Friday, March 31, 2006

I found a link to an excellent Roy Oswalt article at the Astros Daily message boards. It's under the title "On Oswalt". Here are some of my favorite quotes:

Before Game 6, McLane approached Oswalt in the Astros' clubhouse. "Roy, I'll make a deal with you," he said. "If you win the game tonight, I'll buy you a bulldozer." Oswalt lurched to his feet: "Deal!" Oswalt blew away Albert Pujols with a 95 mph fastball in the first, held St. Louis to three hits and a run over seven innings, and as he finished his work and walked toward the dugout, a thought echoed in his brain: That bulldozer's mine.

Oswalt was so damn good that game. That was his introduction to the casual baseball fan.

His arm went bad in the minor leagues. The Astros tinkered with his mechanics, tried to change the position of his foot, and he started to get sore in his shoulder, bad enough that he began taking painkillers on his own. When he went home for the offseason in the fall of 1999, his arm was killing him. One day, as he worked underneath the hood of his truck, standing on a metal bucket, he reached for the spark plug wires and electricity surged through him. He jerked himself away from the truck, fell to the ground and, after catching his breath, he lifted his arm. No pain.Doctors told Oswalt the shock had loosened an impingement in his shoulder. He'd gotten a break, and he intended to take advantage of it.

That's something you couldn't put in a Disney movie. No one would believe it.

Oswalt competes off the mound, too. A few seasons back, he and Wade Miller would pass the time during games by pitching pumpkin seeds from the dugout. Inevitably, they'd wind up in a war of distance flicking, and one day Oswalt flicked the mother of all pumpkin-seed flicks. It landed on the mound, right next to the foot of pitcher Shane Reynolds, who almost balked. Then-manager Jimy Williams glared at the two young pitchers and Oswalt thought fast: He stared at Miller. Williams stared at Miller. Convicted, without a trial.

HAHAHAHA. Oh, and Jimy Williams is a moron.

In Game 2 of the NLCS, Oswalt faced Jim Edmonds in the fifth inning with two outs, runners on first and second, Astros up 2-0. Edmonds fouled off fastball after fastball. Full count, with Pujols looming in the on-deck circle. Ausmus jogged to the mound. Fearing a walk, Ausmus wanted Oswalt to keep throwing fastballs. Oswalt wanted to throw a slider. "Man, that's Pujols on deck," Ausmus said."I don't care," Oswalt replied."Fine," Ausmus said. Oswalt threw a slider and Edmonds was caught looking. Inning over.

Suck it, Jedmonds. Suck it long, and suck it hard. He still owns us, though.

You remember what he said: He'll play 10 years, and then he'll figure it out. But Roy Oswalt already knows what he wants, what he needs, and it's all right here.Five more years. Could he really walk away?Of course he could.

Wow - only five more years? Say it ain't so, Roy. Still, it's good to see someone who isn't all about the money.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

I agree with Andy that our defense should be solid - Baseball Prospectus 2006 loves Taveras's range (more on that in a sec), Everett is great, Biggio is only a little below average, and Ausmus is above average. That's good up the middle, Wilson and Lane are ok, Ensberg is good, Berkman is ok. All in all, a very good defensive team.

I don't share your enthusiasm about Wandy, however. Your comparison to Zito is interesting because Zito is a bit of an exception to the rule - he's succeeded despite a declining K rate and an increasing walk rate. He's probably due for a fall. I didn't know Wandy was a GB pitcher - that bodes well for him in MMP and with our good infield defense, particularly the left side. I don't expect too much out of him with his 2005 BB / K ratio (53 / 80), but we don't really have anyone better.

I promised some BP 2006 Astros nuggets; here are my favorites: (you want more? buy the book!)

"The last sting of the Killer's B's was last year, especially if the Rocket's really retired....Whether they sign the 43-year old Clemens or not, the Astros are already a very old team...The farm system has one or two interesting prospects but no stars."

"One example of their front-office problems is the two-year deal recently proferred to Brad Ausmus, which locks him up in his Age 37 and 38 seasons for 7.5 million...a truly and thoroughly bad hitter, he's been ineffective his entire career, with only the most transitory blips to make you wonder if he's achieved adequacy...His defense, while solid, doesn't approach the level necessary to make up for his anemic bat."

"All clubs rebuild. It has to be done. The Astros...need to rebuild right now. This year is an opportunity for the Astros to take some chances, make some investments, and start building the next great Astros team. That team probably won't include Bagwell, Biggio, or Clemens, and it certainly won't include Brad Ausmus."

Jeff Bagwell - "Long term contracts for players already in their 30's arent a good idea....when the Astros finally made the World Series, they did so in spite of Bagwell's contract, not because of it."

Lance Berkman - "He's pretty much run out of value defensively, but he's a nice guy to stick in the middle of the lineup and depend on for legitimate #3 hitter production."

Craig Biggio - "He's aged gracefully....defensively, his return to 2nd base worked out about as well as anyone could have expected...he wasn't good, but he wasn't Alfonso Soriano either."

Morgan Ensberg - "If he can hang onto his dramatic increase in walks, there's no reason he can't cement his place among the NL's best players. Ensberg is an underrated defender as well; he may not look as graceful as Eric Chavez or Scott Rolen, but he's not far out of their class."

Adam Everett - "Shortstop is a wasteland in the NL right now...Everett should be healthy to begin the 2006 season, and should perform pretty well versus his peer group."

Jason Lane - "Lane finally demonstrated some of the power that the stathead community has waited for...his plate discipline took a bit of a slide, which isn't terribly unusual in a hitter's first full season. Lane's defense in the outfield is better than publicly perceived."

Hunter Pence - "Pence is the only real prospect in the organization, but he's got some strikes against shouldn't be hard to keep an eye on him in this system - he'll be the only guy in double digits in the home run column."

Willy Taveras - "A better player than most think, Taveras didn't exactly light up the scoreboard in his first full season in the majors, but his defense was astonishing...he showed some significant plate discipline and even a little power in the minors...he might be able to combine all the skills he's shown and have a reasonably valuable career."

Roger Clemens - "The only question left about Clemens is whether or not he's the best pitcher to ever walk the planet. A player of his caliber can be the difference between contender and champion, and World Series rings have a certain compulsive magic about them."

Brad Lidge - "Don't believe the backlash - Lidge is a complete and utter badass and could put up numbers in 2006 that would make Goose Gossage proud."

Roy Oswalt - "Great control, an above average K rate, a slow curve that makes hitters wish they were facing Johan Santana, and he's tough to steal on? A few things break his way, and he's vintage Pedro."

Wandy Rodriguez - "He wasn't ready to be pushed into the starting rotation, so while he had a couple of decent runs during the season, he got whacked around for mostof the year. He lacks the stuff to get by without nibbling, and doesn't really miss enough bats."

That's it for now. Opening Day can't come soon enough.
Our defense should be very, very good in 2006. Our most important defenders (SS, C and CF) could all be in the top 5 in their respective positions. Taveras made some rookie mistakes last year, but he should be making better reads and jumps in 2006. His speed and underrated arm make him a quality defender. Everett saves runs with his glove; he's not flashy but takes care of business. Ausmus has lost quite a bit in the throwing-out-runners department, but he brings so much to our pitching staff. (Backe has been pitching to Munson this spring... could it be a reason for his bad outings? Maybe.)

Our corner outfielders are solid. Wilson, normally a CF, should have an easy time in our small left field. And although Lane looks like he's lumbering around out in right, he makes plays and has a decent arm to hold runners. Ensberg in underrated, as is Berkman. Maybe I'm just comparing him to Lamb, but I was really impressed with his defense at first last year. More time there can only help. And besides, who can't play first (besides Bagwell...) Biggio's declining in range, but he should be solid enough to make the plays when he can get to them.

Pitcher A
129.2 IP, 5.60 K/9, 3.70 BB/9, 19 HR

Pitcher B
228.1 IP, 6.74 K/9, 3.51 BB/9, 26 HR

Clearly, Pitcher B is superior. But Pitcher A (Wandy) isn't too far behind Pitcher B (Zito). Thing is, Wandy is actually a big groundball pitcher (1.34 ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio). So with better control — and hopefully a few more Ks — he could be a serviceable starter.
You wouldn't know it by looking out the windows of the office I share with 6 other Math Graduate Teaching Assistants, but it's baseball time. In the past few days I've purchased MLB.TV for the season (only $99.95 for every out-of-market game - I can't afford not to!) and bought Baseball Prospectus 2006. So far I've just been flipping through it, looking at my favorite players and at the Astros team pages. Here are a few of their more interesting Astros observations:

Crap! I left the book at home. Guess my next post will be all about BP'06. Sorry about that. Anyway, the book seems solid so far, but there have been a surprising number of typos, as if it was rushed out a little quickly.

I have my first fantasy baseball draft today. It's with a bunch of guys that my brother knew in college, and they're a bunch of ultimate frisbee bums, so I should win the league easily. I'll let you know how it goes.

The Indians are going to dominate for a long time. They've signed Johnny Peralta, Victor Martinez, and Grady Sizemore (they signed Sizemore today) to 5+ year deals, they control Travis Hafner and C.C. Sabathia throug 2008, they're going to sign Cliff Lee to a long-term deal, Andy Marte doesn't reach arbitration for a while....quite simply, they're awesome. I'm jealous.

The Astros had their initial insurance claim on Jeff Bagwell rejected. According to most of what I've read, this will end up going to court, so we'll have to wait and see.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Somehow I missed the biggest story of all: Jeff Bagwell to begin season on the DL.

Definitely read that link, but the basic story is that Bagwell is going to begin the season on the 60-day DL, have more surgery to have bone spurs removed, and attempt to play later in the year. I've given Bagwell a hard time for insisting on trying to play when his body is clearly breaking down, but you have to feel for the guy. All he wants to do is play baseball. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like that's going to happen. At least he's admitting he's not ready to start Opening Day. If he never plays another game, Jeff Bagwell is a first-ballot Hall of Famer and the greatest Astro of all time.

The Astros likely will open the season with Craig Biggio batting in the leadoff spot ahead of Willy Taveras, which is what manager Phil Garner did toward the end of last season and in the playoffs.

Biggio, who batted first in 18 games last year and second in 100 games, has been hitting leadoff for much of spring training. Garner isn't com-
mitted to a lineup, but liked Biggio at the top last season.

"The reason I moved it last year was I felt like Biggio was doing a good job of driving in runs and Willy's natural stroke was to hit it to the right side of the diamond, and I also felt like with Willy's ability to bunt with Biggio on base, it adds a new dimension," Garner said.

Remember when Jimy Williams used to bunt in the 1st inning if our leadoff hitter got on base? It might just start happening again. Biggio just isn't a leadoff hitter anymore. His on-base percentage has dropped the last four years in a row, and he's morphed into more of a power hitter. It would be better to drop him in the lineup and put on-base guys like Ensberg and Berkman closer to the top. A lineup of


is probably the best we could do. Putting two of our four worst hitters at the top two spots sucks.
Phil Garner has a great quote in an article on Jason Lane:

"Batting average is a horrible way to evaluate a player's performance," Garner said.

But he then immediately follows it up with this gem:

"A guy can be hitting .300 and every time you have a runner on base in the seventh, eighth and ninth inning, he's striking out. That's a very poor hitter.

"Likewise, a guy can be a .260 hitter but every time he gets somebody on base in the seventh, eighth, ninth innings in a close ballgames, he's the guy driving it somewhere. That guy's a much better hitter and much more productive."

So batting average doesn't matter, but batting average with runners in scoring position does? I don't get it. You can't base how good a hitter someone is based on how he does with runners in scoring position. It's just as important to actually GET runners in scoring position. And you have to get on base to do that.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Bob Hulsey of Astros Daily has a nice Astros preview over at the Hardball Times. Check it out here. Damn, that was a good Villanova / BC game.
First of all, a "Congratulations" to Aaron Gleeman, fellow baseball blogger, who was profiled in this week's Sports Illustrated. Check out his calm and composed reaction at his blog.

It was nice to see the Astros offense get going today, as we pounded out 13 runs and 16 hits. Roy Oswalt got the win with the following line:

7 IP 9 H 3 ER 1 BB 6 K 94 pitches

It seems like he's ready for the season to start. A few recent Astros articles in the Chronicle have focused on the battle for the 5th spot in the rotation - supposedly it's down to Zeke Astacio, Taylor Bucholz, and Carlos Hernandez (although Fernando Nieve was also mentioned as a possibility). I'll cast my vote for Astacio right now - he gave up a crapload of home runs last year (23 in 81 IP), but his BB / K ratio was excellent and his minor league numbers the past few years are much better than either Bucholz or Hernandez. Everyone is hot for Bucholz because he did well in the Arizona Fall League and everyone remembers how good Carlos Hernandez was for a few starts a couple of years ago...but they're wrong. Astacio is the better pitcher of the three right now and has by far the most potential of the three. He should be the 5th starter, and I would be surprised if he doesn't put up better numbers than Wandy Rodriguez.

I dropped my rental car off today and ran into a bunch of 'ski hippies' in downtown Flagstaff. We finally got our first few inches of snow and have since been overrun by ski bums. Actually, I love it - it's good for the economy, and they're fun to be around. Except when they 'accidentally' hit me with a snowball.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

It's been a fun-filled Spring Break so far - JT and I caught an A's/Royals spring training game (Joe Blanton got hammered by the mighty Royals offense), drove up to Vegas for a few days, and then back to Flagstaff through some snow. Now it's time to get back to work.

As far I can tell there haven't been any Astros news lately. Jeff Bagwell is still trying to play through pain, it looks like Wandy has wrapped up the #4 spot (can't say I'm thrilled about that, but I couldn't see anything else happening), and Eric Munson has been hitting well. Unfortunately, he's also Mike Lamb's identical twin - they're both left-handed backup corner infielders with some pop. Carrying them both on the roster would be inefficient (though not terrible). I did read that Garner was trying to considering Munson as a backup catcher, which would be pretty sweet. A .400 SLG% from a catcher? Whoa.

I enjoyed the WBC also - the excitement level among the fans (especially from other countries) was amazing. The timing of it is still weird, but I think it's a great idea.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Wow, the WBC was fantastic. Did anyone expect Cuba in the final? And how about Japan beating Korea on its third try and scrounging together 10 runs in the final? Great stuff.

Meanwhile, Brandon Backe got pounded today by the Tigers. He gave up nine runs, four homers, ten hits and five walks in 4 1/3 innings. Yikes. Of course, he had ex-Tiger Eric Munson behind the plate, so maybe that explains something (Munson did go 4-for-5 with a homer, though). Bagwell got a few innings in at first base, and Steve Sparks actually had a decent outing: 1 2/3 innings and no baserunners. Opening Day starter!

The LSU-A&M game was fantastic. And what an ending! It's obvious that neither team is on the same level of upper-tier teams like Duke and Bradley, but it is still so much fun to watch all these college players give it their all. Of course, I had Iowa, Pitt and Illinois in the final four, so it's safe to say I have the worst bracket ever.

Friday, March 17, 2006

How bout them Aggies!?! Upset Syracuse 66-58 last night. Acie Law was magnificent, and the defense was stifling. I am officially the worst bracket-picker ever. I had Marquette in the Elite eight.

Not that anyone watched, but Rocket couldn't win for the USA, no thanks to Jeff Francouer and Vernon Wells. We lost to Mexico, 2-1 and didn't advance to the semis. It's Cuba vs. Dominican Republic and Japan vs. South Korea. Should be fun to watch.

Caught our 11-1 loss to the Yankees a couple days ago. Harold Reynolds interviewed Jeff Bagwell and asked him how he felt. "Today i would not be able to play in a major league game," he said. "But thats not to say that i couldn't in a couple of weeks." Same old, same old. I can't tell if he's being pessimistic or just honest.
How bout them Aggies!?! Upset Syracuse 66-58 last night. Acie Law was magnificent, and the defense was stifling. I am officially the worst bracket-picker ever. I had Marquette in the Elite eight.

Not that anyone watched, but Rocket couldn't win for the USA, no thanks to Jeff Francouer and Vernon Wells. We lost to Mexico, 2-1 and didn't advance to the semis. It's Cuba vs. Dominican Republic and Japan vs. South Korea. Should be fun to watch.

Caught our 11-1 loss to the Yankees a couple days ago. Harold Reynolds interviewed Jeff Bagwell and asked him how he felt. "Today i would not be able to play in a major league game," he said. "But thats not to say that i couldn't in a couple of weeks." Same old, same old. I can't tell if he's being pessimistic or just honest.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

A Review of

The Last Nine Innings

by Charles Euchner

First of all, let me say that I truly enjoyed this book. Euchner does a great job covering many different baseball topics - sometimes I think he bites off a little more than he can chew, but more on that later.

The book is roughly based on the format of John McPhee's tennis classic, "Levels of the Game", in which McPhee uses a single tennis match between Arthur Ashe and Clark Graebner as an excuse to delve deep into both men's pasts, tennis, life, philosophy, and whatever else he can think of. It's an awesome book, and Euchner says as much in his introduction. His idea is to write a baseball book centered around Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, in which the Diamondbacks and the Yankees play one of the greatest baseball games of modern times.

During the 300 pages of the book, only about 50 will be devoted to on-field action - Euchner likes to take select ideas and run with them, whether it's the history of baseball, the art of pitching, the stats vs. scouts debate, the rise in foreign-born MLB players, etc, etc.

One minor complaint I have at this point is Euchner devotes much of the game's coverage to a few select players: Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling, Randy Johnson, Derek Jeter, Luis Gonzalez, Mariano Rivera. These guys are fascinating characters, no doubt, but I'd be equally interested in the bench players / rookies who aren't stars. Then again, that kind of book might not be as interesting to the casual fan.

My favorite section from the book come from the stats vs. scouts chapter, which Euchner neatly summarizes in an argument over Derek Jeter's fielding. I also especially enjoyed a short chapter on batting stances, from the strangeness of Craig Counsell's stance ("He looks like he was trying to knock a spider off the ceiling with a broom"..."He's beautiful.") to the open stance of Luis Gonzalez.

I could go into more detail, but if you want to learn more about a few of the hot topics in baseball or you're a fan of baseball in general or you remember the 2001 World Series fondly, I have one recommendation: Check out this book!

I'll write more about the book later; I have to run.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

I'm loving the WBC! The games are intense, with managers and players from both sides giving it their all. Oh, wait... make that, every team but the USA. Sure, we're winning some ballgames, but I just don't see the same enthusiasm and energy from our guys as I see in Venezuela and Puerto Rico and even Korea and Japan. Did anyone see Chipper Jones hit into a double play after the shortstop fell down? Ugh. Now we gotta beat Mexico and hope Korea beats Japan.

I just saw Moises Alou sprint to first faster than I've ever seen him run. The DR just went up 1-0 on a botched roller by Miggy Cabrera for Venezuela. Can't believe one of those teams won't make the semifinal. But that makes this game all the more interesting to watch. Freddy Garcia vs. the Dominican lineup! Oh boy...

By the way, I saw Vince Sinisi playing CF and batting fifth for Team Italy. Big Vince led The Woodlands HS to a state title in 2000 and went to Rice, and he's a cousin of my buddy Garrett. Vince is in AA in the Rangers' system... maybe we'll see him in the majors someday.

I was watching an old Twilight Zone episode the other day... the one where a bunch of people are stuck in a diner and one of them is supposedly an alien. Cops are interrogating the suspects, and the first question they ask is, "Who won the World Series race last year?" Ah, baseball...

Sunday, March 12, 2006

It might not feel or look like spring in Flagstaff, Arizona (30 inches of snow over the weekend), but when I turned on the TV and saw a baseball game (Japan / USA in the World Baseball Classic), it sure felt like spring.

I'm cruising through "The Last Nine Innings" - I should finish it early this week. The last chapter I read had an interesting take on the stats vs. scouts (Moneyball vs. Joe Morgan?) debate. I'll write all about it.

I haven't played poker online in close to 6 months, but after reading a little of "The Theory of Poker", by David Sklansky, I realize that I can't wait to start playing again. Not until I get the ol' master's degree, though.

I 'fixed' my I-Pod today: the headphone connection is scratched, but if I shove the headphones in as far as they'll go, then keep them squeezed tight (by placing the I-Pod upside down, or putting a book on top of it, etc.), it sounds great! This is good, since if it keeps snowing like this (although it's not supposed to) I'll be walking to school a lot.

We had ultimate frisbee practice despite 30+ mph winds and the first foot of snow on Friday afternoon (sound familiar, Andy?) It was awesome, although I need some new cleats.

Well, that's it. Astros lose 7-0 to the Dodgers - I know it's just spring training, but our offense isn't exactly lighting it up. No worries?

Friday, March 10, 2006

A quick Astros quote:

Josh Anderson, the Astros' fourth-round choice in the 2003 draft, has earned All-Star honors in each of his three seasons in professional baseball. He led Class AA Corpus Christi in hits (148) and steals (50) last year and was a Texas League All-Star.
"I set goals for myself every year, and last year, I look at it as being a great year," said Anderson, who throws righthanded. "I reached a lot of goals and I learned a lot playing a full season in Double-A, which was good for me. I definitely have no regrets the way things went.
"My goal for this year is as a top-of-the-order leadoff hitter to see a lot of pitches. I want to try to draw more walks, be selective."

Good stuff. Send that memo to Willy Taveras, while you're at it. The Astros are up 5-2 in today's game, thanks to a Charlton Jimerson grand slam. Steve Sparks has worked out of some trouble so far - he's walking guys and giving up hits left and right. Gotta run.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

1. Write every day.
2. Write what you know.
- Charles Bukowski

Astros 3, Mets 2 - Zeke Astacio gets the win, with 3 scoreless innings in relief, O-Palm hits a HR, and Roy O gave up 2 runs in 4 innings, Chris Burke played some more SS, Jeff Bagwell got 3 AB's as a DH. That's about it.

Jeff Bagwell update:

Bagwell was quick to say that the shoulder doesn't affect his hitting. His bat is fine, no different than it's been in past Spring Trainings.
"I'm not very good in Spring Training," he said. "But as long as I'm seeing the ball and picking the spin up and things like that, then that's great.
"As I've said all along, the key here is can I throw and hit. Only time will tell that."

Wow, nice answer, Jeff. So no matter how badly you do in spring training, it's only because you're not very good yet, huh? It couldn't possibly be the shoulder. Way to leave youself an easy excuse.

I just received "The Last Nine Innings" in the mail yesterday, and I've been reading it every chance I get. Expect a review soon. I like the writing style a lot - it covers Game 7 of the 2001 Yankees - DBacks World Series, but manages to talk about almost every current baseball topic while doing so.

I don't know what to say about Barry Bonds. Do I think he used steroids? Yep. Do I think many other major leaguers, including Jeff Bagwell, also did? You bet. Asking him to retire is ridiculous. Just because he's a cocky asshole doesn't mean he should be singled out for doing what many others were doing at the same time.

Man, I love Rotoworld - tons of player notes and prospect lists. A sample:

Adam Everett was scratched from today's starting lineup with what the Astros are calling a sprained lower back.He's off to Houston for an examination, making it unlikely that he'll be back in the lineup on Friday. It might not be a bad thing for Everett to a miss a week or so, giving the Astros more of an opportunity to evaluate Chris Burke at shortstop.

More soon.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Oh man. Baseball. As in: BASEBALL.

The Astros lose again - good thing it's Spring Training. But the U.S. lost also to the mighty Canadian squad. Bah.

I was working out my schedule for my last sememster here at NAU and it is jam-freakin'-packed. Spring Break, Vegas, parents moving to Flagstaff, oral exams, finals, graduation....freedom! Oh, and writing about the Astros until I can't write no more! Speaking of which, Roger Clemens again said he's leaning towards retirement today - at least that's what he told USA Today. If he retires....well, I thought last year was a rebuilding year, but maybe this year would be the true rebuilding year.

Anyway, NAU lost in the conference championship to go to March Madness today. Damn. But I can still have a beer or two.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

A piece of advice for Carlos Hernandez: do NOT hang a curveball to Big Papi. He will destroy you. And it's too bad, really, because until Papi's ENORMOUS two-run blast off Carlito (his second of the game), the Venezuela-Dominican Republic WBC matchup was fairly close. But Ortiz and Adrian Beltre, who also homered twice, were too much for the Venezuelan pitchers. Oh, Taveras went 0-for-4, but made some good plays in centerfield.

As for the Astros, well … they got beat down by the NY Metropolitans, 7-1. Nieve and Buchholz combined to give up seven runs in six innings, although each pitcher was only charged with one earned run thanks to sloppy defense up the middle. Burke committed yet another error, this time at second base. That's got to be his third or fourth error of the Spring. Not helping his chances of seeing time at short... Of course if he keeps crushing the ball (he hit another double today), it'll be hard to keep him out of the lineup. It sure woulda been nice to rough up Billy Wagner, but he went 1-2-3 against us. Bah.

Monday, March 06, 2006

I know Spring Training is meaningless (after all, the White Sox were 0-6 before winning Monday), but it's hard not to get excited about a 11-1 win. Of course, we started our best lineup (Biggio, Bagwell (DH), Berkman, Ensberg, Wilson, Lane, Ausmus, Everett, Palmeiro) against a bunch of scrub pitchers for the Nats. I could talk about how we batted around in the first inning; how Lane hit another homer; how we drew seven walks as a team … but I won't.

The big news was Brandon Backe. The kid threw three hitless innings and walked only one. And this was against Washington's "real" lineup, if you can call it that. No Soriano, but Vidro, Johnson, Church, Zimmerman, Tucker and Clayton couldn't do squat against Backe. Keep it up, big fella. Trever Miller K'd a couple in his inning: he's been putting up zeros so far. Qualls rebounded from an ugly outing over the weekend with a scoreless inning today.

I hope today's lineup is an indicator of Garner's master plan during the regular season. It's a shame to bench Willy T, but as pinch runner/defensive replacement, his best skills are still being used. Some folks think he ought to start the year at AAA Round Rock, but with Bagwell's (and Wilson's) injury concerns, he might as well stay up. Bagwell appears to be a good fit for the number two spot: he won't have the pressure of having to drive in runs but his keen batting eye and baserunning skills are still very good.

The order of Wilson and Lane shouldn't matter, as they actually are identical twins. Both have dominated so far this spring and might near 30 homers on the season. But whoever bats sixth in front of Ausmus and Everett might not get too many good pitches to see. Of course, those two never saw a pitch they didn't like, so maybe this isn't such a good thing after all.

J.R. House sure is getting a lot of playing time, just not at catcher. First base today, third base yesterday. He's been doing all right, too … maybe Garner should give him a start or two at catcher during a split-squad game to check out his defense and game-calling.
Astros all over the news lately. Spring training is in full swing, with a few positive signs. The WBC is also under way, with Japan and Korea advancing from Pool A. Those two will join the top two teams from America's pool (with Mexico, Canada and South Africa). Notable Astros playing: Lidge and Wheeler (USA), Carlos Hernandez (Venezuela), Taveras (Dominican), Gallo (Italy).

Berkman and Pettitte were on SportsCenter's The Weekend show on Sunday and were interviewed by Linda Cohn. Pettitte didn't have much to say about Clemens' possible return, but said that the team shouldn't bank on having him back — that we need to prepare to play the season with or without him. Berkman was a little critical of the WBC, suggesting it should occur every four years during the middle of the season, a la Olympic hockey. Not a bad suggestion; the U.S. needs as much help as it can get.

Spring training snippets

Friday: Houston 11, Cleveland 5. Bagwell actually led off at DH and scored a pair of runs. Chris Burke hit a triple and started at short, but didn't have to make any plays there. Lane went crazy with a homer and three RBI. Raul Chavez went 3-for-3 , Bruntlett drove in four, and Luke Scott started in center.
On the mound, Taylor Buchholz was brilliant, allowing one hit in two innings. Fernando Nieve got lit up for four runs on four hits and a walk in his two innings, though he struck out three. Jason Hirsh allowed one run on three hits in two.

Saturday: Atlanta 10, Houston 6. Ensberg homered and Preston Wilson went 2-for-2, beating out an infield single and lining a double down the left-field line. "We have a chance to be a really good ballclub," he said. "Hopefully, I'll help the team enough to get us to that next level." Biggio got a pair of hits leading off, and Bagwell went 1-for-3 at DH again. Burke played a couple more innings at short again, and Luke Scott hit a triple while playing center.
Oswalt started and threw 19 pitches in two innings — 15 for strikes. He gave up two hits with a strikeout, throwing only fastballs and curves. "It was nothing major," he said. "I'm staying with basic stuff until I get it going." He said he'll put off work on a changeup and slider until later in the spring. Last year, he tinkered with a split-fingered fastball, then realized his primary pitches had suffered. "I worked on that more than I worked on the basic stuff, so I lost the feel for the first few games of the season," he said.
Wandy and Qualls both got lit up for four runs, but Trever Miller looked sharp.

Sunday: Dominican Republic 12, Houston 8. Here was the lineup for the Dominican: Soriano, Tejada, Pujols, Ortiz, Alou, Beltre, Peña (Willy Mo), Encarnacion, Castillo. Them's good. We started Biggio, Bagwell (DH), Berkman, Ensberg, Wilson, Burke (SS), Palmeiro, Ausmus and Scott. Zeke started and gave up two runs on three hits and four walks. Sparks, Sampson, Muecke and Gutierrez didn't do much better. The big news: Burke committed a fielding error at shortstop and (I think) didn't convert another possible out, though it wasn't scored an error. He did, however, stroke a two-run double in the 5th. Willy Taveras pinch ran for DR (a role that he's perfect for) and scored in the 6th. But somehow he grounded into a double play in the 7th! And apparently Juan Gutierrez pitched the top of the ninth for the ASstros, changed uniforms mid-inning and threw the bottom of the inning for the Dominican! That's awesome.

Split squad: Philly 4, Houston 3. Wow. We actually lost to the Phillies. Good thing it doesn't matter. Not much here: Everett, Lane, Bruntlett and Quintero were the only major leaguers who played. We let a bunch of rookies pitch, and they all did pretty well: Borkowski, Paulino, Albers, Gothreauz and Estrada gave up only one run through 8 innings before Peguero gave up four in 1 1/3. Oh well.

Next up: Washington Monday, NY Mets on Tuesday, Toronto on Wednesday, Mets again Thursday, Washington again Friday. Bagwell should get some time in the field soon enough.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Astros played their 1st spring training game today, losing 5-2 to the Indians. Craig Biggio and Eric Munson had RBI singles and Steve Sparks gave up all 5 runs (4 earned). Lots of players got a few at-bats; according to Phil Garner, Jeff Bagwell will DH in Friday's game.

I'm heading down to Tucson for an ultimate frisbee tournament tomorrow. Maybe Andy can write a post or two about the next few Astros ST games? Ah, baseball.