Friday, June 16, 2006

The Astros finished up a sweep of the Cubs at Wrigley yesterday, as Brad Ausmus had a 2-run single in the 8th that gave us a 3-2 win. Fernando Nieve pitched well, almost certainly insuring that Taylor Bucholz will be the one sent back to AAA when Roger Clemens joins the team on June 22. Chris Burke continued his great June (.405 / .476 / .578 for the month) with 2 hits and 2 walks yesterday. He appears to have won himself the majority of the starts in CF, forcing Willy T to the bench.

Morgan Ensberg pinch-hit yesterday and was hit by a pitch immediately. It didn't do any damage, though, and he should be starting today against Kansas City. Mike Lamb did an admirable job filling him, and should get the occasional start at 1st and 3rd and be the main pinch-hitter.

Brad Lidge seems to have settled down - he hasn't allowed any runs (and perhapes even better, not walks) in his 7 IP in June. He should be fine. Chad Qualls (who, somewhat surprisingly to me, has the 2nd highest VORP of any pitcher on the team behind Roy Oswalt, according to Baseball Prospectus) has also been fine since a rough April, and Dan Wheeler's peripheral stats (9 BB, 29 K in 28 IP) look pretty good. Even Trever Miller and Dave Borkowski have been good! It's easy to be flying high after a series sweep, but with Ensberg back, Clemens on the way, Lancey Lance putting up his usual 988 OPS, and two good starts in a row from Andy Pettitte, it's a good time to be an Astros fan.

Some things that I'd like to see:

Chris Burke getting at least a weekly start at 2B to rest Craig Biggio. I've said this plenty, but Biggio has collapsed after the All-Star Break the last two years. He needs more rest.

Eric Munson getting a little more playing time. After his ridiculous April, Brad Ausmus has put up his usual OPS's of 664 and 625 in the last two months. Munson isn't great, but he's slugging .431 on the year and has slugged .411 for his career, which is about 120 points higher than we can expect from Ausmus.

Patience with Jason Lane. Preston Wilson is having a nice comeback, and has his batting average up to .279. Even though he's batting .209, Lane still has Wilson covered easily in both OBP and OPS, yet Lane has been benched fairly often lately. He's not going to hit around .200 all year, and he's got the patience (38 walks, 2nd on the team to Ensberg's 44) and power that we need.

Improvement at the plate from Adam Everett. You can talk all you want to about how shortstop is a defensive position first, and that might be so, but a 571 OPS is awful. Everett seems to pop up or fly out weakly early on in the count WAY too often. First of all, he should take advantage of his speed by trying to hit more ground balls / line drives, and second of all, he should try working the count a little bit.

More walks from Preston Wilson. He takes wild swings often. That's ok if the pitch is a strike, but it still seems like he's pressing a bit and trying to hit huge home runs to left field on pitches a foot off the outside corner. Settle down, go the opposite way, and be a little more patient.

Fewer walks from Wandy Rodriguez. I'm not quite sure how, but Wandy only has a 4.48 ERA despite walking 40 batters in 80.1 IP. I know he doesn't have great stuff, so he can't exactly throw fastballs down the middle of the plate, but he has to quit walking so many batters.

Ok, that's enough. Everything is going well right now, so let's enjoy the ride. But we're only 35-32, still 5 games behind the Cardinals in the division and 2.5 games behind the Reds in the wild card. Clemens will help, but we have to keep working hard.

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