Saturday, April 4, 2009

Final Personnel Moves

Astros reassigned some guys to Round Rock in advance of Sunday's deadline.

Russ Ortiz was named SP5, officially. Jason Smith is IF5.
Jose Capellan, Reggie Abercrombie, Chris Johnson, and Lou Santangelo were sent to The Rock.

Catching situation is as follows:
C1 - Pudge
C2 - Quintero
C3 - Towles
C4 - Santangelo
C5 - Palmisano
C6 - Castro

I bet this won't go over well with Cubs fans

Carlos Zambrano, our favorite Cub, had this to say about Miller Park South as he and the other Cubs played in the new Yankee Stadium:

“You come into a ballpark like this and you see great things. You wish that Chicago’d build a new stadium for the Cubs."

I hear he likes playing in Milwaukee.

Astros split two-game series with Indians. Thanks for nothing, Brocail

Carrying a 3-1 lead into the 9th, the Astros lost 4-3. Let's get to the line:

Mike Hampton
4IP, 6H, 1R (0ER). 75 pitches, 50 for strikes (66.7%). 4 ground-outs, 4 fly-outs, 3 Ks.
FB hit 90, Slider at 87, Changeup at 86, Curve at 75.

Saith Hampton:
"I felt good," he said. "I threw all my pitches to both sides of the plate. For the most part I felt pretty comfortable. I felt if I got out of whack a little bit I could correct it pretty quickly. For the most part I felt pretty comfortable out there."

Hampton will start Friday at Beck's Stadium against the Cardinals.

Chris Sampson, 5th inning
1IP, 1H. 12p/8s (75%). 2go/1fo.
FB at 88,

Russ Ortiz, 6th-7th
2IP, 2K. 23p/16s (69.6%). 2go/2fo/2K.
FB at 92

Byrdak, 8th
1IP, 1H. 8p/5s (67.5%). 2go/1fo.
FB at 89-91

Brocail, 9th
1IP, 3H, 3R (2ER). 1go/2fo. 1L
How did this happen?:
Cabrera: 1 pitch/1 out
Choo: Line drive single to right
Espino: Ground-ball single to 3rd
Garko: Popped out to catcher
-Note: Two outs-
Carroll: HBP, bases loaded
Crowe: Two-run single to right
Graffanino: Ground-ball to third, E5 on Johnson, Carroll scored.

Bourn, Keppinger, Berkman, Tejada, Pence, Erstad, Michaels, Smith, Quintero.

Bourn went 2x4 with 2r and 2SBs. Berkman had an RBI ground-rule double off Kerry Wood in the 6th. Johnson followed with an RBI double of his own.

Four errors - four! Three throwing errors on Johnson, Keppinger, Smith and a fielding error by Tejada led to two unearned runs. Attribute Smith's errors to nerves:
"Did you see today's game?" he said, when asked if he was nervous. "There was a tremendous amount of pressure today. You kind of know, but still, something could have been done today. It could have been me [who was cut], so I could sit here and lie to you and say I didn't feel any pressure."
There's your game.

Man of the Match: Lance Berkman
Goat of the Game: Doug Brocail

Hampton vs Pavano: The Battle of Who Will Die First

Two years ago you never would have seen this coming: Mike Hampton v Carl Pavano. In fact, I would have put the O/U at three innings before both of them spontaneously combusted on the mound. Recap this evening, as I have to go to a meeting this afternoon.

Sporting News' power rankings

Stan McNeal of the Sporting News released his power rankings to start the season:

Houston Astros, 22nd
There's just not enough behind Roy Oswalt in the rotation.

NL Central:
Cubs: 3rd
Cardinals: 12th
Brewers: 13th
Reds: 16th
Pirates: 27th

Astros sign SS prospect Marcos Cabral

In an interesting move, the Astros signed 25-year old prospect Marcos Cabral.

Cabral spent 2008 in the Blue Jays organization, beginning the year in the Florida State League (High-A) and ending in Syracuse (Triple-A). In five minor-league seasons, Cabral has posted a line of .255/.346/.356 with 128 walks and 181 strikeouts in 1002 ABs.

And if you wanted a list of the players the Astros released at the end of March, here you go:
RHP Colt Adams, RHP Corey Bass, RHP Tip Fairchild, RHP Danny Graves, RHP Michael Koons, RHP Brett Robinson, RHP Sean Walker, LHP Antony Bello, LHP Eduin Ciriaco, LHP Pascual Juan, LHP David Qualben, LHP Tom Vessella, C Jimmy Goethals, 1B Josh Pressley, 1B Ole Sheldon, 2B David Newhan, 3B Jeff Eure, SS Cat Everett, OF Billy Hart, OF Jason Romano, OF Jason Tyner

ESPN's Power Rankings Released

ESPN released their preseason Power Rankings:

Houston Astros - 26th
A veteran lineup that grew a bit older with the addition of Ivan Rodriguez. The pitching staff has some questions, especially at the back end with Mike Hampton and Russ Ortiz.

NL Central rundown:
Cubs - 4th
Cardinals - 12th
Brewers - 14th
Reds - 17th
Pirates - 29th

Good news for Wednesday's game!

According to the Gary Post-Tribune, Ted Lilly is having some trouble locating his fastball...

''I feel healthy,'' said Lilly, who threw 82 pitches in just four innings. ''I'm just not liking the way I've thrown the ball the last couple of outings. More than anything else, it's fastball location...There are a few things I'm going to work on during my next side, get it straightened out and go out there Wednesday and try to win a game.''

Lilly is scheduled to face Moehler on Wednesday.

Johnson is now RR1

We're creating a new position today, friends and neighbors: RR1. As in the RR1 is the top propspect at The Rock. RR1 , according to Easy Eddie, is Chris Johnson.

“Johnson is the closest-to-the-big-leagues position player prospect we have,” general manager Ed Wade said. “We like (Edwin) Maysonet and (Tommy) Manzella, (Brian) Bogusevic and a couple of other guys. But really, the guy that has the greatest chance of having an impact on our club is Johnson.”

Astros shut down Indians

That's a 2-0 win. And this is a template for what you'll see here during the Regular Season. What do you think?

Brian Moehler:
5IP, 2H, 0ER. 71 pitches, 44 were for strikes (62.0%). 7 ground-outs, 3 fly-outs, 5 Ks.
Fastball touched 88, also mixed in an 86mph slider, a 75mph curve and a 77mph changeup.

Saith Moehler: “I feel good, so that’s what I’m concerned about, getting work in,” he said. “It’s spring training, so you take it for what it’s worth. You prepare for the season. I used all my pitches and tried to build for my confidence going into Wednesday.”

Lefty (Wesley) Wright: 6th inning
1IP, 1H. 17 pitches/10 strikes (58.8%). 1go/2fo.
Lefty Wright's fastball hit 91mph with a 79mph slider in there, too.

Geary: 7th inning
1IP, 1H. 12p/7s (58.3%). 3go/0fo
Geary had a 91mph fastball and a 79mph curveball

LaHawk: 8th inning
1IP, 0H, 1K. 7p/6s (85.7%). 1go/1fo/1K
LaHawk's fastball hit 94mph with an 87mph slider.

Valverde: 9th inning
1IP, 1H. 15p/10s (66.7%). 1go/2fo
Valverde threw 15 fastballs, from 93-96mph.

I'm concerned by Valverde's 15 pitch inning, but what are you gonna do? It's the first time he's pitched the ninth inning since September.

Interesting lineup:
Matsui, Pudge, Berkman, Lee, Tejada, Blum, Pence, Bourn, Moehler...

Offensively, there's not much to report. Pence's 1st-pitch single in the 2nd scored Lee and Tejada, and that's all the scoring. Berkman's double was the only extra-base hit of the seven the Astros recorded. Bourn reached on a bunt single in the 7th. Jason Michaels drew a 7-pitch pinch-hit walk in the 8th.

Six strikeouts on the home side: 2 from Moehler, 2 from Matsui (one on four straight sliders), 2 from Pudge (one a three-pitch K).

Man of the Match: Brian Moehler, 5IP, 0R, 2H, 5K
Goat of the Game: Kaz Matsui, 0x4, 2Ks

Friday, April 3, 2009

One more prediction...until the next one

Bruce Jenkins, of the San Francisco Chronicle says this:

Viewed in a certain light, the Astros don't look too bad: a few dead-pull rockets from Miguel Tejada, some bombs off the bat of Carlos Lee, inevitable excitement surrounding Hunter Pence, and the wondrous Lance Berkman. Mike Krukow, a rarity among announcers in that he really appreciates the other team's stars, did a revealing breakdown of Berkman as he tore apart the Giants' pitching last year, illustrating that Berkman, unlike most switch-hitters, has the same approach and strengths from both sides of the plate. Weaknesses? Almost none to speak of . . . But this is an old, old club, vulnerable to brittle defense with Tejada at short, Lee in left and Pudge Rodriguez, for all his apparent fitness, behind the plate. Plus, any team that lists 78-year-old Mike Hampton as a "key" is in real trouble. Hampton, likely to be on the disabled list by Tuesday, hasn't had a real big year since 2003 . . . And, yes, Russ Ortiz won the No. 5 starter's job . . . One of the classiest ballplayers in the business, Darin Erstad, will be invaluable off the bench . . . Roy Oswalt doesn't have much tolerance for steroid discussion, claiming recently that Alex Rodriguez' numbers "shouldn't count for anything. I feel like he cheated me out of the game." You wonder how he feels about Tejada, recently convicted on perjury charges regarding steroid testimony, and Pudge, targeted as a user by Jose Canseco . . . You'd like to think there's help on the way, but in a year featuring so many great young prospects around the game, the Astros' farm system is said to be bone dry.

St. Louis

Rosenthal: Astros are a train wreck waiting to happen

Ken Rosenthal says:

Astros: Who is the No. 2 starter? Is there a No. 2 starter? The offense also is not without holes. Pudge should have signed with the Marlins.

St. Louis

New York Magazine would not bet on the Astros.

More predictions as they're the easiest column-filler in the business (outside of commenting on Hall of Fame election results and "Who I voted for..."). These, from New York Magazine's Will Leitch:

Houston Astros: 40 to 1
Every year, the Astros batten down the hatches and make One Last Run with their veteran core, and every year they fall short. With a desperately thin farm system and no rotation outside of the graying Roy Oswalt, the next Last Run will be to stave off the Reds for fourth place in the NL Central. Exciting! Good bet? No.

"Graying Roy Oswalt?" Ouch. Here are their predics for the NLC:
St. Louis (and giving them the Wild Card)

Team Marketing Report releases its MLB Fan Cost Index

It's a fascinating article - PDF download required to access the whole thing. But here's your basic rundown:

Astros Avg. Ticket Price: $28.73 (+3.6%)
MLB Avg: $26.64

Astros Avg. Premium Ticket: $48.41
MLB Avg: $96.93

Astros Beer: $5.00
MLB Avg: $5.92

Astros Soft Drink: $4.25
MLB Avg: $3.44

Astros Hot Dog: $4.75
MLB Avg: $3.70

Astros Parking: $15.00
MLB Avg: $12.40

Astros Program: $4.00
MLB Avg: $3.72

Astros Cap: $13.00
MLB Average: $15.03

Family of Four to Minute Maid Park: $209.93
MLB Avg: $196.89

Run-DMc has managed to price the Minute Maid Experience above the Major League average in six of the nine measured categories. Does this make you happy, or sad?


(For News & Notes):

Astros County strives for saturation coverage. Check out AC's 2009 precap at Baseball Reflections. It's a bit dated already, as I wrote it before the Keppinger deal went through.

Also, AC will be appearing on United Cardinals Blogger Radio Hour on Wednesday night. Phrase of the night will be "October 17, 2005." When you hear "October 17, 2005," you have permission to yell - a la Pee Wee's Playhouse.

Monday night @ 6pm is Opening Night. Zambrano vs. Oswalt. Astros County will be live-blogging the game right here at Astros County.

Davidoff continues his assault on our honor

Ken Davidoff continued his assault on the Astros and the NL Central, although he did have an interesting prediction:

1. Cardinals
2. Cubs
3. Reds
4. Brewers
5. Astros
6. Pirates

Baseball Prospectus hurt my feelings

So ESPN and Baseball Prospectus have this new partnership, and if you're an ESPN Insider (which I am), you can read all sorts of amazing things. Like this, in which BP projects the NL standings. If you're not an Insider, then allow me...

Cubs: 95-67
Brewers: 84-78
Cardinals: 83-79
Reds: 79-83
Astros: 69-93
Pirates: 64-98

Here were the Astros projected stats:
704 RS / 811 RA - .261/.321/.403

Read this:
The Central forecasts as the league's weakest division according to overall winning percentage (.488) because of the presence of two doormats, the Houston Astros and Pittsburgh Pirates. The 64-win Bucs are a lock for their 17th consecutive losing season, while the 69-win Astros are poised for a 17-win drop off from last year. The latter finished nine wins above their Pythagorean record last year, so they're already an easy bet to regress, and the combination of an inflexible payroll hamstrung by a few big contracts, the worst farm system in the game, and a rotation relying upon Brian Moehler (5.46 ERA) and the undead Mike Hampton and Russ Ortiz -- both last effective during the first Dubya administration -- add up to one more chance to invoke the time-honored phrase, "Houston, we have a problem."

Over the weekend I'll work on a synopsis of the predictions we've gathered here. So if you're bored on the last time there won't be baseball on a Friday for the next seven months, write in your prognostications in the Comments section or email Astros County.

Hang on. The Astros lost to the Hooks?

At least it wasn't Wandy's fault. To quote baseball historian Randy Jackson, "Dude blew it out the box."

Check it out:
Wandy: 6IP, 1H, 0R, 11K
Capellan: 1IP, 4H, 4ER, 5BB, 1K (ouch)
Salamida: 0IP (2BF), 2H, 2ER

For the Hooks:
Felipe Paulino: 6IP, 4H, 2ER, 1BB, 3K

And Brian Esposito cracked a 2-run trot-off off Chris Salamida for the Hooks win, 6-5.

Good capsule from George Vondracek, who pointed out that three Hooks homers went to right field, where a 19-mph wind was blowing out. But who did that not affect? Wandy.

And Coop also made apologies and explanations for the Curse of Tim Purpura:
“Well, you know what, I think they’re all dead wrong. I’ve heard all the talk,” Astros manager Cecil Cooper said. “We had a chance this spring to see a lot of our young kids play. Yes, we do have some young kids in the system, we do have somewhat of a void at a couple of the levels. But it’s just because we didn’t sign a lot of guys in ’06 and ’07.”

The Astros, of course, are going to insist that life in the sub-major league level isn’t as dire as Baseball America contends — i.e., No. 30 out of 30 organizations. The numbers from last season can’t be ignored, however, because the six Houston affiliates combined for a 278-422 record.

“Well, I think there’s no doubt we’re thin or probably as thin as we’ve been in a long time with our minor-league system,” admitted Astros first baseman Lance Berkman, who served as Houston’s designated hitter Thursday night. “But that doesn’t mean that we don’t still have guys that are talented that are going to be knocking on the door and helping us out.

“Right now I think for so long our system has had so many good players in it. Inevitably every system is maybe going to go through a little bit of some hard times,” Berkman said. “But there are some guys out there that are going to be competitive at a high level.”

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Astros' youngsters impressive against Braves

So obviously there's a split-squad game tonight between the Astros and Hooks, but there was a game against the Braves, as well. Basically meaning that three Astros squads took the field today.

Against the Braves today, we got a chance to see SP-in-waiting Bud Norris start, and he did well:
Norris: 4IP, 5H, 1ER, 4K
Perez: 4IP, 2H, 1R (0ER), 1BB, 2K
Musser: 1IP, 1BB

And even better than that, the Braves basically played their OD squad: Jones, Escobar, Infante, McCann, Francoeur, Johnson. This was a major-league club, and while the bats didn't do much (1 run on 10 hits), the Astros' pitching staff was excellent. The ever-gracious Norris said this:

"I know they're in a hurry to get on their plane so they were swinging early at strikes, but at the same time I just wanted to attack and throw strikes and thought I threw the ball to the zone very well, which was good."

If that's true, that's reprehensible.

Fox Sports says Coop's seat is on fire

In one of those clever slideshows, Fox Sports puts Coop squarely on the hot seat:

Never mind that the Astros staged an improbable wild-card run in Cooper's first full season; they were outscored by 31 runs, indicating that their 86-75 record was a myth. The Astros' veterans do not hold Cooper in high regard, the starting rotation beyond Roy Oswalt is suspect and owner Drayton McLane is notoriously impatient -- the team has employed three managers and three general managers since the start of the 2004 season. Hint: McLane did not extend Cooper's contract.
Hot seat temperature: Extremely hot.

I would be very upset if Coop lost his job, and this is something we have covered before. The state of the Astros has nothing to do with Coop. Unless of course he starts batting Berkman 8th. Not starting Roy when he faces the Reds. Things like that should be fire-able offenses. But no, I will not be happy with Coop getting fired if the Astros start 7-20.

Unless Ed Wade and Cecil Cooper are lying to his face, Chris Johnson has reason to be excited

Of course, you never know. Johnson, though disappointed, understands why he was sent to The Rock, but is pleased with what he showed Easy Eddie and Coop, who were then pleased with what Johnson showed them, and then had these nice things to say:

"They were telling me yesterday that they see me as a future third baseman," Johnson said. "It's pretty awesome to hear that. That kind of cheered me up."

So if that is true, it looks like we may have solved Chris Johnson and the Riddle of the Infield. Blum and Tejada are not under contract beyond this season. Matsui is under contract until after 2010 and has a limited no-trade clause. There would be Johnson, Jason Smith, Edwin Maysonet, Tommy Manzella, and Jeff Keppinger knocking on the door. And Drew Sutton, provided he's not a Red. I could see Matsui getting traded, though who would be interested in trading an aging, injury-prone 2B with a crack in his anus? It's a valid question.

Make fun, go ahead. This team is old now, but it's about to get a lot younger in the next couple of years.

Rumored: Drew Sutton is the PTBNL

+1 to the Unofficial Official for this note: Dusty Baker believes the PTBNL from the Astros to complete the Keppinger deal. Baker also wants Sheffield, so here's hoping he's a moron.

Baker said during pregame warmups that the Reds could get 25-year-old shortstop Drew Sutton from the Astros in the deal. Sutton hit .317 with 20 homers and 69 RBIs in 133 games for Double-A Corpus Christi last season.

"We get a player to be named later and I assume it's going to be him," Baker said. "The Astros told me he has good skills, good talent and good speed. They told me he's a ballplayer."

Make sure you read the Unofficial Official's post on this, with opinions by MLBTR, Astros Daily, and Yours Truly.

I was trying to withhold judgment until we found out who the PTBNL was, but now I'm torn on this deal. Keppinger can play second, but I guess I was under the impression that Sutton would be replacing Matsui. Maysonet may be in a better position to be 2B1 following the 2010 season, though. There's been a lot of chatter about the lack of power in Keppinger's bat (some of it from me. Okay, a lot of it from me), but look at this, from Keppinger's ESPN Fantasy projection:

Keppinger didn't impress statistically in 2008, but keep in mind he had an extremely unlucky .223 batting average on balls in play in his home games, and he's among the best contact hitters in the game. To expect him to raise his batting average into the .290s isn't unreasonable

With decent defense and an average in the .290s, the idea may be to shift Keppinger to 2nd after Matsui's contract is up in 2010. Are you okay with a 2011 infield of Berkman, Keppinger, Maysonet and Johnson?

Two more predictions!

Tags did his predictions. I think we're to the point where we can start making our own. I'll have mine up over the weekend. Feel free to use this forum to do so - I'm tagging this post so we can go back at the end of the season and all make fun of each other.

Chicago Cubs 97-65
St. Louis 88-74
ASTROS 83-79
Milwaukee 81-81
Cincinnati 77-85
Pittsburgh 68-94

And Bruce Bukiet, an associate professor of mathematical sciences and associate dean of the College of Science and Liberal Arts at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, runs his own baseball forecasting service and with a highly technical (and copyrighted) formula, here's how he saw the NL Central:

Chicago: 97-65
St Louis: 85-77
Milwaukee: 82-80
Houston: 80-82
Cincinnati: 75-87
Pittsburgh: 60-102

Zambrano chooses his words carefully is always happy to bring up no-hitters and great performances, so of course they turned to Carlos Zambrano's Opening Day start against the Astros on Monday.

Why? Because of the no-hitter last year! Remember?

"It was good," Zambrano said Wednesday of his historic game. "But you have to remember Carlos Lee wasn't in the [Astros] lineup and Ivan Rodriguez also. Now [Lee] is back, and I have to be careful with him. I think he has pretty good numbers against me. That's the adjustment as a pitcher, when you see a hitter who has good numbers, you have to make the adjustment."

Oh he's right. Lee is 17x46 (.370) with 5 doubles and 4 homers off Zambrano.

Any chance one of the Astro pitchers plunks Zambrano when he comes to the plate? If any of the position players from last year tried to hit him with a bat, they would have swung right over the top of him.

A New York writer with an AL bias? Shocking!

Ken Davidoff of Newsday (Long Island) wrote a column on the five teams that will be worse in 2009 than they were in 2008.

If you are an effective user of context clues, you can gather that our Houston Astros are on this list. Regard:

How they ever wound up in such serious contention is beyond most of us. As you can see here, their Pythagorean record was a much more apropos 77-84. At some point, though, their luck has to run out. If K-Rod and J.J. Putz both flop for the Mets, perhaps the Mets can trade for Jose Valverde.

It's nice that Davidoff has decided, before the season starts, Ed Wade will be looking to trade Valverde so that Omar Minaya can have a bullpen full of closers.

Oh. Who else is on the list? The Cubs (whew!), Rays, Brewers, and Blue Jays. If you're keeping score at home that's three NL Central teams and two AL East teams.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Sayonara, Chris Johnson!

Good night, and good luck,Chris Johnson. We'll see you soon. This was fairly obvious after the Astros traded for Kep-Nutz.

So that means Jason Smith is most likely your IF5 for 2009.

Says Coop through Tags in a long overdue post:

"We told him he was going to go back and play every day," manager Cecil Cooper said. "We wanted to take him with us to Houston and experience being in Houston. It's kind of unfair to keep wondering about all this. He took it well. He's handled this like a big leaguer. He's played good on defense. It won't be long. This guy's is going to be a good player for a long time."

And Roy-O left the game early, "because it was hot out there."

That hissing sound you hear? That's the Cincinnati Reds all spraying aerosol cans outside Great American Ball Park, making the world hotter, so Roy can't whoop their tail.

Czech out the Hooks, and who they're throwing at the Big Club tomorrow

Interesting to see who is playing for the Hooks in the exhibition game tomorrow against the Astros:

Pitchers - Erick Abreu, Douglas Arguello, T.J. Burton, Paul Estrada, Casey Hudspeth, Brad James, Jeremy Johnson, Felipe Paulino, Sergio Perez, Chris Salamida, Rob Semerano, Polin Trinidad, Andy Van Hekken, Chad Wagler

Catchers - Brian Esposito, Lou Palmisano

Infielders - Jhon Florentino, Mark Ori, Drew Meyer, Felix Molina, Chad Spann, Wladimir Sutil

Outfielders - Collin DeLome, Mitch Einertson, Josh Flores, Andrew Locke, Jimmy Van Ostrand

I'm surprised that Polin Trinidad is at Double-A, and Brad James, too. You?

FanHouse's Power Rankings

FanHouse - home to Jay Mariotti - posted their pre-season power rankings today, and boy, was it brutal. Unless it's part of an April Fools' joke thing...

Astros: 29th.You can write this down: the Astros will be the 2009 version of the Mariners. Any time an overachieving club is treated like a contender by a poor front office, there's disaster on the horizon. Everything catches up to the Astros this year.

Oh, I will write it down, FanHouse. You say the Astros will lose 100 games. Okay, it's written down.

And just to keep tabs:
Cubs - 3rd
Brewers - 12th
Reds - 13th
Cardinals - 14th
Pirates - 26th

What's up with the Chronicle?

Seriously. It's 12:40pm on a Spring Training game day. The game started 35 minutes ago. The Chronicle has two beat writers in Jose de Jesus Ortiz and Brian McTaggart. Tags' last blog post was last night. Ortiz hasn't blogged in almost a week. In six Main Stories, there are two links to Chipper Jones' extension and an AL Central preview. Up until about five minutes ago there was no update about the Reds/Astros game, and Roy is pitching.

I'm not faulting Tags or JJO, but this is ridiculous. I've heard from a couple of people that they don't even go to the Chronicle for Astros news - they come here. And while I'm flattered, and humbled, that is absolutely ludicrous (woo!). A guy's blog in Tennessee has better and more up-to-date information on the professional baseball team than the hometown newspaper - and the only newspaper serving Houston.

Who else is pissed?


Both Alberto Arias and Jeff Fulchino were sent down to Round Rock after last night's game, meaning Coop will carry 12 pitchers (not 13, as I originally thought) to start the season.

I had Fulchino in and Arias out, but was projecting eight in the bullpen to start the season. So it goes. Your bullpen is as such:

Tim Byrdak (L)
Geoff Geary
Chris Sampson
LaTroy Hawkins
Wesley Wright (L)
Doug Brocail
Jose Valverde

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Any thoughts on who the PTBNL is?

Anybody got guesses?

Ortiz just locked up SP5

In six innings today against Derek Lowe and the Braves, Russ Ortiz gave up five hits, no walks (I repeat, no walks), and two earned runs with five strikeouts as the Astros won 8-3.

Remember, Lowe no-hit the Astros over 4 innings on March 10, but not today. Pudge, Erstad, Lee, and Michaels all had multi-hit games - Lee hit a jack, the Astros hit four doubles and added a triple by Bourn.

Jeff Fulchino threw two innings allowing only a walk and LaHawk threw an inning with a hit.

Now for the awkward part. The Astros play the Reds tomorrow at 12:05.

Who is this Jeff Keppinger?

Alright. I've done some scouting and a friend from work is a hard-core Reds fan. This is what he had to say:

Keppinger as an everyday starter is a stretch. After he hit that ball off his knee last year and fractured his knee cap he hasn't been he same. Keppinger was never meant to be an everyday guy, the injuries to Phillips, Encarnacion, and Gonzalez put him in that spot.

Hmmm. So what shall we see from this Jeff Keppinger?
He was the Pirates 4th round draft pick in 2001 and will be 29 on April 21. He was traded by the Pirates with Kris Benson to the Mets for Jose Bautista, Ty Wigginton and minor-leaguer Matt Peterson at the deadline in 2004. Then he was traded in July 2006 by the Mets to the Royals for Ruben Gotay. Then he was traded before 2007 to the Reds for minor-leaguer Russ Haltiwanger. So that's how he got here.

What will he do for the Astros? Provide patience at the plate.
Remember, the Astros swung at 28% of pitches thrown outside of the strike zone in 2008. Keppinger in 2008 swung at 19.8% of those pitches. He struck out once for every 20.9 ABs, the best ratio in the majors.

What will he (probably) not do? Hit for power. Projections at FanGraphs have Keppinger (any thoughts as to his nickname? Kep? Keppy?) hitting between 5 and 7 home runs with 24-28 doubles. However, at a projected 430-480 ABs, Bill James has his average sitting nicely at .305/.359/.403.

Let's be clear, Keppinger was signed to replace Aaron Boone, whom Bill James projected to hit .240/.317/.377 with 10 doubles and 6 home runs. And he's only 28. And will platoon with Geoff Blum. Tags reports Keppinger will play against lefties, against whom in 139 ABs Keppinger hit .360/.412/.489 with 50 hits, 12 for extra-base hits.

This is my favorite quote of the article: “I'm just glad they didn't release me,” Keppinger said. “I was going to ask if they were releasing me because of my spring numbers (.140 batting average).”

Only on the 2009 Astros can you worry about getting released from one team in your division, and start on another.

Sayonara (but see you soon), Edwin Mayonset!

Within a piece I'll revisit in a moment, we learn that Edwin Maysonet has been sent down. Alas, I got this one wrong:

Between Maysonet and Smith, it's a toss-up. Up until Maysonet's two homer day, he showed no stick, and Smith hasn't shown much of a glove. It could go either way, but I'll say that since Smith signed a minor-league contract back at the beginning of January, Maysonet will get the nod - at least initially.

At least I called it a toss-up.

And as Tags so deftly reported, beating me to the punch because I was looking at a house (of all days...):
Cecil Cooper has already said Johnson isn't going to make the team to ride the bench, so it appears Johnson will begin in the minors and Smith will be the utility infielder.

Cincinnati Enquirer reporting Keppinger traded to Astros, Reds fans mourn

Well, I'm glad Geoff Blum gave a tacit approval this morning. It's a very short post, but John Fay is reporting the Reds have traded third baseman Jeff Keppinger to the Astros for a PTBNL. There's your 3B1.

More analysis later, but here's a sampling of comments from the Enquirer's site...

-Keppinger was beginning to be well liked by Cincy fans... good thing we got rid of him now... so we don't get too attached...


-first Hamilton, Cantu, mistake after another, team will finish 20 games back..Baker will be history, we lack an outfield, have no healthy shortstop, a marginal catcher and 2 starters Harang and Arroyo that are about finished

That guy (SportsGod is his handle) wins the Eeyore Award. I'm guessing the ellipses

de la Vara returned to the Royals

Rule 5 pick Gil de la Vara cleared waivers and was offered back to the Royals - whom they accepted. The Royals will give the Astros $25,000 for the honor of letting de la Vara wear an Astros jersey this Spring.

de la Vara's final numbers:
8G,9.2IP, 14H, 9ER, 5HR, 3BB, 3K - 8.38 ERA, 1.76 WHIP, 17 of the 31 batters de la Vara faced reached base.

I called this: It's a toss-up, but I'll give the nod towards Fulchino making the team with Arias and de la Vara out. And I could be totally wrong.

Well, I wasn't.

Now you'll be able to see J.R. Towles' weird facial hair in stunning detail

Thanks to German for the update: 123 of FSH's 147 Astros games will be broadcast in HD this season, up from last year.

Which member of the current Astros team would you really prefer not to see in HD?

Power Rankings Time!

This one from the Bleacher Report...

#21 - Houston Astros
With Pudge Rodriguez, Miguel Tejada, Carlos Lee and Lance Berkman, this lineup definitely has the potential to beat some teams up. However, it's the pitching that worries me. Roy Oswalt is almost a given to win 15 games, and he likely will. However, the Astros don't have much pitching depth besides the vet. Wandy Rodriguez could return to form, but there's nothing else besides Roy and Way-Rod.

The Pirates were #29; Brewers #26; Reds #19; Cardinals #14; Cubs #5.

Berkman probable for tomorrow and Blum may be a really good guy

Update on the severity of Lance's tendonitis: he may play tomorrow. Lance wanted to play yesterday, and Coop wisely held him out. Lance wants to play today, and Coop will wisely hold him out. Coop, not so wisely, gives Lance a tentative nod for Wednesday.

If I were the wise manager, Lance would not be playing until Saturday.

Within the same Notebook, Geoff Blum seems like he's a really good guy. Regard:
"“If they want to bring in a righthanded guy to help out at third base and hit righthanded, then I have no problem with that,” Blum said. “As long as they put me in the lineup every once in a while, I’m going to be comfortable with whatever.”

Tags' Prediction: Yanks win Series

"If the Yankees don't win the World Series, I'll eat a bug."

Monday, March 30, 2009

It had to happen some time: Hampton and Wright get rocked

Let's be honest. The most important quote from Hampton, and it's telling that he feels like he has to mention this after his performance today is this one:

"It was a battle. I made some mistakes over the plate to some good hitters and they made me pay for it. I felt fine, but it was one of those days I didn't have a whole lot."

It's those three words: I felt fine. This is going to happen. No one muddied their britches when Roy gave up 17 earned in his first start last year (an exaggeration, of course). Pitchers are going to have bad days, and this one came in Spring Training. I think just the fact that Hampton made it through an entire spring and, with the exception of a heart problem that fixed itself, has been completely healthy is worth celebrating and a cause for optimism.

Still, he gave up the long ball. Three homers, one to Rollins on the 1st pitch (which probably doesn't do much for confidence), one to Howard, and one to Eric Bruntlett. Wesley Wright also gave up his first run of the Spring, and then three more after that, allowing six baserunners in one inning of work. Sampson added two unearned runs to complete the 13-3 rout. Kaz Matsui used a 3x3 day to raise his average almost to .200 (.197) and Edwin Maysonet went 1x2 with a homer to sit his average at .333.

And that was the last road game of the Spring!

Jon Heyman apparently thinks the Astros will sign anybody who played in 2004

From Heyman's column today:

Pedro Martinez is continuing to be patient, and is hopeful that reputation plus team desperation will be the winning formula to get the contract he seeks, which is $5 million and up. According to a friend of Martinez's, he's "in no hurry" and more than willing to wait well into the season, if that's what it takes. So far, he is said to be receiving "bottom feeding" offers, which probably means about $1 million. The Dodgers, Indians, Pirates, Astros and Mets are seen as possibilities now.

No way. Absolutely not. Jose Capellan has proved more in the last two years than Pedro has. While Reputation + Desperation sometimes = $5 million, there's no way the Astros pull this trigger.

It's been a rough few days for the 2005 Astros

It's amazing to go back and take a look at the 2005 World Series sweepee Houston Astros roster, and how many of them have had a rough few days. Regard:

C - Brad Ausmus
1B - Lance Berkman
2B - Craig Biggio
3B - Morgan Ensberg
SS - Adam Everett
LF - Chris Burke
CF - Willy Taveras
RF - Jason Lane

SP1 - Roy Oswalt
SP2 - Roger Clemens
SP3 - Andy Pettitte
SP4 - Brandon Backe
SP5 - Wandy Rodriguez
CL - Brad Lidge

Bagwell retired following 2005.
Biggio following 2007.
Ausmus left for LA this past off-season.
Ensberg just got released by the Rays.
Jason Lane just got sent down by the Blue Jays.
Chris Burke just got traded to the Mariners, and is on his third club since the DiamondB's trade.
Adam Everett got hurt last week aftersigning with the Tigers.

You look at who the Astros let go of, or got rid of, following the World Series run and it's hard to criticize them. Let's remember this as we move forward.

John Gall is pretty dang funny

There's a new feature going through called "Batting Around" in which beat writers pick a minor leaguer and ask them interesting questions. I think they stole this idea from me, which will teach me to trust my PDA with my thoughts. But the one on John Gall is really funny. Lots of interesting tidbits: Gall likes to cook, likes Gossip Girl (almost a deal-breaker), etc. Read the whole thing, but here's my favorite part:

MLB: If you could trade places with one person for a day who would it be and why?

JG: (Houston Astros GM) Ed Wade. So I could put myself on the Houston Astros' 25-man roster.

Recapping Berkman's pain

Long article on Lance's biceps tendinitis in the Chronicle. Let's hit the major points:

1. It happened during Friday's game against the Phillies (the curse of Brad Lidge?)
2. It "doesn't appear to be serious enough to miss Opening Day."
3. It doesn't hurt to swing, but does hurt to throw.
4. He's trying to avoid a cortisone shot.
5. The earliest we'll see Lance is Tuesday night

Smith plays "Glove, Glove Me Do"

In McTaggart's Notes section, (anyone else worried that the cuts at the Chronicle may be impacting JJO?) we read that Jason Smith may have gained a slight edge on account of some nice defensive plays he made yesterday and is taking advantage of Maysonet's shagging accident.

“It was the first game in quite a while he hadn’t gotten any hits, but he made some real nice defensive plays,” Cecil Cooper said. “It gives (Smith) a little bit of an edge. We’re hoping to get (Maysonet) on the field, if not (today) then the next day, and that will give him three or four more days to make his statement.”

Still think Smith breaks camp as IF5 - and will become more likely if Lance misses time.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

A Late Win is a Nice Thing

The Astros scored three runs - one in the 7th and one in the 8th - to top the Blue Jays 3-2 with homers by Santangelo and Michaels. Two hits from Pence, and one each from Matsui, Erstad, Lee, Tejada, Santangelo, Michaels, Blum and Abercrombie rounded out the hits. Erstad's and Matsui's hits were doubles. Pitching lines:

Moehler: 6IP, 7H, 2ER
Arias: 2IP, 1H, 1K
Geary: 1IP, 1K

Erstad got the start at 1st base in an effort to get him some ABs this week, but I'm curious if Jason Smith just got a leg up on the IF5 race because of the uncertainty of the severity of Lance's shoulder/biceps injury. We'll hear more about it this week.

Ahh, hell.

This isn't good.

Lance Berkman might need a cortisone shot before April to ease the pain in his tendonitinized (like that?) bicep. McTaggart is saying it will keep Berkman out for at least two days, but I don't think we'll see Berkman this week in order to give him some time to rest.

How bad is it? Lance is hurting. So much so he could barely raise his left arm above his shoulder this morning.

Tags also says if this were the regular season, Lance is in the lineup. Thanks to (who lovingly provided the picture), it's not terribly serious, but definitely is something that needs rest before it gets better. No esta bueno.

David Newhan released, doesn't take it well; Paronto hits The Rock

The Astros released David Newhan and reassigned Chad Paronto to minor-league camp today.

Coop said this about Newhan:
"The guy did a great job for us last year. He's a good pinch-hitter and great teammate, but he didn't fit this spring. We gave him some opportunities to play not only at second but the outfield, but we have six outfielders (in camp) right now. He just didn't fit.".

Newhan was less philosophical about it, however:
Kind of the only way that Coop's really communicated is through (the media)," Newhan said as he boxed his belonging at Osceola County Stadium. "It's just unfortunate. They've talked about needing a shortstop the whole time, but I wish I would have gotten a chance to at least screw that up. I never really got that opportunity. He told me I would, but the next day talking to (reporters) was like, 'You're like seventh on the list.' The way they communicated they made it clear I wasn't going to fit here and the guys they have in Triple-A, they have to play. I understand that."

I imagine it is terribly disheartening to read about yourself in the newspaper. I bet it's ridiculously frustrating to read about yourself in the newspaper after the guy who could have been talking to you man-to-man is one office over. So I feel bad for Newhan - Coop's right, he probably wasn't a fit for the Astros this season, but there's no need to wait until the end of Camp to make this move - especially when there are jobs across the league available.

Wandy would totally dominate at Round Rock

Even though he won't be there, it's nice to know that if the Astros are out of it and the Express are in the thick of a pennant race, Wandy wants the ball.

In a Triple-A game yesterday, Wandy threw six innings, gave up three hits and a walk, while striking out seven in an effort to keep him on track to be SP2 and pitch April 7.

Pudge went 2x4 with an RBI, a double, a walk and a stolen base.

Why make decisions now when you can make them later?

Because I'm sure the stress of being a Major League Baseball player isn't enough. Why don't we make them sweat for a few more days? That's the mindset of Easy Eddie.

“I’m a believer, particularly in major decisions, you use as much time as you have to make the right decision,” general manager Ed Wade said. “I can see us breaking here (Thursday) with more than 25 players and still a couple of decisions left to make.”

Well, when you put it like that... but what are these decisions?

“I think Capellan has thrown well and has put his best foot forward in every outing he’s had down here, as has Ortiz. Russ’ innings have been cleaner than Capellan, but Jose has done a nice job.”
That's the "you're a nice girl, and all..." line. I've used it once or twice - okay, once - in my life. Expect Capellan at The Rock.

“You kind of want more defense, but one guy kind of carries that tag of being a good offensive player (Smith), and the younger guy carries a tag of being a more defensive player (Maysonet),” Cooper said. “I think they both have done pretty well on both ends. They’ve both swung it good and played good defense. Ideally you want a guy who can catch the ball. More times than not, he’s going to play second, short and maybe third base, maybe even the outfield. He’ll pinch run. He’s got to be able to do all those things and do them well.”
Just to be clear, The Kid is Chris Johnson. The Younger Guy is Edwin Maysonet. This one really will come down to the weekend.

And Chris Johnson can keep his fingernails squarely between his teeth. Regard:
“If he’s with us, he’s not going to sit on the bench, that’s for sure,” Cooper said. “I don’t think that’s what you do with a young kid.”
Indicating that Johnson is either going to start, or he's going to The Rock.