Archive for March, 2009

New-han’s On Deck, or, Predictions Schmictions

Posted in Houston Astros with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 30, 2009 by Astropolithecus

Quick check in on our beloved and terrifyingly inconsistent disAstros.

I have not blogged in a bit, mostly because I was intently watching my NCAA Tigers go all the way to the Sweet 16, only to be dismantled by Missouri. And Now I’m watching Kentucky try to woo Memphis’ future away.

ANYhoo, this is not a Memphis blog, though Calipari could learn from the loyalty of Bagwell, Biggio, and Berkman.

This is an Astro blog, and though hope springs eternal yada yada, No one in baseball has the slightest respect for the Astros’ chances to even compete in the NL Central. Despite our scrappy pedigree, even the Reds are consistently picked ahead of us, though they have proven nothing more than the Stros as far as I’m concerned.  

I state this now. Listen oh predicting and Astro loving world.  A very slow start, or more than 3 early injuries, and we can kiss the Astros’ season goodbye, but even a medium start, and I will guarantee you the Astros hang around for postseason contention.  Our pitching staff, though the weak point of the team, isn’t as horrifying as everyone predicts.  I respect Moehler, Hampton is solid if healthy, and Wandy could easily have his best year this year, put it all together, so to speak. 

How many times has a team’s pitching staff proven saltier and more durable than anyone expected.  There are at least two story lines like that EVERY YEAR in Major League Baseball. 

And don’t get me started on how disrespected our hitters are, at least as a group.  Now that we’ve got Pudge too, Our lineup is very solid. I’d take our club’s hitters over the Red’s any day of the week.  Berkman and Lee are blue chippers, and the only knock against Pence is that his sophomore season wasn’t spectacular. The only knock on Matsui is his health, which is a legitimate worry, but when he’s playing, baby, money all the way.  Remember the Rockies folks? Not that long ago.   And Tejada? Still one of the best hitting shortstops in the game. And he’ll have something to prove coming in.

I’d put our bullpen up against any in the majors.

So, there you go. All the predictors can BITE ME!

The 2009 Astros probably won’t win the division, but they will compete for the Wild Card.    

My only major concern now(besides injuries)?

                                                            Management.

After Cabeza’s research, and after reading about Newhan’s anger concerning Cooper’s handling of his release, I am worried about his leadership. I was a big supporter last year, and I think he is a gritty, cool guy, but he may not be a good leader with the Astros. Now, he may be, Newhan could just be blowing justifiable steam, but if the players don’t respect Cooper, we’ve got a problem.  Wade may not be liked all around, but I bet he’s got some respect from the boys.

If the players leave it out on the field, then the weird Wade and Cooper vibes will dissipate, but if not…

Of course Drayton McClane is a weirdo, and they’ve been fine under him for a number of years. 

A player, and soon, should make a statement of solidarity concerning Cooper. Please.

P.S. Concerning Wade, I’ll hear other arguments, but don’t bring up Chacon and how Wade handled that badly.  Shawn Chacon is an idiot.  Don’t attack your boss after you instigated an argument.  Don’t PHYSICALLY attack him anyway.

I repeat, I don’t care what Oswalt said, Chacon is a hot headed moron, who blew a chance at late career glory because he wanted to flex up against a sixty year old man who gave him a second chance to start. At least Caminiti waited till he was retired.

Astros Opening Day Line-up?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 28, 2009 by Cabeza De Vaca

Was Friday’s victory over the Phillies a glimpse into what we’ll see come opening day? Cooper fielded this starting line-up:

1. Kaz Matsui (S)
2. Ivan Rodriguez (R)
3. Lance Berkman (S)
4. Carlos Lee (R)
5. Miguel Tejada (R)
6. Hunter Pence (R)
7. Geoff Blum (S)
8. Michael Bourn (L)

Starting Pitcher: Roy Oswalt

I can’t say I’m a huge fan of this batting order, so I hope it’s not set in stone. In particular, I’d really like to see Hunter Pence batting 2nd. He’s had trouble with breaking pitches, and hitting in front of Berkman should increase the amount of fastballs he gets, particularly if a speedy Matsui or Bourn is aboard. Plus, Pence is faster on the basepaths than Pudge.

The top of the order isn’t all about speed, though, it’s about on-base percentage.  I know, Pence doesn’t often see ball four, but Pudge is known for never taking walks. In his career, Pudge has struck out three times as often as he has walked. In 2007, Pudge had only a .294 OBP, walking only nine times the whole season. Last year he picked up the pace, with twenty-three bases on balls. Pudge has a .339 career OBP, mostly from his career .301 batting avg. Pence’s career on-base? .336! 

A young guy and an old guy with virtually identical on-base percentages. One on the rise, the other declining. Both righties. One with above average speed, the other with above average speed… for a catcher.

Coop, you’ve gotta bat Pence 2nd and Pudge 6th.

Also, I know this is super-trendy and all, but I’d like to see Bourn batting 9th, with the pitcher in the 8 hole. What’s the point of having Bourn’s speed in front of the pitcher’s spot? A pitcher should be capable of laying a decent enough bunt down for Blum to advance.  I’d much rather take advantage of Michael Bourn’s occasional hit or walk after the pitcher made the final out in the previous inning. It’s like keeping him as the lead-off man, but without having to see him bat so many times. Also, Matsui’s career numbers are much better in the 2nd spot in the order. So, maybe that could be a collateral benefit.

All I ask is for Cooper to put together a batting order that makes sense from day one and stick to it.  No tinkering day to day, with Tejada batting second sometimes, and Bourn leading off every once in a while.  Ol’ Scrap Iron Phil drove us nuts with that; we don’t need more of it.  This line up has people that can hit, and I just hope we fans get to see it have a chance to come together the way it should, even if it struggles at first.

Lucky Seven!

Posted in Houston Astros with tags , , , , , on March 27, 2009 by Cabeza De Vaca

The Astros held on to beat the defending champs today, making it seven wins in a row. This team has been all about streaks in recent years, with extreme highs, extreme lows, and little in-between. The emotional rollercoaster looks set for another wild ride this year.

The big news going into this game was Roy Oswalt’s return to the team, after America collectively shrugged at the WBC. Another day, another quality start from Roy: six innings, three earned runs. Most impressive were his six strikeouts and no walks. Roy is so aggressive attacking the strikezone that I expect the low walk rate, but the strikeout per inning is unusual. I wonder if the home plate umpire called a big strike zone, or if Roy shied away from pitching to contact. The latter is a possibility because the box score suggests he was having trouble keeping the ball down. He induced 8 flyouts and only 3 groundouts. I’m sure he’ll try to flip those numbers around because we all know how his home park treats fly ball pitchers. In contrast, LaTroy Hawkins induced groundouts to all three batters he faced, and Chris Sampson also got three ground ball outs in two innings. So, it’s unlikely the Phillies were all swinging like Mark McGwire.

Chris Sampson got a two-inning save today, though he allowed his first two earned runs of the Spring. He has only pitched seven innings, so it’s too early to get excited about a 2.57 ERA. Still, I’m hopeful. My feelings about Sampson are similar to how I feel about Wandy: I’m crossing my fingers that he can stay healthy and find some consistency, because I see a really good pitcher there. Sampson will likely have the difficult job of being the team’s most versatile pitcher. He can fit in so many places in the bullpen, that depending on injuries, we could see him fill almost any role. Hopefully his ability to pitch multiple innings doesn’t relegate him to mop-up duty. I see that as more of a Geoff Geary role. If our offense is good enough to keep the team in games when the starters struggle, we could see Sampson step into a lot of close games in the 4th or 5th inning.

Other not-so-noteworthy stuff: My favorite still-active ex-Astro, Eric Bruntlett, went 2-for-5, with an RBI double, and a caught-stealing (go Pudge!). Bruntlett is batting .350 this spring. Oh, how nice it would be to have the often overlooked, valuable piece of the Brad Lidge-for-Michael Bourn trade as our super-utility man. Brunty, I forgive you for being pissed off when I got your autograph and told you “best double-play in Astros history, NLCS.” After all, you had just spent the afternoon wasting away at first base in a pathetic Round Rock express game. Hunter Pence committed two errors, not counting the video portrait of him pretending to use a bat as a sword and pool cue. I couldn’t believe everyone else wanted that loser’s autograph.

Wandy!

Posted in Houston Astros with tags , , , , on March 24, 2009 by Cabeza De Vaca

Man, for some reason, a good outing from Wandy gets me so pumped! Yesterday, Wandy led the Astros to their fifth consecutive win. He allowed two hits, two walks, and struck out two in four scoreless innings.

A healthy four innings out of Wandy is enough to make any Astros fan breathe a tremendous sigh of relief… But four scoreless innings? Wandy, you’ve got me light headed.

I hope this isn’t the highlight of Wandy’s year, because he’s teased us before. I tend to think that if he can stay healthy, we’ll see 12 wins and a 3.94 ERA out of the Magic Wand, making for a great pairing with the Wizard.

Obviously, I realize I shouldn’t get too worked up about Spring wins or losses. Everyone who says that it’s all about individual results in Spring Training is correct. However, typically, good individual performances go hand in hand with wins. Last year, it seemed like however Miggy went, the Stros went. Yesterday, big individual performances from Blum and Wandy led to Houston scoring eight runs while shutting out the other side.

It’s fun to see the bats start to wake up. Pudge hit a long ball to left field that sure would look good from the Crawford Boxes. Bourn (.213), Blum (.178), and Matsui (.111) all had hits yesterday. They had to stumble onto some hits sooner or later. Baseball is all about the law of averages, and the Astros players knew it when they lost 15 consecutive games (not counting ties). They all just saw the losing spell as proof that a winning one would come. It appears they were right, now let’s just hope they keep it going into the games that count.

Astros win 4th straight!

Posted in Houston Astros with tags , , , , , , on March 24, 2009 by Cabeza De Vaca

I know it might seem like I relish in the Astros’ failures, but I swear I really don’t.  My love for the team is complicated.  I know I was posting more when the boys were losing, but SXSW and it’s aftermath of cold-like symptoms have kept me from sharing my delight about the recent victories.  I know the wins don’t count, but it’s good to see us put some runs on the board, even if we have very close to our starting line-up out on the field.  

The best part to me, however, has been the pitching.  Mike Hampton pitched five innings, allowing 3 runs, which might not sound great, but that’s a solid spring training outing.  Russ Ortiz continues to exceed expectations.  Three scoreless innings from Moehler, and scoreless frames from Brocail and Valverde are encouraging.  Jose Capellan had a rough outing, but it was only a matter of time.  Besides, according to Astros.com, he was pitching against… the Astros?

Astros against Astros

Good thing he didn't pitch well. Astros win!

I guess it did look like the ‘Stros had been beating themselves.  Now, though, Houston has five spring training victories.  That’s the same number as the Padres.  And hey, the Diamondbacks, Tigers, and Indians only have eight wins apiece.  Meanwhile, the Royals and Pirates each have 13 victories. All is well.

Pudge an Astro! …I’m confused.

Posted in Houston Astros with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 16, 2009 by Cabeza De Vaca

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been into this idea from the start. I just have a few questions about how this happened and what this means.

Are the Astros acting rationally when it comes to Scott Boras?

The Astros have signed a Scott Boras client, going back on their pledge never to do so again. The Boras-shunning came as a result of the Carlos Beltran debacle, as the Astros were uncomfortable with someone who is all business and no folksiness. Perhaps this signals a new found self-confidence in the front office; maybe they can deal with all agents and not fear being made fools of.

Has Ed Wade learned how to bargain?

It doesn’t help your side in negotiations when you indicate from the get-go how interested you are in signing someone (Randy Wolf), or if you say many times that acquiring someone has long been an interest of your owner (Miguel Tejada). Wade actually sounded convincing as he tried to pull off the whole “you need us more than we need you” attitude. Ed Wade played this one almost right. The only mistake he made was waiting for Pudge to light it up during the WBC. Pudge would have come cheaper two weeks ago.

Is Ed Wade a liar?

Apparently, we can’t believe a word Ed Wade says when it comes to whether he’s interested in a free agent. Good for him (see above). As recently as Friday, Alyson Footer sounded scared to ever say Pudge’s name around Ed Wade again:

I was happy to see that Pudge Rodriguez is no longer mentioning the Astros as the teams who are supposedly interested in him. The latest news I read listed only the Mets and Marlins. That is good, because after checking with Ed Wade yet again today, I can assure you the Astros are not pursuing him. And judging from the irritated look on his face, I can also assure you I won’t be asking him about Pudge again anytime soon. At least not for two weeks. Or maybe 10 days. At the very least, I’ll wait a week.

Oh, and he’s not bidding on Pedro Martinez, either.

Alyson, thanks for the scoop. I guess that means we’re signing Pedro next. You know what, let’s all promise each other to never believe Ed again. That was so mean of him.

Are the Astros in preseason panic mode?

Either Wade is a filthy liar/good negotiator, or the Astros are in panic mode. Perhaps the team is finally ready to recognize that even though Spring Training win/loss records don’t matter, it does matter if it looks like your team sucks and your current catchers make Brad Ausmus look like Ted Williams.

What next?

Assuming Ed Wade is a liar AND the Astros are in panic mode, perhaps the team isn’t done wheeling and dealing. The “Good Guys” slogans are gone this year. Could that leave an opening for Jim Edmonds? He’s still out there folks, he did well last year (especially at Minute Maid), and Michael Bourn still looks bad. I know, I know, I hate him too. I’m just saying, he knows how to run up Tal’s Hill.

Will the Astros cut Brandon Backe?

Reports are that Ivan Rodriguez’s base salary will be $1.5 Million. Coincidentally, Brandon Backe will make $1.55 Million, unless the club cuts him loose prior to the start of the season. Ed Wade is saying that their budget for Pudge has changed in the past month or so. There has already been a lot of speculation that Backe could get cut, but with Nieve being claimed off waivers by the Mets, could the ‘Stros afford to be without yet another replacement level pitcher?

Where do we send Lou Palmisano?

Looks like there’s no room for the catcher the Astros picked up in the Rule 5 draft. Technically, the pick was the Orioles’. The two teams had previously arranged a trade if the O’s picked Palmisano from the Brewers. So… who gets him? Baltimore has the top rated prospect in the country, Matt Wieters, ready to play catcher this year. So, Milwakee, I guess you can have him back. That is, unless, Wade slips Quintero through waivers so he can have his cake and eat it too. I sure wouldn’t think he could do that to Q, but it might be that they think Pudge is an injury risk at his age.

How long until Berkman complains about not knowing this guy?

The Puma has been awfully content with his clubhouse mates this spring. But then again, he knows them. As you’ve probably heard, Pudge is currently kicking ass for his native Puerto Rico. So when does he meet the rest of the team? Quick Pudge, learn something about Texas high school football. Also, in case team USA and team PR meet again, he might also want to tell Roy O that he hates Jeff Gordon/loves Dale Jr.

 

Pudgy Sun Shines on the Big Puma!

Posted in Houston Astros with tags , , , , , on March 16, 2009 by Astropolithecus

My goal was to sit down tonight and drop a few doses of optimism on this dismal Astros spring. 

Well, Astros fans, we just got a bucket of complimentary rose colored glasses, so pass ’em out!

The veteran and sparky IVAN “PUDGE” RODRIGUEZ has just signed with the Stros! 

   There are definitely criticisms due Rodriguez, but they are outweighed, big time, by what he brings to the “Juice Box” come opening day. 

   First, though he’s older, he can still rake, and is clearly a better hitter come crunch time than any of the catchers we currently have on staff. Sorry, Q, it’s true.  He brings an enhancement to the line-up, batting sixth or seventh, that makes it that much harder to pitch around Lee, Pence, and Tejada. His mere presence should also give Bourn more incentive to get on board the basepaths, assuming he’s batting in front of Pudge, and in perfect symbiosis, Pudge marked in on the batting order will give Bourn better pitches to hit.  Pudge takes a very good line-up and makes it better. 

Monetarily, the Puerto Rican legend is a steal, possibly the only steal credited to his name this year.  He doesn’t bust the budget, and this deal should give Wade critics  a pause. I’m not saying Wade deserves no verbal bludgeoning, but  credit is due here for a smooth and tight under the radar signing.

Psychologically, Rodriguez gives the other Astro veterans(and Cooper) a boost I’m sure, because management just gave them a clear signal that “we’re in it to win it”. I also have a feeling Tejada and Rodriguez will be freakin’ clubhouse magic together.

One of the most important elements of Pudge’s signing that I don’t want fellow fans to overlook is the effect he’ll have on the pitching staff.  He’s a real veteran, not in the style of Milton Bradley attitude wise, who is known around the leagues in his ability to call a good game.  His ability to help a Moehler stay in the game longer is matched by his ability to help newer starters, like Capellan, work out of trouble.  I know in my gut that young pitchers will benefit huge with Pudge behind the plate.  One of the few guys who can call a better game is Ausmus, but think of Pudge as an almost Ausmus with a real sweet bat.  

Certain fellow bloggers may freak out that certain catchers may get less playing time, hmm, but I hope they and all of our fine readers see the bigger picture.  Lou could use another season at Round Rock, and Rodriguez’s signing only solidifies Quintero’s job as the official backup catcher.  Q will still get a start every five days, two many weeks, and I think a seasoned fellow catcher can provide him unique bits of wisdom on how to approach hitting.

So there you have it, my take on this great signing.  I just read an article in which Berkman said basically to ‘relax and look ahead, we’ve got the real season ahead of us’.  His only major criticism of the team is he wished a few more proven free agents had been signed. Puma, your wish is Wade’s command.

 

 Yes, of COURSE we still need better starting pitching.   But if you look closely, you’ll see Pudge is a start.

                    Berkmaniac

http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/news/story?id=3985628