Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Lost in 11 innings to St. Louis. It would have been a sweet to take 2 of 3 after sweeping a two-game set earlier in the year, but we didn't take advantage of baserunners and Mike Gallo pitched, so we lost.

Don't know why, but we're having terrible road woes for the second straight year. And it starts with the big boys. Mo and Lance both have OPS 200 points higher at home! What's the deal?

Speaking of which, it's time to evaluate some of our players and see what we can do to spark more offense.

Preston Wilson: Started very hot, hitting opposite-field homers like it was the name of his game. Then he struck out in 8 straight plate appearances and went on a month-long slump. He's been better of late, getting timely hits. His OPS is approaching .700, so we should ride him now.

Jason Lane: Jack's encouragement ("The hits will come, Jason") has not come true. He still looks lost sometimes, and appears to have made up mind to swing before he even sees a pitch. His routine? Watch strike one down the middle. Swing at strike two in the dirt. Strike out fanning at high heat. It's troublesome. But then he hits a 500-foot bomb. I'm hoping he'll repeat last year's second half. I can't exactly fault Garner for benching a sub-.200 hitter, but everyone knows Lane's a good player.

Willy T: His .650 OPS is about what was expected. He can do better, but if you want him to slug .400, you're dreaming.

Adam Everett: Enough about his defense. His .261 OBP is killing us. Mo and Lance are both slugging higher (.597 & .585) than Adam's OPS. He had a huge three-run double against the Nationals, but is it actually possible to do worse than he did at the plate last year?

Chris Burke: Mired in a 4-for-35 slump, but still showing promise with an OPS hovering over .800. With Everett's decline, we should check him out as an option at shortstop.

10-18 in May. Glad to see June is upon us. Cincinnati, Chicago and Atlanta at home, coming right up. And Interleague play to follow. Oh, and we picked up a kid named Clemens. Maybe he can help us out.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Well, after a hot start (19-9 at one point), the Astros have returned to Earth and now sit at 26-25. We can still expect our starting pitching, bullpen, Preston Wilson, and Jason Lane to get better. A big 3-game series against the Cardinals starts today. The pitching matchups:

Roy Oswalt (5-3, 3.36 ERA) vs. Jason Marquis (6-4, 5.12)

Andy Pettitte (3-6, 5.76) vs. Chris Carpenter (4-2, 2.63)

Taylor Bucholz (3-4, 5.57) vs. Jeff Suppan (5-4, 5.12)

Brad Ausmus on the 4-run ninth-inning rally yesterday:

"It has the potential to be the fulcrum of the season."

Berkman has great numbers against Marquis; hopefully he's back in the starting lineup, although Mike Lamb has done great things (.383, 3 HR in May) lately.

Start us off strong, Roy O.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Sorry, it's been a while. I graduated, went to a bachelor party in Vegas, and got my river-rafting schedule for June, and I've been catching up with the Astros. Let's jump right in:

Preston Wilson looks BAD. I've been watching the Astros-Nationals series, and maybe I should have noticed this before, but Wilson takes absolutely HUGE swings at everything, and whiffs most of the time. Maybe he's just in a slump, but would it kill him to shorten his swing just a touch?

Morgan Ensberg is crushing anything on the inner half.

Brad Lidge got a little unlucky yesterday. First of all, he was called in with a runner on 3rd and 1 out. He walked Matthew Lecroy after getting ahead of him 1-2. He got Daryle Ward to hit a hard ground ball to 1st that somehow got by Berkman. Then Soriano blooped one in, Clayton hit a grounder through the left side, etc. He didn't pitch that badly.

How about a quick league at some of the Astros minor league stars?

Round Rock (AAA):

Brooks Conrad, 2B: .263 / .314 / .497, 23 extra-base hits in 180 AB. Those aren't really impressive numbers in a hitter's park like Round Rock, but I'm still a Conrad fan, just because any middle infielder who can slug .450 in the major leagues is pretty decent.

Humberto Quintero, C: .270 / .298 / .438. He doesn't walk. I'm more excited about our catcher in AA.

Jason Hirsh, RHP: 4-2, 2.88 ERA, 22/45 walk-to-strikeout ratio in 59.1 IP. After a semi-slow start, Big Hirsh has gotten it going lately, and will probably get called up sometime later this year and will likely be in the rotation next year.

Corpus Christi (AA):

J.R. House, C: .337 / .396 / .503. Wow. I was cautiously optimistic about our signing of House earlier this offseason - he was a top catching prospect for the Pirates a few years back, blew out his shoulder, and was out for a while. But look at him now! I think there's a great chance that House takes over for Ausmus after '07.

Ben Zobrist, SS: .315 / .418 / .461 - I haven't mentioned this guy before, but he's quietly put up great OBP's as a shortstop. Adam Everett is a wizard with the glove and he's still cheap, but if he ever gets expensive Zobrist is a better offensive player than Everett right now.

Hunter Pence, LF: .310 / .357 / .630, 13 HR. Definitely the best offensive prospect in the organization. He's still working his way up, but the kid is slugging .630. I would think the Astros would move him to AAA pretty soon, and I'd like to see him get a good look at the LF job in '07, since our chances of re-signing Preston Wilson aren't looking too good. Pence has a ton of power and a 'weird swing', according to most scouts.

Matt Albers, LHP: 5-1, 2.20 ERA, 57.1 IP, 19/40 BB/K - Nice year so far for Albers - a few more strikeouts would be sweet, and he doesn't have as high a ceiling as the next guy on this list, but so far, so good.

Salem (A):

Troy Patton, LHP: 1-5, 4.20 ERA, 45.0 IP, 18 BB, 53 K - Forget about the record and the ERA - Patton's WHIP has been good, he's only allowed 2 HR, and his strikeout rate is still excellent. In my opinion Patton is the best pitching prospect in the organization, although it will take him a while to reach The Show.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Munson's batting fifth in today's game against the Nationals. Wilson sixth, Lane seventh. I really don't understand this. Lane has a higher OPS than Wilson and Munson. If anyone should be benched, it's got to be Preston. .247 / .287 / .380 is not what we signed him up for. Well, let's hope he takes his frustation out on his old team. Or at least swings really, really hard and falls down.
Doggy's back!

The Yankees reportedly have signed Richard Hidalgo to a deal. I don't particularly like the Yankees and have no strong ties to Hidalgo, but it's always nice to see a former Astro get a chance with another team. Doggy sports a .269 / .345 / .490 career line with 171 homers and 560 RBI in 987 games (including a .314/44/122 monster year in 2000). I think he'll either be a huge force or a huge bust with the Yanks. Either way, it'll be interesting to see how he fills in for Hideki.

By the way, I just bought the new album by EELS, and it's really good. It's called Blinking Lights and Other Revelations. Check it out.
Sorry for the delay folks, but there haven't been too many positive things to write about during the last week. We got absolutely walloped by the Giants to the tune of 34-5 over the series. Yikes. Of course, that's becoming commonplace when the Giants come to town. But we bounced back and won 2 of 3 against the Rangers, capped by Buchholz's 5-hit shutout on Sunday. Buchholz is turning into a typcial Astro pitcher: mediocre on the road, sparkling at home.

Lamb has been swinging a hot bat lately. He filled in for Berkman, who missed the entire Giants series with a tight hammy, and did pretty well. Garner's been shaking up the lineup, keeping Lamb at first, moving Berkman to RF and benching Lane. He also put Willy T in the leadoff spot for a couple games and moved Ausmus up to 6th and then 2nd. Lane is underperforming, yes, and a few days off might get his head straight, but he is better than Lamb, so I hope this doesn't become a platoon just yet.

Oh, and Burke's off the DL; Super Joe is back at Round Rock. We now head to Capitol City to face the Nats. Their lineup is like ours: if you can get around their big bombers, they probably won't score any runs. If you don't let Soriano and Johnson hurt you, the rest of the lineup will take care of itself. Here are the pitching matchups:

Monday: Wandy vs. Day
Tuesday: Nieve vs. Ortiz
Wednesday: Oswalt vs. O'Connor
Thursday: Pettitte vs. Armas Jr.

Is three out of four too much to ask? I think not. Our last road trip was a disaster, but in our defense, the Rockies, Giants and Dodgers are all contenders for that NL West crown. Everyone knows the Nationals aren't going anywhere, so it's important we start this thing off right and take care of businiess. I'm really hoping Oswalt and Pettitte can find their grooves.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Lance is out, Barry is in. Lance's hamstring may be tight again, as Lamb is filling in for him at 1B and batting third. Bucchholz could enter the record books tonight, but I've heard that Garner will not pitch to Bonds in any sort of meaningful situation. We'll see. I flew out to Flagstaff for the weekend for Jack's graduation (and to see Mama wade for Mothers' Day). Congrats on the master's, big guy. I think Kansas City has openings for the position of GM.

Interesting note: Willy T has had exactly one XBH since April 29. He's slugging .329, compared to Biggio's .479. They're both getting on-base around 33 percent of the time.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

A nice 12-2 win for the home team over the Rockies last night. I got chills from reading this paragraph:

"Ensberg took Rockies starter Jason Jennings to a full count with the scored tied 1-1 and the crowd on its feet and cheering wildly. He then homered to left field to drive in Biggio and Lance Berkman.

"During my at-bat you couldn't hear a thing," Ensberg said. "That stuff helps. I mean you can't hear at all. And I just think when it's difficult for you to concentrate because you're not used to it, it helps us because we are used to it."

Man, that's good stuff. I wonder if Ensberg immediately knew it was a home run and did one of his bat-flip things.

Fernando Nieve pitched just fine again (5.1 IP, 6 H, 3 BB, 1 ER, 4 K), the bullpen was solid, but it was all about the offense today: Ensberg, Biggio, and Lamb (who has been hot lately) all homered, and we had 15 hits in all.

Trever Miller was activated from the DL and we sent Zeke Astacio down to AAA. I still have high hopes for Astacio, but he needs to keep starting, and he can do that at AAA. Hopefully Miller does better soon - I still like him more than Gallo, and it's a shame that they are both on the roster.

Tonight: Roy Oswalt vs. Aaron Cook. Cook shut us down the last time we played, so hopefully we'll remind him that we play a lot better at home for some reason.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Six straight losses... not good. But unlike last year, when we suffered through two 6-game losing streaks and a 7-gamer, our offense is actually producing. We've scored 25 runs in the last six games, but lost by 1,5,2,2,5 and 3. So, the law of averages attacks us earlier than we thought.

It's a shame Roy and Pettitte got rocked this week. After getting swept in Colorado, I expected at least one of them to throw a quality start. Roy, I think, just suffered a mental lapse in the bottom of the fifth in San Fran. Check out this play-by-play:

Winn tripled to deep right center
Vizquel lined out to center
Finley reached on fielder's choice, Winn scored (Berkman tried to come home on a grounder to first, but was late)
Greene singled to left
Sweeney tripled to deep center, Greene scored
Niekro singled to shallow center, Sweeney scored

After the Berkman error, he was visibly shaken and acted like he didn't even want to be out there. He tried hammering fastballs down the middle and they were crushed.

Pettitte, meanwhile, has been torched. His six-earned-in-five outing on Tuesday was his third outing allowing six or more runs. Of course, all his other five starts have been quality. I'm sure he can turn it around... I just hope his elbow feels fine.

I guess we can always use this as a selling point to Roger. Say to him, "Look at our starting pitching the last six games... We might be able to use a guy like you." A few weeks ago, I heard people saying, "Who needs Roger?" Well, we do.

0-for-the Road Trip. Wandy vs. Derek Lowe. Right now.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Another ugly, painful loss.

I'm referring, of course, to Burke's shoulder injury on Saturday. I'm hearing it's a subluxed left shoulder: a partial dislocation. Alyson Footer says he won't have surgery, just rehab. Why, I wonder, did Garner start him in RF anyway?

Getting swept by the Rockies doesn't upset me too much. Not that it doesn't suck, but everyone's going to get swept at some point, and I'd rather it be now than during the playoff hunt. Besides, all three were relatively close games, for Coors field anyway. It is a shame to not take advantage of the rarefied air — Jason Lane's homer was the only Astros bomb during the series.

What bothers me more is our hitters' tendency to fall flat against mediocre right-handed pitching. I'll give Jason Jennings and Aaron Cook some credit, but our lineup cannot simply roll over like this — it remind me so much of last year. It felt like those games were over in the sixth inning.

Ensberg's slumping again: he's only 3-for-22 in May, but he just looks bad at the plate. He's watching strike three sail right over the plate, and he's swinging at balls that he knows he shouldn't. He's tried altering his stance again: He's tried standing more upright and closing his stance a little. His swing is funny... it's either picture-perfect for a homer or a double, or he looks like garbage. Here's hoping he finds his stroke in California.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Well, two exciting one-run victories over the Cardinals have been followed by two ugly losses to the Colorado Rockies. In the first loss to Colorado, Brad Lidge comes in with a 4-3 lead in the 9th, gives up a leadoff double, Ensberg throws away a bunt (tying run scores), Lidge walks a guy, Wheeler relieves, walks another guy, and then walks in the winning run on a 3-2 pitch. And yesterday Jason Jennings pitches a complete-game shutout against us. A complete game shutout AT Coors? Ugh. I'm still trying to get a lot of stuff done before graduation, so I'm hoping Andy can keep me updated. I saw Chris Burke just got placed on the DL with a shoulder injury.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

I'm following the Astros game last night on Yahoo! Sports, and I see that we score a run in the 1st off Ben Sheets (despite Willy Taveras sacrificing Biggio over to 3rd). I go to work on a PowerPoint presentation, come back about an hour later.....7-3 Astros in the 3rd???!!! Holy crap - apparently we had a bunch of hard-hit singles off Sheets, whose velocity was slightly down. When I checked our 5-8 hitters (Lamb, Wilson, Ausmus, Everett) were a combined 8-for-8! That'll work. Fernando Nieve pitched well (7 IP, 6 H (3 of them solo HR), 4 ER, 0 BB, 7 K) and we held on for a sweet 8-5 win.

A few notes, courtesy of Astros Daily:

Astros make an offer to Clemens

Apparently it's a pro-rated version of the 1 year /18 million deal Clemens had last season, which would make it worth around 12 million.

Adam Everett is the best fielding shorstop in the Majors:

According to the book The Fielding Bible, by John Dewan and Baseball Info Solutions, Everett is "quite simply the best shortstop in the Major Leagues." The book, released in February, attempts to quantify the value of defense for each player at the big league level.
According to Garner, the statistical analysis within the book concluded that Everett saves his team 25 runs per year due to his defensive capabilities.

Wow, that's pretty sweet. I know Everett is great defensively - I didn't know he was that great. Now just keep hitting .270 with some walks and a little power, and I'll be thrilled.

Roy Oswalt vs. Jason Marquis tonight, as we start a 2-game series with the Cardinals.

Astros vs. Marquis:

Brad Ausmus: 3-for-16 - 375 OPS
Lance Berkman: 9-16, 7 BB - 1633 OPS
Craig Biggio: 9-26 - 947 OPS
Morgan Ensberg: 8-19, 2 HR - 1158 OPS
Adam Everett: 6-22 - 577 OPS
Jason Lane: 6-15 - 904 OPS
Willy Taveras: 3-17 - 353 OPS
Preston Wilson: 3-16, 4 BB - 600 OPS

Lance Berkman and Ensberg have rocked against Marquis; Ausmus and Taveras have not. Let's go Roy O!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Interesting lineup for Garner tonight vs. Milwaukee:


Against Ben Sheets. Look for lots of Ks. And for the Brewers to test Lamb at third. Let's hope Nieve can quiet the Crew's bats... they've been going nuts. Hopefully he can go 6 innings for once.
I actually didn't watch any of last night's 4-2 loss to the Brewers, but apparently Wandy pitched well again but our offense (besides Eric Munson and Craig Biggio) didn't do much and the bullpen (Wheeler, this time) stunk it up again. I'm surprised the bullpen has been having so much trouble, but I wouldn't be too worried - Qualls / Wheeler / Lidge is still a great end of the pen, and they should all be fine. I hope.

Andy, did you watch the game? What did you think? Or anyone else, for that matter.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Whew - we needed that one. The Astros squeezed out a 3-2 victory over the Reds yesterday to avoid a sweep. Taylor "Double-H" Buchholz pitched very well again, with only a little wildness in the 7th forcing him to leave. Chad Qualls came on and got 5 outs in a row. Good job Quallsy. Then Lidge in the, what a nerve-wracking experience. He can't throw his slider for a strike and he seems unwilling to pitch inside. Bad combination. He got two outs, gave up a single and a walk, and struck out Javier Valentin to end it, but maaaaan....hitters are simply laying off his slider since he can't throw it for a strike, and they're leaning out over the plate to get to his outside fastball.

I have to run, more soon.