Monday, October 31, 2005

It's time to delve into the free-agent list. There's a ton of them out there, although not too many superstars. There are just so many question marks entering this offseason -- Bagwell's shoulder, Clemens' back and hamstring -- it's impossible to foresee what position we'll be in when it comes to the bidding.

This club has shown in recent years it is able to pull off a big deal and sign a premier free agent (Kent, Pettitte), but Purpura has not. He's more of a player development guy, which can hurt his effectiveness when it comes to signing a big name. For instance, he might hesitate in signing a player like Jose Cruz Jr. or Jacque Jones if it means Chris Burke's playing time will be cut. Anyway, I hope that's not the case.

This club has definite needs to pursue in the offseason: Offense, a utility infielder, another starter and a catcher. Oh, and an extra reliever might not hurt. I'll go into greater detail about each category later on, but here's the overview:

1) Offense. I expect similar numbers from Berkman and Ensberg, and Lane and Taveras should be expected to make slight improvements in their respective purposes (hitting home runs and getting on base). Biggio could drop off or he could hit 30 home runs... you never know. The big question mark is Bagwell. If he's able to return, he'll fill a key hole in the lineup. But if he can't, Purpura must make a deal to bring in another big bat, preferably left-handed. There are several outfielders available who could either replace Chris Burke entirely or enter into a platoon situation. Berkman could then shift full-time to first base.

Suggestions: Brian Giles, Jacque Jones, Jose Cruz Jr.
Other options: Ben Grieve, Richard Hidalgo, Todd Hollandsworth, Reggie Sanders, Rondell White

2) An infield utility man. Vizcaino and Palmeiro are out. Palmeiro was surprisingly useful this year, but really dropped off in the second half (.267 / .322 / .371). He is able to put the bat on the ball consistently and rarely strikes out, but at 36, he'll only get worse. And with Lane, Taveras, Berkman/Burke and Scott in the outfield already, he won't be necessary. Thanks for the good ABs, OP.

Viz is gone too. And about time. The scary thing is, Viz's two-run single against Jenks in Game Two might actually have bought him another year in baseball. Let's just hope it's not with us. So let's see: we have Lamb/Berkman, Biggio, Everett and Ensberg, plus Bruntlett, Burke and maybe Bagwell. I hate to say it, but we need a middle infielder with -- you guessed it -- veteran presence. Burke will no doubt be starting some games in left field, and Bruntlett is really there for defense. So we'd need someone to occasionally spell Everett and Biggio and have decent numbers at the plate.

Suggestions: Miguel Cairo, Damion Easley
Other options: Tony Graffanino, D'Angelo Jimenez

3) Another starter. I don't expect Clemens to return, nor should Purpura. He was phenomenal this year. Just unreal. But he got us to the World Series and for that, he can add "franchise savior" to his list of accomplishments. But now he's hurr, he's tired and he's 43. Oh yeah, and he'd command a gajillion-dollar salary. Thanks Rocket for a great ride, but your presence is needed in other places, like coaching your kid to be the next Lance Berkman.

Now then, as I've said before, we don't need a premier free agent starter, nor can we afford one. So forget A.J. Burnett and Jeff Weaver and Kevin Millwood (Although it's hard to believe those are the "premier" starters were exactly one game over .500 in 2005). We need someone who can throw 200 innings with an ERA under 4.50, and who can do so for relatively cheap... no more than $5 million a year. I know that's asking a lot. But it's possible. Another approach would be to sign a player who's been injured but has potential for greatness... someone like Padilla or Armas.

Suggestions: Tony Armas Jr., Paul Byrd, Jason Johnson, Vicente Padilla, Brett Tomko
Other options: Pedro Astacio, Scott Elarton, Matt Morris, Jamie Moyer, Kenny Rogers, Jarrod Washburn

4) A catcher. I don't know what to make of Brad Ausmus. I mean, I love the guy, and so does everyone else, but he's just getting old. While he put together an impressive campaign in erms of OBP (.350), his power numbers continued to sink. On the other hand, the potential free agents are somewhat overrated. The career OPS of Ramon Hernandez (.742) and Benjie Molina (.782) are not impressive enough to offer $8 million per year, which is what they'll make. Robert Fick can catch and hit well enough, but his bad boy attitude is enough to keep him off the club. Jason LaRue is NOT a free agent, although the Reds might be willing to trade him at the deadline... Prospect Humberto Quintero is not ready.

I honestly don't know what to make of this situation. After Bagwell and Clemens, it's our biggest problem entering the offseason. I'd really like to trade for Johnny Estrada.

Suggestions: Robert Fick, Ramon Hernandez, Benjie Molina

5) A reliever: In my dream world, we'd trade Dan Wheeler to get Johnny Estrada. Wheeler's been phenomenal, but Qualls is ready to step up and the Braves need a bullpen. Mike Gallo was okay as our lone lefty, but there are some better ones out there. Scott Eyre would really please me.

Suggestions: Joey Eischen, Cal Eldred, Alan Embree, Scott Eyre, Chad Fox, Todd Jones, Paul Quantrill, Mike Remlinger, Al Reyes, Ricardo Rincon, Felix Rodriguez, Julian Tavarez, Ugueth Urbina, Tim Worrell

Well, that's it for now. Tomorrow: an in-depth look at free-agent pitchers, and why Vincent Padilla and Jason Johnson would be perfect fits at the Juicebox.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

It's hard to be upset with an NL Championship, but it sure did stink to see us get swept. I have to admit each game was a nail-biter... it's just such a shame we couldn't end up on the winning side in any of them.

Is it too soon to start thinking about next year? No.

The problem is, the status of next season hinges on two future hall-of-famers and one light-hitting catcher. If Ausmus doesn't come back, it's unlikely that Clemens will. And if Bagwell's shoulder won't allow him to play defense, something must be done. It's difficult to conjecture about possible signings when we don't know about these three players and the possible $40 million they'll make.

The most troublesome situation is Bagwell's. He honestly wants to come back, but if it's a degenerative condition, I can't see how he'll ever throw a baseball again. Jack has told me that Bagwell would want to be traded to an AL team so he could DH if he can't throw again. I really can;t see him in any uniform but Houston's, but if this is what he wants, we have to respect it. The problem is that we won't know his status for a few months -- and probably too late to sign a big bat like Brian Giles.

I honestly don't know what could be done with Bagwell's $17.5 million contract for 2006, but in many ways I wish it would somehow disappear. Berkman could move to first base exclusively and we could go after a corner outfielder like Giles or Jacque Jones.

Clemens could probably come back and pitch at an elite level. But is he worth more than $18 million now that his hammy makes him a question mark in terms of health? And when we could sign two good free agents with the money we'd dish out to him? It's hard to say.

More later...

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Well, the Astros lost. By a total of 6 runs in 4 games. And went 0-for-30 with runners in scoring position after Jason Lane's Game 3 double in the 8th inning. But goddamit, we made the World Series for the first time in our history. Consider:

2003-4 season - Win first postseason series in history, lose in NLCS
2004-5 season - Win two postseason series, reach World Series for first time in history, lose in WS
2005-6 season - ?? (The obvious pattern is that we'll win the WS next year).

Do I really believe that? Not really. The Astros are old. And I hate to say it but I don't think we're going to get any younger. I think we're going to re-sign Brad Ausmus, we already have re-signed Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, though I admire the hell out of him, would better help the team by retiring, and Roger Clemens might come back.

None of these things should happen.

This seems a strange time to talk about this - man, what a season what we had. Our record was 15-30 at one point. The Phillies and Marlins looked like better teams. But we clawed our way into the playoffs, beat the Braves, beat a superior Cardinal team, and then I think we were just exhausted in the Series. Part of that was because we had fought so hard for so long, and part of that was because we are an old team.

Well, I'm not going to talk about the offseason yet, actually. Here's to the 2005 Astros, a team built around the best front 3 (Clemens, Pettitte, Oswalt) in years, a solid front 3 in the bullpen (Qualls, Wheeler, Lidge), and just enough offense to get by. Cheers, guys.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Astros fans are going crazy right now. Half of them think Lidge ought to have come in to face Konerko in the seventh. The other half don't think he should have come out for the ninth. The fact of the matter is, Garner made the right moves but our pitchers didn't execute. You can blame it all you want on the cold or the rain, but both teams had to deal with the conditions.

Lidge has been really shaky ever since the last week of the season. Since September 30, he's allowed 14 hits, six walks and seven earned runs in 12.1 innings. That's a 5.11 ERA and a 1.62 WHIP. His cold streak could be attributed to a number of things. He could be hurt, or at least sore, after throwing 80 innings between the regular season and the playoffs. His fastball, while still clokcing at 95 or 96 mph, doesn't seem to have the same explosion in it. Hitters are getting around on it. Which might be because they know what's coming. Whether he's tipping off his pitches or not, batters seem to be guessing right more often on the heater.

Or, he could just be getting unlucky.

Don't everyone worry. Roy O will right the ship.
What a game.

Sometimes you have to simply take a step back and appreciate what a great game this is. THe first game was pretty intense, but Game Two had it all. One minute Berkman's the hero, then it's Konerko, then, of all people, Vizcaino! But Scotty Pod and the Sox had the last laugh.

Yes, people in Houston are calling for Lidge's head, and no one has any faith in Wheeler or Qualls. Here's the deal: they're all fine.

I don't blame Lidge. And he doesn't either:

"This pitch, I was not nitpicking,'' Lidge said. "The one Pujols hit was a mistake. This one, I have to tip my hat. ... I was real surprised by Podsednik. You don't expect him to do that. I'll learn from that, and make a different pitch next time.''

The pitch was inside, and probably should have been more so, but does anyone here expect Scotty Pod to catch up with a 95-mph heater? No. Afterwards, Podsednik said he was waiting on the fastball. Hell, everyone watching knew Lidge was coming with the fastball. Podesdenik just got it good.

And Lidge? Yes, he's been less than stellar his last two appearances. But by no means is he melting down. And no way he doesn't come out to close out Game Three.

"I've had success this year, I'm going to stick to my guns. I'm frustrated by it, but I'm not changing a darn thing. I'm ready to get out there as quickly as possible."

Wheeler had trouble in the eighth, but it was no meltdown either. Uribe, who's rocked us so far, smacked a double off the wall. Then Iguchi put up a great at-bat and drew a walk. Dye also realized that Wheeler couldn't get his grip on the ball, and had a great at-bat before being "hit" by an inside pitch on a full count.

It's hard to blame Qualls either. He's coming into a game with the bases loaded, a position he's not entirely used to. Even with their best hitter up, you can't afford to get behind him and risk a walk. Qualls had to challenge Konerko, and his sinker just didn't sink enough.

But how about that ninth inning?!? Bagwell gets some playoff love by blooping a single to center. Burke works a walk and Ausmus grounds out to first, moving the runners up. Jack and I both shuddered when we saw Vizcaino emerge from the visitors' dugout, but it turned out to be the best move he's ever made. Ha. And Burke's slide! What a move by the youngster! And Biggio's reaction in the dugout! That was a fantastic turn of events against Jenks.

Hey, things aren't all that bad. The Series is far from over, but we do have to dig ourselves out of a hole. Oswalt's starting tomorrow, and Minute Maid Park will be rocking. Berkman's locked in, and Mo snapped out of his funk. Willy T's been on fire. Let's all take Monday off... maybe tease Lidge again on the flight back to Houston. It worked last time.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

First of all, I know we don't even make the playoffs, much less make it to the Series, without Chad Qualls, Dan Wheeler, and Brad Lidge.


Wheeler can't throw strikes, Qualls throws a batting-practice pitch to Konerko, and Lidge throws fastballs right down the middle to both Uribe and no-regular-season-HRs Scott Podsednik. Good Lord.

Nice comeback, offense, good hit Viz, and great slide Burke. Too bad the bullpen channeled Dan Miceli and gave this game to the White Sox.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Houston Astros
2005 National League Champions

How sweet is that?

The simple truth is that we outplayed the Cardinals in the NLCS. After Game 1, I was a little worried, but from them on, our starters dominated (particularly OSWALT), our offense scored enough runs, our defense was solid, and if it wasn't for a seeing-eye grounder to Eckstein and one terrible pitch to Albert Pujols, we would have put this series away in 5. But no worries - we've got Roy Oswalt.

Anyway, it's time to look ahead to the World Series. Check out a few series previews here, here, or the in-game chat here. Ok, Andy, what do you think?

I think we gotta lock up Oswalt for life. He pitched at his peak ability, and he wasn't fazed by pitching on the road in a tough ballpark. I also think Garner's making good decisions for the most part, and all our guys are contributing, even Ausmus and Everett. That's going to be key in the World Series. We'll have a more in-depth breakdown later on, but I'll say this: it's a very even matchup.

Thursday, October 20, 2005


Wednesday, October 19, 2005

What if you're a Cardinals fan?

Can you imagine the ecstasy of seeing your team rally from two runs down with two outs in the ninth? Can you imagine the absolute bliss of seeing Pujols creaming that pitch over the train tracks? I know, it's hard to see it from a different perspective, but we Astros fans just have to tip our caps to the Cardinals and say congrats. 'Cause it ain't gonna last.

Two bits of... comfort?... I received yesterday. First, from my fellow jobless baseball fanatic Alex Louie: These guys are professional ballplayers. Oswalt, Clemens, Lidge, Berkman, Biggio... they're not going to fold just from one loss. They're going to go out the next day and dominate. They know how to play the game, and play it well. What's more, they've been in this situation before: Fighting for the Wild Card the past two years and playing the Braves and Cardinals tight for two years. They're professionals, and they know they can win.

Second, from my fellow ultimate player and non-baseball lover Lawrence Walters: Dude, so what? They lost a game. No big deal. They're still up aren't they?

Both are good points. I wonder if we'd be feeling so crushed if we lost 8-3. If it weren't close... if we weren't one out away. We'd probably be feeling pretty good about our chances. We won the series at home, we're up three games to two and we have Oswalt and Clemens starting in St. Louis. Still...

And how about these guys being professionals? Oswalt gave a press conference which really cheered me up. He reminded everyone that the team is cool and collected and ready to battle in St. Louis: "They are trying to catch us," he said. "We are not trying to catch them."

He also gave us a glance at Lidge's psyche: "He's the type of closer that has amnesia. He won't think nothing about it next time he gets out there. He'll come out tomorrow, end of the game, and I'm sure he'll be lights-out just like he always is."

"Oh, we kidded with him the whole time on the plane today. We actually told him we almost got hit by the ball when it took off. That's the thing about baseball, once it happened last night, it happened last night. You can't do nothing about it today."

Good point, Roy. Now get out there and win us a ballgame.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005


If you don't think the Astros can get to the World Series after tonight's loss, why even cheer? This team has come too far this year -- hell, the past 45 years -- to fall apart now. I'm sure everyone on the team hurts as much as I do right now. I'm sure everyone's thinking, "Why, God, Why???" But tomorrow's an off-day, and that gives everyone, fans and players alike, time to regroup and refocus on the task at hand.

Sure, the Cardinals have momentum right about now. Yes, they are back home and yes, they probably have a lot of confidence. But we're right there with 'em. I remember Garner giving an interview during the NLDS. He had great things to say about this team's ability to rebound from a loss. He said it's easy to get down and get frustrated when we don't score a lot of runs, but he felt great pride in the team's mental strength in coming out the next day and playing hard.

That's what we need to do right now. Let go of tonight's loss. It hurt, yes, but it's over now and it's time to move on. Tomorrow's game is going to be another classic, so everyone better have their heads on straight.

Oswalt vs. Mulder, Wednesday night. Another great game, coming up. Have faith. Cheer like hell.

Monday, October 17, 2005

One out away.

Berkman's three-run homer put us up 4-2 in the seventh. Gallo and Wheeler got us to the top of the ninth, and Lidge made the first two batters in the ninth look silly striking out. Two strikes to Eckstein and he singles through the hole. Lidge walks Edmonds, never really challenging him. And then Pujols.

I'm fried right now. I can't even think right now. Gotta regroup and get ready for Wednesday. Hope the team can come back from this.
I'm still recovering from last night's game. The Wade boys (Dad included) watched the first 6 innings at a sports bar in Berkeley, CA, but Dad had to catch a flight back to TX, so we listened to the next few innings (including our run-without-a-hit in the 7th and the running-up-the-hill catch by Taveras to end the 8th) on the radio in the car....and then we had to go check in for our flights! Called a friend, who gave us the play-by-play, and listened (listened!) to the game-ending double play, which went something like this:

"Ok, Mabry's up...1st and 3rd, 1, how did Walker get to 3rd?....ground ball to 2nd! (10 second pause, possibly the longest of my life).....YEAH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" *My phone dies*

Well, a win is a win is a win. It wasn't pretty, and we're now 2-for-31 with RISP, but we are ONE WIN AWAY FROM THE WORLD SERIES!

Pettitte vs. Carpenter in a rematch of Game 1 tonight. It's actually going on right now, so I'll have to write more later. Go Astros!

Oh, and a huge thanks to Sports Bloggers Live, who have an excellent interview with Craig Biggio right here. They asked us for a good question to ask Biggio, and...well, why don't you listen to the interview? A sneak preview: Andy came up with the question, and it involves Chris Burke.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Great team win today. Clemens didn't have his best stuff and only registered one punchout, but he got the job done. He went six innings giving up two runs on six hits and two walks. Both runs came on sac flies after consecutive singles. He worked out of jams several times, a testament to his experience and ability to come up with big pitches when they're needed.

Offensive MVP: Mike Lamb! He hit a two-run homer and a double that later led to a run. I think the double traveled about 100 feet further than the homer. He had good stats against Morris coming in, so props to Garner for getting him into the lineup.

Defensive MVP: Chad Qualls! Staked to a 4-2 lead in the seventh, he retired Luna, Eckstein, Taguchi, Pujols, Edmonds and Walker in order. That's dominance.

Interesting changes in the lineup made by Garner. Burke played center and batted second. Ausmus finally moved up to the seventh spot ahead of Everett. All three went 1-for-4.

The Cardinals suffered another injury in the game: Lane, going first-to-third on Ausmus' single, banged knees with Abraham Nunez. Nunez wasn't great filling in for Rolen this year, but he was 4-for-10 in the NLCS. We took advantage of Hector Luna's inexperience there on the next play. Everett grounded to third, but Luna's throw home was high and wide, allowing Lane to score. And that fourth run was HUGE.

No rest for the weary: We play tomorrow at 3 p.m. EDT, Backe versus Suppan. Backe's about the most emotional pitcher I've ever seen, and he's always been a much better hurler at home. He hasn't been great this year, but you just never know when he;s going to turn it on and go one-hitter on us. So we'll see. The stats:

Astros vs. Suppan:

Berkman: 8-for-22, 2 HRs, 1.254 OPS
Vizcaino: 13-for-21 (!), 4 doubles, 1.446 OPS
Lamb: 3-for-17, .412 OPS
Palmeiro: 0-for-17, .105 OPS
Everett: 4-for-9, 1 HR, 1.278 OPS

Cardinals vs. Backe:

Eckstein: 4-for-6, 2 doubles, 1.778 OPS
Edmonds: 2-for-9, .607 OPS
Grudzielanek: 4-for-8, 1.181 OPS
Pujols: 3-for-10, 3 HRs, 1.662 OPS
Walker: 3-for-7, 1 HR, 1.500 OPS

Will Viz get a start at short tomorrow? Hard to say. While he's had a ton of success against Suppan, he still sucks. Hard. I think it's an obvious choice to start Berkman at first, Burke in left and Taveras in center. But with Garner playing musical chairs, you never know.
Oh baby. Two wins away.

It was our uncle's birthday today, so we (my brother, Dad and I) flew out to the Bay Area to run in a Family Triathlon. My brother swam, and Andy took off on the bike portion just as the Astros game started. Of course just as it was getting interesting (2 on, 2 out, Berkman up in a 0-0 game in the 4th) Andy finished so I had to go run, but I came back to see we were up 2-1 thanks to Mike Lamb, and we got a few insurance runs and Lidge just did hold on. WE'RE DOING IT!!!

Next: Game 4 - Brandon Backe vs. Jeff Suppan.

Ok. The truth: Brandon Backe is not that good, and he has not had a good year. He struggles against lefties, and against the Cardinals. But goddamit, this is a huge game, and we are going to get tough and we'll find a way.

Maybe more details to come, but it's my uncle's birthday dinner so that's all for now.


Friday, October 14, 2005

A rare road win, indeed. Now a sweep at home gets us to the World Series. But it won't be easy. Saturday's matchup pits Roger Clemens against veteran Matt Morris. Morris has been solid throughout his Cardinal career, and has the kind of stuff that could blank our weak-hitting team. We're 6-1 in the last two postseasons at home. With the roof closed, that place will be going crazy.A few stats:

Cardinals vs. Clemens:
Eckstein: 3-for-24, .317 OPS
Edmonds: 12-for-50, 3 homers, 19 Ks, .827 OPS
Pujols: 6-for-21, o XBHs, .686 OPS
Walker: 2-for-14, 0 XBH, .437 OPS

Astros vs. Morris:
Ausmus: 16-for-55, all singles, .400 OBP
Berkman: 20-for-56, 2 HRs, .955 OPS
Biggio: 16-for-69, .622 OPS
Ensberg: 3-for-14, .481 OPS
Everett: 8-for-28, .726 OPS
Lamb; 5-for-14, 3 HRs, 1.509 OPS

Big question: Do you start Chris Burke, who's been on fire, or Mike Lamb, who is 5-for-14 with three homers against Morris? Tough call. I might go with Burke's hot bat, and save Lamb for a crucial PH appearance against Morris.

These Cardinals won't back down. They'll put up runs, even against a master like Clemens. The Astros cannot continue to put up ohfers with men on base. It's nice to move runners along and manufacture runs, but it's nicer to hit two-run doubles and three-run homers. Ensberg and Lane, I'm looking in your direction.

It seems like both these teams are considerably weaker than last year, Offensively for sure. The Astros are without Kent, Beltran and most of Bagwell, while the Cards are missing Scott Rolen. Of course, we have a healthy Pettitte this year, while the Cardinals picked up Mulder. So I guess the adage is true: pitching wins championships.

* Edmonds' at-bat in the fifth was the most intense dual I've seen this postseason. With two on and two out, neither gave an inch. Edmonds knew he couldn't hit Oswalt's low-and-in fastballs, so he refused to swing at them. Oswalt knew that pitch would eventually bring about a strikeout, and despite the umpire's unwillingness to give the call to him, Oswalt kept throwing it. That must be something he picked up from Clemens: Even if you don't get the call, keep throwing your stuff and good things will happen.

* Did anyone hear Backe "miked up" in last night's game? He was talking with Clemens about Eckstein. He said something to the tune of, "Man, this guy's a pest. I don't think I've ever gotten him out." Pretty funny. I wonder why we didn't hear from him again... Backe's usually a pretty emotional and talkative guy.
Oswalt, Burke even series with 4-1 win.

This is how we win games: By pitching great and scratching runs together. That's just what Oswalt and Chris Burke did tonight as the Astros evened the series at one game apiece.

Roy was fantastic: five hits -- including a Pujols solo homer -- over seven innings. He was at his best when we most needed him. He got Jim Edmonds to end threats in the fifth and seventh innings, and kept his composure even when he was squeezed by home plate umpire Greg Gibson.

Chris Burke sparked our offense in his first career postseason start. He tripled to right-center in the second inning, barely beating a relay throw from Grudzielanek. He trotted home when Yadier Molina mishandled a pitch to Oswalt as Ausmus was stealing second.

Ausmus led off the fifth with a double and went to third on a perfect sac bunt by Oswalt... even as the Cardinals were employing the wheel play. (Both Pujols and Nunez were charging, so Oswalt had to spot his bunt toward the pitcher). Ausmus then came home on a Biggio groundout.

Pujols' homer in the sixth made it a one-run game, but we tacked on a couple runs in the eighth off the phone-punching Julian Tavarez. Berkman doubled, but was still there after two groundouts by Ensberg and Lane (who went a combined 0-for-8 with six left on base). But Burke came through again, singling to left just over an outstretched Eckstein. Then Everett got a hold of one, driving a pitch to deep left. Sanders tripped up on the warning track and fell awkwardly, losing the ball and injuring his back and head. Burke scored his second run of the game and the 4-1 lead was more than enough for Lidge to slam the door.

Watching us push across all those runs made up for last night's ineptitude at the plate w/RISP. Tonight's game started out that way as well: Biggio and Taveras got one in the first, but Berkman K'd and Ensberg GIDP'd. Ugly stuff. Ensberg had a real off day today. He did put a drive into a ball in the sixth, but Edmonds made a terrific, if not gratuitous, diving catch. Other than that, he didn't see the ball well at all. His GIDP in the first was killer. And he threw the ball into the dugout after a nice diving stop. Maybe he needs to shave the beard.

Burke reminded us why we're in the postseason to begin with: Aggressive Patience. That sounds weird, but it's what you need to have to score runs against tough pitchers. If Burke doesn't go for third on his hit in the second, we don't score that first run. And if he doesn't stay patient at the plate in the eighth -- something Ensberg and Lane could learn from -- we wouldn't have scored those insurance runs and St. Louis would still have been in the game against Lidge.

Wow. A road win. That's rare. I really feel that we can win this series at home. But it's one game at a time, and right now we have to feel good about a split in St. Louis. And about Clemens starting Game Three.

While the Cardinals and Astros fly to Houston, Jack and I will be flying to San Fran to participate in our uncle's birthday triathalon bash. It's starting around 3 p.m. EDT Saturday, so we'll have extra incentive to swim/run/bike as fast as possible.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Astros lose, 5-3 in NLCS opener

Bottom 1: After an Eckstein single, Pettitte gets Edmonds and Pujols to pop out. But on a 1-2 pitch, Sanders absolutely crushed a fastball over the plate and hit it 445 feet. Ouch.

Top 3: An Ausmus single and consecutive walks to Biggio and Taveras (!) load the bases. With one out, Berkman swings away at the first pitch he sees and grounds into a double play.

That was the ball game right there. The Cards would tack on a few runs on a suicide squeeze -- obviously -- and RBI singles by Eckstein and Pujols in the fifth. Oh, Ensberg got thrown out at the plate in the fourth after a leadoff double. That didn't help.

Although the score was 5-0 for a couple of innings, this game could and should have been closer. Berkman needs to see a few pitches in his bases-loaded at-bat. He smacked a double in the first, and maybe figured he saw a pitch he could handle. To his credit, he hit it hard but directly at Grudzielanek.

Pettitte apparently got hit in the knee by a batting practice grounder while he was warming up before the game. He said he was okay to pitch, but there was considerable swelling. I don't know how much this affected his performance, but he should have been able to keep the fourth adn fifth runs off the board.

So: Game Two, Oswalt vs. Mulder. This time Mulder's the one with a lingering injury: his left arm was struck in the Padres series. We need to make sure we score early... it sucks having to come back in Busch Stadium. Burke gets the start tonight in left. More homers, anyone?

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Well, here we go again.

The 2004 NLCS was incredible, although it was overshadowed by the historic 2004 ALCS (damn you for stealing our thunder, David Ortiz). So let's do it again.

Game 1: Chris Carpenter vs. Andy Pettitte.

Carpenter is probably the NL Cy Young this year, but he's struggled a bit lately (5.73 ERA in September, and he didn't look particularly sharp in Game 1 vs. the Padres). He's thrown 241.2 innings already this year, so he can be forgiven for being a little tired. We need to make him work.

Astros vs. Carpenter, career:

Brad Ausmus: 5-29, 3 BB, 457 OPS
Lance Berkman: 4-15, 3 HR, 3 BB, 1354 OPS (!!!)
Craig Biggio: 8-22, 809 OPS
Morgan Ensberg: 5-18, 2 BB, 683 OPS
Adam Everett: 6-22, 591 OPS
Mike Lamb: 6-18, 4 2B, 1 HR, 1056 OPS
Jason Lane: 2-6, 1 2B, 833 OPS
Orlando Palmeiro: 3-19, 3 BB, 462 OPS
Willy Taveras: 4-18, 444 OPS

Mike Lamb should definitely start over Palmeiro. Hopefully Lance Berkman can keep up his crazy numbers against Carpenter. If Biggio and Taveras can get on base a few times each for Berkman / Ensberg, that would be huge.

Cardinals vs. Pettitte, career:

David Eckstein: 6-30, 483 OPS
JEdmonds: 3-30, 2 2B, 362 OPS
Mark Grudzielanek: 7-19, 947 OPS
Albert Pujols: 2-12, 333 OPS
Reggie Sanders: 3-7, 2 HR, 1786 OPS
Larry Walker: 3-7, 1 HR, 2 BB, 1413 OPS

Those last two are scary. Pettitte has done an admirable job against the Big Two of Edmonds and Pujols, but Sanders and Walker have hit him well. I'm particularly worried about Sanders, who had a huge Division Series and has a career 912 OPS against lefties.

I read on AstrosDaily that we bumped Luke Scott from the NLCS roster and replaced him with Zeke Astacio. It's clear that we're a little worried about our pitching depth after the longest postseason game ever played. It's a shame that Scott had to lose his spot, since he's had some excellent AB's lately, but who else could we bump? I think this was a necessary move.

Astros-Cardinals series previews:

Baseball Prospectus
The Hardball Times

I can't wait. Go 'Stros!

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Okay, I got all the emotion out of my system about Game Four against the Braves (Make sure you read my last post). But like the Rocket says, there's still work to be done. We got a date with the Cardinals. And with destiny.

Here are the matchups:
Game One at St. Louis, Wednesday, 8 p.m. EDT: Pettitte vs. Carpenter
Game Two at St. Louis, Thursday, 8 p.m.: Oswalt vs. Mulder

Everyone's mentioning Carpenter's case for the Cy Young this year. I assure you, we wouldn't even be here without Pettitte's astounding second half. Those two were definitely two of the best four pitchers in the NL. Carpenter won his first four starts against Houston, but we rocked him for five runs in six innings in his last regular season start, the culmination of a very poor finish to the season. He did rebound with six shutout innings in a Game One win against the Padres, but left early due to cramping in his arm and dehydration.

Mulder is still questionable for Game Two, but I'm fairly confident he'll be just fine by Thursday. He's also pitched well against us this year, including 10 innings of work in a 1-0 shutout against Clemens.

Clemens will start Saturday in Houston after an off day Friday, and his probable opponent will be Matt Morris. Backe will get another Game Four start at home on Sunday. Let's hope it's as good as last year's gem.

Man, I'm glad I don't have a job... I won't miss one pitch.
You can't quantify heart.

Jack and I are normally all about the stats when it comes to baseball. If your guys put up the best numbers over the course of a 162-game season, you're going to have a successful year.

But come playoff time, statistics don't mean squat. It's us versus them, and whoever performs best and comes through with the big hits at the right time will move on. Statistically speaking, I didn't think we had enough to beat the Braves. And I didn't think we'd have enough to make it past St. Louis. But this team has shown its ability to play beyond what all the statisticians and analysts say.

Many of our players would still be in the minor league systems of all the other playoff contenders. No way Luke Scott or Chris Burke gets called up for the Yankees or Angels, much less cracks the postseason roster. Palmeiro and Lamb would be last-resort pinch hitters, not starters. But these guys battle, and battle hard. They know what it takes to win, and more often than not this season, have performed well enough to do so.

I said down the stretch this summer that this club has one ability that last year's team lacked: the ability to come back late in ballgames. It's easy to give up on a three- or four-run deficit late in the game. It's easy to say, "Man, I got two hits already... too bad our pitchers gave up those home runs..." But no, these guys won't give up. We were down 6-1 with five outs left. But there wasn't one player in the dugout or the bullpen that didn't think we still had a chance at winning.

It seems we play our best when the situation calls for it. Luke Scott working a hard-earned walk. Berkman smacking a home run. Ausmus putting all the energy of his 36-year-old body into a swing and pounding a ball two inches over the yellow line. Lidge and Wheeler working out of jams in virtually every inning. Clemens coming making his first relief appearance in 21 years and absolutely destroying the Braves' bats. And Chris Burke hitting the biggest home run he'll ever hit.

This team has heart, which is why I think they have a shot at the mighty Cardinals. St. Louis has a beast of a lineup and very good pitching that has shut us down on numerous occasions this season. But we have three amazing pitchers who can simply dominate. We have Berkman and Ensberg, who can drive in runs left and right. We have a lightning quick Taveras and a powerful slugger in Lane. We have the game's smartest catcher, the game's nastiest slider, and one of the game's best gloves at short. We have the game's most prolific tandem -- one still playing near the top of his ability while the other must sit and wait for his chance to strike. We have ol' Scrap Iron, who's squeezed just about every ounce of talent out of this club. We have the young guns: Burke, Scott and Bruntlett, who might all have their heads so far in the clouds that they can't truly comprehend just what they're doing.

But most importantly, the Houston Astros -- all of them -- have heart.

Monday, October 10, 2005

That was a classic. I want to watch the tape of that one some day, because that was just one of the most amazing games any of us will ever see.

Roger Clemens said that.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

I love Lance Berkman. I love Brad Ausmus (never thought I'd say that). I love Dan Wheeler. I love Roger Clemens. I really love Chris Burke. I love the 2005 Houston Astros, for proving me wrong by not only making the playoffs but winning a playoff series. And I love baseball.

More to come soon.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Both Jack and I like the idea of trading for Johnny Estrada in the offseason. After rookie Brian McCann homered off Rocket in the seond inning of Game 2, the Braves might be even more inclined to have McCann be their primary starter next year. Coupled with Estrada's sub-par year at the dish, and the Braves might be willing to trade him for cheap. Estrada's miserable year was mostly due to neck and back injuries after being run over at home plate on June 6 by the Angels' Darin Erstad.

We still think he has the ability to be an above-average major league catcher, hitting mostly for average but with some power. True, 2004 may have been Estrada's career year: He hit .314 / .378 / .450, with nine homers and 36 doubles in 462 ABs. Not bad. He's a switch-hitter with a much better eye from the left side (His OPS is 100 points higher as a lefty), and we desperately need another lefty bat in that lineup behind Berkman. Estrada's a free agent after 2008, so he could definitely complete an admirable platoon with the right-handed Quintero for a few years.

Estrada's not particularly young -- he'll turn 30 next June. But he's only caught 356 games behind the plate... a very low amount of wear and tear for a major league catcher. He's not going to hit 20 homers, so he wouldn't cost a whole heck of a lot in arbitration. I'm sure he'll recover well from his whiplash injuries by next season and he'll be ready to put up another .800 OPS, as an Astro.
Smoltz shuts us down.

Clemens wasn't his usual dominant self tonight, giving up five runs in five innings and taking the loss against the Braves. It was simply a reverse of yesterday's game: The Braves got the big hits when they needed them, and turned it into a blowout late. Just like we tok advantage of Hudson's wildness on Wednesday, the Braves hitters today took advantage of Rocket's lack of speed on his fastball.

Offensively, we couldn't get anything going against Smoltz. After three singles led to a run in the first inning, we didn't threaten again. Smoltz did a great job shutting down our weaker hitters: Palmeiro, Everett and Ausmus went a combined 0-for-11. It was just an ugly game.

But you know what? It's okay.

We're going home with a split, which is really what most of us wanted anyway. We can win the series by taking two at home, where our 53-28 record was tied for tops in the NL (tied with... Atlanta!). Despite all this talk about Sosa's supposed "electric" stuff, you have to give us the advantage with Oswalt going tomorrow at home. Clemens said even he was excited to get back to Houston for postseason baseball, where the crowd was phenomenal last year.

So... a travel day tomorrow while we refocus our efforts against Jorge Sosa. Sosa has had an incredible run as a starter, but he's allowed a ton of baserunners: 122 hits and 64 walks in 134 innings. Lefties crush him, so let's get Lamb in there on Friday instead of Palmeiro.

A few other notes: Bottom second, Astro lead 1-0. Two on, two out, 2-0 count to the Braves' eight-hitter, catcher Brian McCann. Why not intentionallty walk him? I know this isn't Clemens's style, but this is the postseason. With Smoltz on deck, there's no way they score any runs. I know it's easy to second-guess, but this move would have made a lot of sense. (By the way, I totally did call for the intentional walk as soon as the count went 2-0... I'm just saying...)

Also, I was very impressed with Clemens' demeanor during his post-game interview. He shouldered the blame for his mistakes and praised the other team for taking advantage of them. It didn't appear that his hamstring was bothering him all that much. Which is good, we'll need him later.

I'm still not certain who Garner will start in Game 4. I think if we lose Game 3, we almost have to start Pettitte in Game 4 and Clemens again in Game 5. But if we win Game 3, we should probably go with Backe. We'll have to play it by ear.

By the way, can the White Sox be stopped?

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Astros win NLDS Game One, 10-5 over Braves

Wow. I expected us to score about 10 runs this entire series. But we got all the timely hits we could have asked for, and everyone did their job well tonight. Biggio set the table with two hits, a sac fly, a sac bunt and a walk. Ensberg drove a run home in four of his at-bats tonight, three of which followed a Berkman walk. In fact, every starter took a walk except for Ausmus and every starter besides Taveras reached base twice.

And there was Pettitte, who allowed only four hits in seven brilliant innings. He only made two mistakes all game, and they both left the yard. He was efficient and at his best when it counted the most: With two on and one out in the fourth, and after Andruw had already slammed a two-run homer, Pettitte induced Astro-killer Brian Jordan into a double play. Good stuff.

Our hitters did a great job early on taking advantage of Hudson's miscues. We saw that he was struggling with his command in the first few innings, and rattled him by taking walks and playing small ball. Pettitte was great at the plate, laying down two sac bunts and hitting a ground rule double for an important late-inning insurance run. Good thing it didn't matter.

This team has struggled mightily recently at getting hits in important situations, but Ensberg showed today that a patient, easy appraoch is the best way to knock in RBIs. Especially when the pitcher displays a lack of command, just sit back and wait for a pitch you can handle. Then put a good swing on it. (Jason Lane, are you taking notes?) It seems everyone took his advice in our five-run eighth inning.

Garner managed this game well. It was odd to see Berkman hitting third again after four months of hitting cleanup, but this combination worked wonders today. As did our 1-2 punch of Biggio and Taveras. I thought we'd bat Ausmus seventh ahead of Everett, but both did well today. Everett nearly hit a homer in the second but was robbed by Jordan. I guess all in all, the exact order doesn't really matter. Especially if everyone's taking walks and hitting singles.

Game Two: Thursday, 8 p.m. EDT. Clemens vs. Smoltz. Yikes. Thirty strikeouts, anyone? Smoltz is definitely a different type of pitcher than Hudson, so we'll have to change our approach against him . I don't expect him to have a command breakdown and start throwing balls to the backstop like Hudson. But I do hope our hitter realize how important it is to get to that Atlanta bullpen. So be patient, work the count, foul off pitches, wait for your pitch and give it a drive.

Smoltz is death on righties, so I expect Lamb to start at first and hit fifth or sixth. Lamb was MONEY in September, hitting .319 / .392 / .609 with five homers in 69 ABs. And lately he's been able to get big hits off great pitchers (Carpenter, Zambrano...)

I hope we saved a few seeing-eye grounders for this game, where hits and walks will be scarce. Biggio and Taveras need to get on board for our big boppers, since I don't expect much from the bottom of the order. I'm going to predict a big game from Lamb and a clutch hit for Lane. He needs one.

J.T. and Jack both agree... we pitch Backe at home on Sunday if we're up 2-1 in the series. If we're down 2-1, we go with Pettitte on three days' rest and Clemens in Game Five. But I'm sure we'll finish this one up with a sweep.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Got Astros-Braves series previews?

Check out Aaron Gleeman's, Baseball Prospectus's (gotta be an Insider for the whole thing), Lisa Gray's (cool blog!), and if you're into updated commentary on the game, check out Baseball Primer's Game Chatter.

Enjoy, and GO ASTROS!
I'm sick of all the "Anonymous" comments that turn out to be spam, so I turned on word verification. Basically, if you want to leave a comment (which you really should, I'm curious to see what you think), you have to type in a word that they tell you to, as if you were buying something online or whatnot.

Checking out Andy's latest post, I have to say I'm impressed...and depressed. I didn't realize our budget was that tight - I guess I was forgetting about Bagwell. It would be nice to move him to the AL where he could DH, but what team would take a chance on him? I think we're probably stuck with him. He's been rehabbing like a maniac, and I definitely think his hitting will be fine (maybe .270 / .380 / .470 = fine), but it's his throwing I'm worried about. I guess only time will tell.

I also like the idea of signing a cheap starter who can give us 200 IP at around a 4.00 ERA. In fact, I will go so far as to say that whether we do or not could make or break or season next year. It's just asking too much to have Wandy and Zeke be major-league starters next year. A Paul Byrd / Brett Tomko type is just what we need.

I also like the "better utility guy than Viz" thought. Ramon E. Martinez is a solid player, and I vividly remember going to an Astros game against the Cubs and Andy chose him as his "Cub Player of the Game". After I finished laughing, I proceeded to watch Mr. Ramon E. Martinez go 5-for-5. His stats haven't been too impressive the last few years, so I might suggest Damion Easley of the Marlins. He's going to be 36, but he has much more pop than Martinez and drawas a few more walks, and he's hit well on the road the last 2 years (746 OPS this year, 837 OPS the year before). I say sign him to a 1 year / 1.2 million dollar deal or so, and give Everett or Bidge the occasional day off.

Speaking of Biggio, you can say what you want about his 1 year / 4 million dollar deal (we need to play Burke more! But Biggio's going for 3,000 hits!), but the fact of the matter was this was inevitable. The Astros are not going to let go of Biggio and Bagwell until they are damn well ready, and this offseason isn't that time yet.

Oh, and Scott Eyre? Pretty good. Solid numbers against lefties, and still good against righties, too. Thumbs up.

I still like trying to trade for Johnny Estrada at catcher, but one more year of Ausmus, thought it pains me to say it, wouldn't be too bad. He put up a solid offensive year when we had to have it. Just don't give him a multi-year deal. PLEASE.
NLDS, Game One: 4 p.m. EDT Wednesday, Oct. 5: Pettitte vs. Hudson.

Purpura announced our roster for the Divisional Series. It's mostly as expected, with Luke Scott winning the 25th spot over Charles Gipson and Zeke Astacio. I like the move; our bench is essentially devoid of power, and despite his poor season I think Scott provides us with some. Besides, Burke can handle Gipson's recent pinch running duties for the DS, since it appears Lamb will get all the starts against the Braves' righties. So here's how the roster shapes out:

C: Ausmus, Chavez
IF: Bagwell, Biggio, Bruntlett, Ensberg, Everett, Lamb, Viz
OF: Berkman, Burke, Lane, Palmeiro, Taveras, Scott
P: Backe, Clemens, Gallo, Lidge, Oswalt, Pettitte, Qualls, Springer, Wheeler, Rodriguez


All this talk about filling out rosters got me thinking about our roster for next year and what kind of off-season we'll have with our payroll. Essentially, it'll be the same core. In fact, everyone but Ausmus, Springer and a guy named Clemens are either signed to a contract or are still under club control.

Financially, we're in a mess: Our huge backloaded contracts with Bagwell and Pettitte kick in BIG TIME, and Oswalt and Berkman get their first taste of huge contract money. In fact, we owe $64 million to those five: Pettitte ($17.5 million), Bagwell ($17), Berkman ($14.5), Oswalt ($11) and Biggio ($4). That's already more than San Diego's payroll this year. Yikes. Add in substantial raises for Ensberg and Lidge, and smaller raises all the way around, and we might have to face an unfortunate fact:

We can't afford Clemens next year.

Not if he wants more than $10 million, anyway. The way I see it, we can barely afford to field a team without him. Here's who we have for 2006 (contracts are in parentheses; question marks are my attempts at arbitration deals):

C Quintero (0.3?)
1B Bagwell (17)
2B Biggio (4)
3B Ensberg (3?)
SS Everett (1?)
IF/OF Bruntlett (0.5?)
IF Lamb (1?)
LF Berkman (14.5)
CF Taveras (0.5?)
RF Lane (0.75?)
LF/2B Burke (0.5?)
OF Scott (0.5?)

SP Oswalt (11)
SP Pettitte (17.5)
SP Backe (1.5?)
SP Astacio (0.5?)
SP Wandy (0.5?)
RP Lidge (3?)
RP Burns (0.3?)
RP Qualls (0.5?)
RP Wheeler (0.5?)
RP Gallo (0.5?)

That's just under $80 million for 22 players. If Drayton wants to keep payroll around $85 million, we don't have much to work with this offseason. Hopefully Bagwell stays healthy. I've heard folks calling for his retirement (or at least a restructuring of his contract), but this is madness. The fact is the man can hit, and will be able to hit until he's sixty-four. He has been rehabbing his bum shoulder for months now, and he's optimistic about coming back to play first in 2006. I believe him. Going into this offseason, we need to find a catcher, a cheap fourth starter, a reliever, and maybe a cheap utility man.

I'd like to sign a better offensive shortstop to replace Everett, but there doesn't appear to be a good candidate. Furcal and Nomar won't fit into our budget, and Alex Gonzalez, Neifi Perez, Royce Clayton and Chris Woodward aren't exactly offensive upgrades. So we're stuck with Everett for '06. But my patience with his lack of offense is wearing thin.

Catcher: Humberto Quintero might be our catcher of the future, but not next year. Keep in mind, he's only 26, so he's still got potential. He'll make a good backup for '06 as he's groomed to play more often. I assume we'll drop Chavez. Ausmus's contract expires after this year, and he has said he wants to play for another year or two. A few months ago, I'd have said Hell No, but his second half was incredible... for him anyway (.275 / .373 / .365). In fact, his .350 OBP in 2005 was 7th best among major league catchers with 300 or more at-bats. Wow. There's no telling if he can keep that up as a 37-year-old in '06, but I think his defense and game-calling might make him worth a one-year, $1 million contract.

Ramon Hernandez and Mike Piazza are the premier free agents at catcher, but both will probably be out of our price range. (We both thought Houston native Jason LaRue was a free agent, but he is actually under Reds control through next year). Piazza no doubt will join an AL team to DH, and Hernandez will probably go for the big bucks. The Blue Jays, Angels, Mariners, Mets, D-Backs, Dodgers and Padres are in need of help at catcher, so we'll have competition for Hernandez. And while he is good, a .325 career OBP isn't worth $6 million a year, which is what he'll probably make. I'll take Ausmus for another year, then wait and see if Quintero pans out. If not, LaRue, Posada, Barajas, Javy and Pierzynski are available after 2006.

Starter: I really don't think we'll be able to afford Clemens, which is unfortunate and ridiculous, because at age 43 he was BY FAR the best pitcher in baseball. Absolutely astounding. But if we don't re-sign him, I don't think both Astacio and Wandy will be ready to start full-time. No, what we need is a cheap, short-term fill-in. Someone who can pitch 200 innings with a 4.00 or 4.50 ERA.

There are a few big names out there. Burnett, Weaver, Morris, Brown, Washburn and Millwood are all probably too expensive for us. Second-tier free agents include Rick Helling, Al Leiter, Brett Tomko, Hideo Nomo, Tony Armas Jr., and Jamie Moyer. Pedro Astacio and Scott Elarton both had success with Houston in the past; they're both free agents now... Paul Byrd is available, and he's just the type of pitcher we want. He signed a one-year, $5 million deal with the Angels, and posted a 3.74 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in 204 innings. Great signing.

Utility man: Please let us do away with the reign of Jose Vizcaino. I personally like Eric Bruntlett as our main utiliy man. He can play short and second as well as centerfield, and is only 27. But I'd like to sign a decent back-up middle infielder with a little pop. Our bench (Lamb, Bruntlett, Burke, Scott, Quintero) isn't exactly murderer's row, and Bruntlett isn't ready to play everyday in case Everett gets hurt. I'm thinking of someone like Miguel Cairo, Ramon E. Martinez, Damion Easley or Damian Jackson. Unfortunately, these kinds of players usually make around $1 million, but it might be worth it if they can fill in admirably.

Reliever: Springer's a free agent. He'll be 37 in November, but he's pitched very well this year. If he wants to come back, I'd sign him up. Burns, Gallo, Qualls, Wheeler and Lidge will all be back, and I hope either Wandy or Zeke will be pushed into the bullpen after we sign a fourth starter.

Free agents lefty relievers include Scott Eyre, Mike Stanton, Alan Embree, Joey Eischen, Ricardo Rincon, Chris Hammond, Buddy Groom and Mike Myers. Righties include Bob Howry, Cal Eldred, Julian Tavarez, Tim Worrell, Felix Rodriguez, Paul Quantrill, Mike Timlin, Todd Jones, Chad Fox, Jay Witasick, Antonio Osuna, Jay Powell, Jeff Nelson and Jim Mecir.

We might call up a rookie or two, but not too many of our minor league pitchers fared too well. Both Carlos Hernandez and Taylor Buchholz both struggled. Nieve breezed through AA, but was very hittable after being called up to AAA. Overall he struck out 171 and walked 62 in 167 innings. He'll be up soon. Jason Hirsh had a great year with AA Round Rock: 13-8 with a 2.87 ERA in 29 starts. He allowed only 137 hits (12 homers) and 42 walks in 172.1 innings while striking out 165. He's got stuff.

So, assuming we don't fork over $20 million to Clemens, Here are the players I would sign:

Ausmus, 1-year, $1 million
Tomko, 1-year, $3 million
Ramon E. Martinez, 1-year, $1 million
Scott Eyre, $750,000

Geez, that took a while. I don't know why I started looking at next year's team when this one is about to start a huge playoff series. But anyway, our game starts in less than 12 hours. Let's get right to it.

Monday, October 03, 2005


I don't have time for a long post right now, but it's coming. I think Andy might write an eloquent (perhaps even poetic?) post sometime today, so I might just comment on that one.

Anyway, bring on the Braves.

This Cubs series sure wasn't pretty, but we did what we needed to do by winning two of four. Roy couldn't preserve a 3-run lead, but we scored three in the sixth to go up 6-4 and Lidge held on for his 42nd save. The Phillies won in Washington about an hour before we finished off the Cubs... they got into the clubhouse just in time to see Bruntlett catch a liner off Jose Macias to end it.

Next up: Atlanta. For the fifth time in nine years, we'll take on the Braves in the NLDS. This was more of a one-sided rivalry until last year, when we finally won our first postseason series. We don't start the series until Wednesday, which is great for our pitchers to rest up. Especially Lidge, who's worked our last five games (with a day off Thursday). Here's the schedule:

Game 1 at Atlanta: Wednesday 4 p.m. ET: Pettitte vs. Hudson
Game 2 at Atlanta: Thursday 8 p.m. ET: Clemens vs. Smoltz
Game 3 at Houston: Saturday 1 p.m. ET: Oswalt vs. Sosa

The Braves lost their last four games of the season and finished only one game better than us. Their team is in many ways similar to ours: Great pitching, good power in the middle of the order, but clear holes in the lineup. Their front four of Furcal, Giles, Chipper and Andruw are tough to match, but beyond that, Francouer, LaRoche/Franco, Estrada/McCann and Langerhans/Johnson/Hollandsworth isn't fantastic.

It's the same with us: Berkman, Ensberg, Biggio and (I hope) Lane are going to have to carry our team. Lamb could surprise some folks, but I don't expect a whole lot out of Everett or Ausmus. Speaking of which, Ausmus was finally moved up to the seventh spot today. 'Bout freakin' time. I'm not a huge fan of changing our lineup so drastcially in the last week of the season, but this needed to happen. Ausmus' OBP is over .350, so he has a much better chance at driving home an run than Everett, whose offense is, shall we say, poop.

Biggio has batted leadoff for the past five games. I'm not crazy about the switch, since Taveras's ability to get on base with infield hits dimishes quickly if Biggio's on base. Sure, he'll never GIDP, but he absolutely cannot move a runner over without creating an out. Of course, with our Big Three on the mound, runs will come at a premium. Still, both Bidge andWilly ended with OBPs under .325. That's not pretty.

Speaking of Bidge, we agreed to a one-year, $4 million extension after the win today. Good move. Looks like we have $60 million invested in Pettitte, Oswalt, Berkman and Bagwell next year, and after raises to Ensberg, Lidge, Wheeler, Everett, Taveras, Backe... not to mention a possible monstrous one-year contract for Clemens, it could be an expensive year for Drayton.

But right now we gotta focus on these Braves. Pettitte gave up three earned in seven innings at Turner Field back in May, his only start against the Braves. Clemens went seven scoreless way back in April. In that game, Hudson pitched nine innings of shutout ball and we lost it 1-0 in the 12th. Ouch.

We'll have more previews Tuesday and a recap of the other playoff games. Right now, I'm picking the Cardinals, Yankees and Red Sox. Boring, I know. But how can you pick against Boston? And how can you pick against the Yankees? And the Cards? Come one...