Saturday, March 13, 2010

Lyon threw to real, live batters

Zach Levine has some info on Brandon Lyon, who threw 25 pitches in minor-league camp to hitters:

"The weather obviously wasn't cooperating where I could go outside and get in a game situation, but as far as the way my arm felt, everything felt good. I think it's a good stepping stone to the next step. I started working everything in. Fastball, curveball, cutter, changeup.”

"All of his pitches are pretty tight. He threw a couple sliders that he got underneath, but he stayed in mechanics real well.”

With or Without Lance

Zach Levine has an interesting, and by "interesting" I, of course, mean "Depressing" look at the lineup should Berkman miss Opening Day and beyond.

McTaggart has Matsui batting second and Feliz batting fifth, to which Levine responds:

The point is that although I think McTaggart nailed where the Astros will go with it, this lineup is unsightly. This appears, naturally, considerably worse than the lineup that was third worst in the league last year.

With Berkman back in the lineup, Levine proposes putting Pence in the #2 hole, Castro/Towles hitting fifth, and the pitcher hitting 8th.

It also asks too much of the young catcher to protect Carlos Lee from walks, but I'd almost rather Castro or Towles do it than Feliz.

Towles projects for an OPS 20 points higher than Feliz according to Baseball Prospectus, and Castro will at least have his handedness to offset some of the pitch-around tendency against a righty.

Whatever happens, and I currently have all the faith in the world in Brad Mills that he'll put something together that makes sense, but the Berkman injury takes 2010 to a different level.

If Berkman comes back healthy - and there's no reason to think that he won't - and struggles, then the decision to pick up his 2011 option becomes easier. If he is injury riddled, and struggles, then it's a little bit more difficult. I would imagine that, unless Berkman hits .320 with 35 HRs and 120 RBI, Wade would lean towards the buyout, and then bringing him back at a reduced rate. Because after last year's numbers, and presuming a down year, he's not a $15 million player.

I also think that we, as Astros fans, are prepared for a down year, but not for this reason. There is no clear back-up plan for life without Lance.

Other Meat Wagon updates

Some updates on the injury front:

Alberto Arias' trapezius injury is solely inflammation, and he could get back to throwing today.

In the same article, we see that Jason Castro is back and feeling better after being out for two days with a stomach bug, with a 102-degree fever.

You may have already seen this, but yesterday Zach Levine assessed the threat level of various injuries within the organization. This was posted obviously before Berkman's surgery, but let's take a look:

Jose Vallejo: The second baseman acquired last year tops the list not because he was going to be a big leaguer this year but because he's the only one whose career appears to be in jeopardy.

Brandon Lyon: Unless we hear that there's been a setback, this is being treated as just a late start to the season.

Jiovanni Mier and his sore shoulder: The top pick from the Astros' 2009 draft class has resumed a throwing program, but general manager Ed Wade said "it's still not progressing the way we want it to."

We also see that Matt Nevarez is experiencing some shoulder soreness, though not on the level that Mier is, apparently; and that Jon Gaston has an "undisclosed foot injury," and has been sent to Houston for an examination and to get a pad to wear on the inside of his cleats.

All in all, we're not the Mets (and I think we can all thank God for that), but it's not a whole lot of fun.

Berkman is damaged, but not too bad

Good news on the Berkman front as Big Lance had his left knee surgery today, and no ligament or meniscus damage was found:

"From what I understand, they were able to clean everything up and there was no cartilage damage and he's fine. The level of concern has gone way down because of that. The doctor says he's fine, so we'll just go off of him and getting him ready and strong."

The projected return seems to be the same: 2-4 weeks.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Berkman needs surgery, could miss Opening Day

So says Brian McTaggart. This is a huge blow - obviously - with major impact on the organization. Let's look (whilst I have a break):

1. The Astros now need a first baseman. Because, and I have no information to back this up, but I'm guessing this is not a 2-week injury - which is the soonest McTaggart says he can come back. So Blum could be seeing a lot more time in the lineup. And this could impact the IF6 spot, as well.

2. This impacts the possibility of the Astros picking up Berkman's option in 2011. $2m is a lot more attractive than $15m if Berkman has a dodgy knee.

What do you think?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

What is fluid on the knee?

According to Dr. Jonathan Cluett, Berkman's knee water is troubling.

Draining the fluid just means it will come back, as we've seen from the previous post that Berkman has had the knee drained twice in under two weeks.

For example, meniscus tears and ligament injuries can cause fluid to collect. Furthermore, tearing of small blood vessels can cause fluid to accumulate within the knee, this is commonly seen in patients with an ACL tear.

Excess fluid around the joint can accumulate in the bursa, a condition called prepatellar bursitis. While the fluid is not actually within the knee joint itself, prepatellar bursitis also causes swelling, or water on the knee.

Ultimately Berkman's knee will need surgery, as it's pretty much syringes (for draining - don't get any ideas) and cortisone shots from here on out.

Berkman's knee has more fluid than what was on the field in Viera today

According to McTaggart, Lance has had to have his knee drained twice since jacking it up in camp last week. He'll be examined by team physician David Lintner.

And Lintner will be busy, as he also will be examining Alberto Arias' back, and now apparently Jiovanni Mier, who is experiencing from shoulder discomfort.

ST8: Astros v. Nationals

Today's Spring Training game between the Astros and Nationals has been rained out.

McTaggart says that Oswalt will throw BP in Kissimmee in order to get work in because of said rain out.

In other, who-knows-if-it's-related news, Felipe Paulino will start Saturday's game at St. Louis instead of Wesley Wright.

Jake Goebbert is a lot more comfortable

The Northwest Herald has a piece about 2009 13th-round pick Jake Goebbert:

“It’s a struggle, especially when you’re used to getting at least one hit a game. You just have to deal with the bumps and bruises of pro ball the best that you can...

...It taught me a lot. Each month, I feel like I made progress. I learned a lot about the weaknesses in my swing and I was able to work on those. I’m very excited, I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable.”

Were you feeling optimistic? Read this

Zach Levine's article on the Astros' search for 15 more wins. I'm not even going to pull anything, just read it.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Mills, and the dreaded Cause For Concern

In Brian McTaggart's recap of today's loss to the Marlins, he has this quote from Brad Mills:

"The thing was they didn't miss too many balls. Is it a cause for concern? You never like it. You just don't like it, but Wandy is a guy that might not have been hitting his spots and they didn't miss them. The ball was coming out of his hands fine and he looks good and feels good. It's not a cause for concern. The guys stayed aggressive with the bats. The conditions aren't the best, but they [the Marlins] didn't miss too many balls offensively."

Okay, so there have been a lot of walks and a lot of runs given up - this being the second out of seven games in which the opposing team's offense has scored 15+ runs. When do we sound the alarm? Is it overreacting?

Right now, yes. This was Wandy's second start of the Spring, and he'll get stretched out more. Right now you have a group of hitters who are trying to distinguish themselves, and a group of pitchers who are trying not to get injured. Listen to Wandy (via Zach Levine):

Today I wanted to throw the ball down and throw my changeup and my breaking ball. I felt fine, I just missed my spot. I felt perfect, I wasn't sore. I need more innings. It's fine because next time, I've got four innings."

Pitchers are working on getting the feel for their pitches, and are missing spots. So at what point do we start to worry? A week? Two weeks? End of March? We can get all jazzed up about J.R. Towles hitting over .500, but in the same way that the pitchers will start to ramp up, hitters will do the same thing. But it's hard to justify giving a backup job to a guy hitting .111. So, yes, there's a double-standard, in that Wandy can get away with giving up four earned runs, but if Gary Majewski does the same thing - he might not survive Spring Training.

The Morris Daily-Herald has a big bag of bummer for us

There are some major eyebrow-raisers in this preview of the 2010 Astros, starting with Humberto Quintero getting the nod as C1. Let's go to the italics:

The emergence of Rodriguez in 2009 and the addition of Myers should mean that Oswalt shouldn't have to carry an otherwise lackluster rotation ... which is good, given that he no longer looks like one of the game's elite starting pitchers.

And on the bullpen:
Either Lindstrom or Lyon should win the closer's job. No matther what, they'll be a huge downgrade from the departed Jose Valverde...I wouldn't trust either Norris or Moehler in a full-time starting role if I was an Astros fan. Nor would I count on guys like Byrdak, Chris Sampson and Wesley Wright being consistent out of the bullpen.

So to sum up: Don't think highly of Lindstrom or Lyon. Or Bud Norris. Or Brian Moehler. Or Tim Byrdak. Or Chris Sampson. Or Wesley Wright.

Recap for ST7: Astros v. Marlins

What Happened?
The Marlins got out to a 12-0 lead before cruising to a 16-4 win over the Astros. The Marlins were 7x16 with RISP, and the pitching failed as Wandy, Paulino, and Majewski threw for a combined 5IP, 12H/10ER.

Why They Lost
Well, allowing 12 runs in the first five innings has something to do with it. Mike Stanton and Dan Uggle went back-to-back off Wandy in the 1st for three runs, and a throwing error by Edwin Maysonet led to two unearned runs for Wandy. The Astros were 1x8 w/RISP and left six on base. The Marlins also enjoyed eleven extra-base hits - six doubles, two triples, and three homers.

Astros pitching
We've discussed Wandy, and Paulino gave up three hits and two walks in his IP, and Majewski allowed three hits and one walk in his one IP. The youngsters were more impressive, with Henry Villar throwing a perfect inning, and Fernando Abad giving up 2H/1ER, and a strikeout in 2IP. Less impressive was Wesley Wright, who gave up three hits and walk that led to three earned runs.

Astros batting
Chris Johnson hit a two-run shot off Chris Volstad in the 5th inning, while Drew Meyer and Edwin Maysonet had the other two RBI. And let's give it up for Drew Locke, who hit a pinch-hit double for his first hit of the Spring. Otherwise, it was a big pile of nothing.

0-fers: Sullivan (0x3, BB), Lee (0x2), Bourgeois (0x2), Towles (0x3)

Positional Battles

Towles: 0x3, 4LOB (.533 for the Spring)
Cash: 0x1, (.000)

Romero: 0x1 (.400)
Bogusevic: 0x1, K
Bourgeois: 0x2 (.000)

Navarro: 1x1 (.250)
Shelton: 0x1 (.300)
Johnson: 1x3, HR, 2RBI

Man of the Match
This one goes out to Henry Villar, who was the only pitcher able to keep all his Marlins off the bases.

Goat of the Game
Gary Majewski. 1IP, 3H/4ER, 1K:1BB


The Astros made a couple of moves, releasing Bryan Hallberg and reinstating former 11th-round pick Jacob Priday from the Inactive List.

Hallberg spent four seasons in the Astros' organization, going 17-24 in 127 games. Drafted in the 12th Round in 2006, Hallberg posted a 2.44 ERA/1.20 WHIP in 15 games (12 starts) in Tri-City, and followed that up with a 6.97 ERA/1.78 WHIP between Tri-City and Lexington. For Salem in 2008, Hallberg had a good year, going 5-8 in 49 games, with a 2.68 ERA/1.14 WHIP, and despite a good start to 2009, imploded down the stretch to finish at Lancaster with a 5.34 ERA/1.70 WHIP - and the lowest full-season K:BB ratio of his career.

2008 11th-Round pick spent all of 2009 on the inactive list. Between Tri-City and Lexington in 2008, Priday hit .216/.331/.324 in 102 ABs.

Wednesday morning updates

McTaggart has some early updates for us:

-Lindstrom is jacked over his 2IP, 0H/0ER performance:
"I felt like a had a lit better command of my slider and that makes a big difference when I'm throwing it for strikes and using it the way I know. The new grip with Arnsberg is something I feel comfortable with. It worked out good and you have to continue to build on it and feel more comfortable with it."

-Lyon could throw live BP on Friday.

-Castro won't start today, but could be available on Thursday. Mills:
"He's got the stomach thing a couple of guys had in the bullpen the past week. We sent him home, and hopefully it's a one-day thing, which we think it is."

-The team doctors will check out Arias on Friday, but for now, it's no-go for AA.

'77 Astros win a nail biter

Over at Play That Funky Baseball, your 1977 Astros defeated the Cardinals 7-6 on a bases-loaded strikeout by Joe Sambito to end the game.

Gee look, a one-run game! Underwood doesn’t exactly wow the Astros, putting 14 of the 23 guys he faces on base before his plug is pulled. Still, St. Louis battles back against Bannister, score two in the 7th to make it 6-5 but Ken Forsch gets out of a bases loaded jam to send it to the 9th—where Sambito whiffs Roger Freed to get out of a bases loaded jam and end the game. These two teams are separated by one wafer-thin mint.


Record: 3-2
GB: 1

Morning Updates

Got some updates via Twitter for you, Citizens:

Alyson Footer says that Jason Castro was sent home with a stomach flu. That must be one bad stomach bug, and is a blow to his Opening Day chances - particularly if J.R. Towles continues to rake.

McTaggart has your lineup for today's game against the Marlins:

1. Sullivan CF
2. Matsui 2B
3. Pence RF
4. Lee LF
5. Berkman 1B
6. Feliz 3B
7. Towles C
8. Maysonet SS
9. Wandy P

This is an interesting lineup, because it could be one that we see fairly regularly - with Bourn and Manzella getting the day off. I think it's the first game in which the pitcher has hit, and notice the flip of Pence and Berkman.

And, in response to a question through Twitter McTaggart speculates that Cory Sullivan is the front-runner for OF5, and it's hard to argue with that...

Nocturnal Emissions: Vol. 6

Richard Justice chimes in with a fluff piece on reliever Tim Byrdak:

Tim Byrdak had finished a bullpen session the other day when new Astros coach Jamie Quirk approached him and smiled.

"So what clicked with you?" Quirk asked.

They’d met a dozen years earlier when Quirk was a coach for the Kansas City Royals and Byrdak was beginning what he hoped would be a long and successful major league career.

Simple question, complicated answer. Byrdak could have talked for an hour and not told Quirk the whole story. About all the times he’d been released, traded and injured or had doubted.

About 15 years in the minor leagues and the long bus rides, cold showers and trays of cold cuts. About all the pitches he tried and junked and sometimes tried again.

Byrdak is still around because he refused to believe all the people who doubted him. You don’t think I’m good enough? OK, you’ll see.

His wife, Heather, believed, too. She’s a huge part of this story. She once waited tables during the day and worked in a mall store at night while pregnant. Why? Tim’s dream became her dream...

...During those 15 years in the minors, Byrdak got up almost every day thinking he was one pitch away, maybe one opportunity away. An injury killed him here, a bad inning there.

There were tough times. Like when he was pitching for an independent league team in Joliet and making $2,000. That’s not even the worst of it. When Pete Rose Jr. was signed, there was one more veteran player than league rules allowed. Guess who the odd man out was.

"They were going to put me on the disabled list so I could keep getting paid," Byrdak said, "but I told them, ‘No, this isn’t where I want to be. I’m trying to get out of this league.’ I remember one year a guy in another organization coming up to me in Double-A and saying, ‘You’re way too old, and you’re making too much money. You either figure this out, or your tail is going to be at home.’ "

Jockeying for OF5

Levine has a recap of the battle for OF5, between Yordany, Bogusevic, Sullivan, Romero, and Bourgeois.

Of principal need is someone who is fast to handle games where Bourn gets a day off, and is a defensive replacement for Carlos Lee. And if Blum is in the lineup, there aren't currently any lefties on the bench. So that would help. Cory Sullivan knows this:

"They have an outfield spot open where they would like a lefthanded hitter who can play all three spots and can run a little bit. I think that fits my ability well, and I’ll just go out and do what I can."

And Bogusevic knows that consistency is key for him:

"The main thing is my consistency with my hitting. I have to be able to bring the same thing to the table every day and not be so up and down."

But Levine has a little nugget from Ed Wade:

All three with major league experience are in camp as non-roster invitees, but Wade did not dismiss the possibility that a player already on the Astros’ 40-man roster would survive every cut.

Another Potential Minor-League Site

Zach Levine has word that, aside from the proposed site in Sugar Land, another Houston-area site has its eyes on a minor-league franchise.

The East Montgomery County Improvement District signed a memorandum of understanding with the Ventura Sports Group and Sugar Land-based Wallace Bajjali Development Partners to build a stadium in Montgomery County with the intention of hosting independent minor league baseball in 2012.

The site would be in Porter just off the U.S. 59 feeder road near the proposed intersection with the Grand Parkway extension.

Because the Astros won't waive their right to allow an affiliated team within their metropolitan area, The Porters would have to host an independent league team.

Baseball Daily Digest's 2010 Preview

BDD has a massive preview of the 2010 Astros. It's well worth a full read, so let's only pull a couple of things of note:

On the final place in the standings:
They’ll remain pseudo-competitive in the Central and could finish anywhere in the standings; though a 4th, 5th or 6th finish is more likely than a 1st, 2nd or 3rd.

Achilles Heel:
Eventually, like in Philadelphia, Ed Wade will get his proper due. At least in Philadelphia, the ownership group was not as closed off to taking the necessary steps to become successful as McLane is. He finally agreed to move on from Cecil Cooper last year and begrudgingly has let a youth movement begin in Houston. It’s not the worst thing in the world when your owner demands the team remain competitive but it sure can slow down a long overdue rebuilding process.

Writer Brian Joseph's Top 10 Astro Prospects:
1. Jason Castro
2. Jiovanni Mier
3. Jordan Lyles
4. Ross Seaton
5. Koby Clemens
6. Collin DeLome
7. Chia-Jen Lo
8. Jay Austin
9. T.J. Steele
10. Jon Gaston

C-Lo and his perfect imperfections

Brian McTaggart has a new article on Taiwanese pitcher Chia-Jen Lo, and not surprisingly, learning English is the hardest part.

He's got a good arm and good stuff and has good poise on the mound and doesn't seem to be in awe of the fact he's playing in a foreign environment, and I think he's put his best foot forward. I think he grasps enough on his own that some point in time he may not have Justin all the time with him, and that's why at some point we think it's important for him to establish some greater foundation of English, because that will help him progress even more rapidly."

On C-Lo's role:
"I'm not sure the development guys have really gotten their arms around whether starting is eventually going to be the thing for him. It may be more of a bullpen role, and it could be a significant bullpen role."

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Bleacher Report: Astros fans kind of suck

The Bleacher Report has this slideshow where they rank the best fans in MLB. The Astros ranked 21st, or, 10th-worst.

Astros fans swing like a pendulum. When the Astros are hot, the fans are there. When the Astros slip, the fans can't get out of the Big Juice Box quick enough. They've got a very unique ballpark and a recent history of winning, but fans just don't seem committed enough.

I'll open this up to comments. Because those would be fun to read.

The five best?
Cardinals, Giants, Yankees, Phillies, and Cubs.

Reaction to ST6: Astros v. Mets

Brian McTaggart has some reaction to today's win over the Mets.

"The first inning I struggled a little bit making an adjustment to the mound and things me and Arnie worked on in the bullpen. You go from different mound to different mound, and it just took me a little bit longer to make an adjustment. I was able to make the adjustment and it was great. I made some good pitches. The one David Wright hit was down and he put a good swing on it."

Mills, on Arias' injury:
"He's had it kind of bothering him. They said it was feeling pretty well. He said he could have pitched out there, but what was coming out we didn't think it would be safe. The doctor's going to take a look at him and we'll go from there."

Mills, on the win:
"It was a very well-played game. We made some pitches when we had to and the guys swing the bats, we ran the bases and we made some big plays on the double plays. It's fun to see a game played like that and the guys are rewarded for their efforts. The hitting is going to come. We can look at that as we've got a good ballclub and these guys can swing the bat, but it was things like the base running that was good today, the defensive plays were outstanding, the extra effort. They did a super job."

Minor League Attendance

The Biz of Baseball released their Minor League attendance database. What do we see from 05-09 among the affiliates? (Note: Attendance numbers are per home game, and rounded to the next whole person)


What's the percentage change across the five years?

Round Rock: -11%
Corpus: -12%
Lancaster: +22.1%
Lexington: -11.9%
Tri-City: +32.5%
Greeneville: -7.2%

So, congratulations to the JetHawks and ValleyCats, though it should be noted that 2009 was the first year under the Astros organization for the JetHawks, and they still jumped in attendance by almost 300 fans/game. And it's due to the tireless promotional schedule that the ValleyCats continue to draw fans despite not being particularly happy with how The Apparatus may be treating the ValleyCats as a franchise.

Recap for ST6: Astros v. Mets

What Happened?
The Astros defeated the Mets 8-4, touching up Johan Santana for 6H/4ER in 1.2IP. The Astros cruised out to a 7-2 lead at the end of the 4th and held on for the win.

Why They Won
The Astros won because of big days from unlikely sources. Kaz Matsui was 2x2 with 2BB, including a solo homer off Santana in the first inning. Geoff Blum went off for a 4x4 (two doubles), 2RBI day. Pedro Feliz was 2x4 with a two-run homer in the 4th inning. The Astros also turned three double plays, and the Mets were 2x7 with RISP.

Astros pitching
Brett Myers was solid in his second start of the Spring (how's that for alliteration), throwing 3IP and allowing 4H/2ER, 2K:1BB, both runs coming on a David Wright homer. Matt Lindstrom gets the reliever of the day award, throwing two perfect innings. Other runs came off of Alberto Arias, who left the game with a trapezius strain, and Chris Sampson. Gervacio threw a perfect 9th inning to finish it off.

Astros batting
We already talked about Matsui, Blum, and Feliz, but the Astros scored eight runs despite only going 3x11 w/RISP, and still left eight on base. Feliz and Cory Sullivan had the high LOBs of the day with three each. But of the Astros' 13 hits, six of them were for extra bases (four doubles, two homers).

0-fers: Bourn (0x4), Sullivan (0x4), Quintero (0x4). The Astros' 7-8-9-1 hitters were a combined 1x16.

Positional Battles

Castro: 2x2 in a PH/DH role (.500 for the Spring) with a double.
Quintero: 0x4 (.111)

Yordany: 0x1 (.500)
Romero: 0x1 (.500)
Sullivan: 0x4 (.100)
Bogusevic: 0x1 (.125)

Navarro: 0x1 (.000)

You may be thinking that the Astros should go with Towles/Castro, at least after seeing the results of the first six games. But I think this would be a mistake. If Towles wins the job - and it's looking good for him - Castro should head to Round Rock to get regular PAs and plate time.

Man of the Match
Matsui. Hits a homer off Santana in his first AB, and draws two walks to go with his two hits.

Goat of the Game
Cory Sullivan. Got four valuable ABs against the Mets, and got jack crap out of them.

More Prediction

Michael Aschkenasy of the U-Wisconsin Badger Herald predicts:

It will be hard for the Astros to keep up with the Cardinals as the season comes to an end. If the Cubs can find what they need to put together a strong season then this division becomes even tougher.

Houston would have to overachieve in a serious way to have any shot at the division, or even the wild card spot that is most likely coming out of the west. The Astros are looking at another season in the middle of the central division, and can finish anywhere from second to last depending on their own and their rivals’ play.

I predict a fifth place finish for the Astros, who will at least have the Pittsburgh Pirates to look down on when everything is said and done.

The Meat Wagon picks up Alberto Arias

Alyson Footer is tweeting that Alberto Arias left today's game with a "mild strain" of his right hip.

Or his upper back.

And the winner is a mild strain of his trapezius (shoulder/back muscle).

Bourn has a perpetual green light, and OF5 better have some speed

McTaggart's pre-game notes cover a variety of topics, but two of note:

Mills, on what he wants in an OF5:
"You really need somebody that can run. They need to add something, like a pinch-hitter or be able to run They really need to be able to complement the rest of the lineup, but the same time we don't want to kill those [the starters] either. If we have somebody who move all around and play all three positions, that's great."

And Michael Bourn can run whenever he wants:
Mills expects to be aggressive on the bases and said Michael Bourn will have permission to steal second any time he wants to go in the regular season..."He's got the green light to go any time," Mills said.

For OF5, it's hard to know exactly who he may have in mind. That could be Yordany, Bourgeois, or Sullivan.


Let's take a gander at the cumulative stats through five Spring Training games:

Lineup Locks




IF6 Candidates


OF5 Candidates


We'll get to the pitching stats a little later...

Lineup for ST6: Astros v. Mets

Certainly overshadowing today's game against the Mets will be the Spring debut of former Astro Johan Santana.

Zach Levine has the lineup, not that the national media will care:

1. Bourn
2. Matsui
3. Blum - 1B
4. Michaels
5. Feliz
6. Shelton - DH
7. Sullivan
8. Manzella
9. Quintero

A gander at April

Rob Neyer posted an article this morning about how much it sucks to be the Orioles with a "balanced schedule" in the AL East. So that got me wondering about the Astros' schedule.

There has been a lot of talk about how the Astros need to start fast this year, and try not to get 10GB by the end of May, which is valid. But how does the schedule set that up?

Let's just take a look at April, for now.

Home series: San Francisco, Philadelphia, Florida, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati.
Away series: @St. Louis, @Chicago

15 of the Astros' first 21 games are at home, and using CHONE's starting lineup projections, 12 of those first 21 games are against teams projected to finish under .500. (Of course, the Astros are projected to go 72-90, so that should be taken into consideration.)

These 21 games also feature teams the Astros went a combined 37-47 against in 2009. That's good enough for a .440 Win%, but the Astros had a .543 Win% at home, too. So if we split the difference, that's in the 10-11/11-10 range for April. With that kind of schedule to open April, obviously there are some road games coming up, and in May the Astros will play 17 road games (counting an April 30 game at Atlanta. Which I will attend.) and 12 home games. The Astros need to make some hay while the sun shines.

We get Brett Myers better than they did in Philadelphia

Or so says Myers:

"It was time to start over in a new place. Obviously, after the [hip] surgery, teams were hesitant to take a chance on me. I thought I'd be comfortable here because I knew Ed Wade, the guy that drafted me with the Phillies. This was my main choice. Houston is a 21/2-hour flight from Jacksonville. Being in the south kind of suits me. People understand me a little bit better."

Myers' expectation on 2010:
"The only expectation I can have for this year is just trying to stay healthy. If I'm healthy, I know what I can accomplish. Everything feels good, but I got to be careful with things I do with my hip. It's recovered 100 percent. Coming back from the injury, that was the easy part. It's maintaining health that's going to be the hard part."

Wade looking beyond Berkman and Lee

In Paul White's USA Today article (with nary a chart or graph in sight!) on the impending leadership change in the Astros organization, Ed Wade is looking beyond Lance and Carlos, to Bourn and Pence.

For now, Bourn isn't crossing any lines:
"They have 11 years, I have four years. You do the math."

Wesley Wright adds a changeup

In Zach Levine's piece on Wesley Wright, we see that Wright isn't likely to be in the mix for an SP spot this year, but that the Astros have just added a tool to his toolbox.

Levine, on Wright's time in the Dominican:
For one thing, the laboratory didn't look like Dr. Bunsen Honeydew's when he was finished with it. Wright pitched reasonably well, putting together a 4.29 ERA with 22 walks and 40 strikeouts in 35 2⁄3 innings.

Now, you may be wondering, "Who the heck is Dr. Bunsen Honeydew?"

Wright also added a changeup to his repertoire. Wright:
“I didn't change the grip or anything like that. I just took time out to be able to throw it and not really worry about if it ended up costing me a hit or a run.”

But now the question is about his role. If he doesn't make the rotation, where will the Astros put him? Pair him with Byrdak for another lefty in the bullpen, or send him to Round Rock where he can continue to develop as a starter?

Let's ask Brad Arnsberg:
"If he were to not make the team, if I had my druthers, I'd rather have him put into a rotation where he's compiling innings and experience."

Monday, March 8, 2010

Cito Gaston: Kind of a douche, and your recap for ST5

In Alyson Footer's blog post today, she points out that Bud Norris got busted for having a glove that was distracting to Toronto players. (Click the link to see the picture). Who ratted him out? Toronto manager Cito Gaston. This is pure idle, baseless speculation, but do you think Gaston was pissed at Arnsberg?

"I guess (Cito Gaston) said something, which is fair. It's in a rule book to a certain degree. I'm not looking to get an advantage. I'm just going out there with a glove."

Was it a distraction? You tell me, as the Blue Jays beat the Astros 4-1 this afternoon. Norris' line: 2IP, 2H/1ER, 2K:2BB, 1HR.

Let's get to the recap:

What Happened?
Blue Jay hitters collected 14 hits, and still managed to leave 14 on base as the relievers are still apparently working out the kinks. In some foreshadowing, J.R. Towles was The Man, going 3x4 with two more doubles and the lone RBI, scoring Jeff Keppinger.

Why They Lost
Most of the damage was done by the time Norris and Byrdak were done, but it was the offense. Or lack of. The Astros got seven hits all day and three of those were - obviously - courtesy of Towles. And continuing last year's theme, the Astros were 0x6 with RISP, and Carlos Lee left four on base by himself.

Astros pitching
The pitching staff got in a lot of jams that didn't necessarily translate into Blue Jays runs. Norris allowed four baserunners, Byrdak - 3, Fulchino - 2, Daigle - 1, Chacin - 3, Bazardo - 3, C-Lo - 3, and Wilton Lopez is our reliever of the day with the only perfect outing, getting two groundouts and a flyout in his IP.

Astros batting
0-fers: Berkman (0x3), Lee (0x3), Pence (0x3), Johnson (0x3), Keppinger (0x2, BB). All the batting love came courtesy of Towles, who had all the Astros XBHs, as well.
The Astros also managed to strike out seven times and draw only one walk.

Positional Battles

Castro: 1x3 (.400 for the Spring), threw out speedy Joey Gathright trying to steal second.
Santangelo: 0x1 (.000)
Towles: 3x4 (.667)

Yordany: 0x1 (.600)
Bourgeois: 0x1, K (.000)
Sullivan: 1x1 (.167)
Bogusevic: 0x1 (.143)

Shelton: 0x1 (.286)
Johnson: 0x3 (.308)
Navarro: 0x1 (.000)

Man of the Match
Is there any doubt? J.R. Towles. For reasons already discussed.

Goat of the Game
Carlos Lee. 0x3 with 4LOB.

Lyon: steadily improving; nobody's worrying

McTaggart has an update on Brandon Lyon's shoulder rehab. Namely, he keeps throwing off the mound (30 more pitches today - that's a good two outs worth of work for Jose Valverde), but hasn't thrown to live batters yet.

"We'll see how my arm reacts again [Tuesday], but everything went well and the ball was coming out of my arm pretty good. I'm comfortable where I'm at right now. We'll just come in [Tuesday] and see how it feels and kind of work from there. I don't know when I'm going to get on the mound again, but if I feel good maybe do a light thing [Tuesday]."

That's three bracketed "Tuesdays" by McTaggart in four sentences.

But Mills isn't worried:
"We still have plenty of time. Those concerns still aren't going to come for another week. If he stops progressing like he has, those concerns might come up a little bit, but it's not at that point yet."

Some perspective from yesterday's ST game vs. Braves

Zach Levine posted some in-person reaction to yesterday's ST loss to the Braves.

On Moehler:
Brian Moehler had some command issues. He said it wasn't physical, rather mechanical, that he was a little overanxious and getting ahead of himself in his delivery...

...One start shouldn't set the alarm level above half an alarm. There is a chance that he won't be good at all this year, because, well, he's gone through stretches in his career when he wasn't good at all.

On Matsui:
Kaz Matsui was robbed of a hit to lead off the game then looked very bad at the plate the next two times up, though I'll give you that his bad at-bats look worse than most hitters' bad at-bats most of the time.

The observations are worthwhile, but what struck me the most was the tone. This is a very real reaction, and certainly doesn't sound like it has been sanitized for public consumption. I think all hardcore fans like Levine's analysis and his saber-slant, but I really appreciate how he took it to Moehler and Matsui here. It may be the dawn of a new era for the Chronicle's Astros coverage.

Lineup for ST5: Astros v. Blue Jays

Alyson Footer posted a picture of the lineup card for today's game vs. Toronto:

1. Bourn - CF
2. Towles - DH
3. Berkman - 1B
4. Lee - LF
5. Pence - RF
6. Johnson - 3B
7. Castro - C
8. Manzella - SS
9. Keppinger - 2B

So Matsui is out of the lineup, and Towles and Castro are getting the majority of the ABs in the "A" games. Cumulative Spring Training stats coming up after the game today.

'77 Astros fall to Cards

Over at Play That Funky Baseball, your Astros County-managed 1977 Astros dropped to 2-2 after a 7-4 loss to the Cardinals in 12 innings. The heart-breaker came in the bottom of the 10th, when Art Howe was nailed at the plate.

Astros take 2-zip lead. Cards tie it in 3rd. Astros take 3-2 lead, Cards tie it in 5th. Astros take 4-3 lead, Cards tie it in 7th. Cards take game with three runs in the 12th off Joe Sambito, on a bases-clearing double by Lou Brock. In between: 24 runners LOB combined, Tony Scott nails Howe at the plate trying to score on a Cruz double with two outs in the last of 10th, Watson starts a perfect 3-2-3 DP on Heity Cruz with the bases loaded and one out in the 11th. Scintillating game.

HR: Cedeno

Record: 2-2
GB: 1

Sporting News' Power Poll

The Sporting News released their power rankings for today. What are they basing it on? Who cares!

Astros: 23rd
Astros TV analyst Jim Deshaies says: "I'm a bit more bullish on this team. Here's how they surprise: Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman bounce back. Will they score enough? Hunter Pence may be the key. A monster year might push the Astros closer to the top."

Recap for ST4: Astros v. Braves

Once again, a travel day for me means that I have a ton of stuff to go over, and since most of you already know what happened (and I'm just reading accounts of yesterday's news), we'll do the short version for the recap of yesterday's 9-4 loss to the Braves:

Worth noting:

-The Non-Roster Invitees had a rough day, giving up seven earned runs in four innings. Majewski threw a 0.2IP, 3H/2ER, 0K:1BB line; Corcoran: 1.1IP, 4H/3ER, 1K; Banks: 2IP, 5H/2ER, 1BB.

-Astros pitching only struck out two Braves - one by Corcoran and the other by Evan Englebrook.

-Tommy Manzella made his first error of the Spring, a fielding error leading to an unearned run.

-J.R. Towles picked off Matt Diaz at 3rd base.

Positional Battles

Maysonet: 1x2
Shelton: 1x2
Johnson: 0x3, 2K

Romero: 1x1
Bourgeois: 0x2
Yordany: 0x1

Man of the Match

Lance Berkman! 2x3, two doubles, an RBI and a run scored

Goat of the Game

There are too many to choose from of the non-roster guys, so we'll give it to Chris Johnson. But despite his 0x3, 2K day, he's still hitting .400 for the Spring.