Saturday, April 2, 2011

Know Your Enemy: Cliff Lee

Something we'll do from time to time (because we're afraid of commitment) is to take a gander at the opposing starting pitcher, and just point out a few things for your bar conversations.

Today, Cliff Lee, SP Phillies:

*The team with the highest WHIP against Cliff Lee is the Astros. In 8.2IP, Lee is 0-2, with 16H/9ER, 9K:1BB vs. Houston.

*1st time through the order, opponents posted a .686 OPS, with a .709 OPS for the 2nd time through and a .745 OPS the 3rd time through.

*In his career (222 games, 5905 PAs), Lee has run it to a 3-0 count just 85 times (1.4%), and given up two hits - both homers.

*Lee is 13-5 in April, with a 2.84 ERA/1.13 WHIP.

*In season openers, Lee has thrown 30IP, 32H/15ER, 22K:4BB since 2006.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Jayson Stark is already writing the screenplay

This is precisely I wanted the Astros to win today.

Stark:
But then an amazing thing happened Friday, on Opening Day in Philadelphia: The Phillies found a way. They pulled a six-hit, three-run, ninth-inning miracle out of their blue caps. A rookie pinch-hitter thumped a walkoff single into the howling breeze.

And somehow, an Opening Day disaster in the making had turned into Phillies 5, Astros 4.

Tranzactionz!

Courtesy of Baseball America we get the latest round of releases:

RHP Kyle Godfrey
RHP Brenden Stines
RHP Brian Wabick
RHP Jared Wells
LHP Edwin Walker
1B Ryan Ditthardt
1B Marcus Nidiffer
3B Kody Kirkland
3B Chris Lovett
SS Mike Affronti
SS Oscar Figueroa
OF Lee Cruz
OF Ryan Humphrey
OF Renzo Tello

We already knew about Nidiffer, but I am surprised about Brian Wabick, who was respectable in Lancaster in 2010

Let the second-guessing begin

I had diarrhea this morning, so what's the difference between me and Brandon Lyon? I at least made it to the bathroom.

But does one blown save justify what every Ed Wade Hater already thought? No. Lyon could post a Rivera-type season, and some numbnuts is going to say, "Yeah, but he isn't a long-term closer."

Take David Schoenfeld for instance:
And Brad Mills: I don't care if he's your "closer," when you give up five consecutive line drives ... maybe you don't leave him in to give up a sixth. Final suggestion: Maybe your closer shouldn't throw 89 mph.

Oh, and Fernando Abad - with his many plethoras of ML experience - should have faced Rollins and Howard. According to Everyone Else. Because labels shouldn't matter. The situation should determine who pitches. Ibid.

Maybe there shouldn't be a pre-determined 9th inning guy, but I'm likely to let the guy who has been in the situation before get the final outs. Only twice before in his career had Abad pitched in the 9th inning when the margin had been +/- 3 or fewer runs. I'm not sending him out on Opening Day to face Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard in the bottom of the 9th. And if Mills had done that, with the same result, what would the reaction have been?

I watched the game on ESPN and on Twitter, and while it was great to get our yearly dose of the Astros on the World Wide Leader, it also meant that every national writer had the opportunity to talk about the Astros, which - you could tell - some treated like they could take shots at Joe Morgan in a dunk tank. And it's asinine, like this topic.

From the Office of the County Clerk - G1: Astros @ Phillies

For two hours I swore the universe was involved in some cosmic joke to prevent me from getting home to watch the season opener. Now I wish it had done a better job. As the Juvenile Court Clerk pointed out on Twitter, "It's Just One Game."

That doesn't mean we can't still get pissed at Brandon Lyon.

*Roy Halladay managed to not walk any Astros during his 6IP, running his 0BB vs. Houston to 22IP.

*Astros pitching didn't strike out any Phillies. At all. The last time the Astros got 27 outs without ringing anybody up was May 4, 2007 in a 3-2 loss at St. Louis.

*The last time Brett Myers got a start with 0K was on September 24, 2004 at Montreal (3IP, 9H/7ER, 0K:1BB).

*Only Michael Bourn drew a walk - an intentional one. The Astros went an entire game without an unintentional walk 21 times in 2010, but they did not have a game where they only had an intentional walk.

*1-2-3 in the lineup combined for a 4x12 day (2R, 3RBI). 4-5-6 went 0x12 (5K). 7-8-9 went 5x11.

*Chris Johnson was 0x4 with 3K. He struck out 3+ times in a game on six occasions last year, but only once was he also 0x4.

*Carlos Lee was 0x4, making him 2x16 on Opening Days as an Astro (2x4 in 2010, 0-fers in the other three.

*Brandon Lyon allowed six hits to get the Blown Save and the Loss. His first BS in 2010? The Phillies, on April 10.

*Man of the Match: Going with Michael Bourn on this one, a triple, IBB, 2RBI.

*Goat of the Game: Pfft. Brandon Lyon

Catching up with Brandon Barnes

We last caught up with Brandon Barnes following the 2010 season, talking about his season and plans for the off-season. Seems like a good time to do it again. Thanks to Brandon for answering these.

AC: When we talked to you last, you were planning on going on vacation with the wife. How was your off-season?

BB: Yes, my wife and I went on a little vacation in Palm Springs - just wanted to go somewhere and relax for a week and spend some quality time together. We hung out at the pool, played a little golf, and just relaxed. My off-season was awesome, filled with a lot of hard work - working on my strength, speed, and, of course, my swing. The most exciting part of this off season is that my wife and I found out that we are expecting our first child.

AC: How do you, personally, balance the need to rest up from a long season and not losing too much of your edge during the Winter?

BB: Balancing my rest is very easy: I just hang out for the first month spending a lot of my time with my wife. But this year was a little different, since I was going to the Arizona Fall League. I am a huge believer in the weight room, so even in my rest period I am still doing some kind of cardio and light lifting. But I do not pick up a bat until mid December.

AC: You mentioned playing in the Arizona Fall League after the season was over. What is the atmosphere like there, and is it different from the regular season?

BB: The AFL is a little different from the regular season in that it is more laid back. It's about going in, getting your work in, and showing the scouts what you can bring to the table. You knew everyday you were gonna face a pitcher that was a top prospect or looking to break into the big leagues. It's was some of the most fun I have ever had playing this game. I just wanted to go out there, have fun, and show people what I could do.

AC: For those of us who follow the ins and outs of Spring Training, what was a typical day like in Camp?

BB: A typical day for me was waking up around 6:00am to eat and watch "Saved by the Bell." I would get to the field around 7:15 to get in the weight room, so I could maintain my strength through ST and the season. After lifting I would go to the cage to do some tee work or soft toss to work on my swing - nothing too intense. Stretch is around 9:00am, then we go into our practice routine and after grab some lunch before heading out to the field for games that are scheduled for 1:00pm most days. I would go home, take a nice nap, eat some dinner, and go to bed. I am huge on getting my sleep so I can be prepared for the next day.

AC: What are your goals/some things you'll be working on this season?

BB: My goals for the season are very simple: go out, have fun, do what I can do, and help my team win baseball games. I feel like if I set goals and don't achieve them, I had a bad season no matter what the goals are, so I just want to do what I know I'm capable of doing. This game is already hard enough so setting goals - just puts more pressure on myself. I just want to work on becoming a better more consistent baseball player.

AC: Any idea where you'll start the season?

BB: I believe I will be starting the season at Corpus Christi, but not 100% yet.

-

Big thanks to Brandon, and congratulations are in order on his impending child!

From the Office of the County Clerk: Opening Day edition

Because I dropped the ball on that 10-0 exhibition game with the Red Sox, I'll be providing two County Clerk round-ups today - one now, and one, um, later. Here's your 2011 Astros' Opening Day preview.

*The Astros haven't won an Opening Day game since 2006, when Roy out-dueled the Marlins' Dontrelle Willis for a 1-0 win.

*Today is the second year in a row the Astros have opened against the reigning Cy Young winner (Lincecum in 2010, Halladay today), and the third time in four years (Peavy - 2008)

*The Astros haven't scored more than three runs in an Opening Day game since 2004.

*The Astros were 4-3 against the Phillies in 2010, of course losing G4-6 at home, then providing a four-game sweep in August.

*Halladay is 1-1 against the Astros, lifetime, with a 1.69 ERA/0.81 WHIP. He has never walked anyone in an Astros jersey.

Myers is more mature now than anybody could have reasonably expected

Here's an interesting article in the Philadelphia paper about the Maturity of Brett Myers.

Ed Wade:
"The impact that he had in the clubhouse was all very positive. As much as Brett used to be a guy you had to have a lot of meetings with and deliver messages to, now the reality is that to some extent he's the guy who carries some messages for the manager and the pitching coach and understands a lot about what teammate etiquette is all about. And that's important, particularly with a club that's young and still searching and trying to determine who the true leaders on the club really are. He's on time every day, he does his work, he prepares well. The good teammate and tough love all come out at different points in time. It worked out better than anybody's wildest imagination."

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Now this I can get on board with

Richard Justice has a new column up in which he discusses how we have to judge Ed Wade, because he must be judged.

Justice:
Wade's three drafts appear to have begun the restocking of the minor leagues with quality players, thus providing a road map back to respectability. So this summer if the Hometown Nine hits a speed bump or two, remind yourself that everything Wade is doing is necessary.

Meanwhile, Tal Smith seems to be a touch misguided when referring to J.D. Martinez:
"The fact that he's in Double-A is not a reflection of his development. It's that our system is better. We're to the point that we can go get prospects when they're ready."

Okay, I'll bite. Because it seems to me that the fact that Martinez rocketed to Double-A within a year of his being drafted is both a reflection of his development and a reflection of the system. The system is better because Martinez is in it. And, if Martinez can make his way to Corpus that quickly, then the system had a hole. Wade should get credit for this turn of events, but as Justice mentioned, it's a work in progress. The Astros top prospect will spend a decent amount of time in the minors this season, if not until September. The system wasn't very good, and for Tal Smith to put the credit for J.D. Martinez on The System rather than to say, "He's a hell of a player, and we're lucky to have him" is exactly what got the Astros to the point they're in - the arrogance of prematurely declaring, "Mission Accomplished! We were right this whole time!" Because they weren't.

Will Ed Wade be around to see a rotation with Lyles, Seaton, Keuchel, Foltynewicz, and Bushue? I don't know. Whoever becomes the new owner will be the guy who didn't hire Ed Wade. Or Tal Smith, for that matter, and Tal has been around for more famine years than feast years. But like everything the Astros are depending on, time will tell.

Jim Crane not a slam-dunk choice for other owners

The Biz of Baseball's Maury Brown has an interesting note on the potential ownership bid by Jim Crane - and it might not be a simple approval process.

Your money quote:
A lot will depend on the vetting process of all those prospective buyers, how Crane fits in in terms of the amount of debt he will carry (there are new rules that have been agreed upon by the league and the MLBPA that will make it harder for owners to carry substantial debt), and how his prior deal of walking away from McLane at the last minute all factors in. I’ll lean toward Crane landing the Astros, but it’s not a clean sweep.

Update on Barmes and Happ

McTaggart has an update on two Meat Wagon passengers, Barmes and Happ.

Barmes could return in 3-4 weeks, as opposed to 4-6. Wade:
"He was pleased with his grip strength. If he continues to make progress while we're gone, he can see him freed up to grip a bat when we get back. Hopefully, it moves a little bit faster than we had anticipated."

And Happ will throw a bullpen tomorrow, with everyone reasonably optimistic that he could pitch on Sunday.

Astros preview with Robert Flores

ESPN's Robert Flores (and Honorary Astros County citizen) was kind enough to answer some questions about the upcoming season. Read closely and cherish it, because this will be the most words about the Astros you'll see from ESPN all season

AC: Of course the Big News is the impending sale of the franchise. How do you, as a fan (and not as a SportsCenter anchor) feel about it?

RF: Drayton has a lot of critics, and has drawn the ire of fans for years. However, all Astro fans should be thankful for the success he helped bring to Houston. Hopefully, new ownership can create some momentum and build on the tradition that Drayton McLane helped create.

AC: On paper, this won't be a very exciting season for the Astros, standings-wise. What has to happen for the Astros to surprise people?

RF: That’s a tough one. Pitching has to be incredible. I mean really good. Brett Meyers and Wandy Rodriguez have to pitch even better than last year. Brett Wallace and Carlos Lee have to put up big numbers at the plate.

AC: What did you think about Berkman/Oswalt's departure, and who do you see as the new face of the franchise?

RF: I was sorry to see those guys go, but I understood why they wanted out. Michael Bourn? Hunter Pence? Hopefully, that’s a question that will be clearer in the months ahead.

AC: What would we have to offer for you to disparage the Cardinals on air?

RF: Maybe a Cesar Cedeno jersey circa 1977. Hahaha I definitely couldn’t do that and still have a job. Seriously though, I want that jersey!

AC: Thoughts on the 2011 Astros record?

RF: 77-85

Brett Wallace "one to watch"

With a captip to Citizen Andrew, Brett Wallace makes for an interesting storyline.

Two under-the-radar guys who impressed me this spring: Astros first baseman Brett Wallace (who has been dealt three times in three years but looks like he's finally fitting in)…

2011 Astros = 2010 Padres?

According to this guy, yes.

. The Astros have the pitching to carry them through some games. Brett Myers, J.A. Happ & Wandy Rodriguez are three great starters. The Houston bullpen looks strong. Brandon Lyon settled into the closer role late last year. Houston's offense is weak, but so was the Padres lineup last year when you take out Adrian Gonzalez. Houston's offense will be good enough to win some games, like they did over the last two months of 2010. The Padres didn't make the playoffs. And Houston doesn't have enough to beat Cincinnati, but the Astros will be relevant in September.

J.D. Martinez on the Astros' radar

Here's a nice report on J.D. Martinez, from KZTV in Florida.

Mills:
"JD really opened some eyes, it was my first time to watch him perform against Major League guys and he did nothing to discount what I had heard. He puts good at-bats together and consistently squares the ball up, he is extremely impressive."

Big League Stew's NL Central preview

The only really worthwhile aspect of Yahoo Sports these days is the Big League Stew, and today they posted their NLC preview. Here's a taste:

Am I nuts for thinking I'd rather have the Pirates' roster than the Astros' right now? Houston probably has it over Pittsburgh in starting pitching. Brett Myers , Wandy Rodriguez and J.A. Happ are a decent top three. Definitely better than Kevin Correia , Paul Maholm and Ross Ohlendorf . But I look at the Pirates' everyday lineup and see encouraging upside.

Spring Awards

It is with great pleasure that we can announce the 2011 recipient of the J.R. Towles Hitter of the Spring award: Brett Wallace. Wallace hit .377 in a much-needed Spring ("much needed" meaning "allowing us to worry about other things.")

And the 2011 recipient of the Taylor Buchholz Pitcher of the Spring award: Enerio Del Rosario. In over 14IP, Del Rosario did not allow an earned run.

Opening Day 2011 roster

So this is who the Astros will send out on Friday:

Catchers
Humberto Quintero
J.R. Towles

Infielders
Brett Wallace
Bill Hall
Angel Sanchez
Chris Johnson
Matt Downs
Joe Inglett

Outfielders
Carlos Lee
Michael Bourn
Hunter Pence
Jason Michaels
Jason Bourgeois

Rotation
Brett Myers
Wandy Rodriguez
J.A. Happ
Bud Norris
Nelson Figueroa

Bullpen
Fernando Abad
Enerio Del Rosario
Jeff Fulchino
Brandon Lyon
Wilton Lopez
Mark Melancon
Aneury Rodriguez

To the Meat Wagon
Alberto Arias (shoulder)
Clint Barmes (hand)
Jason Castro (knee)
Jeff Keppinger (foot)

More Tranzactionz

Okay, via Twitter:

Sent to Eddie's Farm are:

Gustavo Chacin
Carlos Corporan
Anderson Hernandez
Oswaldo Navarro
J.B. Shuck (whom the Astros would rather get regular playing time than a handful of ABs off the bench)
Jose Valdez
Henry Villar
Ross Wolf

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Happ feeling better

It looks as though J.A. Happ is feeling well enough that he still may be able to make that G3 start on Sunday against the Phillies. There are a few scenarios that the Astros have run through, but Mills didn't want to go over it until they see how he's doing following tonight's stretching.

All of this is on Twitter, but I can't get a link on my phone - but name a single other time we have lied to you.

Tranzactionz!

Steve Campbell is reporting that Tommy Manzella has been re-assigned to minor-league camp and Ryan Rowland-Smith has been designated for assignment. More to come

Biz of Baseball on 2011 Attendance

David Simmons took a look at the attendance projections for the Astros, and he disagrees with our attendance thoughts:

The Astros will have a tough time out of the box both on and off the field. The team is home for 22 of its first 37 games while school is still in session. The lone bright spot is that the Red Sox come to town for interleague play. Just like the Pirates, I can’t see the team going anywhere but down at the box office. I forsee the Astros having a 10% drop at the box office in 2011.

Mixed reaction to the OKC reception

On one hand, you've got a lifelong Astros fan in the stands in OKC last night. On the other some people just don't give a crap.

Like this guy:
“I came to watch some baseball but I don’t care too much for the Astros. I don’t come to many RedHawks games but probably won’t come at all now.”

But it's not all crapshakes and turdnuggets:
“I’ve never been to a game here but I’m sure I’ll be out more now that they’re with the Astros. It’s really exciting. It’s hard for us to get down to Houston to watch them a whole lot so we love that this game is here and that we’ll be able to watch their players this season.”

CBS' Senior Writer didn't even go to Astros camp, makes predictions anyway

CBS' Scott Miller made his predictions for 2011. More on that in a minute. But there's this:

Final box score line of the spring: Six sun-drenched weeks, two states, two rental cars, 3,106 miles driven, 26 camps visited (apologies to the Astros, Royals, Indians and Blue Jays), enough mustard-stained receipts to supply the Giants with ticker-tape for another victory parade and one request from Manny Ramirez ("Put in a good word for me").

Anyhow. Astros prediction: 5th
: If Biggio, Bagwell, Berkman and Oswalt can ... wait a sec. Who the hell ARE these Astros?

Oh snark, so reliable.

Happ out with strained intercostal

J.A. Happ left last night's exhibition with a strained intercostal (muscle above re hip) and may miss the start of the season.

Happ:
"I'm taking an optimistic approach and we'll see how I feel tomorrow. Hopefully, I got out before anything too serious [happened]. But it tightened up pretty good. I hope I caught it before it gets too serious."

Obviously, this is pretty terrible. Happ is scheduled to start Sunday in what is supposed to be G3 (have you seen the weather report in Philly this weekend?). But this can be a lingering issue. Giants closer Brian Wilson is dealing with the exact same thing, and they just put him on the DL - and he hasn't pitched since March 17.

More later, when the extent of this is known.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Marcus Nidiffer released

Huge captip to Farmstros, who learned that 1B/C Marcus Nidiffer has been released.

Nidiffer was signed as an undrafted free agent following the 2010 June Draft, and hit .303/.393/.588 for Greeneville, then got bumped up to Tri-City for 21 games, where he hit .250/.326/.425.

Tauser notes Nidiffer has already been signed by the Angels.

/Dislike.

Ovando to Greeneville in 2011?

In a tweet from the Greeneville Astros to Appy Astros, G'ville mentioned the following:

Ovando is huge! It wasn't promised, but it's a very, very good chance that he will be in a Greeneville jersey this summer....

Hardball Talk, on the Astros

Hardball Talk's Drew Silva ran down the Astros in 2011:

If the Astros want to get better, they need to start mimicking the ways of smaller market teams. Don’t give long-term contracts to aging players. Commit money to scouting and development. Draft well. Get busy on the international market. Build a top-level presence in Latin America.

It would seem to me that the Astros, for the past two seasons, have done all of these things.

Prediction Time:
This season brings 90 losses for the first time since 2000 and a close-shave fifth place finish over the sixth-place Pirates at the bottom of the National League Central.

And now for some OKC news

Tal Smith talked to Ryan Aber about what fans can expect in OKC in 2011:

"We went through a spell there where we really struggled with the draft. But the last few years, from 2008 on, have been good. I think everybody in our organization is excited about the quality of players we're developing now."

Did you know you could substitute "struggled" with "didn't really try?" Give it a shot!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Interview with Will Carroll

The Constable did an interview with Will Carroll over at the Chronicle...

Towles' back spasms give me heartburn

So J.R. Towles is dealing with back spasms on the Monday of the week of Opening Day. Isn't this a pretty damn good summation of J.R. Towles?

Today, he took swings off a tee. Mills:
"It was good to see him do some baseball activity. He played catch and threw. He still felt it in his back, but he felt much better. To have him go out there and do some baseball activity is huge."

Other things we learn from McTaggart's notebook:

*In a complete lack of surprise, Wallace is 1B1.
*Joe Inglett led the Majors in pinch-hits last year (20).
*Alberto Arias threw a bullpen session.

Biz of Baseball on the impending sale

Maury Brown has a good take on what has happened since 2008 and last Friday, when it was reported that Jim Crane could be the next owner of the Astros.

Your money quote:
Maybe time healed the wounds, but a betting man would say it’s about Drayton wishing to get out of the baseball business, and having the value of the club increase due to not only the Rangers auction, but the capacity to leverage being part owner in a regional sports network, the newly formed CSN Houston.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Astros go out and get another infielder

Just to catch you up:

Lance Pendleton has been sent back to the Yankees, and now the Astros have gone and acquired infielder Joe Inglett from Tampa Bay for a PTBNL, or cash (because they have so much of that).

Inglett will be 33 and posted a .733 OPS (99 OPS+) in 102 games with the Brewers last season.

Also, this move makes absolutely no sense. More later.

Update: Except he's not a candidate for SS1. He's in the mix to be the LH OF5, according to Footer and Levine. So there you have it.