Sunday, August 28, 2005

Do you think Roger Clemens has any second thoughts about postponing retirement?

Clemens needs to learn how to hit home runs. 'CAUSE NOBODY ELSE ON THE TEAM CAN SCORE ANY RUNS. Honestly, it's not funny any more. I don't know if our hitters think they can just take the day off when Clemens pitchest, but this is just getting out of control.

The Stros lost 1-0 to the Dodgers today, their fourth loss on the six-game road trip and their 14th loss in their last 23 games. This is not good.

Clemens went six innings, allowing four baserunners, lowering his ERA to 1.51. He is far and away the best pitcher in the majors, yet somehow the Astros are now 13-14 in his 27 starts. Is that even possible? Is this the Twilight Zone or something? I used to feel confident for Clemens' starts. Now I cringe.

This was a sad game to watch. The Astros got seven hits (three more than the Dodgers), took no walks and struck out 10 times -- all by Jeff Weaver. Granted, our lineup consisted of Palmeiro, Lamb, Vizcaino and Bruntlett today, but that's not an excuse.

Ensberg needs to end his skid. He has three hits in his last 39 ABs. Dierker notcied that he's kicking his right leg out from under him when he swings -- as if he's trying to hit the ball harder than normal.

Luckily the Marlins and Mets both lost today, so we stay even with both of them. The Phillies play later tonight against the now-god-awful D-backs.

An interesting turn of events in the seventh inning: Biggio came up in to pinch hit and got hit by the pitch. Weaver's fastball was well inside, and Biggio turned away from it. The pitch hit him on the elbow, and Biggio started trotting toward first base. Them umpire Doug Eddings furiously called him back to the plate, claiming he didn't try to avoid the pitch. Biggio later flew out to right and got ejected by yelling at Eddings oin his way back to the dugout. Garner, trying to fire up his anemic offense, also got tossed.

This call was bogus. Biggio definitely made enough of an effort to be considered "avoiding the pitch." Yes, he could have avoided the pitch altogether, but Biggio's a smart ballplayer, and any smart ballplayer will take a pitch off the arm to get on base (especially in the late innings). Disirregardless, the rule doesn't say you have to do everything in your power to avoid getting hit. It says you have to make an effort to get out of the way, which Biggio did.

But this episode is not the major issue here. The major issue is our horrendous offense, especially on the road. We're hitting a collective .239 / .303 / .374 on the road. That is AWFUL.

We don't have a particularly easy schedule the rest of the way. We have five games left against the Cardinals, six against the Cubs, four against the Marlins and three against the Phillies. And thirteen against the rest of our division. Those are must-win games.

Day off Monday. Time to regroup and find our groove. Gotta bring it.

Friday, August 26, 2005

It's Andy Pettitte (11-9, 2.67) vs. Derek Lowe (8-12, 4.20) tonight as the Astros start a 3-games series with the Dodgers.

The Dodgers are coming apart at the seams - Milton Bradley and Jeff Kent don't like each other (big surprise), they've been hit hard by injuries (J.D. Drew, Eric Gagne, Jose Valentin, Bradley for a while), and their bullpen has been awful. But their starting pitching is still decent - the Astros will face D. Lowe, prospect Edwin Jackson, and underrated Jeff Weaver in this series (we miss Odalis Perez and Brad Penny).

I don't have any more comments except that we need to win, and win often.

Uh oh:

Brad Ausmus wants to return.

Ugh, ugh, ugh. I'd be the first to admit that Ausmus has been better than I expected this year. In fact, he has a .348 OBP! But he also has a grand total of 14 extra base hits all year, is 36 years old, isn't as good defensively as he used to be, and....well, he's Brad Ausmus. The Astros don't have the offense they once did, and if this is true:

When Purpura begins building next year's team, power from the catcher position won't be a priority...The Jason Variteks of the world are few and far between, and Purpura would gladly take a cerebral catcher over one that hits in the middle of the order.

Crap crap crap. Another year of Ausmus? Say it ain't so.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Jake Peavy outdueled Roger Clemens last night in a 2-0 win. Clemens gave up both of the runs, the most runs he'd given up in a road start all year. Read that last sentence again. Clemens gave up both runs to Brian Giles (on a RBI single in the 1st and a solo HR in the 8th), one of the players I'd like to see the Astros pursue the offseason.

You can see his career numbers here if you'd like, but I'll give you the important ones:

Brian Giles, OF, 34, Bats:L, Throws: L

OPS+ the last few years:

2002: 173
2003: 146
2004: 128

Looks like a bad trend, huh? Not so fast. Giles is playing half his games in the best pitching park in baseball, which drags his offense down. For example, this year he's hitting only .256 / .379 / .404 (which would still be a huge upgrade at LF for us), but a monstrous .327 / .456 / .562 on the road, with 34 extra base hits and 55 walks! That's big time. He's also above-average defensively in either OF corner (he played CF for the Pirates for a year or two), hits lefties well enough to avoid being platooned (career 809 OPS vs. LHP, 1011 OPS vs. RHP), and has a career 925 OPS at Minute Maid Park. What's not to like?

Well, he is going to be 34 next year. That's why, if we do sign Giles, I hope it's a 3-year contract at most, preferably a 2-year deal (maybe 2 /18 or 3 / 24?). We don't have any high-level OF prospects, Chris Burke cannot hit enough to be a major-league left fielder, and Adam Dunn won't be a free agent for a few more years. This signing assumes Lance Berkman moves to 1B permanently, because I don't see how Jeff Bagwell can ever throw well enough to be a 1B again. Pinch-hitter? Maybe. Turning the 3-6-3 double play? I can't see it. Giles also gives us another power lefty bat, which we need to help out Berkman. All our other power hitters (Biggio, Ensberg, Lane) are right-handed. I've heard Giles would like to sign with ATL to play with his brother Marcus, but the Braves have a ton of young OF's that are getting playing time, and they may not be willing to show Giles the money. Playing in Houston would at least put him a little closer to Atlanta.

I'd also like the Astros to try and trade for Braves catcher Johnny Estrada. Estrada had a career year last year, putting up a .314 / .378 / .450 line in his first major league season (including an insane .351 / .407 / .498 line away from Turner Field). Estrada will be 29 by the start of the '06 season, but he doesn't have much wear and tear (only 332 games in his career), and he won't be arbitration-eligible for another 3 years, which means he'll come relatively cheap. So why would the Braves trade him? Well, Estrada's been hurt some this year, and his back-up, excellent prospect Brian McCann, has been awesome, putting up an 800 OPS in his first exposure to major-league pitching. The Braves don't need Estrada. Who could we trade for him? Well, that's kind of Purpura's job, but some combination of Brooks Conrad / Taylor Bucholz / Wandy Rodriguez might do the trick. Hopefully we don't have to give up Fernando Nieve.

Anyway, Estrada is a switch-hitter but he doesn't hit lefties that well, which means he and Quintero could form an excellent catcher platoon. Catcher is a position where you don't necessarily want a guy getting 90% of the at-bats; it's simply too hard on the body. In Estrada's 2004, for example, he faded badly in September and October (603 and 667 OPS, respectively). A 70% Estrada / 30% Quintero platoon would be sweet.

Finally, I think the Astros really need a solid 3rd / 4th starter behind Oswalt / Pettitte (I have no idea what Roger Clemens will do - obviously he can still pitch at a very high level, but he's earned the right to do whatever he wants) who can give them 200 innings of around a 4.00 - 4.50 ERA and isn't much of an injury risk. My recommendation? Paul Byrd. Yep, that Paul Byrd. He's put up 3.90, 3.94, and 3.92 ERA's the last 3 years in almost 6o0 innings; he doesn't walk many guys (79 over that span), and he's been pretty healthy the last few years. Like Giles, he has the downside of being 35 years old when the '06 season begins. But he's been solid, and we could probably get him for 2 years / 10 million or so. Unlike Giles, there are similar players also available (the entire list of FA's is here), such as Kevin Millwood, Esteban Loaiza, or Brett Tomko, but I think Byrd is the best value.

Finally, for the 3rd straight year, Craig Biggio has slowed down in the 2nd half (this year he had an 847 OPS in the first half, 686 since). It is simply unreasonable for a 39 year old 2nd baseman with almost 10,000 career AB's to be great all year. HE NEEDS MORE DAYS OFF. Luckily, our top prospect Chris Burke, plays 2B, so start him there more often!! At least once a week (when grounball pitcher Andy Pettitte starts, ideally), if not more.

And that's about it actually. Giles, Estrada, and Paul Byrd. A motley crew, huh? That makes our lineup next year

Taveras
Biggio / Burke
Berkman
Ensberg
Giles
Lane
Estrada
Everett
P

That's not too bad at all. I like the 2/3/4/5/6/7 right-lefty balance. I wanted to see if there was a better SS available, since Everett is having a rough year, but only Furcal or Nomar would be a big upgrade. I say we stick with him one more year.

Our rotation would be something like

Oswalt
Pettitte
Byrd
Backe
Astacio

which isn't nearly as good as this past year's, but you could reasonably expect ERA's of 3.00, 3.50, 4.00, 4.50, and 5.00 from that group, which would keep up in games.

A bullpen of

Lidge
Wheeler
Qualls
Burns
Harville / Springer (yuck)
Wandy Rodriguez / Gallo

is solid, too.

Well, that's about it. I know it's early to already be talking about the offseason when we're in the thick of a playoff race, but I like looking ahead.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

After a 6-7 homestand against the Cubs and Brew Crew, we fell out of the Wild Card lead. But thanks to a 6-2 win over Woody Williams and the Padres, we're back in front of the Phils and Marlins, albeit by a half game.

A couple good things: it's nice to see us win games when our pitchers don't have their A game. Both Pettitte and Oswalt struggled a bit, having to escape jams in multiple innings. We'll say they both brought their B-plus game. It's nice to see we can win when our pitchers give up a few runs.

It's also nice to see us scoring runs when either Ensberg or Berkman doesn't contribute (Ensberg didn't play in Sunday's 8-3 win over the Brewers). Burke has brought it lately. He went 3-for-4 with a three-run homer and two doubles in that win. He's slugging .529 in 51 August at-bats. Willy T has been tearing it up lately. He has a pair of hits in his last three games, and his August line -- .337 / .382 / .361 -- is very good for a leadoff man.

And it's nice to see Berkman finally regain some power. He hit only his 13th homer yesterday and brought his OPS back over .900 with a pair of doubles.

Bagwell's been taking batting practice, and apparently feels comfortable with his swing. But I wonder if he can possibly play first while lacking the ability to throw a baseball. I guess it can't hurt us that bad...

Dierker reported during the game yesterday that Backe's coming back and Wandy's heading to the bullpen. It was a hard choice to make between Wandy and Zeke (After all, Wandy's won EIGHT GAMES!), but both JAck and I think it was the right decision. Their stats are very comparable:

Wandy: 90.2 IP, 5.96 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, 62 Ks, 42 BBs, 101 hits, 16 homers
Zeke: 58.0 IP, 6.21 ERA, 1.59, 50 Ks, 19 BBs, 73 hits, 19 homers

In short, Wandy walks too many but Zeke gives up too many hits, particularly homers. Wandy has been more consistent, pitching further into the game. But Zeke has gone out and shut down teams on a number of occasions. He's got better potential for the here and now. Plus it is nice to have another lefty in the pen.

Biggio is awesome at home, with a .942 OPS. Burke, meanwhile, has a better OPS on the road (.691), which makes you realize how bad Biggio has been away from the Juicebox.

Jack has some ideas for the offseason. They involve Brian Giles and Johnny Estrada.

Incredible matchup tonight: Clemens vs. Peavy. Lots of Ks. If the over/under is 20, I'm taking the over.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

It's now how you play the game, it's if you win or lose

I went to the Astros game last night with my best friend and the folks. Mom 'n Dad had tickets to the Commodore Club box seats (they both went to Vanderbilt and have contributed to the university...or something along those lines), and JT and I had excellent seats about 10 rows back in right field. We were pretty close to either Jason Lane or Geoff Jenkins (whom JT repeatedly said that he hates. Not dislikes...HATES. I think due to years of Jenkins getting hurt on JT's fantasy team.) at all times.

So we get to the game, get to our seats, it's not that crowded, the weather's nice (after the sun stops shining directly into our eyes)...life's good. And then our offense changes all that. Well, we had some chances. Biggio singled and Berkman walked in the 1st, but Ensberg lined into a DP to end it. Lane led off the 2nd with a double, but Everett (who has looked awful. AWFUL.), Burke, and Ausmus do nothing. Then Doug Davis kinda dominated for a bit (he ended with 8 K's). But Zeke Astacio was matching him. It was the first time I'd seen Astacio pitch live, and I was fairly impressed. He has good life on his pitches, and he throws strikes. The occasional downside to throwing strikes is good major league hitters can often hit strikes. Astacio gave up some hard hit balls, but thanks to 5 K's in the first 3 innings he managed to stay out of trouble. But a leadoff double by Corey Hart and a single by Overbay gave the Brewers a 1-0 lead. This lead was starting to look insurmountable...until the bottom of the 7th.

Oh, at this point JT and I had switched seats with the padres and were up in the box seats. Har to beat free chicken tenders and beer. We got a few funny looks but I'm a Vandy grad and JT was my 'cousin' for the day so we weren't too worried. Anyway, in the 7th - two quick outs on Lane and Everett. Then Chris Burke lines a single to LF. Ausmus coaxes a walk. ("That's bad, Davis. BAD." -JT) Yost comes out and brings in K. Davis. (I don't know his first name.) Jose Vizcaino pinch-hits. Yes, he's my nemesis, and yes, I despise him, but he's a singles hitter who doesn't strike out too often. Maybe he'll get lucky. He fouls off a few pitches. The place is ROCKING. It's loud. Then Viz hits a hard ground ball....up the middle! Burke scores!! So it's 1-1. Taveras comes up. Ausmus made it to the 3rd on the single...and scores on a wild pitch on the first pitch of the at-bat! YEAH! 2-1, Stros. Taveras lunges at a few pitches (JT and I both noticed his disturbing tendency to flail at pitches. It's hard enough to hit major league pitches if you're not falling forward. Taveras also has a really long swing for a guy that gets no power whatsoever. He's only 23 and this is his first season in the majors, but he needs to work on a few things.) but manages to walk. Biggio up, 1st and 3rd, 2 √łut. I tell JT that Biggio absolutely has to take a few pitches, because Davis can't throw strikes. Biggio hits a slow ground ball to the right side of the pitcher's mound, and as Davis comes over and looks to throw to Overbay, Biggio kind of puts his arms up and the throw hits him the left hand! Viz scores! 3-1, Stros. Ned Yost comes out and argues for a bit, and I don't blame him. Biggio said after the game he was trying to avoid being tagged by Overbay, but I don't buy it. It was a cheap move, but we'll take it. Berkman comes up and lines out to CF on the hardest hit ball all inning (well, maybe Burke's single). Then in the bottom of the 8th, Ensberg works a walk, and Jason Lane jumps on a high fastball which he hits just above the yellow line in left-center. 2 run bomb! 5-1, Stros. Springer, Gallo, and Wheeler combine for 3 scoreless innings, and Mike Burns comes in in the 9th...and gives up a massive 2 run HR to mighty Damian Miller. Oops. Then it's Lidge time - game over. 5-3, Astros.

I basically found out my class schedule for Fall 2005. I'm teaching two Intro to Statistics courses (sweet), and taking three classes (two Stat, one Math). My MWF days are really busy (8 am - 3pm), but I have nothing on TR except a class that I teach at 5:30 pm. I'm trying to figure out what to do on TR morning (and early afternoons). Possible options:

Tennis
Disc golf
Poker
Run
Study

Probably some combination of all five. It's looking like it should be a good semester. I start on Monday.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Feast or famine (usually famine)

Our offense goes crazy in the first game of the series against the Cubs, scoring 12 runs, and then we score a combined 3 runs for Andy Pettitte and Roy Oswalt. Greg Maddux and Carlos Zambrano are good pitchers, but we must do better.

Richard Justice has simple advice for Phil Garner: Play Jason Lane every day. Rock on, brother.

Lance Berkman has some bewildering comments in the paper:

"I think it's pretty obvious we're going to go the way of our starting pitching...When you're facing a guy like Zambrano or Maddux, I mean our guy is going to have to throw either two runs or less...We really need our starting pitching to step up."

Um, Lance? SCREW YOU. The starting pitching has carried this team for months. Oswalt + Clemens + Pettitte have been dominant. You, on the other hand, blew out your knee, missed a month and a half, and haven't hit for much power this year: a career-low .478 SLG%, only 36 extra-base hits in 322 AB's, including a whopping .265 SLG% in August. How about you freakin' step up, Lance?

Phil Garner in today's paper:

"This is our calm before the storm. I see it now...We're building our steam. We're ready to boil."

I really wish Garner would occasionally speak literally instead of using metaphors. Who, exactly, is 'ready to boil'? Craig Biggio and Lance Berkman are slumping. Morgan Ensberg can't carry the offense by himself. Mike Lamb has been hitting like a backup catcher this year. Adam Everett is well below a .700 OPS. But wait...Garner can 'see it now'. Ooookay.

Roy Oswalt gives a sneak peek on how frustrating it can be to be an Astros starting pitcher this year:

"Right now if you give up two runs you feel like you're fighting uphill for the rest of the game. The rest of the game there's not a lot of margin for mistakes."

I was at the Pettitte-Maddux game two nights ago. It was a great atmosphere; almost a sellout, and fans for both teams were vocal. The most exciting moment of the game was Willy T's leadoff triple (man, he is FAST). Unfortunately that was it for the excitement. I still love going to the games, though. There's just something extra.

I watched "A Beautiful Mind" for the first time in 4 years last night. What a great movie. It boils down to the human mind's ability (its need, really) to find patterns in EVERYTHING, something I can identify with. We need to see trends, patterns, data, numbers. There's always a pattern, right? Well, sometimes there is, but often there isn't. But we certainly like there to be patterns. Recognizing chance or luck or randomness isn't nearly as satisfying. Sometimes, however, you have to force yourself to NOT look too closely at something. To accept the fact that there is no pattern. It's hard to do, believe me - I'm studying statistics! But I think most statisticians would agree that the human mind sees TOO MANY PATTERNS.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Well, crap.

Getting shutout in 2 straight games at home against the Pirates sucks. This reminds me of the beginning of the year. Our lineup yesterday included Chris Burke, Eric Bruntlett, Jose Vizcaino, Adam Everett, and Brad Ausmus. That's all that needs to be said.

Some late information:

Astros LF/2B Chris Burke was not part of a proposed deal that would have brought Mariners lefthanders Jamie Moyer and Ron Villone to Houston. The Mariners' package likely would have included RH reliever Chad Harville, RH starter Ezequiel Astacio and at least one other prospect, but Moyer nixed the trade by invoking his no-trade rights. . . .

Wow. Harville, Astacio, and one other prospect for Moyer and Villone? Unless the other prospect was Hunter Pence or Brooks Conrad, that sounds like a great deal for the 'Stros, even if Moyer and Villone are both rentals. Harville can't throw strikes and Astacio only gives up home runs. Ok, that's a little unfair, but at the moment both look unlikely to even be average major leaguers, and plugging in Moyer and Villone to a rotation that includes two rookies with ERA's around 6 would have been real nice. Can't fault Moyer for rejecting the trade, though - he's 43, and his family likes Seattle.

Also, Roger Clemens wins Game 7 of the World Series against the A's this fall, and it's offseason time, one guy I hope we go after is Bengie Molina. Yes, that Bengie Molina. (Assuming we can't land Ramon Hernandez.) He's a free agent, and yeah, he's 31, but he rips on lefties, is solid defensively, and blocks a lot of balls that might get past other catchers because he's wide. Yep, he's your big boy. Ideally I would play him against LHP and sign another lefty catcher cheap to play against most RHP's. Catcher seems like a good position to platoon as much as possible, anyway. Maybe someone like Mark Johnson of the A's?

I'm flying home to Houston tonight, and I should be going to the Andy Pettitte - Greg Maddux matchup tomorrow. That's a heck of a game; we need to start winning a lot from here on out. And we need some offense. If Garner goes with Taveras / Biggio / Berkman / Ensberg / Lane / Palmeiro / Everett / Ausmus for the rest of the year, I'll take it. Every time I see Burke, Bruntlett, or Lamb, it makes me cringe.

Glendon Rusch vs. Wandy Rodriguez tonight at 8:05.

Some of the Astros' numbers against Rusch:

Lance Berkman, 5-25, 1 2B, 1 HR, 6 BB, 715 OPS
Craig Biggio, 9-40, 1 3B, 4 BB, 586 OPS
Brad Ausmus, 6-27, 1 2B, 2 HR (!), 731 OPS
Morgan Ensberg, 9-22, 2 2B, 1 3B, 0 BB, 1000 OPS
Adam Everett, 2-13, 1 2B, 0 BB, 385 OPS (ouch)
Jason Lane, 4-14, 1 2B, 1 HR, 2 BB, 946 OPS (please let him start)

Let's go 'Stros!

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Tough 6-5 loss for the Astros last night. The Nationals jumped on Zeke Astacio for 4 HR's in 5 innings (Zeke's Achilles heel so far has been the long ball - 16 in 46 innings!), but we fought back from a 6-1 deficit thanks to 2 Morgan Ensberg HR's (he now has 31 on the year!) and a Cristian Guzman error. So it's 6-5 going into the bottom of the 7th. Ensberg leads off with a single but he's stranded when Mike Lamb grounds into a double play. Jason Lane pinch-hits with 2 outs and 0 on in the 8th and triples, then Taveras walks, but Biggio pops out. Berkman draws a leadoff walk in the 9th but Ensberg K's and Mike Lamb grounds into another double play to end the game. GAH!

Wandy Rodriguez vs. Livan Hernandez today. We need more offense. Hopefully Jason Lane will get some playing time because he's been killing the ball.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Wow, there are some great baseball series going on right now.

Oakland A's vs. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (ugh)

The A's are the hottest team in baseball - they finally got their offense going and Harden, Zito, and Haren rivals the Astros' front 3. The Angels are falling fast. The teams are currently tied for 1st in the AL West and Wild Card at 64-47

White Sox vs. Yankees

Even after losing to the Yankees yesterday the White Sox are still 72-38. That's good. The Yankees are 3.5 games back of the A's / Angels for the Wild Card, so they need to win.

Astros vs. Nationals

Astros are 2 games up on the Nationals in the NL Wild Card race. The Nats have been terrible since the All Star Break.

Guess I'll be watching a lot of baseball tonight.
I just got off my 3rd and final river trip of the summer - it rained almost every afternoon, which was actually really nice. It cooled down the camps and it was pretty cool to see random waterfalls coming down from the sides of the rim.

Anyway, I'm back for good, and it looks like the Astros have been plugging along. We're 2 games up in the Wild Card standings, and we have a huge series at home against the Nationals starting today. The matchups would appear to favor Washington: Rodriguez vs. Patterson, Astacio vs. Hernandez, and Pettitte vs. Drese. The offense is going to need to find a way to score some runs.

I haven't seen much baseball lately, so I can't comment much on it, but I'll be watching this series. Updates to follow.

P.S. Should we try and pick up Jose Cruz Jr.? I would probably pick him up and send Burke to AAA. Then our OF would be Lane - Taveras - Cruz, with Palmeiro and Bruntlett as reserves, and just stick Berkman at 1B for good. Lamb can get some AB's somewhere.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Well, we didn't trade for Adam Dunn. Or Jose Cruz, Jr. Or J.C. Romero. I expected as much. Purpura said Saturday that the odds of a trade happening were "50-50", so apparently he was talking with a lot of clubs.

And we lost to the Mets to snap our seven-game winning streak. Funny thing is, we actually scored more runs than we did in four of our last five wins! Oswalt was not his usual dominant self... his fastball was only clocking 92 or 93, not its usual 95 mph. He gave up a lot of hits and worked his way out of some jams, but only went six innings giving up three runs. In doing so, he snapped his streak of decisions. Wheeler finally gave up some runs in the latter innings, and Springer and Harville showed why they're... Springer and Harville.

But it's cool. We finally get a day off, then the Stros head out here to Zona to face a decent Diamondbacks team. The Snakes "climbed" into a first-place tie with the horrendous San Diego Padres after demolishing the Cubs 13-6 yesterday. So they might be pumped and ready to swing hard. Fortunately, we got a rested and healthy Rocket to shut 'em down.

I'm not sold on Garner's use of our 1B-LF-RF platoons. It makes sense considering the kind of guys we have (that is, four guys who are mediocre at best), but I'd almost rather him pick his starters to show confidence in them. First, I would absolutely make Lane the starting RF again. He's 11-for-27 in his last seven games and ended July to the tune of .317 / .356 / .512 for a .868 OPS for the month. He can hit righties fine... in fact, better than he can hit lefties. The man's got a .790 OPS for the season, although it's a little skewed in the wrong direction. But compare this to Lamb's .651 OPS or Burke's disgusting .606.

We might as well send Burke back down to AAA. Things will only get worse before they get better. As far as Lamb goes, it's hard to buy the "I'm making good contact, I'm just getting unlucky" excuse. Not for this long. For being such a liability in the field, it's hard to justify his .259 OBP. Yes, he's hit some pretty important hits for us lately, but the man's gotta pick it up.

Palmeiro, by the way, is still producing like a maniac. He's leading the team with a .326 batting average and he's got a .882 OPS for the season. If he can play center, I'd like to see him spell Taveras once in a while rather that Bruntlett.

As crappy as Ausmus has been lately, he's haing his best season (in terms of OBP) since he was a Tiger in 2000. Unfortunately, Everett's having his worst year as an Astro. Sure, he'll set his career highs for homers and stolen bases, but could you get on base more than three times out of 10?

Taveras had four walks in June and July. Berkman had 34.

Enough ranting. This team can produce runs. At least enough to win with our mind-bloggling pitching. Speaking of which, Backe gets off the DL on Aug. 9. Much fuss has been made over who will remain in the rotation. They've both pitched well lately, and Wandy has a better ERA and WHIP. He does walk more batters however. I say we see how they do in their next two starts. Either way, I like them both better than Chad Harville.