Saturday, April 29, 2006

Another loss to the Reds today. Pettitte was cruising through 3 innings but then collapsed in the 4th and 5th, giving up hits and walks galore. I was a little depressed so I decided to go on a bike ride, which ended up turning into a 2-hour marathon ride up Mt. Humphreys. By the time I was finished I was too tired to care anymore. Taylor Bucholz tries to help us avoid the sweep tomorrow.

The parents have been hitting up garage sales all over town as they're filling up their new house with stuff. I've been nominated the official move-in helper, and it's just as well, since their house is pretty cool and I need the exercise. It's a little strange having them so close (it's a 10 minute walk and 5 minute bike ride to their place) but after a few free meals I'm sure I'll appreciate them. And Flagstaff isn't THAT small of a town - it's not like we'll see each other everywhere. Just at the disc golf courses.

The NFL Draft was today, and I'm pretty excited by how my favorite team did. Nope, not the Texans - I don't want to get into the Reggie Bush / Mario Williams saga (but I do think Bush was the best player available) - but the Titans, who picked up Vince Young and LenDale White with their first two picks. Both picks are risky - Young might not translate well to the pro game (see Michael Vick) and White had a terrible combine and some drug issues - but they're both very high upside, as I think both Young and White are top-5 pick talents.

Back to work - 2 weeks until graduation.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

I think you meant that Adam Everett is leading all NL shortstops with 13 RBI, Andy. 'Cause I think Mr. Lance Berkman has about 23 RBI!

I passed my oral exams on Monday, essentially guaranteeing that I'll graduate with a master's degree in Statistics in two weeks. I'd like to say they were a long, grueling ordeal, but they weren't too bad - actually kind of fun. Ok, not fun, but I guess I was well-prepared because they went pretty smoothly. I celebrated by watching the first few innings of the Pettitte - Lowe game (which Lidge ended up blowing in the 9th), and then getting pretty drunk at a friend's house.

Hey, how about Wandy Rodriguez? The kid looked good again last night; even the Dodger announcers were impressed, commenting that he has an easy delivery, throws strikes, and seems confident out there. That's all music to my ears. However, some of Wandy's confidence is probably due to the fact that our offense goes crazy whenever he starts. Yesterday was no exception - Lance Berkman absolutely CRUSHED a 2-run bomb off Odalis Perez (batting righty!), Chris Burke went 3-for-4 with 2 RBI (and I'm glad to see Burke replacing Everett at SS and not Bruntlett. Brunt's main positive is his ability to fill in capably at any defensive position during the C-Burke is batting .440!), and the rest of the offense, with the exception of poor Preston Wilson (who is 1 for his last 29), rocked.

Still, however he's doing it, Wandy is DOING IT. He's 4-0 with a 2.53 ERA and a reasonable 9/21 walk-to-strikeout ratio. I still don't think he can keep it up, but I'll admit he's looked good, and maybe a sub-4.50 ERA is a possibility.

The parents get into Flagstaff sometime tomorrow - it's the first stage of their move out here. It's good timing on their part - the weather is just starting to get nice around here.

The 'Stros get a day off, and then we start a big series with the 15-7 Cincinnati Reds, who are tearing the cover off the ball. Too bad they're going to see Oswalt, Pettitte, and Bucholz! Berkman always crushes the Reds, so look for Lance to keep rocking.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

X-rays were negative on Everett's left hand. Phew. He's hitting .273 / .310 / .379 and leads the NL with 13 RBI, so he's exceeded expectations at the plate. Interestingly enough, Chris Burke is getting the start at shortstop tonight, not Bruntlett, like I had thought. Oh, and Kent, Furcal and Lofton are all sitting out tonight's game after the 14-inning affiar last night. Git 'em, Wandy.
Ok. So Lidge blew another save. So we continued to fail with runners in scoring position, missing easy opportunities to win a game. What matters is, we did enough to eke out a victory. It sure wasn't pretty — two of our runs came on errors — but the only important stat is the W. In fact, the two newest Astros, P-Dub and D-Bork, had great games. Preston needed a good game to right his funk, and Borkowksi showed that he can play with the big boys. A week after being called up to replace the injured Trevor Miller, he threw four shoutout innings while allowing only a bunt single by Lofton.

Preston had a pair of singles that led to runs — he drove in Willy T in the first and scored on a wild pitch after leading off the seventh wth a hit. On those at-bats, he toned down his home-run stroke a little and simply got a nice, solid stroke on the ball. And good things happened. He also stole a pair of bases. So despite the recent struggles, he's still a valuable commodity in left field.

Lidge was wild again today, walking the bases loaded and allowing a Kent sac fly to tie the game in the ninth. He seems reluctant to throw the slider anywhere but down in the dirt (Is he afraid of leaving one up like he did to Pujols?). He has fooled hitters to swing at the slider down (see the PIrates' Jose Castillo), but more and more are laying off it. And then there's his fastball. Like they say, a 98-mph heater is nothing if you can't locate it. Lidge needs to be able to go down and away consistently. This heart-of-the-plate stuff isn't cutting it.

Look, I'm not down on Lidge. The guy's usually lights out. Hitters will still tell you that he has some of the nastiest stuff in baseball. I don't think he's having mental problems — it's just a matter of his control. Every pitcher goes through these phases, and hopefully Lidge can work his way out of his.

Wandy makes his first start against the Dodgers, who counter with Odalis Perez tomorrow. Win it and we'll have won (or tied) every series in '06. Biggio is 4-for-11, all doubles, against Perez. Berkman 3-for-6. Nomar is 5-for-8 against Wandy in the battle of the troublesome groins.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Nieve starts against Brad Penny in an hour. Yahoo has the regular lineup posted. The parents are driving up here to catch The Will Rogers Follies. I'm going with them, so I'll miss the first few innings. Nieve's first start at The Juicebox... let's wish him the same result as Buchholz.

Monday, April 24, 2006

B'oh. Hey, at least when Lidge blows 'em, he REALLY blows 'em. No simple homer, or a doubles and a single. Oh no. That's not Lidge's style. He got Furcal to ground out, then gave up a triple to Lofton. Walked Drew on four straight pitches after he got ahead 0-2, and walked Kent after that. Nomar wasn't chasing his sliders, so Lidge blew a couple fastballs by him. The third fastball landed about 420 feet away. Lidge is fine... it's only his first blown save and loss on the year, and though he's been shaky, so has everyone. It's never a good thing to lose games, but this one doesn't bother me too much. I mean, everyone in the media is blasting us because we're winning close games and losing blowouts. This is almost a wake-up call that it's not always as easy (or lucky) as it has been the last two weeks.

Tough loss, but let's win tomorrow.
Berkman homers to DEEP left-center with two outs in the bottom of the eighth to give the Astros a slim 2-1 lead. Lidge better get ready, he's got the top of the order coming up. Damn, Lance! You so sexy!
Jack takes his oral exams today to find out if he has the kung-fu skills to defeat the dragon master. I mean... to see if he knows enough about statistics. Good luck, buddy.

In honor of Jack's big day, Pettitte has thrown 6 innings of no-hit ball. J.D. Drew hit a solo homer with one out in the sixth to break it up and tie the game at 1-1. Ausmus has two monstrous doubles, the first of which drove in Lane, who (guess what?) walked. Palmeiro hit for Pettitte (who had thrown 101) in the bottom of the seventh with two on and two out, but grounded to first. Wheeler allowed a leadoff single to Mueller in the eighth, but set down the next three batters in order. Top of the order up in the bottom of the eighth!
Sorry for the delay in my write-up of the Buchholz game on Saturday. I think I'm still stunned by it. Actually, I spent a lot of the weekend helping the parents pack for their move out to Flagstaff. I also didn't go to the Sunday afternoon game, mostly because I knew there was no way it could top Saturday's game.

My drive to The Woodlands was somewhat delayed by Friday night beer pong with some A&M friends. We'll just say I'm glad it was a night game. Barstool and I left the Wade house with plenty of time — a good thing since we hit traffic on I-45. Still got to The Juicebox an hour before first pitch (I had wanted to catch some of BP, but my hangover and my general tardiness prevented that). We walked around the stadium for a bit to soak up the atmosphere — it had been almost a year since I last visited Minute Maid. We saw all the new attractions: the '05 NL Pennant banner underneath the railroad tracks (it's black unlike all the brick red WC and NL Central banners), the new Coke sign under the scoreboard, the updated pictures of various Astros painted on random support columns (My favorite is Ensberg with his arms in the air, yelling with delight... you think he knows about these? and is he embarassed?). We got some ice cream to ward off the heat, and found our seats... row 5 of the upper deck directly behind home plate: we had a perfect view to tell if pitches were inside or outside (and lemme tell you, I was plenty of called strikes that seemed to be a foot outside). We missed the national anthem and barely sat down before the first pitch.

And then Buchholz went nuts.

Nine up, nine down to start the game. The first inning was actually kind of scary: Duffy smacked a ball hard to Everett, who had to make a good play spinning to his left to nab it. Jack Wilson then cracked a liner up the middle that Buchholz snared on one hop. It wasn't nearly the best comebacker caught by pitchers this week — there were plenty of them to go around — but it was a fine play by Buchholz to rob WIlson of a hit. And then Bay hit a bmob to center. I thought it was gone off the bat, but watched as Taveras twisted and turned his way backwards... running right, running left, finally catching the ball on Tal's Hill, a mere 420 feet away from home plate. Yikes.

But he settled down after that. Hit Duffy leading off the fourth, but induced Wilson into the double play. In the fifth, Burnitz hit a sharp single to right that Biggio really didn't have a play on. If he were for some reason at double-play depth, it would've been right to him... but oh well. Of course, no one thought at the time that it'd be the only hit Taylor would give up until the 9th inning!

Meanwhile, the offense took advantage of some sloppy defense in the first inning to get on the board. Biggio led off the Astros' first by popping out to center. I had already looked away, when Barstool elbowed me. "Wait! Oh! Ooooh!" The crowd was reacting the same way... lauhging and then cheering at Chris Duffy misplay of the easy pop fly. He had broken back initially, and it took him a few seconds to realize it was coming in shallow. Duffy's a fast litle guy, and just about had a chance to mae a diving play on it, but let it fall in at the last second. Yay.

Next, Willy T (who might be mistaken for Barstool next time out.. that's right, Barstool will soon own a Taveras jersey) slapped a ball between first and second. Castillo, who had been at double-play depth, ran back into right field and couldn't catch up to it. So two potential outs turned into two soft singles. And here comes Berkman!

And there goes Berkman. GIDP. Shit. But Ensberg comes through with a solid base knock to center with two strikes on him! 1-0 good guys! Snell was almost as good as Buchholz for the next three innings. Lane walked but was stranded. Berkman singled and Ensberg walked, but Preston struck out swinging. Thankfully, the crowd held its boos. His slump has been pretty bad over the past two weeks, but all ballplayers go through that. And I don't want to be put on the same level as Mets or Cubs fans, who boo their own players. That's not classy. Besides, with two outs, a punch out there is the exact same as if he were robbed of a home run. So the K wasn't so bad. And, for the most part, aren't bad in general.

In the fifth, Biggio hit his 611th career double, and it went where at least 90 percent of his doubles go: down the left-field line. I don't know if defenses ever put on a shift for a right-handed hitter, but Biggio almost always pulls the ball, and usually right down the line. In any case, Biggio is good. Swinging at everything, but still... he's going crazy right now. He adjusted the positioning of his hands after watching videos of at-bats in which he struggled. Since then, he's gone 16-for-26 with 4 doubles, three homers, seven RBI and eight runs. That boosted his OPS from .579 to 1.009. He's gotta be player of the week (if not for his teammate...). Willy T chopped one to third and beat out Randa's throw. First and third, one out (Buchholz K'd) and Berkman coming up!

And this time, he does his job... by crushing a ball to center. Like Bay's ball, I thought Berkman's was gone. But he just got uner it, and Duffy caught it on the warning track near the Astros' bullpen. Biggio trotted home for run number two.

Two innings later, Biggio hits a sharp line drive off lefty reliever John Grabow. It's going right toward Bay in left. "Get over his head," I shout. Bay had backpedaled, but soon turned around to play it off the scoreboard. "Alright!" I thought. "Another double for Bidge!" But I was way off... the ball snuck into the first row of the Crawford boxes for a homer! Biggio scores his third run of the game, the Astros' only ones. Wily T and Berkman hit solid singles immediately after, and Ensberg walked against reliever Salomon Torres, who's actually pretty good. Bases loaded, one out for Preston! I lean over to Barstool: "Man, this would be the perfect way to break out of his slump. Just an easy single. Or even a deep fly ball. Anything to get him started." Of course, it's a situation where a K is awful. But Preston didn't K — he grounded into the easy double play. The struggles continue (and he did draw a few boos). Personally, I was just glad he made contact.

Oh yeah, did I mention Buchholz was cruising? Duffy got on in the fourth via HBP but was erased on Wilson's GIDP. After Burnitz's single in the fifth, Buchholz was perfect! No baserunners! Nada! Craig Wilson came up in the eighth. By this time, fans were starting to realize what the kid had going. They were really cheering him on. And when Wilson smacked a liner into left, you could hear the crowd draw a collective breath... before Wilson layed out and snagged it! A great play... one of several he's made this year that Berkman (and probably Burke) couldn't have made. Great defensive play, and the crowd really appreciated the effort.

Here's where the game got intense. Keep in mind, the Astros' lead was a slim one, 3-0. Buchholz quickly gets Freddy Sanchez to ground out to Everett, who, charging, somehow manages to juggle it over his head a few times before firing it to first just in time. For a relatively easy play, Everett sure made it look tough! Next up, Nate McLouth, who strikes out on a full count!. I don't think I've ever been so nervous for a pitcher the way I was for Buchholz. I mean, I'm pretty much always nervous for Lidge, and I've seen a few gems in my day (including Julian Tavarez taking a no-hitter into the seventh... for the Cubs), but never something like this. The stadium was shaking. everyone was on their feet, willing Buchholz to get one more out

A grounder to second! Bruntlett's got it! He..... fires! ..... wait..... WHAT?!? ..... he dropped it! ...... now he's got it! ...... he fires it! ...... Berkman's got it! ....... NOOOO!!! Ump said safe!! Berkman hops off the bag in a rage! The crowd, which had been cheering like crazy, turns its ire onto the ump. Or Bruntlett, who must've felt two feet small. Booms echo through the stadium! The fireworks are going off! And not just one or two, but an entire display. It must've lasted 30 seconds! Personally, I couldn't help but laugh. I mean, either way, this is something Buchholz will remember forever (as well as most of the fans), and it really makes you realize that baseball is really a game, and sometimes crazy stuff like this happens, and it's all fun.

So shake it off, big guy! Let's just get Wilson here... the one-hitter's still inta---- Nope. Wilson singles to left. Up walks Jason Bay! This game suddenly went from a once-in-a-lifetime event to a possible extra-inning affair in a matter of seconds. Out walks Garner. He doesn't even hesitate when he points his right hand to the bullpen. Lidge.

Lidge said after the game he didn't want to pitch. It sounded weird hearing him say that... but I know what he meant. He wanted Buchholz to go all the way. But despite the crowd's boos, I think it was a smart move. Wilson's single was sharp, and you don't go for sentimentality when a game hangs in the balance. Lidge comes in and immediately gets behind Bay, something he's done quite a bit of late. The old throw-it-two-feet outside routine. But Lidge comes back to a full count and gets Bay looking to end it! Booyah.

Eight and two-thirds of two-hit ball by the youngster! That's something you don't see everyday. I had a hard time seeing his pitches from my angle, but on the replays, his curve looked unhittable. He made Bay and a few others look silly trying to put feeble swings on that curve after they already knew it was too late. And i saw a few 94 mph heaters from the big guy.

After the game, Barstool and I headed down to the dugout to see Buchholz's interview. He came hopping out of the dugout to sit on the field level like he was still walking on air. There were probably 100 or 200 people who hung around to applaud him, and we let him have it when he first came out. He was only a few feet away, and boy did he look scrawny! He's listed at 6'4" and 220 pounds, but that's rather generous. I think I'm taller (6'2") and weigh more (180). He talked for a good five minutes, interspersed with interrupting applause and chants from the crowd.

It was a great day for Buchholz, and a great day to be an Astros fan.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Our lineup for Sunday looks like:


So Preston Wilson gets the day off. I still think he'll be fine - he's just barely missing some pitches at the moment and he's getting a lot of tough strikes called on him. There is a solid article at Astros Daily about how Biggio used video footage to break out of his slump. That's a great idea - do what you need to do to get going. Andy's at the game today, too, plus he has Oswalt on his fantasy team, so he ought to be pysched.

Our ultimate frisbee team had their awards banquet yesterday. My award: "Jack's Tears Cure Cancer. Too bad he has never cried Award." It's a spoof on a Chuck Norris joke - there are lots of them.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Andy is at the game today (and he's going tomorrow) while I'm stuck here studying for my Master's Exam on Monday. Lucky bastard. I'll check in every now and then to see how Buchholz (two H's, according to Andy) is doing.

Oh, and I caught a bit of this movie "Remo Williams" on TV the other day. A few quotes from it:

Chiun: Women should stay home and make babies. Preferably, manchild.

Chiun: Breathe out... slowly... do not gulp. If you do not breathe correctly, you do not move correctly. Pitiful. I can see the deadly hamburger has done its evil work.

Remo Williams: You know, Chiun, there are times when I really like you.
Chiun: Of course. I am Chiun.
Remo Williams: And there are times when I could really kill you.
Chiun: Good. We will practice that after dinner.

Remo Williams: Chiun, you're incredible!
Chiun: No, I am better than that.

Man, that's good stuff. Go 'Stros!

Friday, April 21, 2006

Chris Burke is pinch-hitting for Wandy Rodriguez in the bottom of the 6th with 2 on and 2 out. Another solid outing by Wandy - 6 IP, 5 H, 1 BB, 1 ER (a Jason Bay HR), and 4 K. He got into a jam or two but seemed to come up with a double play when he needed it. He was part of an interesting sequence of events in the 1st inning - a close pitch is called a ball on a 2-2 count, Wandy doesn't like it and may have said something to the home plate umpire Rick Reed, who the next thing you know comes running out from behind the plate to say something to Wandy. Garner doesn't like this and comes running out to Reed, has his say, and gets tossed. Oh, and the game is approximately 9 minutes old at this point. Weird. Oh, and Chris Burke struck out, but we're still up 3-1 thanks to a 2-run Ensberg HR (his 6th game in a row with a HR!) and a solo Jason Lane HR. Keep up the power.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Bah, Russ Springer. Still want him pitching higher-leverage innings, Andy? He's not bad, but he didn't 'magically' become better over the offseason. I'll take Qualls over him anyday.

Chris Capuano looked good tonight. He basically shut us down, although Brad Ausmus continues to draw walks like a man possessed. Andy Pettitte looked great (7 IP, 2 ER, 1 BB, 8 K) but no win. He'll get his eventually.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Astros sue over Bagwell insurance claim. Wow. Actually I guess this was inevitable. What happens if we lose? What happens if we win? More on that next post.

We're 13 games into the season, and the mighty Astros sit on top of the NL Central with a 9-4 record. Inspired by similar posts at Aaron's Baseball Blog and U.S.S Mariner, I thought I might give out letter grades at each position. Here goes:

Catchers: C

Brad Ausmus still can't hit for power, but I'll take a .258 / .410 / .258 line from him any day. He's still solid defensively and can call a good game, although he is not a God in those areas as some would have you believe. I was excited when Garner went with Eric Munson as the backup catcher, since he has some pop (career .405 SLG) and bats left-handed. However, he's struggled so far, hitting .143 / .188 / .143. We don't have any better options, though, so I hope Munson turns it on and keeps his job.

1st base: A+

Lance Berkman. Lance F'ing Berkman! A .380 / .441 / .820 line. 6 HR's, 18 RBI's, 7 walks, solid defense at 1st...what a stud. His knee looks good, he's running well, he's crushing everything...keep it up, big fella.

2nd base: C

Craig Biggio is the 2nd best Astro ever, but he's a 40 year old 2nd baseman, a tough feat to pull off. He's hitting .250 / .308 / .354 with 2 walks, but what makes me nervous is he's only seeing 3.30 pitches per plate appearance. That's terrible, especially from a leadoff hitter. It seems like he's franticaly trying to reach 3,000 hits, patience at the plate be damned. Chris Burke has looked good so far, hitting .231 / .333 / .462 with 2 walks in 13 at-bats. I'd love to see him get at least a start a week at 2B.

Shortstop: B-

Adam Everett still covers a ton of ground at SS, has been swinging a hot bat lately, and he's hitting .289 / .289 / .400 on the year. But 0 walks out of the #8 hole? That's rough. If he starts drawing a few walks, he could end up being one of the better shortstops in the NL.

Third Base: A+

Morgan Ensberg, along with Berkman, has been carrying the team offensively. You like Berkman's 1261 OPS? Ensberg will see that and raise you to a 1377 OPS. He has 11 walks and 10 extra-base hits in only 44 AB's. He has made 4 errors, but not all of them have been his fault. His stance still looks a little funky, but you can't argue with the results.

Left Field: C

P-Wil strikes out a ton (5 times last night!), but there's a tradeoff - he'll hit for a lot of power. I'd like to see him shorten his swing just a bit, because if he pulls the ball at MMP, he'll hit 30 bombs, no problem. However, a .245 / .302 / .510 line isn't bad. He's only drawn 2 walks and he's 0-for-2 in stolen base attempts, so he can do better.

Center Field - B

Willy T has looked better at the plate so far, at least to my eyes. He's only drawn 3 walks, but he's worked a lot of counts (P / PA), and he's hitting a non-fluky .304. He's also 0-for-2 in stolen bases, which is weird, but I expect that to change soon. His defense has also looked good.

Right Field - B

After the last few games, Lane has raised his line to .217 / .368 / .435. The hits will come, and he's drawing walks (11 so far). I like his defense in RF, and he's just an all-around good guy.

Bench: C

No one's done much so far. Bruntlett has had a few big hits, but both Lamb and Palmeiro haven't done anything. Stay tuned.

Rotation: B

Roy Oswalt? 2-0, with a 1.99 ERA. That'll do. Andy Pettitte - 6.35 ERA, 2.00 WHIP, 5 HR allowed...yikes. Brandon Backe was off to a nice start, but he's out for six weeks. And then it's the young guns - Wandy, Bucholz, and Nieve, who have all done surprisingly well. Can they keep it up?

Bullpen: C

The Big Three (Lidge, Wheeler, Qualls) has shrunk to the Big Two so far - Qualls has been really up and down - mostly down: 9.35 ERA, 12 hits, 4 BB in 8.2 innings. Lidge and Wheeler are looking good, but our lefties (Gallo and Miller) are crappy. I'd rather see Springer, Astacio, or Jason Hirsh than either of those guys.

Coaching: B

Garner has done a nice job not overworking his pitchers yet, and he's given Biggio and Ausmus a few days off each. My only complaint is bunting with Taveras in the 1st inning!!! AAARGHH!! Don't give up outs so early on! Other than that, so far, so good.

Overall: A-

We're basically being carried by Berkman, Ensberg, and Oswalt, but that's what stars are supposed to do. Pettitte and Qualls will be fine, Biggio should bounce back a little, etc. A lot will depend on how Wandy / Bucholz / Nieve / Astacio do. I'm excited.
Hope everybody had a happy Easter. The Astros sure enjoyed the weekend, taking two of three from the D-Backs. I had a great time in Austin, and even headed up to Round Rock on Sunday. I played the disc golf course at Old Settler's Park, where the Express play at the wonderful Dell Diamond. I really wanted to check out the game, but Ruby, my black Lab, wouldn't have liked being locked in the van on a 90-degree afternoon. I heard later that Brooks Conrad hit a walk-off two-run homer to win 6-4 over the Cubs. Luke Scott also homered, Jason Hirsh started and J.T.'s favorite Astro, Brandon Puffer, got the win. Ah, baseball.

Meanwhile, in the big leagues, Berkman and Ensberg have been going crazy. Just insane. Forget the numbers; every time they step to the plate, you can SENSE that they're gong to hit the ball hard and do some damage. Obviously, these guys aren't giong to slug .800 for the year, but let's hope they can both ride their streaks for the next few weeks.

Monday' game was encouraging in more ways than one. But none more important than the team's ability to come back from deficits. After Gabe Gross' pinch-hit three-run homer off Qualls (c'mon Qualls!), our hitters rattled off 5 runs in the bottom of the seventh, capped by Lane's moonshot bomb. Also encouraging: Buchholz was money in his first start. Berkman and Ensberg (and Everett!) continued their hot hitting. Lane and Biggio improved their averages. And Lidge nailing down the save in a one-run game. Here's the play-by-play:

I left work early to catch the first pitch, only to find out that the game was blacked out in Bryan-College Station. Hmph. But Milo — like the Astros — was on top of his game tonight (At one point, he described Prince Fielder as "a Hummer in a baseball uniform").

Taylor Buchholz threw a very good game in his first career start. He gave up a monster bomb to Carlos Lee in the second inning (Milo: "Just this side of Beaumont"), but settled down to retire 14 of the next 16 batters. After a Moberg throwing error allowed J.J. hardy to reach with one out in the sixth, Geoff Jenkins hit another monster shot to right. Buchholz walked Lee, but got Koskie to ground into the double play. So in six innings, Taylor allowed only those two hits! Sure, they may have traveled a combined 1000 feet, but still... it was a very encouraging start.

The offense was steady throughout, and boy it was nice to see us respond whenever we lost the lead. Right after Lee's homer, Everett singled home Lane in the bottom of the second. After an awful first week, Everett has really started hitting. With a 2-for-4 night, he's hit in 8 of his last 19 at-bats. Who needs walks? A sac bunt later, Biggio drives Ausmus home with a grounder to go up 2-1.

After Jenkins' bomb, Ensberg made up for his error with a solo shot leading off the sixth to tie the game at 3. And even when most fans thought the game was over after Gross' three-run shot, Biggio led off the seventh with his 609th career double. Taveras reached on Koskie's throwing error which pulled Fielder off the bag. It sounded like it was a close play since Prince put up a fight, but since I couldn't watch the game, I really don't know. In any case, Berkman and Ensberg followed with RBI singles, and after a Preston Wilson strikeout (his 4th out of 5 on the day!), Lane follows with an absolute BOMB off Matt Wise. I finally saw the highlights on SportsCenter, and Lane was PUMPED as he rounded first, high-fiving Cruz and pumping his fist. What a clutch hit! In the playoffs last year, I remember hearing an announcer quoting hitting coach Gary Gaetti as saying that Lane could lead the team in homers in 2006. Boy, that's a scary thought...

Wheeler got in trouble in the eighth, giving up a single to Weeks and a double to Fielder that fell three feet shy of entering the Astros bullpen. Yikes. But Lane made a nice sliding grab of Moeller's liner, and Wheeler got Bill Hall swinging. Lidge allowed a two-out single to Jenkins, upsetting my nerves a little bit, but got Lee on a grounder to end it. What a game!

What's that old saying about momentum? Something about tomorrow's starting pitcher? I believe we got the Wizard going tomorrow. And I have a feeling Wilson will get a big hit off Davis.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Two wins and 18 runs later, it looks like our offense is back on track. Morgan Ensberg and Lance Berkman continue to be the big threats, but Jason Lane, Adam Everett, and Willy Taveras all provided some big hits in the last two days. However, the most impressive performance was probably that of Wandy Rodriguez on Saturday. I watched the game and Wandy looked solid, consistently locating a 90-92 mph fastball and occasionally dropping in a big breaking ball. Only a few balls were hit hard off him, both by Damion Easley. If he keeps pitching like that...well, he probably won't, but if he does, that would be awesome.

My one (minor) complaint is that Eric Munson needs to start hitting! Garner has shown he's willing to give someone other than Brad Ausmus some playing time, and of course Munson has responded by hitting .143 with 5 strikeouts in 14 at-bats. Also, I have to give Ausmus some props - I don't know if he's been reading Moneyball or Baseball Prospectus or what, but he has a .400 OBP, with 6 walks in only 28 AB's. If you're going to slug .250, at least draw some walks. Nice going, Brad.

We start a 3-game series with everyone's sleeper team, the Brewers, today:

Taylor Bucholz vs. David Bush
Roy Oswalt vs. Doug Davis
Andy Pettitte vs. Chris Capuano

Go 'Stros!

Saturday, April 15, 2006

According to and a few links from Astros Daily (both of which have good message boards, by the way), Brandon Backe will miss a minimum of six weeks with a right elbow sprain, at which point he may or may not return. Zeke Astacio was called up from AAA to take his roster spot.

Shit. It's not like Backe is a great starter - in his first full season as a starter last year, he had a 4.76 ERA and an uninspiring 67 / 97 walk-to-strikeout ratio, but at least he was a guy we could pencil in every 5th day, he just turned 28 so he's still improving, and he was off to a nice start this year (2.25 ERA in 8 innings.) So what does this mean? Well, it makes this even more of a rebuilding year. I'm not saying we couldn't sign Clemens on May 1 and go on another crazy run to make the playoffs, but at least until then 3/5 of our rotation is Wandy Rodriguez, Taylor Bucholz,and Fernando Nieve, with Astacio as long relief. I'm excited to see how all those guys do, but here's a hint: they probably will not all do well. They're young, and most young pitchers have a rocky start when they first make it up to the Show. Still, it will be neat to have a sneak peek at what our rotation could look like a year or two down the road. The four guys I mentioned plus Jason Hirsh should all be contending for rotation spots in '07. Here's their chance to show off.

We lost to the D-Backs 5-1 last night. Brandon Webb got groundball after groundball, and Andy Pettitte struggled a little bit, allowing 7 hits, 2 walks, and 3 runs (2 earned, 1 scored off a Biggio error). I thought he looked ok, getting a lot of groundballs like Webb, but more of Pettitte's found their way into the outfield for base hits. Jason Lane had a few nice at-bats, getting 2 hits, but other than that the offense was pretty quiet except for an Adam Everett RBI double.

Today: Wandy vs. Claudio Vargas.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Astros Notes:

According to the Houston Chronicle Fernando Nieve will start against the Diamonbacks on Friday, as Brandon Backe flies back to Houston to get his elbow examined. In case Backe is out for a long time we've got Nieve or Zeke Astacio (6 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 4 K at AAA so far) ready to go.

People on various Astros message boards are clamoring for Jason Lane to be benched. To which I say: small sample size, bitches. Lane has already drawn 10 walks this season in 29 AB after drawing 30 all last year. His increased patience (it doesn't hurt that teams are probably pitching around him to get to Brad Ausmus either) will help him a ton in the long run. He'll hit. His OPS (635) is still higher than Willy T, Ausmus, or Everett. By the way, Ausmus, Everett, and Taveras have combined for 0 extra base hits in 89 at-bats so far. Yikes.

The Astros are in town (or as close as they can get) this weekend for a series against the D-Backs. All the games will be on TV here, so I get to watch them all at my local sports bar. Woohoo!

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Bad news: Backe hurt his throwing elbow in Game Two of today's doubleheader against the Giants.

We split the two games, losing 5-3 to Matt Morris before Oswalt shut down the Bonds-less lineup to win 8-0. Berkman hit a pair of bombs in Game Two, the first time he's ever hit one from each side of the plate. Preston didn't hit any homers today, so Berkman may have hit one just for him:

"I'm trying to put a little pressure on him... he's been right on my heels," Berkman said.

The Wizard allowed a bunch of baserunners but he worked out of every jam and was able to keep runs off the board. He came out in the ninth for the shutout, but Biggio dropped a potential double-play relay. Roy finished with 8 1/3 scoreless innings for his first win at Pac Bell/SBC/AT&T Park.

The second game was really a team effort. Everyone in the lineup got a base knock, which was good news for guys like Lane and Ausmus. Boy it felt good watching those Giants pitchers walk off the mound shaking their heads.

I have to say that I really like Preston Wilson in our lienup. They guy is a gamer on every side of the ball — his two highlight catches on Tuesday showed his defensive ability. The man's not afraid to crash into a wall or get dirty — something I hope doesn't hurt him later in the year. And he really looks strong at the plate. He's got a very active swing, especially around the legs (It looks like he's popping his left knee out of its socket every time he swings!). But he can wallop the ball, which is great from a corner outfielder.

This was our only scheduled trip to Frisco, so we'll have to make up the third game of the series in May when both teams have an off day.

Now, on to Arizona. Pettitte versus Brandon Webb on Friday and Wandy versus Claudio Vargas on Saturday. After that, our rotation gets a little hazy, especially with Backe's potential injury. Nieve got the last two outs of Game Two tonight, but he might be able to make a start. And Zeke Astacio is at Round Rock, ready for a call-up.

Let's hope Backe's okay. He mentioned the words "Tommy-John surgery," which is a scary, scary sign.
Biggio, Ensberg, and Ausmus all get days off today. Our starting lineup is:


Lamb hitting 3rd looks strange, but he has good numbers against Morris for his career. I'd like to see Lane and Munson get a little USC offense going. Let's hope Brandon Backe can keep the ball over the plate.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Holy Toledo what a win!

Last July, Eric Bruntlett hit a 3-run homer in the top of the 14th inning to give the Astros a much-needed win in Washington. The starters of that game? John Patterson and Wandy Rodriguez. This afternoon, in creepy, deja vu fashion, Bruntlett did it again. Patterson and Wandy both started and allowed three runs before handing it over to the bullpen. Both closers hiccuped and gave up a solo shot — ex-Astro Daryle Ward took Lidge deep in the top of the 10th, and Morgan Ensberg went opposite-field off Chad Cordero to extend the game in the bottom half of the inning. That set up Bruntlett, who has a penchance for heroics when the game is on the line. Sure, maybe not as much as Chris Burke... but he's a player all the same.

After Biggio doubled off Mike Stanton, Taveras bunted him over and Berkman and Mo were intentionally walked. Bruntlett hit a shallow fly to right-center that centerfielder Brandon Watson caught flat-footed. Biggio saw that he'd have to deliver a perfect strike, and took off for the home. The throw was high and late, and the Astros finished their homestand with a 5-2 record. Not bad for being outscored 36-35 in those seven games.

Chad Qualls deserves some credit for getting back on track. After blowing up in Saturday's loss to the Nats, he pitched 2 scoreless innings to get the win. We'll need Qualls at his best to stay in the playoff race.

So it's off to the West Coast where we'll face the Giants and the D-Backs. Buchholz gets his first start tomorrow against veteran Matt Morris, who's 9-10 with a 3.53 ERA against the Astros. The matchups:

Tuesday: T. Buchholz v. M. Morris
Wednesday: B. Backe vs. M. Cain
Thursday: R. Oswalt vs. J. Wright

Last year we started hot at home (5-1, I think?), before collapsing on the road (2-21 to start the year!). Let's hope we get off on the right foot against the G-men.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

I went down to Tucson yesterday for my last ultimate frisbee tournament as a college student - Arizona Sectionals. We played really well - the team has improved a ton since the beginning of the year. We lost to U of Arizona's A Team (they're very good, ranked maybe #20 or #30 in the country), beat their B team, then played U of New Mexico. In a tournament about a month ago they absolutely destroyed us 13-1. We came out hot this time, and led 5-1 before they knew what had hit them. Then we got complacent and they came back to lead 7-6. Then we went on a run and finally ended up leading 12-11. We have two chances to win it that point - I drop one pass I should have had, and one our guys gets footblocked (!!) on a huck that probably would have won it. They score. 12-12. We have two chances that point to win it. We turn it over both times. I almost get a layout D; they score on the next throw. Heartbreaking loss. We played ASU next, but were completely out of gas, and let our rookies play most of the game. We lost.

Andy Pettitte gave up a leadoff HR to Marlon Byrd (on a 0-2 cutter that didn't get inside far enough), but then looked good against the next 3 hitters, getting a K and two groundouts to the left side. Biggio struck out but then Willy T drew a walk (YEAH!) but got doubled off 1st when Berkman flew out to deep left-center. Keep drawing those walks, Willy.

Preston Wilson singles with 1 out in the 2nd, then gets thrown out trying to steal 2nd. Jason Lane draws his 6th walk of the season (the hits will come, Jason, stay patient), and Brad Ausmus hits his tried-and-true weak dribbler to SS to end the inning.

Pettitte gets two quick outs in the top of the 3rd, then Marlon Byrd draws a 10 or 11 pitch AB walk (it's good to see him doing well, his is an interesting story), Royce Clayton lays down a perfect bunt, but Vidro grounds out to 3rd on the 1st pitch. Keep getting those groundballs to the left side of the infield, Andy.

Haha, what an inning - Adam Everett leads off the bottom of the 3rd with a routine ground ball to the SS, but he hustles down the line and Clayton throws it away. Everett on 2nd, 0 out. Pettitte tries to bunt him over, but Drese throws a wild pitch and Everett gets to 3rd. On a 3-2 count, Pettitte singles through the right side! Biggio pops out to 1st on a hanging breaking ball. Taveras gets down 0-2, then hits a hard ground ball up the middle that Drese kicks and then gets through the left side! Pettitte gets to 3rd. Lancey Lance strikes out on a pitch in the dirt. Ensberg singles to LF! Taveras scores from 1st when Soriano bobbles the ball!! YEAH! Preston (who I really like to watch play, he brings a lot of energy, seems like a great fit for the Astros) strikes out. 3-1 Astros!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

WOW! What a finish - we're up 6-5 in the 9th, Brad Lidge gets 2 quick outs, then gets ahead of Jereny Hermida 0-2. He walks him. Then he gets ahead of Miguel Cabrera 0-2. He singles through the left side. Then he gets ahead of Josh Willingham 0-2. Willingham works it back to 3-2, hits a little bloop ground ball past the mound and Adam Everett BAREHANDS it and throws to Berkman to get Willingham by a step!!! YEAH!!!

Whew. Chad Qualls gave up the 5th run, Wheeler looked great, and Lidge made me damn nervous, but it's a win.
Through 6 innings we're up 6-4 - 1st inning 2-run HR's by Lance Berkman and Preston Wilson off of Brian Moehler did most of the damage (Biggio has 2 hits and Ensberg is 0-for-0 with 3 walks). Wandy went 5, so he's in line for the win, but he did not pitch very well (5 IP, 7 H, 4 BB, 2 K) - he was lucky to get 3 double plays turned behind him. Hopefully Qualls / Wheeler / Lidge shut the door in the 7th / 8th / 9th. Jason Lane could use a hit. Oh, and Eric Munson is starting - maybe he'll become Wandy's regular catcher?
Yikes. In the first Astros game that I've watched in quite a while (by the way, Andy, why did you get MLB.TV if all the Astros games are blacked out for you?) Andy Pettitte got hammered and our offense did very little again. Pettitte's line (4.2 IP, 13 H, 10 R (7 earned), 1 BB, 3 K, 3 HR) was fugly - he was just way too hittable, leaving fastballs over the middle of the plate and hanging a few breaking balls. I'm sure he'll bounce back, but it wasn't pretty. I'm actually more worried about the offense than I am about Pettitte. Preston Wilson and Jason Lane are both 0-for-2006, we have 2 extra base hits in as many games...ah well. It's early, and at least we've drawn 7 walks. Wandy vs. Brian Moehler tonight. Let's see some offense.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Backe's back is bothering him, and Garner has already said he might miss a start. It's never a good thing when a starting pitcher begins the season with an injury, but on the positive side, we can just move Wandy and Buchholz up a start to give Backe some extra rest. Backe's sore back may also have accounted for his terrible outings at the end of spring training. Backe will undoubtedly be a huge factor in the team's success this season. I don't expect a 3.50 ERA or 15 wins, but he needs to have the best season of his young career if our team wants to have a shot at the postseason.

By the way, I'm don't really buy into the whole "one-run game" stat, but a team that knows how to win close games is usually a playoff team. The Indians' run differential was much better than the White Sox's, but the White Sox won a ton of close games, and the Indians lost a bunch — many of them to their Central rivals. So last night's 1-0 win, while not particularly encouraging, can be seen as a good sign. I have a feeling we're going to need to win a lot of close, low-scoring games.

Pettitte vs. ex-Cub Sergio Mitre tonight.
Roy O and the Astros beat Dontrelle Willis and the Marlins 1-0 on — get this — a wild pitch. That's it. No home runs, no RBI... a wild pitch. Interesting start to the season, but a win's a win, and we'll sure as heck take it.

I didn't get to watch the first 5 innings because I was working and my account had it blocked out. Apparently I missed a long celebration of the NL pennant, and a particularly sentimental cheering of the great Jeff Bagwell.

The game itself was great. I love watching pitchers' duels like this... every at-bat becomes so meaningful, so gut-wrenching. Roy and Dontrelle each brought their A-games. Like I said, I didn't catch the first half of the ballgame (I was following on ESPN's GameCast). But I did notice a few positive things from the offensive side in the later innings. First, both Everett and Taveras looked relaxed and patient at the plate. I hope Gary Gaetti worked with them a lot over the winter to improve their plate discpline. How many times did they swing at pitches in the dirt last year? Everett, I think, has worked on his stance. He seems to be keeping his weight back more, and his left leg is little straighter. His stance is wider and a little bit more open, too, which makes me think he's trying for more power... It appears as if he's trying to emulate Ensberg's stance, although not nearly to the degree Mo takes it.

I wouldn't worry about our one run tonight. WIllis was the Cy Young runner-up last year, and, despite his terrible team, he is a very good pitcher, especially in the first half. Berkman and Ensberg each took a pair of walks, so that's a plus. Biggio notched his 605th career double, a liner down the left-field line with two outs that eventually led to our only run of the ballgame. Wilson through Everett didn't do squat, going 0-for-14. Jack and I have deicded that Lane and Wilson are actualy identical twins that were separated at birth. They're so similar: high K's, low BB's, but can hit the ball to Beaumont. I just hope they decide to stagger their slumps. They both will get into funks at some point during the season, and if they do it at the same time, that's four bad hitters in a row.

Oh, and Lidge allowed a leadoff walk (he rubbed his right hand a couple times, as if he couldn't get a grip on the ball), but struck out Miggy Cabrera with a slider in the dirt and got Mike Jacobs to roll into the DP. Go Lidge.

Hate to say it, but this was pretty much an extension of spring training. This Marlins team couldn't win a minor league championship. (As a side note, how much FUN would it be to play for the Marlins right now? No expectations, no pressure. Of course, with Girardi around, there's no facial hair, but this pack of 20-year-olds is going to have a blast this year, 60 wins or not.) But seriously, we caught a break opening with the Marlins. Pettitte and Backe should take advantage. And the Nationals' lineup this weekend won't be a whole lot better.

Speaking of which, I hope the Astros can take advantage of their fairly weak schedule to start the year. After the Nats, we head out West to face the Giants and D-backs (we miss Brandon Webb), then we return home for the Brewers, Pirates and Dodgers. We finish April in Berkman's favorite ballpark, Cincinnati. The Giants, D-Backs and Brewers could all contend this year, but right now the Astros are better than all of them.

Let's go, Pettitte!