Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Post No. 600. Yay.

Dude, how about March Madness this year? Admittedly, I haven't been as excited as I was a few years ago when I was in college, but this year has been terrific. Incredible games, dominant players, thrilling endings, heartbreaking losses. This year's tournament has had it all. I caught the second half of the UNC-Georgetown game on Sunday, and it was the most well-played game I've seen in a long time.

And then I saw this:

http://cbs.sportsline.com/video/player/videos (Scroll down to the video of the Div. II National Chamionship game)

Sorry, I still can't post hyperlinks. Lame, I know. If this is a Div. 1 tournament game, it's the Game of the Century. Absolutely amazing. I'm really looking forward to UCLA-Florida and Georgetown-Ohio State. I think both games will go down to the wire, with Florida and Ohio State going to the finals. And why not? Buckeye fans want revenge after the Gators thrashed them in the BCS National Championship game in January.

In Astros news, Chris Sampson pitched well in his second start, allowing 1 run in 5 innings. Is it enough to overcome his horrendous first start in his bid to claim a rotation spot? Not likely. Ensberg hit in the second spot in the lineup and hit a bomb. I wonder if Garner is thinking about hitting him in that spot in the regular season. It makes sense, given his incredible OBP. Burke-Ensberg-Berkman-Lee-Scott-Biggio-Everett-Ausmus would be my ideal Opening Day line-up, but I'm certain it's going to be Biggio-Burke-Berkman-Lee-Ensberg-Scott-Everett-Ausmus on April 2. Oh well.
Time for a reality check. Posters all over the message board are either crowning us champions or getting ready for a last-place finish. Let's take a look at what's going to happen over the 2007 season. First, the offense:

1. Carlos Lee will bring much-needed offense. Yes, he'll 'provide protection' for Berkman, not that he needed any in the first place. The duo will combine for at least 65 homers and 200 RBI. Lee's defense, however, will be somewhat atrocious.

2. The back of the lineup will once again drag the team down offensively. Everett will begin the season decently, trying to hit the ball to all sides of the field. But he'll fall back into old habits by swinging for the fences in the second half. Jennings and Williams will both out-OPS Ausmus, who will stay the 'starting' catcher much too long. Quintero will serve as an adequate back-up. He'll hit the ball hard, but will be too slow to take second most of the time.

3. Burke will put up decent numbers, although he'll continue to be a streaky hitter, vulnerable to lenghty slumps. His defense will be mediocre at first, as he'll have communication issues. But he'll make some Web-Gem-worthy diving catches coming in or to his left. He'll get banged up every now and then, requiring Jason Lane to fill in a handful of times in center.

4. Biggio will start off hot as usual, even though the home-road split phenomenon will stay. Come All-Star break, he'll begin his annual descent into .240-land. Garner and Purpura will take too long in replacing Biggio as an everyday player, claiming he's just going through a slump.

5. Luke Scott will regress toward the mean, but so will Jason Lane. The two will combine for slightly above-average production in right field. They'll combine for 30 homers and 100 RBI.

6. Mark Loretta and Mike Lamb will provide a spark off the bench. Loretta will fully embrace the pinch hitter/defensive replacement/spot starter role, making fans forget about Eric Bruntlett (sorry, Eric!). Lamb will swing a hot bat, earning a start every now and then at the corners to keep Ensberg and Berkman fresh.

7. Ensberg will rebound, but he'll once again fall out of favor among Astros fans. He'll hit plenty of homers, and get on base nearly 40 percent of the time, but his knack for striking out with RISP will cause an outcry. Garner will sit him four or five times a month, but Ensberg's power and patience will keep him in the lineup a a regular for ht most part.

Next up: Pitching predictions.

Man, April can't get here soon enough. I've been reading Astros Daily, Rotoworld, Baseball Prospectus, Baseball Primer, and Aaron Gleeman so much lately that I felt guilty for not making a post of my own. So here goes.

Astros Notes

Richard Hidalgo and Ezequiel Astacio are gone. One had a bad spring (Hidalgo) and one had a good spring (Astacio), but Hidalgo was sent to the minors and Astacio was claimed by the Rangers. I'm glad we let Hidalgo go; he's a shell of his former self, and hopefully this means one last shot for Jason Lane. I'm a little upset that Astacio never worked out; he had a great K rate and good overall numbers in the minors, but he just gave up too many HR's. He'll probably be remembered for giving up that HR to Geoff Blum in the World Series. GEOFF BLUM!

Eric Bruntlett will probably not make the team also. Sorry, Eric, but being good defensively at most positions isn't enough, especially with guys like Mark Loretta and Orlando Palmeiro, both of whom will probably put up better offensive numbers than you would.

From everything that Garner has said, it looks like Wandy Rodriguez and hopefully Fernando Nieve will be the 4th and 5th starters. Wandy Rodriguez - ugh. Nieve has done quite well this spring; unfortunately, neither Chris Sampson or Matt Albers has been great, so it looks like we're stuck with Wandy for a bit.

A few interesting Astros spring training statistics:

Jason Lane is hitting .250 / .323 / .589 with 5 HR and 6 BB in 56 AB's.
Morgan Ensberg is hitting .286 / .375 / .510
Eric Munson - .395 / .477 / .553
Adam Everett - .119 / .229 / .190
Hunter Pence - .571 / .647 / 1.071!!!

Woody Williams - 9.92 ERA, 26 hits in 16.1 innings
Fernando Nieve - 2.81 ERA, 4 BB / 12 K in 16.0 innings
Matt Albers - 3.21 ERA, 12 BB (!!!!!!) / 6 K in 14.0 innings
Chris Sampson - 7.36 ERA, 5 BB / 9 K in 11.0 innings
Wandy Rodriguez - 5.40 ERA, 12 BB (!!!!) / 8 K in 11.2 innings
Rick White - 0.00 ERA, 2 BB / 8 K in 11.0 innings
Paul Estrada - 0.00 ERA, 0 BB / 6 K in 5.1 innings
Trever Miller - 0.00 ERA, 1 BB / 10 K in 8.0 innings - only 1 hit allowed!

That bullpen is looking pretty nice. Hopefully Paul Estrada gets a chance to fill in for whichever of Rick White / Dave Borkowski falls apart. A front 5 of Lidge / Wheeler / Qualls / Miller / Estrada is good. Unless Lidge goes wild again.

Oh, and Andy showed me that our blog was listed in Sports Illustrated. They put 4 different blogs for each team on the "Team Preview" page, and we were #4 for the Astros, along with Astros Daily, The Crawfish Boxes, and...someone else, sorry.

Friday, March 23, 2007

The offseason's not quite over — 10 more days til Opening Day! — but I think we can safely assume Purpura's done dealing. Of course, there are several players being shopped around, guys like Jon Lieber, Josh Fogg, Byung-Hyun Kim … maybe Brad Penny.

I can't say I'm a huge fan of how the 2006 offseason played out, but at least it's been exciting. You can't tell me that shelling out $100 million for a slugger isn't an exciting move. Sure, Carlos Lee might be overrated and terrible defensively. And of course Jason Hirsh might outperform Jason Jennings as soon as this year. And Woody Williams could easily serve up 40 homers this year. But at least it'll be fun to watch the new guys in the wide-open NL Central.

I'm still very disappointed Purpura et al didn't make a move for Mark Redman. He was picked up by the Braves a few weeks ago when Mike Hampton went down with an oblique injury. Redman has not been good the last three years, his ERA peaking at 5.71 last year. But he's had moderate success in his earlier years: His career line is 4.65/1.40. I'd say that the very definition of average. But it's still a whole lot better than what Wandy will do this year.

After the last few games of Spring Training, it's becoming clear that Wandy and Nieve are our No. 4 and No. 5 starters. Sampson was given a big start Thursday to show off his stuff, but he fell in the worst way, giving up 10 runs. To the Nationals. Ouch.

Sampson is capable of good things, and it will be interesting to see how he's used during the regular season. It would seem as though Sampson, Borkowski and Moehler (and to a lesser degree, Zeke Astacio) are all competing for the long-reliever/spot-starter role in the bullpen. Of course, with Woody, Wandy and Nieve in the rotation, it might be prudent to have more than one long-reliever to eat innings.

Sampson would also seem to fit into a dependable ground-ball pitcher a la Chad Qualls. Bring him in with men on to induce the GIDP. I bet Sampson could excel in that role.

Hunter Pence was sent down to minor-league camp this week. I suppose it was inevitable. I wonder if Drayton was slapping himself for paying out $100 million when he could have had the same production from a $300K guy. Oh well. I wonder if anyone's set up a pool for Hunter's call-up.

Lane's been doing well, leading the Grapefruit League in RBI. He hit 2 bombs the other day against the Marlins, and he appears to have locked up the RF platoon role with Luke Scott. I think and hope it'll work out well. I wonder if Hidalgo will accept an assignment to Round Rock, knowing that Pence would likely be called up sooner than he would if an injury strikes.

I've been preparing for our pay-league draft this weekend. Jack and J.T. say they'd prefer not to be in slots Nos. 2-7 or so. But I completely disagree. Getting any one of Santana, Reyes, Soriano, Beltran, Howard or Crawford would be OK in my book.

I'm also waffling about the idea of position scarcity. Utley specifically comes to mind. He's eons above anyone else at at second, so it makes sense to draft him early, even though other guys might put up better numbers. Would you rather have Guerrero and Iguchi or Utley and Hunter? Hard to say. But Utley's damn good.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

I've wanted to reserve judgment on the Astros for the first few weeks of spring training, so I've held off posting through our first handful of games. But I can't contain my excitement! Hunter Pence is knocking the cover off the ball. He's 9 for 12 with an OPS over 2.000. On the flip side, Richard Hidalgo was 0-for-ST until Wednesday's game, when he finally collected his first hit with an infield dribble that he beat out. Nice work, Reeshard.

Ensberg, Lee, Lane, Biggio, Berkman and Ausmus are hitting well, too. And all the candidates for rotation spots: Sampson, Nieve, Wandy, Moehler and Albers are pitching well.

Obviously it's too early to make decisions yet, but one has to wonder about the fates of Pence and Hidalgo. No matter how well he hits, Pence shouldn't be on the opening-day roster. He needs to play everyday at Round Rock for a few months. Lane definitely has the advantage over Hidalgo right now in terms of making the team. Plus, Hidalgo only signed a minor-league contract, so he could start the year at Round Rock until injuries strike. Despite all the attention he got in Venezuela, he just doesn't look good right now.

Still have no idea who's closing in on a rotation spot. If I had to rank 'em right now, I'd go: Nieve, Albers, Sampson, Wandy, Moehler. (although Albers and Sampson are VERY close).