope Self gets some playing time, because it's not like Mike Lamb is going to get any better.
Ensberg / Biggio / Berkman / Lane / Lamb / Everett / Taveras / Ausmus / P, while unorthodox, might be our best lineup, though looking at the 6-9 hitters makes my Honey Nut Cheerios want to come back up.
Here are some quotes that I finid interesting:
But Biggio is normally either a leadoff or No. 2 hitter. Why the change?
"I don't know what I'm doing," Garner said. "I'm just doing something different to see what happens."
I'm just picking on Garner here - I don't have a problem with Biggio batting 3rd. But change just for change's sake isn't the best way to manage.
"He's one of our best hitters, so if he gets an opportunity with more guys on base, it'll be better for us," Bagwell said. "I'm not really concerned about runs. What we're lookng for is RBI opportunties.
You're not really concerned about runs? RBI = runs. For RBI opportunities, we need guys to get on base in front of Biggio, which might not happen that often with Taveras and Palmeiro hitting in front of him.
I'll be very curious today to see who bats 2nd in between Taveras and Biggio. I'm hoping it's Ensberg - the only other guy I can see Garner putting there is Palmeiro or Everett, and if Palmeiro starts again, that's bad news for Jason Lane, who's on my fantasy team, and if Everett goes there, our top two hitters will both have sub-.315 OBP's. So put Ensberg there, Garner.
Friday, May 13, 2005
I took my last in-class final today; just need to turn in a take-home final tomorrow and I'm done with my 1st year of grad school. Then I've got a week off before a river trip.
Oh yeah, the Astros are still struggling. Our offense was shut down (big surprise) by Dontrelle Willis, and Andy Pettitte was oupitched tonight by the great Brad Hennessey. Morgan Ensberg stayed hot, going 1-for-2 with a HR and 2 walks, but he made two crucial errors, and our only other offense came from 2 Craig Biggio solo HR's. We're simply carrying too much dead weight in our offense to consistently win games. Just as a reminder,
are the guys we're currently missing. Yes, I know Berkman is back, but he's not really back yet. It's hard to replace that much offense. Damn hard.
Tuesday, May 10, 2005
Lineup for tonight's game against the Marlins, with OBP / SLG after:
Taveras (.320 / .336)
Biggio (.360 / .500)
Lamb (.309 / .486)
Berkman (.167 / .182)
Ensberg (.381 / .433)
Lane (.296 / .474)
Everett (.286 / .350)
Ausmus (.320 / .269)
Backe (.385 / .455)
Maybe Backe should be hitting 7th.
Lane needs to pick it up fast - a sub-.300 OBP from a corner OF isn't going to cut it.
Brad Ausmus will not slug .300 this year. I'm calling it now. 2 extra base hits in 67 AB so far this year.
Better news: Todd Self gets called up from AAA (see comments on the previous post for more info.)
Astros win 2-1 last night, as Orlando Palmeiro (who has really had an excellent start this year, and I would argue he's one of the better 5th OF's in baseball) had 2 RBI's.
Couple of interesting things about the game:
1. Lance Berkman started in LF, and Mike Lamb started at 1B, where I think both are much better suited than if the positions were reversed.
2. Morgan Ensberg went 1-for-3 with a walk, and is sporting a healthy .381 OBP. I wonder if there's any thought to moving him up in the lineup?
There are also a few quotes, both encouraging and discouraging, from a few Astros Daily links:
1) About Jeff Bagwell's shoulder
His arthritic right shoulder is dying a day at a time. He hasn't been able to throw for three years. Now he's having trouble swinging a bat. There's no indication it's going to get significantly better.
"I have no strength left in my shoulder," he said. "My shoulder has gotten weaker year after year after year. I just can't get the bat head to the ball like I could. The pain is always there."
I feel for the guy. As much as he's struggled the past few years, take a look at his career stats. You can't blame a guy for wanting to help his team any way he can. There just comes a point when it the best way to help the team is to step aside.
2) Phil Garner, on the offense:
"You can't generate runs if you don't get on base," Garner said.
YES!! YES!! YES!!!! Baserunners = runs! Out of any single batting statistic, OBP has the highest correlation to runs scored! I love it!
"I'll look on the scoreboard and it's the sixth inning and we have one hit."
Well, that's true...but getting on base isn't all about hits. This is nitpicky, so I'm going to give Garner credit for his first statement.
3) Garner, on the win-now mentality:
The Astros are in a different position than some teams that might get such a slow start and think about going with a youth movement, Garner said.
"Our owner wants to win the World Series," Garner said. "We don't have the luxury of letting [the younger players] learn to play. We've got to win right now. So that's our objective and our marching orders. We're not playing so someone can be good two years from now. That's not the objective."
I understand that it's early in the year, and hopes of winning the World Series are still alive. But let's be realistic here. We have exactly one hitter (Berkman) who is significantly above average offensively at his position. Yes, Biggio and Lane and Ensberg are all solid, and perhaps above average, but not by a lot. I'll grant that we have a strong front 3 in the rotation, and perhaps a strong front 3 in the pen (Lidge, Qualls, Wheeler), but this is not a playoff team. Which of the following teams are we better than: Cards, Cubs, Braves, Marlins, Phillies, Dodgers, Padres.
I would have to vote 0, in all honesty.
4) Adam Everett, on stealing:
Like Phil said, I've got to get on base first," said Everett, who is hitting .210. "It's one of those things. You hit a ball good, it's right at somebody. And you hit a ball good, they seem to catch it."
Everett hits on a big point here - one of the benefits to being a patient hitter is that your walk rate is often more stable than your batting average. Sometimes you're hitting liners right at guys; sometimes you're hitting bloopers and seeing-eye grounders. But if you're a patient hitter and work counts, you should generally be able to walk fairly often.
Backe vs. 'Scuffy' Brian Moehler tonight. Seems like a good night for the offense to do some damage, but I've said that before. I'll take Lane and Berkman getting going.
Sunday, May 08, 2005
Ausmus will catch Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and Brandon Backe, and Chavez will catch Ezequiel Astacio and Roy Oswalt.
Sad as it is to say, it will be a battle to see who has the lower OPS by the end of the season.
Last year: Ausmus - 631, Chavez - 515.
Through 29 games this year: Ausmus - 567, Chavez - 541
Oh, and I thought Todd Self, one of our better hitting prospects (.382 / .477 / .551 ) was a 1B, but apparently he's been playing right field also (It still lists him as an IF on the official roster, but he played RF tonight. Oh, and in case you're liking that stat line, note that Self is already 26 and it's in a hitter's park - Round Rock). It's looking more and more likely that Lance will move to 1B permanently when Bagwell retires, somewhat reducing his value, in my opinion.
For the 4-game sweep: Atlanta 38, Houston 8.
That's all I have to say about that.
Hiked up Mt. Elden today - we lucked into a really nice weekend in Flagstaff, so I tried to take advantage. Went with a guy from the math department who hikes crazy fast, but I kept up with him and even gave him half my Clif Bar at the end. Man, what a guy I am.
I still think we basically have to trade Chris Burke. Yeah, I know, the Astros aren't going anywhere this year, but does anyone not think we're going to keep Biggio around to get to 3,000 hits? Of course we are. So where is Burke gonna play? That's right; nowhere. Trade him for...hell, I don't know. That's the frustrating thing - the Astros have no glaring weaknesses. Sadly, we also have no strengths (in our next rebuilding phase) other than Berkman, Oswalt, and Lidge. Granted, that's a pretty good trio of stars, but we're going to need more. A lot more. And by the time Biggio gets to 3,000 hits Burke is going to be 27. Trade him now for something while his value is high.
And yes, I'm pissed about this past series, so excuse my anger.
Friday, May 06, 2005
Wednesday, May 04, 2005
Tuesday, May 03, 2005
Willy Taveras and Craig Biggio combine to get on base 9 times tonight (Taveras: 3-3 with 2 walks; Biggio: 3-for-4 with 1 walk), but the rest of the lineup went 5-for-30 with 0 walks. Ezequiel Astacio made his first ML start, and looked pretty good, although hittable. His final line:
I was pretty impressed, considering it was his first start. On the other hand, it was against the Pirates.
Chad Qualls took the loss, in a weird 8th inning - the first two runner reached on balls that were more errors than hits, then he walked Ward on 4 pitches, Wilson lined a single to LF, and some other guy blooped one to LF. Then a double play and groundout. Only one hard-hit ball, but a little lack of control. Not that much to worry about.
The Rocket goes tomorrow, then Backe and Oswalt go against the Braves. I read that Berkman had to leave his latest rehab game due to "knee soreness". Crap. Might be a few more days or a week or so before he's back.
Monday, May 02, 2005
Taveras flies out.
Biggio singles. (Should have been called out at 1st - close play though)
Bagwell walks (Biggio steals 2nd on a 3-0 pitch)
Lamb singles, Biggio scores.
Lane flies out to deep center, Bagwell to 3rd, Lamb to 2nd.
Ensberg doubles to LF on a 3-2 pitch, Bagwell and Lamb score.
Everett grounds out
We haven't done much since then, but that's a pretty good start to a game. If Lamb keeps swinging the bat this well it's going to be tough to sit him when Lance comes back. But who do you sit out of Ensberg / Lane / Bagwell? I guess give any of them the occasional day off, and clearly Lamb would be the top pinch hitter off the bench.
Brandon Backe had another interesting outing in the first win (7-3), where he put up the following line:
Backe has managed a lot of strikeouts so far this year (7 BB, 28 K in 30.01 IP, an excellent ratio) , but he's also allowed a .298 batting average to hitters. I expect this number to drop a bit as the year progresses. One thing to note is that Backe is an extreme flyball pitcher (32 GB, 42 FB so far this year), so it is of utmost importance that we start our best defensive OF when he plays (in other words, no Lamb in LF).
The Astros drew 6 walks in that game, which is a good sign for a team that isn't going to hit for a great averae.
Roy Oswalt followed that yesterday with a subpar performance (for him), but he made big pitches when he needed to, and got a lot of help from the offense, particularly in the 5th inning, which went:
Flyout (Roy O)
HR (Lamb, on an 0-2 pitch)
This was also the first time this season that Garner has batted Taveras leadoff and Everett 7th. In fact, the lineup on Sunday (Taveras / Biggio / Bagwell / Lamb / Lane / Ensberg / Everett / Chavez / Oswalt) is probably about the best we can hope for until Lance gets back. I also like starting Lamb in LF fairly often until that happens - although he's pretty much a butcher defensively, left field at the Juice Box is ridiculously small, and Luke Scott and Chris Burke haven't done well so far.
I guess the question now becomes: what happens when Lance comes back? Oh yeah, and Zeke Astacio is set to start tomorrow, so one more person needs to go down.
My opinion: send Luke Scott and Eric Bruntlett down.
This gives you an OF of Berkman / Taveras / Lane / Palmeiro / Lamb (emergency), an IF of Ensberg / Everett / Biggio / Bagwell / Burke (MI) / Lamb (CI) / Viz (super-UTIL), and Ausmus / Chavez at C.
Ideally, both Lamb and Burke would see a lot of playing time, with Burke starting over Biggio at least once a week (I stand by my start-Burke-when-PettitteTheGroundballer-starts), filling in for Everett occasionally, while Lamb gives Bagwell a day off a week to rest his shoulder, and can occasionally spell Ensberg or Lane against tough righties.
Well, that's it, I guess. Oh, and I'm pretty sure Taveras is going to keep starting everyday in CF. He's been a success so far.