Saturday, October 6, 2012

We Are Your Astros?

The news Thursday night that Astros radio broadcasters Dave Raymond and Brett Dolan were not going to be brought back next season has set off a firestorm of reaction with fans. While on the surface it may have seemed like the type of overreaction often seen fueled by the immediacy of Twitter, the reality is that Astros fans have a legitimate reason to react this strongly.

While most of the reaction I saw regarding Dave and Brett was supportive of the duo, there was a handful who didn't see this as a great loss. Some of this stems from the fact that the antics of Milo Hamilton kept the pair from truly establishing an identity and legitimacy of their own. Even still, if you look outside of Houston you'll find that the former duo, and Raymond in particular, was very well thought of in the industry. While the radio broadcast team as a whole ranked in the bottom third of a poll conducted by FanGraphs, it was clear that Hamilton was considered to be a drag on their quality. Head over there and you'll see lines like "the quality of the broadcast has improved dramatically with less Milo Hamilton," "the road broadcasts are solid," and "many of the sentiments regarding Dave Raymond are reminiscent of those regarding Astros television broadcaster Jim Deshaies, who is decidedly excellent."

In addition to being well thought of as broadcasters, they had established a strong relationship with the team's fans. They freely interacted with many fans on Twitter, sharing interesting tidbits about the team that you won't find anywhere else as well as joking around and sharing laughs with many. They often made themselves available before games to meet and take pictures with fans, further strengthening the fans' connection to the team.

But I'll be honest here; the replacement of the team's radio team doesn't really make much of a difference in the grand scheme of things. This post isn't meant to lift Dave and Brett up as martyrs. I think if you asked even the most outraged fans they would tell you this was simply the straw that broke the camel's back. Astros fans have had to put up with a lot of really crappy stuff recently.

In addition to Dave Raymond and Brett Dolan, many of the faces and voices of the club have disappeared this season. Fans also have dealt with the loss of the ever interactive Sr. Director of Social Media, Alyson Footer, when she left to take a national position with Alyson worked tirelessly to connect the fans with the players and provide a behind the scenes look at the club. Also going away is Zach Levine, who essentially covered the team single-handedly (also, left-handedly) for the Chronicle this season. Levine had grown from the stats oriented lefty to a well-rounded, humorous writer who was also not shy to talk to fans. It's unusual for a beat writer to be so well liked by fans and hearing that Z was leaving was another blow to the fans connection to the team. I should also point out that, as of the time of this post, it is still unknown if the very popular and nationally recognized TV broadcast team of Jim Deshaies and Bill Brown will be returning next year, as well as sideline (dugout?) reporter Greg Lucas. It is speculated that JD will be back, but Brownie is said to be contemplating retirement. Greg Lucas is still in limbo as well.

The biggest blow to Astros fans is the imminent switch from the National League to the American League. It's a slap in the face to a team with over 50 years of history in the league. The Astros are the winningest NL expansion team by a comfortable margin and have long standing rivalries that are now meaningless. The team was held hostage as Bud Selig and the owners took their sweet time supposedly "vetting" Jim Crane. What many believe now is that Crane was basically coerced into negotiating away the Astros NL history in exchange for being approved as the new owner.

Fans have also had to deal with the repercussions of going through a scorched earth rebuild. Years of neglect had dried up the talent pipeline for the organization to the point that the Astros have essentially had to start completely over, reminiscent of our start as an expansion club. This has resulted in back to back seasons of record breaking losses for the club. What few marketable players the fans could root for were traded off in order to shore up the foundation of the talent pipeline. While more mature fans recognize that this had to be done, it doesn't make it any easier to root for the major league product that was left behind.

Astros fans now have to put up with being laughed at on a regular basis. Fans of rival teams laugh. Small children laugh. National media laugh. Hotel doormen laugh. Random people walking down the street in other cities laugh. Did I mention that even small children laugh? Every single one of those instances actually happened this season. And fans have no response. What are they to say? "Oh yeah, you just wait until 2015!"

While we're talking about getting laughed at, let's talk about what happened to the social media and marketing group after Footer left. The first rumbling that that wheels might fall off was when Astros players started tweeting links to buy game tickets. Fans don't follow players because they want to get sold stuff. There was also the time that Jed Lowrie batted cleanup. Except he really didn't. Or the time they congratulated JD Martinez for a homerun that Fernando Martinez hit. While JD was on the disabled list. Or the time they invited fans to lunch with Joe Niekro. Who's been dead for almost six years. (Screen shots taken from this post over at Tales From the Juice Box and this post at The Crawfish Boxes)

Through all of this change one thing is becoming clear. Jim Crane has set out to completely clear out any and all remnants of Drayton McLane's legacy and replace it with his own. That's why there's been so much turnover in the front office. That's why there's been so much turnover on the media side. That's why the uniforms are getting changed. That's why there are changes in the stadium (like the hideous new advertisement tower in left field). And that's why there are rumors that he had already decided on a name change before being hit with so much backlash. In the beginning they made a show out of using focus groups and surveys of season ticket holders, but even that has been thrown out the window lately. None of the season ticket holders we've had a chance to speak to have heard or seen anything at any point over the past year regarding the tv and radio broadcasters, for example. Those decisions were made without any consideration of the fans.

In my opinion, Jim Crane is treating this team like a selfish child with a new toy. He has shown no respect for the proud history of the team he has taken custody of, the city to which the team belongs, and the fans who have invested so much into the support of the team.

The last two years have been very hard on Astros fans, Jim. Don't play chicken with the few the team has left.

*Note: Following a series of tweets I posted following the news that Dave Raymond and Brett Dolan were not being brought back, Astros VP of Marketing, Kathleen Clark, invited my to discuss my thoughts with her via email. Clark was to respond to my thoughts by Friday evening but as of Saturday evening no response has been given.

*Update: Clark and I will be working out a time to discuss the "fan perspective" tomorrow.

Dierker, Ashby rumored to join broadcasting team

Larry Dierker, Alan Ashby, and Steve Sparks have been linked to the vacancies in the broadcasting booth for 2013, according to David Barron - who says the booth will have at least one player with major league experience.

Ashby works for the Blue Jays, and Steve Sparks has a full-time job in mortgages (take a second and let that sink in) in addition to work with the company formerly known as Fox Sports Houston.

Dierker, however, that's an interesting one. Take it away, David Barron:
Dierker, whose tenure with the ballclub dates to the Colt .45s as player, manager and broadcaster, could be a candidate if it works within the team's budget.

If it works within the team's budget. The team's. Budget. To take the wording of Barron's article quite literally, the team whose largest financial commitment for 2013 is $5m to the Pirates for Wandy Rodriguez might not have the financial flexibility to hire a color analyst.

We also find out in that article that Milo will be calling "a few games" each year.

Friday, October 5, 2012

2013 Mock Draft

Through the Fence Baseball has an eight-month head start on the June 2013 draft, posting a mock draft today.

Their pick? Austin Meadows, a 6'4" 200lb outfielder out of Grayson HS in Loganville, Georgia.

It's a solid choice - ESPNHS profiled him last June as a potential #1 overall pick in 2013. ESPNHS wrote:
Meadows has all the hallmarks of a first-round pick. The left-handed center fielder is a five-tool talent with the size, speed and athleticism of a Josh Hamilton and the sweet swing of an Andre Ethier. Put it all together, and it's easy to understand why he's projected as a first-rounder.

Here's a prospect video on Meadows. 

Did Brad Ausmus remove his name from Astros consideration to be the next manager of the Red Sox?

Because that's what Hardball Talk's Matthew Pouliot suggests..

We tried to tell you that Ausmus interviewed for the manager position, but McTaggart said we were no-good, dirty liars, and then Ken Rosenthal came to the rescue, and the day was saved. Dogs rolled over on their backs and there were tummy-scratches available for everybody. Regardless, Ausmus took his name out of the running to become the next manager of the Astros.

The line of thinking is that Ausmus, a Connecticut native, was tipped off that the Red Sox wouldn't retain Bobby Valentine (though Deputy Street pointed out on Twitter that EVERYBODY knew Valentine was getting canned). It makes sense. Ausmus presumably grew up a Red Sox fan. And when you have a chance to manage the Red Sox, you have to take it. (Is that still true?)

Astros screw up, show everyone most of the uniform

Over at SportsLogosNews, they take the Astros Launch Party invitation and do some filtering to see what the new unis look like.

We're not going to take their pageviews, so go on over and look for yourself.

And I was going to leave it at that, but decided to comment further. Are the Astros Marketing Staff kidding? The Joe Niekro Incident, Lowrie beating cleanup from the lead-off spot, error-filled tweets, and now they (probably) just blew the whole point of whipping up excitement over new uniforms because they didn't think, "Hey, maybe we shouldn't use the actual jersey and turn off some lights for a picture?"

Astros let Raymond/Dolan go

In one of your classic "Making changes just to make changes" moves, the Astros announced that Dave Raymond and Brett Dolan will not be retained for the 2013 season. So the only member of the radio team that we know of is the football player from Houston who won a contest. That's great, for him.

But we - like most fans - are pissed. Having come to the Astros in 2006 and worked around Milo's schedule for the last seven years, Dolan and Raymond were pretty damn good radio guys, and that they will not be retained makes me mad.

"I'm really disappointed. Broadcasting baseball is all I've done my adult life, 19 straight years, and the last seven years [in Houston]. It's a difficult change to digest. I guess the disappointing aspect of it is [that] I bypassed pursuing some other opportunity in recent years because I wanted to be here long-term. We'll see what happens next." 

Astros County has reached out to the Astros for further comment. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Now what.

Thank God that's over. The worst season in Astros history, by one game, on a walk-off, has been completed, to what I'm sure is everyone's delight. It's been a hard season, and was about as fun to write about as it was to watch. So thank you all, from the staff of Astros County, for continuing to find reasons to visit the site.

Over the course of the off-season, we have the following items planned:

*The Designated Hater series - telling you why you should hate the other 14 American League teams.
*Defensive Replacement Dante Aligheri: The Exact Moment in the last two seasons that the Astros traversed Dante's levels of hell.
*Coverage of the Winter Meetings, held in The Constable's backyard, in which we will attempt to have a beer with Jeff Luhnow, Mike Fast, and Kevin Goldstein.
*More long-reads (feel free to submit requests).
*A breakdown and report card for every Astro.
*Spotlight on the PreStros.
*Arizona Fall League
*Adding a writer or two.
*More randomness.

Seriously, Astros County is better than ever, and with Trostel, Cockroach, Deputy Phelps, and others, we're looking forward to the emotional recovery of 2012. Thank you for your support.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

From the Office of the County Clerk: G162 - Astros @ Cubs

Edgar Gonzalez (3-1, 4.15) vs Travis Wood (6-13, 4.39)

And so it goes. With a chance to end their National League tenure on a sweep of the Cubs - the same way the .Colt 45s began their existence 51 years ago - the Astros rallied back from a 4-1 deficit to make it 4-4 going to the 9th. But a season of many disappointments ended with one more, and the Cubs come away with a 5-4 walk-off win. The 2012 season will now officially go down as the worst in Houston franchise history, as the Astros finish their last trip through the NL with a 55-107 record.

*Edgar Gonzalez's arrival in Houston roughly coincided with their September turnaround, and the team had won four of his five starts so far. But today, Edgar could not match the stellar performances of those who went before him in the preceding three games, and he finished his 2012 return to the big leagues with a 3.1 IP / 5 H / 4 R / 4 ER / 4 BB / 1 K line. The bullpen was big until the end, with Fernando Abad (0.1 IP, BB), Jose Valdez (1.1 IP), Mickey Storey (1 IP, K), Fernando Rodriguez (1 IP, K), and Hector Ambriz (1.2 IP, 3 BB, 2 K) keeping the Cubs off the board again until two outs in the 9th. But Ambriz could not get the final out, allowing a bases-loaded single to Bryan LaHair that lost Houston the game.


*The Astros didn't have much success against Cubs pitching today until the 8th, but Justin Maxwell made it seven straight games with a HR for Houston, clubbing a three-run shot in that 8th and finishing 2 for 3 with a walk. Maxwell ended the season with a team-leading 18 home runs.

*Carlos Corporan got Houston on the board in the 1st with a two-out RBI single, ending up 2 for 4 on his day.

*Jed Lowrie went 0 for 3, but he walked and scored on Corporan's single in the 1st.

*Jimmy Paredes got his first start since September 25 and went 1 for 3 with a walk and 2 Ks.

*Tyler Greene started in place of the injured Jose Altuve and finished 1 for 5 with 2 Ks.

Turning Point:

It all came down to the bottom of the 9th, and Hector Ambriz began the inning by walking Anthony Recker. Steve Clevenger popped out on a bunt attempt for out #1, but Tony Campana followed that with a bunt single that put runners on first and second. Ambriz got Adrian Cardenas to K for out #2, then walked Starlin Castro after that to load the bases. Tony DeFrancesco left Ambriz in the game after a conference on the mound, but Bryan LaHair lined the first pitch he saw into right field for the walk-off single.

Man of the Match:

Justin Maxwell. Ending his season with a bang, and he was one of the brighter spots of the year for these Astros.

Goat of the Game:

Hector Ambriz. This was not the way that the Astros wanted to say goodbye to the National League, but... c'est la vie.

Deshaies expected to return

Good news for Astros fans as David Barron says that CSN Houston is expected to bring Jim Deshaies back to broadcasts in 2013. Greg Lucas' and Bill Brown's futures are "uncertain."

September (and October)

We might take a much, much closer look at this in the days and weeks to come, but for now it's worth at least a cursory glance at just what the hell has happened in September and part of October.

In 29 Sept/Oct games, the Astros' pitching staff has racked up a 15-14 record, allowing a 3.54 ERA/1.32 WHIP. That's after a 5.26 ERA/1.42 WHIP in June, 5.95/1.60 in July, and 4.89/1.49 in August.

The offensive side hasn't been so impressive, but the .662 OPS through the last 29 games are the highest for a month since June, when they hit .238/.307/.402, collectively. The Astros are assured that they'll have an OBP under .300 for the second straight month.

However, they have hit 33 homers in Sept/Oct - which will be a season-high for a "month," and the highest since August 2008, when the Astros went off for 45 homers in 30 games. (As an aside, Ty Wigginton hit 12 homers in August 2008, in 26 games. He hit 23 HRs all season.)

In Houston's last six games, they've had more homers (14) than walks (12), hitting .235/.286.480. 

Astros too busy with logo, unis to mess with Tal's Hill right now

With the Mariners announcing that they're bringing the fences in next year, McTaggart asked if the Astros might do something about the center-field fence at Minute Maid Park. Crane has expressed an interest in removing Tal's Hill, anyway, so might they cause harm to two birds with one simple stone?

Not yet.

"With all the rebranding stuff, we have our hands full and that's going to be the focus of what we're doing."

Furthermore, since not too many balls are hit to Tal's Hill, Luhnow says it doesn't really matter, and the Astros have fast center-fielders, anyway. 

Altuve and Moore done for the year

Okay, so it's one game, just one game. Yes, just one game remains in this miserable season. Whomever said that the most fun part of rebuilding is blowing it up doesn't plan on the Blowing Up taking four months.

Anyhow, Jose Altuve and Scott Moore (groin, shoulder, respectively) are out of today's game, getting a three hour head-start on the offseason.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

From the Office of the County Clerk: G161 - Astros @ Cubs

Bud Norris (6-13, 4.82) vs Chris Volstad (3-11, 6.64)

It's like 1986 all over again. If you gave up on the Astros after their awful July and August (and really, who could blame you?), then you're missing some of their best baseball of the season now. Bud Norris stayed true to the BudChuck form he rediscovered against St. Louis last week, leading a cast of five Astros pitchers to their third straight shutout victory, 3-0. It's the first time since Mike Scott cemented his place in Houston lore that the Astros have pitched three straight shutouts. The team is now at 55-106, with one game left to play in the National League.

*As awful as Bud Norris was for four winless months, he's left all of that behind to end the season. Studly Cuddly Budly delivered his second straight scoreless outing, this time holding the Cubs to just four hits in six innings, concluding his 2012 season with a 6 IP / 4 H / 0 R / 0 ER / 2 BB / 4 K line. The bullpen, too, was equally brilliant again, with Xavier Cedeno (1 IP, 2 K), Chuckie Fick (0.1 IP), Wesley Wright (0.2 IP, 2 K), and Wilton Lopez (1 IP, BB) combining on three hitless, scoreless innings to end the game. Houston pitching has now not allowed an earned run in 31.1 consecutive innings.


*Tonight's game was the first meeting of two 100-loss teams since the Colt .45s' birth year, when the Cubs and the Mets squared off on September 30, 1962.

*A home run once again got the Astros on the board, with Jason Castro going deep on a solo shot in the 2nd. It was his sixth HR of the year and his third in his last seven games. He finished 1 for 4 with a K.

*This was the Astros' sixth straight game with a home run, tying their longest such stretch of the season (done twice before).

*Tyler Greene drove in Houston's second run in the 2nd, finishing 2 for 3 with a steal.

*Justin Maxwell went 0 for 4 with a strikeout, but he reached on a Starlin Castro error in the 2nd and scored on Greene's RBI single. He also played all three outfield spots, again.

*Brett Wallace went 1 for 3 with a walk.

*Brian Bogusevic walked as a pinch hitter in the 8th, then came around to score on an error, a groundout, and a wild pitch.

*Jose Altuve (0 for 3) and Scott Moore (0 for 1, K) both left the game early due to injuries. Altuve re-aggravated the groin injury that's seen him miss a few games in recent weeks, and Moore irritated the AC joint in his left shoulder when diving for a ball in RF in the 2nd.

Turning Point:

Once again, Astros pitching made sure that the lead they were given stayed secure. After groundouts by Matt Dominguez and Brett Wallace started the 2nd, Jason Castro took Chris Volstad deep to right to put Houston on the board. Justin Maxwell came next and made it all the way to second on a fielding error by Starlin Castro, then Tyler Greene drove him in with a single in one pitch later for a 2-0 Astros lead.

Man of the Match:

Bud Norris. Like Lucas Harrell and Jordan Lyles before him, BudChuck has ended his 2012 season on an outstanding note.

Goat of the Game:

It only took until October 2, but with this win, the Astros have clinched their first winning road trip of the season. If they can complete the sweep tomorrow afternoon, they'll finish with a 56-106 record, identical to last year.

Monday, October 1, 2012

From the Office of the County Clerk: G160 - Astros @ Cubs

Lucas Harrell (10-11, 3.88) vs Jason Berken (0-2, 5.14)

Having fully embraced their spoiler role throughout September, the Astros went to Wrigley Field for the final three games of 2012 with nothing left to spoil, save for the Cubs' hopes of avoiding 100 losses. Lucas Harrell wasn't having any of that, and he ended his outstanding rookie season with an exclamation point. Four Houston pitchers combine on a two-hit shutout, and the Astros beat the Cubs 3-0. The win puts Houston at 54-106, with two games left as a National League franchise.

*After losing his last two starts, Lucas Harrell had fallen below .500 in an otherwise impressive season, but he made sure he wouldn't end up that way by making his last start one of his best. Seven strikeouts ran up his pitch count to 98, ending his night after six innings, but he handcuffed the Cubs to just a single, a double, and a walk during that time. Lucas' final line: 6 IP / 2 H / 0 R / 0 ER / 1 BB / 7 K. After he left, the Astros bullpen was equally awesome, with Jose Valdez (1 IP), Fernando Rodriguez (0.2 IP, 2 K), and Wesley Wright (1.1 IP, 2 K) combining for three perfect innings to seal the deal. Wright earned his first save of the season.


*There were no multiples of homers for Houston tonight, but the one they did get was dang impressive.  Fernando Martinez homered for the third consecutive game, on a solo blast to RF in the second that very nearly landed on Sheffield Avenue. F-Mart finished 2 for 3 with two runs scored.

*Matt Dominguez drove home Martinez on a RBI triple in the 4th, for Houston's second run. Matty D ended up 1 for 4 with a K.

*Scott Moore had the third RBI, on a single in the 8th, finishing 1 for 4.

*Brandon Barnes went 1 for 3 and scored on Moore's RBI single.

*Jose Altuve was 1 for 3 with a walk.

*Justin Maxwell entered the game on defense in the 8th, then doubled in his only at bat.

Turning Point:

The Cubs only had one baserunner after the 1st, and none after the 4th, so Houston's lead was secure as soon as they had it. Fernando Martinez gave them that lead leading off in the second, lauching Jason Berken's 1-0 fastball almost clean out of the yard.

Man of the Match:

Lucas William Bradley Harrell. On a team with plenty of rookies, the Man with Four Names should easily be their Rookie of the Year.

Goat of the Game:

The two hits allowed by Houston tonight were a season low, and the three baserunners tied their season low, set last week by Bud Norris in the Astros' final home game. The Astros are once more back at .500 (14-14) since September 1.

How cute! The Cubs are treating this series like it's the postseason

Ahh, see, the Cubs have 99 losses (this is me avoiding a Jay-Z reference). Should they lose any of the last three games of the season against the Astros, that will put them at...carry the one...yes, 100 losses. And the Cubs, as miserable and heartless as they are, haven't lost 100 games since 1966.

So they're trying to avoid that feat today. And tomorrow, if it doesn't work out today. How jacked are the Cubs? This jacked, according to manager Dale Sveum:

"I think for the guys out there [tonight], it could be like our little playoff atmosphere, to stay away from that number."

There is freedom in that number, Dale Sveum. Embrace it, and let it consume you.  

Buy your tickets for 75 cents.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

From the Office of the County Clerk: G159 - Astros @ Brewers

Jordan Lyles (4-12, 5.44) vs Mike Fiers (9-9, 3.55)

Spoiler alert! It was obvious before the All-Star break that this Astros team wouldn't be extending their season beyond 162 games. The popular goal for such teams, then, becomes making it as difficult as possible for anyone else to make the postseason, either. The Astros have done a great job of that this month, putting significant dents in the playoff hopes of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia; while no one was going to keep Cincinnati from the division crown, Houston at least derailed their playoff train for a while, too. And with today's win, they put the final nail in Milwaukee's coffin, officially eliminating the Brewers from the NL Wild Card race. Jordan Lyles ends his 2012 season on an outstanding note, leading the Astros to a 7-0 victory. Houston heads south to Chicago at 53-106, for their final three games in the National League.

*Jordan Lyles' day really couldn't have gone much better, holding a powerful Milwaukee offense to just four scattered singles and a walk. He needed only 103 pitches to finish off the Brewers, for his first career big league complete game and shutout. His final line: 9 IP / 4 H / 0 R / 0 ER / 1 BB / 3 K.


*The Astros blasted four more home runs today - all solo shots - for a total off 11 in the three-game series. That's their most in a three-game stretch since they also had 11 in three games from August 31-September 3, 2004.

*Houston pitchers won't get many chances to hit in the American League next season, so Jordan Lyles made the most of his last chance to swing the bat for a while, too. To go with his first career shutout, he added his first career home run, launching a Mike Fiers fastball to the second deck in left-center in the 5th. Lyles finished 1 for 3 at the plate.

*Fernando Martinez homered an inning before Lyles, for his fifth of the season. He ended up going 2 for 4 with a K.

*An inning after Lyles' blast, Jed Lowrie took Fiers deep leading off the 6th, for his 16th HR of the season. He went 1 for 4 with a BB and a K.

*Matt Dominguez then went back-to-back with Lowrie, blasting his fifth of the year just inside the foul pole in left. He finished 2 for 5 with two strikeouts and two runs scored.

*Tyler Greene got the Astros on the board first, with a RBI double in the 3rd, finishing 1 for 4 with a walk and two Ks.

*Carlos Corporan padded the lead with a two-run single in the 8th, going 1 for 3 with a walk and a run scored.

*Brett Wallace went 0 for 4 with two Ks and an error on defense, but he did also walk and score a run.

*Justin Maxwell once again played all three outfield positions, and he went 1 for 4 with a K.

Turning Point:

In the 3rd inning, the Astros got Lyles the only run he would need today. Justin Maxwell led off with a strikeout, then Carlos Corporan followed with a walk. Lyles came up next and sac bunted, but a throwing error by Corey Hart allowed Jordan to reach safely and moved Corporan around to third. Tyler Greene then lined the second pitch he saw into the gap in left for a double, scoring Corporan and moving Lyles around to third.

Man of the Match:

Jordan Lyles. Today was his day all the way.

Goat of the Game:

The win today gives Houston their third road series win of the season, their 18th road win overall, and finishes their September at 13-14. That ties their 13 wins from May and makes this month, by percentage, their most successful all season (13-14, .481 in September vs. 13-15, .464 in May).