July 2009

Stranded In The Dugout… Branded A Fool

Hours after yesterday’s 12-3 debacle of a loss to the Cubs – when veteran starter Russ Ortiz couldn’t pitch adequately enough to give the bullpen any much-needed rest – both starting pitchers were no longer with their respective teams.

MikeHampton.jpg

And to think: Braves fans were actually upset about this.

The Astros had released Russ Ortiz, and the Cubs had traded Kevin Hart, along with RHP Jose Ascaino and IF Josh Harrison, to the Pirates for Tom Gorzelanny and John Grabow.  Grabow is an immediate improvement to the Cubs’ bullpen, and Gorzelanny provides a very interesting starting option for the Cubs, who seem laced with very interesting starting options.

It has to be the fastest turnaround for two starting pitchers from the same game to get removed from their teams.  But for Ortiz, it was time.  It was beyond time.

It had reached a point where, when he or Mike Hampton was on the mound, I expected the Astros to lose.  Both were nice, cheap pickups in the offseason for a team with limited cash.  Both had the potential to be very good starters for the Astros.  Neither panned out.  I’m guessing Hampton is on a short leash – if he is ineffective in his next start, it will become Yorman Bazardo time.  The Astros are eager to see Bazardo pitch at the major league level (which he has done before, but not terribly effectively.)

Bazardo is 9-4 in Round Rock, with a 2.76 ERA, and has only allowed two earned runs over 15 innings in his last two starts.  He’s not a strikeout pitcher like Bud Norris, and might be a nice change-of-pace in the rotation behind his former Round Rock rotation-mate.

Replacing Ortiz on the big league roster is Samuel Gervacio, who hasn’t been particularly effective of late.  In July, he had an ERA of 6.21 and a WHIP of 1.494.

Then again, Ortiz and Hampton have combined to go 2-6 in July, with a 9.89 ERA and a WHIP of 2.093.  

If anything, I’m surprised to see Ortiz go sooner than Hampton.  Because, though he’s struggled in July, Russ Ortiz looked awfully good as recently as June, a month during which he pitched 33 innings, struck out 24, walked 7, and went 1-1 with an ERA of 1.91 and a WHIP of 1.030.  It was the pleasant surprise of Russ Ortiz’s June that made one of the biggest differences in ending at .500 at the All-Star break.

But I’m not sad to see him go.  No sir. Not even a little bit.

Speaking of Ortiz

You’ve no doubt heard by now that David “Big Papi” Ortiz tested positived for PEDs in 2003.  At this point, the only reason I even care is to see how Red Sox fans will react toward this news the way they reacted to Alex Rodriguez’s and Manny Ramirez’s suspensions.  My favorite Red Sox fan doesn’t disappoint – sparing no sympathy for Ortiz. 

DavidOrtizRoidRage.jpgTo say I don’t care about PEDs would be taking it too far; but I realize that the game was tainted, and was being played on a level playing field.  No one gets the benefit of the doubt.  The Astros clubhouse has been riddled with steroid users, both confirmed – Ken Caminiti – mostly confirmed – Roger Clemens, Miguel Tejada – and suspected – Jeff Bagwell, Ivan Rodriguez

If not every star player took steroids over the past twenty-five years, then I’m convinced that every star player from the Dominican Republic did.  Excuse me for that, but it’s just gotten ridiculous.  I know no one reads my “What Happened Was…” down to the bottom, but my disdain for the players from that particular island should surprise no one who ever has.

The only thing I hate seeing is a double standard.  Homerism.  And Julie is speaking well for Red Sox Nation, who have a tendency to be awfully forgiving of their own players’ transgressions.

Of course, if you’re a Minnesota Twins fan, no doubt your reaction to the Ortiz news is: “Yeah, no s**t, eh?”


Cecil Cooper is Amazing

It was easy to miss, but in the top of the second inning in yesterday’s game, with the game still scoreless and Russ Ortiz having just recorded three straight strikeouts, Cecil Cooper flexed his awesome managerial might.

CooperFail.jpg

Cecil Cooper has forgotten more about baseball than I’ll
ever know. Unfortunately, he’s forgotten more about
baseball than he ever knew, also.

With no outs, Hunter Pence on first, and Geoff Blum on second, Cooper asked Jeff Keppinger to lay down a sacrifice bunt to get runners into scoring position.  Cooper is bizarrely in love with the sacrifice bunt, and uses it in virtually any situation, but this one in particular was a thing of beauty, because it would give the Astros two runners in scoring position, one out, and Humberto Quintero and Russ Ortiz up to bat.

Yes, that’s correct.  Cooper was willing to sacrifice Keppinger’s bat for the awe-inducing power and performance of Humberto Quintero and Russ Ortiz.  Quintero was hit by a pitch during his at-bat, loading the bases for Cooper’s favorite power hitter, Ortiz, who shockingly – I mean shockingly - grounded into a double play to end the inning.  When you can’t sacrifice a guy to get ducks on the pond for your backup catcher and pitcher, what kind of real team are you?

In the following inning, Michael Bourn laced a leadoff double, and I’m pretty sure Jose Cruz had to forcibly restrain Cooper to prevent him from calling for Kazuo Matsui to sacrifice him to third.  Instead, Matsui hit a two-run home run. 

Warm Body Needed in Corpus Christi

Since Erick Abreu was promoted to Round Rock, the Hooks have just 23 players on their roster.  In other words, they’re short a pitcher.  With an over-extended staff, it’s vital that they get someone soon – particularly with a doubleheader scheduled in Midland tomorrow.  An unnamed reliever is expected to get the start in the nightcap, but they need to get someone soon.  The most likely candidate, from my point of view, is Chia-Jen Lo.

Lo isn’t starter material (the Jethawks are dangerously low on those), but he’s been dominant as a reliever.  The potential closer-in-waiting and offseason signee from Taiwan holds a 0.91 WHIP, a 1.78 ERA, and 36 K over just 25.1 innings at Lancaster.  He has thrown 18 times in Corpus Christi already, so he knows the league.

I Guess I Missed It

So apparently, I missed it, but Thomas “Tip” Fairchild was re-signed by the Astros.  He’s cooling his heels in Lancaster these days.  He pitched 6.1 innings on July 27, striking out 5 and allowing 5 earned runs on 9 hits.  Fairchild had Tommy John surgery a few years
ago, and if he can show he’s recovered, I think he’s still got tremendous upside.

What Happened Was…

Round Rock Express (AAA) – The Round Rock Express were set to take on the Memphis Redbirds (STL), but Mother Nature had other plans.  Postponed due to rain.

Corpus Christi Hooks (AA) – No one is running away with the Texas League South in the second half of the season, and the Hooks seem determined to stay in the picture, defeating the San Antonio Missions (SDP), 5-3.  Once again, it was OF Drew Locke going yard and collecting 2 RBI to put him just one shy of Hunter Pence‘s record pace; it was 2B Drew Meyer hitting in his thirteenth straight game, the longest streak by any Hook this season; it was C Jason Castro going 3-for-5 with two doubles to improve his line to .309/.358/.417; and it was Tyler Lumsden earning the win, allowing just one hit in 1.2 innings of work.  Lumsden has started to look really good at times, and might just be turning into a nice pickup by Wade.

Lancaster Jethawks (A+) – It was all Lancaster, all the time, en route to a 9-0 rout of the High Desert Mavericks (SEA).  OF Jonathan Gaston went without a home run (or a hit, for that matter), but Koby Clemens was back in left field, and hit his 11th home run of the season.  For good measure, he added a triple.  But it was starter Shane Wolf who drew the headlines on this one, striking out 9 Mavericks in 6 innings of work, walking just one and scattering 4 hits, just one of them for extra-bases.  High Desert’s power hitter, Joe Dunigan, was 0-for-3 with 3 strikeouts.

Lexington Legends (A) – The Legends had a scheduled day off before beginning an eight-game road trip at the Charleston RiverDogs (with red-hot Corban Joseph) and the Greenville Drive. 

Tri-City ValleyCats (A-) – I guess I’ll have to settle for a split against the Lowell Spinners (BOS), who won 8-4 against some woeful pitching.  I’m unclear on what exactly happened to knock Spinners starter Alex Wilson out of the game.  He cruised through three innings, facing the minimum nine hitters, allowing no hits,walks, or runs; and striking out one, lowering his ERA to 0.50.  But then, in the fourth inning, he was gone.  OF Russell Dixon provided the only real fireworks for Tri-City, going 2-for-4 with a home run and 3 RBI.

Greeneville Astros (R) – The Greeneville Astros’ game against the Bristol Sox (CWS) was postponed due to rain.

DSL Astros (R) – The DSL Astros’ game against the DSL Braves (ATL) was postponed due to rain.

GCL Astros (R) – Despite giving up 5 runs in the final 2 innings, the GCL Astros defeated the GCL Nationals (WSN) 8-5.  18 hits for the Astros, so plenty of offensive production, but the nod goes to SS Luis Bryan, who was 3-for-5 with a home run.

What The NL Central Can Learn From The Pirates

The Pirates are in full-sale rebuilding mode, and it’s a bit painful to watch.  As division rivals go, the Pirates have been so bad for so long that it’s hard to hate them.  It’s hard to watch them dismantle like this, and not feel kind of bad for their long-suffering fans.

Even up in Milwaukee, where the briefest amount of success seems to have gone to their heads, the lessons being taught in Pittsburgh are important ones for the NL Central.  A lot of fuss is made about the Cubs’ World Series drought.  The truth is, that with the exception of the St. Louis Cardinals, who won it all in 2006, no current NL Central team has won the World Series since the Cincinnati Reds in 1990. 

And all across the division, in varying degrees, are teams that can learn a lesson from the Pirates, who in the last month have traded away Freddy Sanchez, Jack Wilson, Ian Snell, Adam LaRoche, Nyjer Morgan, Eric Hinske, and Nate McLouth.  It seems that virtually any recognizable player from the organization is gone.

It’s not hard to see why.  Pittsburgh is a small-market team, playing by small-market rules.  They don’t have the money to attract top free agents, or to sign the best prospects in the Rule 4 draft.  They have to make up for their lack of revenue with a lot of guile – and guile has been missing in Pittsburgh for quite some time. 

The Reds and Brewers have found success in recent years by re-tooling their farm system.  The Cubs and Astros have been able to add key free agents.  The Cardinals have been able to add a mix of both – a good farm system and a reasonable amount of free agents – along with a healthy dose of luck and Dave Duncan.  The Pirates, in addition to a weak revenue stream, don’t have a very good farm system, either.  And they certainly don’t have much luck.

There but for the grace of the baseball gods go the NL Central. 

In a way, I admire their commitment to re-building.  Though I’d think McLouth would be exactly the sort of player you could rebuild around, they seem to want to start fresh.

In today’s 12-0 disaster of a game with the Cubs, it was not hard to view the Astros as the old, tired men that they are.  Mike Hampton certainly showed his age.  So did Doug Brocail.  But for a small handful of players – Hunter Pence, Michael Bourn, Wesley Wright, and now Bud Norris – the Astros look to be reaching the end of their rope.  Maybe when Lance Berkman returns from the DL, he will breathe new life into the Chris Costes and Geoff Blums of the world, but it seems unlikely.

And as someone asked me today, rather poignantly, “When will Miguel Tejada‘s trade value ever be higher?”

When indeed?  One wonders if a back end rotation of Norris, Yorman Bazardo, and Jeff Fulchino could do much worse than one of Hampton, Brian Moehler, and Russ Ortiz.

Bud Time

The Bud Norris Era has officially begun. 

BudNorrisDebut.JPG

Whatever happened to the single-color glove rule, anyway?

In what quickly became a laugher, the one thing that held Astros fans’ interest was Norris’s much-anticipated debut.  And it was a good one.  He came out of the gate throwing with good velocity and nice placement.  Perhaps a bit tentative coming inside, but overall a very strong outing for Norris, who threw three innings of relief ball, with 4 strikeouts, a four-pitch walk to the opposing pitcher, 3 hits, and a single run allowed.

If Roy Oswalt is not ready to pitch on Sunday, Norris may get the nod. 

Locke Up

Someone recently suggested to me that it would be wonderful if the Astros could carry two General Managers: Ed Wade to revitalize the farm system, and someone else to handle the big league stuff.  It doesn’t seem like a terrible idea, as Wade has done wonders already with the Astros minor leagues.

One move in particular came this offseason, when he paid $12,000 in the Rule 5 Draft to acquire outfielder Drew Locke, now with the Corpus Christi Hooks.  Locke is having the season of his life in the Texas League: A pair of home runs in tonight’s game put him at 15 – tying a career high.  He also surpassed his previous-best RBI total, with 92. 

Hunter Pence currently holds the franchise record with 95 RBI in a single minor league season.  Locke is on pace to shatter that number. 

Notes From The Farm

A few notes: RP Erick Abreu was called up to Round Rock to replace the roster spot left by Norris’ departure.  Abreu has now served time on three teams: Lancaster, Corpus Christi, and Round Rock.  In 39.0 innings at Corpus Christi, he was 3-0 with a 2.54 ERA and a 1.128 WHIP.  He struck out one batter per inning.  In his last three outings, he has thrown 10 shutout innings with just 2 hits.

Former Astros top prospect Jason Hirsh, who was dealt along with Willy Taveras to the Rockies for Jason Jennings in one of the most painful trades in Houston’s history, was traded by Colorado to the New York Yankees for a player to be named later.

Corpus Christi 2B Drew Meyer reached base safely today, extending his hitting streak to twelve games.  This ties C Jason Castro for the longest such streaks in Corpus Christi this season.

What Happened Was…

Round Rock Express (AAA) – Memphis Redbirds’ (STL) SS Tyler Greene went deep in the first inning, and it looked like the Express might be in for another dogfight, but the Express pitching somehow managed to hold Memphis for the rest of the game, en route to a 3-1 victory.  In an odd managerial twist, Greene was at shortstop with Khalil Greene filling in at third for the Redbirds.  Jose Capellan won just his second decision of the year, striking out 5 in 6 innings, walking just one, and giving up just 3 hits, including the home run, to “lower” his ERA to 7.94.  Geoff Geary, Samuel Gervacio, and Casey Daigle each struck out one, and each pitched one perfect inning in relief.  1B Mark Saccomanno continued his hot streak, going 3-for-4 with a 2-run home run.

Corpus Christi Hooks (AA) – Behind Locke’s two home runs and the continuation of Meyer and 1B Mark Ori‘s hitting streaks, the Hooks cruised to an 8-1 win over the San Antonio Missions (SDP).  Jason Castro was 3-for-4, as was Ori, who had a double.  But the story may have been 30-year-old Kenny Baugh, who struck out 5 kids half his age in six innings.  He allowed just 3 hits, one walk, and an unearned run.  Daniel Meszaros threw three perfect relief innings, striking out two to earn his first Texas League save.

Lancaster Jethawks (A+) – The Jethawks overcame some very shaky pitching from Casey Hudspeth and Ashton Mowdy to derail the High Desert Mavericks (SEA) 10-7, and guess who got a home run.  If you said OF Jonathan Gaston, you’d be correct.  C/OF Koby Clemens chimed in with his twelfth tater of the year, as well, in a 4-for-5 night that also saw him hit a double.  Fernando Abad struck out 3 of the 5 batters he faced to earn the save.

Lexington Legends (A) – 1B Brian Pellegrini hit a 3-run home run in the bottom of the fifth to put the Le
gends up 3-1, but they couldn’t hold on, as they lost a 5-3 decision to the Hagerstown Suns (WSN), thanks in large part to three critical fielding errors – 2 of them by 3B Eric Simunic.  Simunic was 0-for-3 at the plate, but did manage to draw a walk, at which point he was caught stealing.  It was not a banner night for him. 

Tri-City ValleyCats (A-) – There goes the sweep.  Tri-City lost to the Lowell Spinners (BOS) 8-2.  Which is fairly tame, really, when you consider that ValleyCats starter Brandt Walker lived up to his name – walking six Spinners in just 4.1 innings, and tossing in a pair of wild pitches for extra measure.  At less of a disadvantage was Spinners starter Ryan Pressly, who struck out 7 in 4.2 innings.  Lowell’s catcher, Daniel Butler, was beaned twice, by two different relief pitchers.  No word on whether or not that’s a record.  He reached base three times without the benefit of a hit, also, which is impressive.  DH/OF J.D. Martinez once again led the Tri-City offense, going 2-for-4 with an RBI.

Greeneville Astros (R) – The Astros’ game against the Bristol Sox (CWS) was postponed due to rain.  Whatever that is.

GCL Astros (R) – The GCL Astros had the night off.  You’re welcome.

DSL Astros (R) – The DSL Astros also had the night off.  No rookie league games today at all.  What a bummer.

Astros Win – Or Do They?

It was a game full of ups and downs.  The Astros seemingly couldn’t shake the Cubs, who rallied to tie the game at 6-6 in the bottom of the fifth inning.  The Astros’ Roy Oswalt was cruising when he left the game with a strained lower back, prompting a bizarre announcement less than a full inning later: That Bud Norris will be joining the big league team.

Houston finally pulled away in the final frames to win 11-6, but it didn’t come without a price.  Oswalt’s back injury could result in significant lost time.  It was announced that Wesley Wright, who came on in relief, had been taken to the hospital after the game due to dehydration.  It then was announced that he may miss some time with appendicitis.  The hits keep coming, even with the younger guys.

FulchinoLosesBallInShirt.JPG

Fulchino gives up a hard-luck hit.  By losing the ball in his shirt.

There were highs, as well.  Wright and Jeff Fulchino, another reliever, each recorded their first Major League hits.  Jeff Keppinger got 4 hits in a game for just the third time in his career.  Fulchino looked very good despite giving up 3 runs in as many relief innings.  Jose Valverde looked good.

But the post-game news is all ominous.

Bud Norris

It’s not often that Astros fans are universally thrilled to see a minor leaguer get called up, but Twitter was abuzz with excitement over the Bud Norris era.  David “Bud” Norris was the second-rated prospect in the Astros’ system, and left an indelible impression during Spring Training. 

At Triple-A Round Rock, despite his 4-9 record, he’s looked very good.  He carries a 2.63 ERA and a 1.308 WHIP, and has struck out 112 PCL batters and walked just 53 in 120.0 innings.  Batters are just .237 against him.  In the power-heavy PCL, he has allowed 0.4 home runs per 9 innings.  The biggest question seems to be how Cecil Cooper plans to use him: In the rotation, or out of the bullpen. 

Norris hasn’t pitched a single inning of relief since 2006, when he was with the New York-Penn League’s Tri-City ValleyCats.  Of the pitchers currently on the roster, Chris Sampson and Fulchino seem the likeliest competitors for a starting spot. 

It seems unlikely that Cooper – who seems to have a hatred for any player under the age of 30 (Norris is 24) – will give him a shot at the rotation immediately.  But so little has worked there so far this year, it seems like it’s easily the best place for him right now.

Chris Coste

Still doesn’t belong here.

Meanwhile, Around The Division…

The St. Louis Cardinals took advantage of Houston’s big win by pounding the Los Angeles Dodgers, 10-0, to take control of the division by a half of a game.  Houston and St. Louis were the only NL Central teams to win yesterday, affording the Astros a few games over Milwaukee for third place.

Standings7-28-09.JPG
What Happened Was…

Round Rock Express (AAA) – Bud Norris was in the stands, tracking pitches, when he was told that he would be called up to the Major Leagues.  He probably couldn’t have been more excited – but I’m a bit worried about the fatigue on his arm.  Not from pitching, but rather from tracking the 178 pitches it took the Express pitching staff to get out of this hideous 14-5 loss to the Memphis Redbirds (STL).  Polin Trinidad managed to give up more home runs (6) than innings pitched (5), which is some kind of feat.  Jared Burton struck out zero batters in 1.2 relief innings, gave up 8 hits, 3 walks, a home run, and 5 earned runs to watch his ERA climb to 13.50 in his only 3 Triple-A games.  Khalil and Tyler Greene each had two home runs for the Redbirds, as did Allen Craig.  It doesn’t really help matters that Trinidad had a home run of his own, but it does give a glimmer of hope that 1B Mark Saccomanno did, as did OF Yordany Ramirez.

Corpus Christi Hooks (AA) – Brad James couldn’t shake a bad start, earning the loss in a 5-4 decision to the San Antonio Missions (SDP).  The first four runs he gave up were made up for by the offense, but when he gave up a fifth run in the seventh inning, the offense went silent.  Strong innings by Chia-Jen Lo and Charles Weatherby III didn’t help, as the bats stopped working.  OF Collin DeLome belted his 17th home run of the season, and OF Nicholas Moresi was 2-for-4 with a triple.  2B Drew Meyer was also 2-for-4, with a double.  C Jason Castro had a night to forget, going 0-for-4 from the cleanup spot, with two strikeouts and a passed ball behind the plate to boot.

Lancaster Jethawks (A+) – Down 8-3, the Lancaster Jethawks rallied to put 4 runs on the board in the bottom of the sixth inning.  Down just a run with three innings to go, things looked very good – but this is baseball.  Specifically, this is Astros baseball, and they were unable to score a run for the remainder of the game, losing to the High Desert Mavericks (SEA) 8-7.  High Desert 1B/OF Joseph Dunigan belted a home run to edge closer to Jonathan Gaston‘s league lead, but still trails the Lancaster outfielder, 28-24.  OF T.J. Steele was the highlight of the Jethawks’ evening, going 3-for-4, a home run short of the cycle, to raise his average to .354.  His line now stands at .354/.395/.586.  If he can learn to draw some walks, he could become a major leaguer within 2 years.

Lexington Legends (A) – The Legends could just never get it going, losing 6-2 to the Hagerstown Suns (WSN).  SS Brandon Wikoff was 2-for-4, as was OF Steve Brown.  Not a whole lot of good to speak of from the Lexington pitching staff, which is rare, but Hagerstown’s Marcos Frias looked quite sharp at times, striking out 6 batters in as many innings.

Tri-City ValleyCats (A-) – I still hate the Lowell Spinners (BOS), and a 9-3 win by the ValleyCats to ensure at least a series split was just what the doctor ordered.  Wander Alvino never dominated in his 6 innings of one-run ball, but pitched well enough to earn the win.  Robert Donovan struck out 4 in 2.1 innings, and allowed a single walk and no hits or runs for his fourth save of the year.  OF J.D. Martinez continued to impress, going 5-for-5 with a double and 2 RBI, raising his season line to .345/.375/.586 since his callup from Greeneville, where he was .403/.446/.740.

Greeneville Astros (R) – Greeneville had fallen 1-0 to the Bristol Sox (CWS) in the 4th inning when the game was suspended due to rain.  Gabriel Garcia looked characteristically bad in his 3.0 innings of work, striking out none and allowing one run on 4 hits and a walk.  My favorite part of this box score is the attendance, which I’m hoping is a mistake:

GCL Astros (R) – Mark Jones reminds me of a young Randy Johnson without all that “ability.”  He did strike out 2 batters in the 1.2 innings he managed to get through in his start, but also gave up 5 hits, 5 runs (albeit only 2 earned), a walk, and two wild pitches.  The GCL Mets’ (NYM) starter, Lachland Hodge, looked like Sandy Koufax in comparison, despite striking out 4, walking 1, allowing 5 hits and 4 runs (2 earned) in 5 innings, hitting a batter, and balking – and earning the win in the 10-4 decision.  Finding positives about this game is hard, but that’s what I don’t get paid to do, so OF Emilio King can get his due.  King was 3-for-3, a home run shy of the cycle, and he stole a base and drew a walk.

DSL Astros (R) – The Astros downed the DSL Angels (LAA) 5-4 with a dramatic eighth inning run.  Or so I’m guessing.  I don’t really care much more than you do.  Dieudone Paul struck out 5 Los Angeles Angels of the Dominican Republic in 6 innings, allowing just 2 runs on 4 hits and 2 walks, but walked away with a No Decision after the bullpen first blew the save, then earned the win.  SS Hector Rodriguez had a full night, going 2-for-3, scoring 2 runs, drawing a walk, stealing a base, turning two double plays, and recording his 14th fielding error in 39 games.  If he can learn to field or hit for power, his .307/.378/.388 may just earn him every young man’s dream: A callup to Tri-City.

Cecil, Fonzy, and Sampson, Oh My

I work with a Cubs fan.  Ninety-nine percent of the time, he’s the
“good kind.”  Not the typical
Cubs fan; more indicative of a Cubs fan out here on the West Coast.  He doesn’t brag.  We both curse our teams and talk about how loathsome they are.

 

Then the Cubs moved into
first place in the NL Central.  Then
they beat the Astros 5-1 with an Alfonso Soriano grand slam in the bottom of
the 13th inning.  Welcome
back from the DL, Chris Sampson. 
Apparently Cecil Cooper thought you were the perfect man for the extra
innings, despite the fact that you hadn’t pitched since July 10.

 

It all started with the text
message.  He acknowledged that it was
his “one typical Cubs fan moment” of the day.  Then came today.  It’s been non-stop Soriano this, Cubs that.

 

Man, I hate Cubs fans.

Sampson.JPG

The images on Sampson’s Yahoo

Sports page are all of Soriano. Ouch.

 

Wandy Rodriguez looked
masterful on the mound, striking out 7 batters in 7 innings, allowing a single
run on a Derrek Lee home run.  Six hits
and two walks.  He looked fantastic.  The bullpen – LaTroy Hawkins, Jose Valverde,
and Alberto Arias – all looked very good. 
Valverde issued 3 walks in his 1.1 inning, but no hits and no runs.  He danced out of a bases-loaded jam with a
lot of help from a botched squeeze play.

 

But the Astros pitching was
matched step-for-step by the Cubs pitching, until we danced into the 13th
inning and Sampson walked out for his second inning of work.  He promptly loaded the bases, and Alfonso
Soriano delivered the game to the Cubs in walk-off fashion.

 

It’s nice to see our boys
able to hang with what everyone agreed was going to be a tough Cubs team, even
without Lance Berkman in the lineup. 
Sampson looked good in his first inning of work, but his stamina is not
where it was.  He should never have been
asked to take the mound for a second inning.

 

Tonight,
it’s Roy Oswalt against Ryan Dempster. 
Roy’s looked mighty strong lately – as strong as he’s ever looked.  If only we can get the hitters to step up to
the challenge.

The Next Flight Departing Corpus Christi

Doug Brocail will cut his rehab stint short and join the team for tomorrow’s game against the Chicago Cubs.  He will replace LaTroy Hawkins, who is going onto the Disabled List with shingles.  If, like me, you don’t know what shingles are, this is what Wikipedia tells us:

Herpes zoster (or simply zoster), commonly known as shingles, is a viral disease characterized by a painful skin rash with blisters in a limited area on one side of the body, often in a stripe. The initial infection with varicella zoster virus (VZV) causes the acute (short-lived) illness chickenpox,
and generally occurs in children and young people. Once an episode of
chickenpox has resolved, the virus is not eliminated from the body but
can go on to cause shingles–an illness with very different
symptoms–often many years after the initial infection.

Well, that sounds horrifying.  Best of luck to him.  Speaking of Hawkins, he was ejected from last night’s game for arguing balls and strikes.  Now, I’m not one to advocate players questioning umpires’ calls, but honestly:

Hawkins-Lee.JPGI’m not sure where you pitch Derrek Lee that’s better than that, without laying a juicy fastball over the middle of the plate.

What Happened Was…

Round Rock Express (AAA) – Three runs in each
the first and ninth inning were all it took for the Express to down the Omaha
Royals (KCR) 6-5.  Felipe Paulino did
not look good on the mound.  It took 74
pitches to struggle through 3.0 innings, allowing 5 walks, 5 hits, 3 earned
runs, and just 2 strikeouts.  Josh
Meucke
was slightly more effective – allowing 5 walks, 3 hits, and 2 earned
runs in 5.0 relief innings and earning the win.  1B Mark Saccomanno is trying his hardest to turn his season
around – albeit a month too late – going 3-for-4 in the effort, a double shy of
the cycle, with 5 RBI.

Corpus Christi Hooks (AA) -
The Frisco RoughRiders (TEX) rode roughshod over the Hooks last night en route
to their 7-2 win.  The Hooks hitters
were bad, but the pitching was even worse. 
There were no multi-hit games by Corpus Christi, but 4 of their 6 hits
were for extra bases: 2B Drew Meyer‘s sole hit was a home run; OF Collin
DeLome
‘s was a triple; and C Jason Castro and 1B/DH Mark Van Ostrand chipped in
with a double each.

 

Lancaster Jethawks (A+) -
Two runs allowed in the bottom of the eighth sealed the Jethawks’ fate, as they
fell 7-6 to the High Desert Mavericks (SEA). 
Lancaster hitters were able to get 12 hits, including yet another home
run by OF Jonathan Gaston, three hits by OF Jack Shuck including a double, and
C/DH Koby Clemens‘ 11th home run and 2nd stolen base of the season.  Also, there’s this fun note:


EJECTIONS: High
Desert Mavericks Manager Jim Horner ejected by HP umpire Tom Honec. (6th);
Lancaster JetHawks pitcher Christopher Salamida ejected by HP umpire Tom Honec.
(8th); Lancaster JetHawks Manager Wes Clements ejected by HP umpire Tom Honec.
(8th); High Desert Mavericks pitcher Nathan Adcock ejected by HP umpire Tom
Honec. (6th).

 

Lexington Legends (A) -
Late-inning rallies are always fun, and three runs in the final two frames
cemented the win for Lexington, 6-5, over the Hagerstown Suns (WSN).  Ross Seaton struck out 6 batters in 5
innings, but allowed 5 runs on 6 hits and 3 walks; Henry Villar came on to
pitch 4 scoreless innings in relief, giving up a single hit and striking out 4
to earn the win.  2B Michael Diaz was
2-for-3 with 3 RBI, and drew a walk to lead the offense.

 

Tri-City ValleyCats (A-) – I
have a confession to make: I hate the Lowell Spinners (BOS).  It’s complicated, and involves an
ex-girlfriend from Lowell, MA.  You don’t
want the details.  All you need to know
is that I hate them.  So last night’s
4-2 victory by the ValleyCats was awfully nice, despite the fact that 3 of the
4 runs were unearned, and Lowell’s pitchers – Jose Alvarez and Anatanaer
Batista – looked incredible.  Tri-City’s
pitchers didn’t look half-bad, either, especially Mike Modica, who pitched a
perfect inning in relief; and Brenden Stines, who allowed just 2 hits and
struck out 2 in 3.2 innings of work to earn the win.  OF Renzo Tello collected his first home run of the season.

 

Greeneville Astros (R) – The
Greeneville pitchers did their absolute best to lose last night’s game against
the Kingsport Mets (NYM), but the hitters refused to stay quiet, pulling out a
10-9 victory. First-round pick SS Jiovanni Mier was particularly vexing for
Kingsport, going 3-for-3 with 2 doubles and 3 RBI, and drew 2 walks. 

 

GCL Astros (R) – In the
always-exciting Gulf Coast League, the Astros downed the Cardinals (STL)
4-2.  And they did it without an
extra-base hit.  Euris Quezeda improved
to 1-5 on the season, striking out 5 batters in as many innings, giving up a
single run on 3 hits and a walk.  OF
Nestor Santana was 2-for-3.  1B Ronald Sanchez
drew the only Astros’ walk of the day, and was promptly picked off at first
base.  Following his sole hit, he was
then caught trying to steal second base. 

 

DSL
Astros
(R) – Because we all care about the Dominican Summer League (seriously,
does anyone even read this far?), the DSL Astros scored a run in the top of the
10th to down the DSL Rangers1, 5-4. 
A no-decision for Jose Perdomo, who struck out 6 batters in 5 scoreless
innings of work, issuing 2 walks and a single hit.  Julio Torres allowed a single walk and no hits in two relief
innings to get the win.  1B/OF Eudy
Ramos
was 2-for-2 with a double and 2 walks to pace the offense.

What a Weekend

It was an eventful weekend in the National League Central.

The St. Louis Cardinals made a big splash when they traded for Matt Holliday, and then promptly fell out of first place for the first time since July 1.  The Chicago Cubs placed Ted Lilly on the DL, and promptly moved into first place for the first time since April 21.  The Cincinnati Reds, this blogger’s preseason “Sleeper Team,” extended their losing streak to 6 straight, spiraling down the standings and proving the old baseball adage:

It doesn’t matter how good your young players are if they’re being managed by Dusty Baker.

To be fair, since July 6, the Reds have had a tough schedule.  At the Phillies, at the Mets (who are much better than their record may indicate), home against Milwaukee, then back on the road to face the Dodgers and Cubs.  Their 4-13 record over this stretch, including a split in the only homestand on the schedule, isn’t really all that awful.

The Astros, on the other hand, dropped 2 of 3 to those same Mets.  The back end of the rotation, Russ Ortiz and Brian Moehler, took the losses. 

Does anyone remember what the consensus was coming into the season?  We needed a #2 pitcher.  Wandy Rodriguez has stepped up remarkably, which is great, but now we need a #3 pitcher.  We have three #4-5 pitchers in Ortiz, Moehler, and Mike Hampton, but we are still one starter shy of a good enough rotation to compete.

Yesterday, Chris Sampson was taken off of the DL, and Chad Paronto was designated for assignment. What this means, essentially, is that the club now has 10 days to assign the contract to another Major or Minor League roster.

To quote Bart Given:

Although you have 10 days to assign the contract, it takes two business
days for a player to clear waivers – so Clubs think of it as eight days
to make a decision on a assignment to the Minors or trade. Either way,
what the team does with a DFA’d player typically depends on his
perceived value.

The good news is that Chad Paronto has essentially no value, so it’s likely he’ll get quietly assigned to the minors.

Pedro and Pedro and Pray For Rain

Facing a Hall of Fame pitcher on one of his minor league rehab assignments has got to come with a variety of mixed emotions.  On the one hand, getting a hit against him would be the highlight of most players’ careers.  On the other hand, he’s really good and why in the world would anyone – much less some nineteen-year-old kid – want to face him?

So while the hitters on the St. Lucie Mets surely talked a big game about being excited to test their mettle against Pedro Martinez, who had one of the best primes of any pitcher in history, I’m guessing that secretly, deep down inside, they were actually praying for exactly this scenario:

Pedro Martinez rain.JPG

That’s Señor Martinez throwing a bullpen session after his start for the Clearwater Threshers was suspended due to rain.

Interestingly, 4 of his last 5 minor league appearances were rehab starts for the St. Lucie Mets. 

Sayonara

I mentioned some time ago that I was working on a documentary, which will begin shooting in April 2010.  The subject matter, which I have not previously revealed, is old U.S. Hwy 66.  It’s actually incorrect to say it starts shooting in April, as we’re already shooting – but we fly to Chicago to begin the 2,400-mile trip in April.  Chicago to Los Angeles in about 3 weeks.

In doing my research, I’m searching far and wide.  And it just so happens that this very season, a reality show popped up called Great American Road Trip.  Though they say that they’re traveling Route 66, I prefer to say they’re doing a trip based on the old Highway.  For instance, they’ve already stopped at Branson, MO; Independence, KS; and Sedan, KS – none of which are Route 66 towns.  They will be going to the Grand Canyon and to Las Vegas, neither of which is on the Route.

But the spirit is the same, even if they spent more time in Kansas (which only has 13.2 miles on the actual Highway) than they did in Oklahoma (which is the true “home” of Route 66, which was created by a Tulsan named Cy Avery).  And in the latter, all they did was eat at an Applebee’s – a decidedly un-Route 66 establishment. 

And this week, the very attractive Rico family failed the King of the Road and End of the Road challenges, and was removed from the show.  I have a man crush on Mr. Rico, and Mrs. Rico has serious toe-curling abilities.  Now we’re left with a bunch of annoying New Yorkers and whiny Southerners. 

Rico Family.jpg

So long, Ricos. There goes my only reason
to watch television.  Ever.

What Happened Was…

Round Rock Express (AAA) – The Express may have lost a tough one to the Omaha Royals (KCR), 5-3, but several good things happened to help ease the pain.  One: 3B Chris Johnson is starting to see the ball better.  He’s had an off year, owing largely to an injury he sustained when his hand was hit by a pitch.  He’s been tentative, and has looked scared in the batter’s box.  But he actually looked very comfortable last night, going 1-for-3 with a home run and a walk.  Two: Geoff Geary is pitching better than his numbers indicate.  In an inning and two thirds, he stifled an Omaha rally, allowing just one hit and two walks (one intentional) and striking out one.  No runs allowed, lowering his ERA to a still-ghastly 4.79.

Corpus Christi Hooks (AA) – Andy Van Hekken will turn thirty on Friday, which is a hundred and nine in Texas League years.  So when he takes the mound against the various whippersnappers of the Texas League, he needs a little help.  He got it yesteday against the Frisco Roughriders (TEX), as Corpus won a laugher, 11-2.  Frisco’s 4 errors certainly helped things along, but the Hooks were not without their contributions.  Doug Brocail pitched a perfect inning in relief, despite Van Hekken cruising through 7 innings in 88 pitches.  OF Collin DeLome was 4-for-5 with two doubles, and OF Andrew Locke continued his hot summer, going 2-for-4 with a double, a walk, and an RBI. 

Lancaster Jethawks (A+) – I don’t care how well your offense performs.  Giving up 6 runs in the bottom of the 8th inning is going to kill you just about 100% of the time.  And it did kill the Jethawks, who lost 9-8 to the High Desert Mavericks (SEA).  Leandro Cespedes was cruising.  He’d struck out 9 Mavericks in 8.0 innings, and walked just three.  But he hit the end of his roap, and neither he nor Fernando Abad – who earned the official loss – could stem the tide of runs crossing the plate in the 8th inning.  OF Jack Shuck gave it his all from the offensive end, going 4-for-5 with a double and an RBI at the top of the order, but it simply wasn’t enough.

Lexington Legends (A) – Then, sometimes, the opposite happens.  Sometimes you’re down, 3-0, coming into the bottom of the ninth.  It’s like a storybook.  Every young boy dreams of it.  The other team’s best reliever is on the mound for the save (in reality, Chris Rivera – who is not terribly good – was on the mound, but play along).  Your team has been stymied all day by an amazing starter (Paul Demny playing the part in this one; he struck out 12 batters in 6.0 innings).  You fight back.  You score three runs to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth.  You stride to the plate… a bench player (in this case backup catcher Reinaldo Pestana, who is batting .156/.229/.281 this season) that no one knows; no one cares about.  You dig in.  Runners on base… you get your pitch… you smack it over the wall for a walkoff home run.  Legends win.  Legends win.  A 6-3 final against the Hagerstown Suns (WSN).  Michael Guerrero had two home runs in the losing effort.  Another good start in the no-decision for Brad Dydalewicz.  But it was Pestana’s first home run of the season that provided the fireworks.

Tri-City ValleyCats (A-) – Starter Douglas Arguello threw just one inning before leaving the game.  It was a perfect inning, with a strikeout, before he was replaced by Dallas Keuchel, who did not have a perfect anything.  Least perfect was his offense, which mustered just three hits in seven innings, dropping the decision to the Oneonta Tigers (DET), 4-0.  Of the ValleyCats’ three hits, just one – a double by OF J.D. Martinez – was for extra bases.

Tri-City ValleyCats (A-) – There were two key differences between Game 1 and Game 2 of this double-header.  One: The Tri-City offense showed up to the second game.  Two: So did the Tri-City pitching.  In fact, the Oneonta Tigers (DET) would manage just two hits and two walks the whole game as they fell, 9-1.  The combination of Max Fearnow and Antonio Noguera proved too much for the Tigers’
hitters, allowing just one unearned run between them, striking out 5 in 7 innings.  Several multi-hit games, highlighted by OF Sean Barksdale, who was 2-for-3 with his first professional home run.  Congratulations, Sean.  A three-run shot, joined later by a fourth RBI, a walk, two runs scored, and even a stolen base.

Greeneville Astros (R) – The Burlington Royals (KCR) fought hard in this one, but in the end, the Astros’ pitching proved too much to overcome.  The Astros’ 4-3 win came on the heels of excellent pitching performances by starter Jose Cisnero (3-1, 3.95 ERA), who allowed just 2 hits over 5 innings; and closer Nathan Pettus, who pitched a perfect ninth inning to earn his sixth save.  2B Jose Altuve and SS Jiovanni Mier each swiped two bags, and DH/1B Aaron Bray had the only multi-hit game, going 2-for-4.

GCL Astros (R) – The Astros started hot with two runs in the top of the first inning, but couldn’t finish as they fell to the GCL Marlins (FLA) 4-3.  2B Enrique Hernandez was 3-for-4 at the plate, with a double and an RBI. 

DSL Astros (R) – I don’t know what happened in the game, if there even was one, because MiLB.com seems to care as much about the Dominican Summer League as I do.  What I do know is that – unsurprisingly – the DSL has suspended 13 players over the last week for positive steroid tests.  Michael Munoz, of the DSL Rangers (TEX), was suspended 100 games for his second violation.  Astros pitcher Felix Ramirez was among the six players popped yesterday.  Keep ‘em coming, Dominican Republic.  Your land is a dirty one, and I will not care about baseball there until you at least make an effort to look like you’re cleaning it up.

Are You Ready For The Merry-Go-Round?

Yesterday was an off-day for the Astros before kicking off their home weekend series against the Mets.  But even a day off is a busy day in Major League Baseball.  A run-down:

  • 1B Lance Berkman was placed on the DL with a calf strain
  • 2B Edwin Maysonet was recalled from Round Rock
  • 3B Ebert Rosario called up from Lexington to Lancaster
  • OF Jeff Hulett called up from Tri-City to Lexington

Round Rock has not made a corresponding roster move.  Their official roster is now at 22 players.

The Houston Astros 25-man roster now looks like this:

Pitchers
SP Roy Oswalt
SP Wandy Rodriguez
SP Mike Hampton
SP Russ Ortiz
SP Brian Moehler
RP Alberto Arias
RP Tim Byrdak
RP Jeff Fulchino
RP Chad Paronto
RP Wesley Wright
SU LaTroy Hawkins
CL Jose Valverde

Catchers
Ivan Rodriguez
Humberto Quintero
Chris Coste

Infielders
Kazuo Matsui
Miguel Tejada
Geoff Blum
Jeff Keppinger
Matt Kata
Edwin Maysonet

Outfielders
Michael Bourn
Carlos Lee
Hunter Pence
Jason Michaels

The Berkman injury has posed an interesting debate: Should GM Ed Wade make a trade for a first baseman?

There are very few assets that would entice any team into giving up a first baseman who would be demonstrably better than some combination of Chris Coste and/or Mark Saccomanno.  And let’s say you were able to go out and get a guy worthy of filling Berkman’s shoes: What do you do when Berkman comes back?

Tradable assets at this point include Bud Norris, J.R. Towles, and potentially Yorman Bazardo.  I don’t truly believe losing any of them would hurt all that much, but neither would any of them bring a first-baseman that’d be worth much at all.  A far-better option might be to go out and grab Richie Sexson or – even better – Tony Clark, two remaining free agent first basemen.

Clark is 37 years old, and has no qualms about being a part-time or Triple-A or even part-time Triple-A player.  A journeyman who’s played in the majors for the Tigers, Mets, Braves, Yankees, Red Sox, Diamondbacks, and Padres, he was released after batting just .182/.295/.424 in in just 36 games for Arizona this season.  He’d come at an Ed Wade price, and when you look at those numbers, they’re not as bad as first glance might show you.  Yes, the average is low, but how many veterans start slowly?  See the Astros’ April numbers for reference.

TonyClark.jpg

If Ed Wade signs Tony Clark, there’d better not be
any more of this nonsense.

The OBP is actually good when you consider his low average.  In fact, he had nearly as many walks (11) as he had hits (12) in 78 plate appearances.  And his SLG was decent, as well.  Of his 12 hits, 8 were for extra bases, four each in doubles and home runs. 

Sexson might be a more pricey commodity to acquire, but not necessarily by a lot. He’s played for the Indians, Brewers, Diamondbacks, Mariners, and Yankees.  No playing time this year, but as a part-timer for New York last season, he went .250/.371/.393 in just 28 plate appearances and looked uncomfortable most of the year.  But with a career .507 SLG, he certainly has had pop in his bat at times.  An MVP candidate as recently as 2005, if “Big Sexy” could find any of his previous swagger, he could be a real gem.

What Happened Was…

Round Rock Express (AAA) – The Dodgers have no absence of top young pitching talent.  You know about Clayton Kershaw and James McDonald by now, but do you know about Charlie Haeger yet?  The Express found out in person last night when Haeger struck out 12 of them in a complete game which saw the Albuquerque Isotopes (LAD) prevail, 5-1. Haeger issued just two walks and six hits.  Polin Trinidad actually pitched quite well, but earned the loss.  Geoff Geary and T.J. Burton each threw a perfect inning in relief.  OF Yordany Ramirez had the only multi-hit game for Round Rock, going 2-for-4 with a double in the losing effort.  Of Haeger’s 12 strikeouts, 25% of them were at the hands of Mighty John Gall.

Corpus Christi Hooks (AA) – The Hooks game against the Midland Rockhounds was postponed due to “wet grounds.”  If only Starbucks would do the same.  In all honesty, the weather was just fine in Midland, but the field was left uncovered as storms dropped more than an inch of rain at the ballpark.  I may not know much, but I do know this: The Midland Rockhounds should have been forced to forfeit this game.  I understand weather-related field problems, but this was an easily-avoidable problem.  </rant>

Lancaster Jethawks (A+) – It’s really not fair to Christopher Hicks.  He pitched 7 innings, striking out 7 against the Lake Elsinore Storm (SDP).  He allowed 3 runs on 7 hits and a single walk – a good start, but not good enough as the bullpen would blow the lead and earn the 9-5 loss.  Kobe Clemens was back in left field, where he went 2-for-4 with 2 doubles, 2 RBI, and a walk.  He is now .321/.394/.558 in the California League this season.  2B Craig  Corrado had a fitful night.  He was 0-for-4, was picked off at first base, caught stealing second, and committed a throwing error.

Lexington Legends (A) – An eight-inning “extra inning” affair saw the Legends prevail, 2-1, in walk-off fashion against the Lake County Captains (CLE). David Duncan pitched very well, striking out 7 batters in as many innings, giving up zero walks, seven hits, and a solitary run.  Kyle Godfrey struck out one in a perfect inning of relief to earn the win.  Legends batters managed their two runs on just two hits, which has seriously got to irk the Captains, but they did draw four walks, including two to 1B Brian Pellegrini, who followed one of them up by stealing second.

Lexington Legends (A) – It was so nice, Lake County and Lexington played two games yesterday.  (Ed. Note: Was it nice?  It’s been blazing hot here in Southern California.)  This one lasted the regulatio 7 innings, with Lake County earning a 3-2 victory.  2B Andrew Simunic was 2-for-3 in the losing effort, and Jeff Hulett – called up just in time for fifteen innings of double-header baseball, earned his first Sally League hit – a first-inning double.  Congratulations, Jeff!  Brian Pellegrini continued his nice day, going 1-for-2 with a home run and one of the two walks the Legends were able to draw as a team.  They teach impatience at the plate very early in the system here at Houston.

Tri-City ValleyCats (A) – In many situations, a two-run bottom of the ninth would be an exciting conclusion to the game.  When you enter said ninth inning down by 13 runs, however, it loses a lot of its luster.  That’s exactly what happened yesterday as the ValleyCats stumbled and bumbled to a 13-2 defeat at the hands of the Oneonta Tigers (DET).  Tigers pitcher Adam Wilk had no trouble with the Vall
eyCats.  He allowed just three hits and no walks, striking out 8 batter in 7.0 innings before handing it off to Mike LaLuna. Wilk is now 2-0 with a 0.30 ERA, a .162 BAA, and a .667 WHIP.  The ValleyCats pitchers, on the other hand, didn’t fare quite so well.  None of them gave up fewer than three runs, including probably my least-favorite player, Scott Migl, who gave up 3 runs (four, actually, but three earned) on five hits and four walks in just two innings.  His ERA currently stands at 13.50.  It wasn’t completely without offensive highlights, as OF Renzo Tello went 2-for-4 with a double and 2 RBI, and SS Brandon Wikoff was 2-for-3 with a double, and one of only two ValleyCats hitters (C Rene Garcia being the other) not to strike out once in the game.

Greeneville Astros (R) – You know, I really think Joan Belliard could turn into a nice pitcher.  He earned the win in Greeneville’s 6-4 win over the Bluefield Orioles (BAL), pitching 3.2 innings in relief, giving up just a walk and a hit and striking out 2.  Jeiler Castillo pitched a perfect ninth to earn his second save.  OF Ryan Humphrey was 2-for-4 with two doubles and an RBI; and first-rounder Jiovanni Mier was 2-for-4 with a walk, to bring his season line to .312/.404/.484.

GCL Astros (R) – It’s always a barn-burner when the GCL Astros face off against the GCL Mets.  Or maybe it is, anyway.  But a quick look at the box score shows the Mets scored 3 runs in the 8th, 2 in the 9th, and 1 in the 10th en route to losing to the Astros, who scored 1 run in each the 7th, 8th, and 9th, plus 2 in the 10th to take the game 8-7.  Michael Schurz pulled off the rare blown save/win combination, and Rafael Pio recorded the last two outs in order to earn the save.  Lots of multi-hit games by Astros position players, led by SS Luis Bryan, who was 4-for-6 – a double away from the cycle – with 3 RBI.  He also each recorded his first-ever professional home run.  Congratulations, Luis.

DSL Astros (R) – The DSL Astros had a rare day off to spend with their pushers families.

How Sweep It Is

Generally speaking, I pride myself on being a good sport.  Not gloating, even when it’s called for.  Being respectful of other (non-Cubs) fans and their teams.  I try.  Goodness know, I try.  But tonight, I just feel too good to try.  Why, you ask?

brooms.jpg

Because the Astros swept the division-leading St. Louis Cardinals, that’s why.  And they did it in dramatic fashion – just when it looked like a good start from Roy Oswalt was going to go to waste, Cardinals closer Ryan Franklin’s impressive consecutive scoreless innings streak took a tumble.
TejadaWalkOff7-22-09.jpgThree games against the top team in the division, three Houston wins.  That puts the Astros and Cubs – who derailed the lightning-hot Phillies – tied at one game out of first place.  It’s really a shame it’s only July, because this is a ton of fun. 

First Base

For a while, it looked like the NL Central – between Lance Berkman, Derrek Lee, and Albert Pujols – might have the best trio of first basemen any division had seen in a long, long time. There was a while when they were all very close in statistics, though Albert has been pulling away from the pack for a long time now.

Then, along came Prince Fielder to make it four great first basemen in the same league – first basemen who could hit, hit for power, and even field.  Joey Votto looked like he might be in line to become a fifth guy.

But now a case has been made.  A first baseman greater even than the mighty Pujols.  Look at these statistics from the three-game set between the Astros and Cardinals:

Albert Pujols: .182/.250/.182
Chris Coste: .375/.375/.625

Yes, indeed.  Chris “I Don’t Belong Here” Coste looked mighty good, running up his doubles totals while Pujols mercifully had a rare bad series in Minute Maid Park, which he and Fielder more or less own.

Of course, this is tongue-in-cheek.  Joey Votto never looked like he might become the fifth guy.

Response

The Cardinals responded to the sweep the only way they could: They taught pitching coach Dave Duncan a lesson by trading his son for former mediocre Astros shortstop Julio Lugo.  This should really help strengthen their Triple-A affiliate’s bench.

I’ve always thought Duncan the Younger had the potential to be a very good player, and got an unfair shake in St. Louis.  Maybe the Boston fans will be more appreciative.  At the very least, they finally put to bed the Great Julio Lugo Experiment.

LugoAstros.jpg

What Happened Was…

Round Rock Express (AAA) – Felipe Paulino pitched 4 innings, and batted in the bottom of the fourth (GIDP).  He got two outs in the top of the fifth, but gave up a walk, a single, a double, and a run.  He was then replaced by Samuel Gervacio, having already thrown 101 pitches in 4.2 innings.  Gervacio earned the loss in the 5-2 decision against the Albuquerque Isotopes (5-2), but Paulino’s night leaves a lot to be desired.  Recent call-up T.J. Burton looked solid in his first Triple-A outing, throwing a perfect two-thirds of an inning.  At the plate, the Express were led by OF Reggie Abercrombie, who was 2-for-4 with an RBI; and 1B Mark Saccomanno.  Saccomanno, an avid reader of the blog, realized that he had a golden opportunity in front of him at the big league level, and responded with a 1-for-2 performance, drawing a pair of walks and scoring a run.  Or, at least, that’s my story.

Corpus Christi Hooks (AA) – The Hooks had to be feeling good after jumping to a 4-0 lead in the top of the first, but the wind came out of their sails when the Midland Rockhounds (OAK) responded with three runs of their own in the bottom of the frame.  When the dust settled, after 11 innings of baseball, Midland had eked out a 7-6 victory in walk-off fashion.  1B Mark Van Ostrand led the parade offensively, going 3-for-5 with a double, a home run, 2 RBI, 2 runs scored, and a walk.  OF/DH Andrew Locke continued his torrid run, going 3-for-6 with a double, and raising his season line to .321/.372/.490.

Lancaster Jethawks (A+) – Jonathan Gaston finished tonight’s game without a home run.  In fact, he finished without a hit – 0-for-2 with a pair of walks (one intentional), a run scored, and an RBI (sacrifice fly) in the 9-7 victory over the Lake Elsinore Storm (SDP).  Jethawks up and down the lineup contributed, led by 2B Craig Corrado, who was 3-for-4 with a double.  Oh, and Koby Clemens?  He had 2 RBI tonight, thank you very much.  Fernando Abad looked downright filthy at times, earning his second save of the season by pitching 3.1 innings, striking out 8 batters and allowing 1 run on a walk and two hits.

Lexington Legends (A) – Lexington’s home game against the Lake County Captains (CLE) was postponed due to rain.

Tri-City ValleyCats (A-) – Tri-City battled back, responding with four runs in the bottom of the 5th after the Auburn Doubledays (TOR) had scored four in the top of the inning, but it wasn’t enough, as they lost 6-5.  One bright spot was Mike Modica, who threw 2 scoreless innings, allowing just a single hit, lowering his ERA to 0.61.  OF Brian Kemp was 1-for-2 with a walk, raising his season totals to .327/.433/.376. 

Tri-City ValleyCats (A-) – It was like deja vu all over again, except this time Tri-City had a commanding 5-0 lead before allowing 6 runs in the top of the fifth to drop the second game of their double-header to the Auburn Doubledays (TOR) by the exact same score as the first game: 6-5.  2B Barry Butera shook off his own mediocrity for most of the game (he did collect an error in the field) to go 2-for-3.

Greeneville Astros (R) – The Astros were able to snatch defeat from the very claws of victory, giving up runs in the 8th and 10th to fall to the Bluefield Orioles (BAL), 4-3.  First-rounder SS Jiovanni Mier looked very comfortable, going 3-for-5 with a home run.  He topped it off by stealing his fourth base of the season.

GCL Astros (R) – The Gulf Coast bunch did as the Major Leaguers did, toppling the GCL Cardinals (STL).  This, despite a 5-run second inning by the visitors in cardinal red.  Down 6-2 at one point, they scored steadily to take the game, 9-7.  All but one of the Cardinals’ runs was une
arned, and Spencer Hylander actually pitched very well to earn the victory – 5.0 IP, one unearned run, 3 H, 0 BB, 5 K.  He’s now 3-0 with a 1.69 ERA, a .149 BAA, and a .798 WHIP.  Lots of contributors offensively, not the least of whom was OF Telvin Nash, who was 2-for-4 with a pair of doubles, upping his average to .164.  DH Jan Baldee went 0-for-3, his average remaining at .000, but he did draw a walk.  He was promptly caught stealing.  The way his night was going, it’s surprising he didn’t get an error from the DH position.

DSL Astros (R) – The exciting matchup between the Dominican Summer League Astros and the DSL Rangers1 (TEX) was postponed due to rain.  It’s just as well, since the DSL Rangers2 took care of business today against the DSL Braves.  Seriously, I’ve never paid attention to this league.  Why do some organizations get two teams, while the Orioles and Brewers have to share a team?  This blog is going to force me to learn the DSL.

If They Had The Playoffs Right Now, They’d Feel Like This

It’s still just July.  It’s still just July.  It’s still just July.

I have to keep reminding myself of this very fact, because there’s nothing mundane or ordinary about the feeling of this Cardinals-Astros series.  And last night’s game seemed to reach a sort of a fever pitch.

The bad news: Chad Paronto recorded just a single out, and allowed 4 earned runs.  His ERA is at 108.00.  Wesley Wright continued to struggle, giving up a run after Paronto left the game.  The Cardinals scored 5 runs in the eighth inning alone last night.

The good news: It simply didn’t matter.  The Astros won a laugher, 11-6, to clinch the series.  So far, just six games into a brutal second half, we stand at 4-2.  The Cubs lost to the defending World Series champions, and there is now a three-way tie for second place in the division, two games behind these Cardinals.

Aces In The Hole

Tonight features a matchup between Chris Carpenter and Roy Oswalt which promises to be a barn-burner.  If you watch one Houston Astros game this month, this should be the one to watch. 

Magic Wandy

Kansas City starter Zack Greinke started the season lightning-hot, and garnered a lot of attention as a result.  In April, he was undefeated with a 0.889 WHIP and a 0.50 ERA.  Wandy Rodriguez, thus far in the month of July, is undefeated with a 0.897 WHIP and a 0.62 ERA.  Eerily similar numbers.  Yet you’re unlikely to hear his name come up very often in the mainstream media outlets.

It’s hard to blame ESPN too much.  They’ve made it clear that they are the Red Sox-Yankees Network, with little time to spare on mundane matters like a Chris Carpenter-Roy Oswalt matchup, a division battle that includes as many teams (4) as the AL West even has, or a slight lefty who is currently 11-6, with a 2.72 ERA, and a 1.233 WHIP.

Is This Sustainable?

The fact is, the Astros split a road series against the Dodgers, and have now come back to Houston and taken a series from the Division leaders.  They’re in great position at the moment – but is it sustainable?

We’re winning games without Lance Berkman and Darin Erstad.  Our bench includes Matt Kata, Jason Michaels, Jeff Keppinger, and Humberto Quintero.  We have a rotation with Russ Ortiz, Brian Moehler, and Mike Hampton.  There isn’t a lot of help available in Triple-A, and our hands are fairly tied as far as trades go.  So the question is: Can this be sustained?

The best answer I can come up with is maybe.  I don’t see us competing late into the season with Cecil Cooper managing the team, but it’s hard to see him losing his job with this ragtag group of players fighting as hard as they are at the moment.

Any personnel shifts are likely to be minor, or from within the organization (remember that Edwin Maysonet was .315/.356/.407 in his 19 big league games this year, and Brian Bogusevic makes an intriguing left-handed option in the outfield.)  Only time will tell.  If you’d have told me that this team would be this close to the top, this late in the season, I would have laughed at you.  I still don’t think this team is a competitor, but they keep winning big games.

And a tip of the cap to GM Ed Wade for making laughable moves in the offseason, focusing largely on saving money, staying competitive at the Major League level, and working mostly on keeping what little farm system we have intact.  So far, closing in on the end of July, it seems to be working.

What Happened Was…

Round Rock Express (AAA) – Albuquerque Isotopes (LAD) pitcher Giancarlo Alvarado struck out 12 Express batters in an 8-inning complete game, but earned the loss in a 5-1 decision in the first game of yesterday’s double-header.  Alvarado had begun the game back on June 11, and was ready to take the ball back yesterday.  Express starter Yorman Bazardo didn’t have the same luck, replaced by Josh Muecke to start the suspended game.  Mark Saccomanno wasted very little time, putting the first pitch into
right field for a single, followed by Jason Smith, who put Alvarado’s second pitch over the wall.  The Express would never look back after that.

Round Rock Express (AAA) – Express shortstop Tommy Manzella showed up ready to play two games.  It’s unfortunate that the rest of his team didn’t.  Manzella was 2-for-2, collecting two of the only three hits the Express could muster (OF Brian Bogusevic had the other one,) including a double, but the Express fell to the Albuquerqu Isotopes (LAD) 3-1.  It was a bit of a hard-luck loss for Mark McLemore, who allowed just 2 runs on 3 hits and 2 walks, with 4 strikeouts through 6 of the game’s 7 innings.

Corpus Christi Hooks (AA) – The Hooks committed three errors, gave up 15 hits and 7 runs, and still managed to hold on to win a wild one, 10-7, against the Midland Rockhounds (OAK).  They got off to a 4-0 start before the Rockhounds ever took the bat, and led 7-2 after two innings.  C Jason Castro was the man of the night from the cleanup spot, going 3-for-5 (just a home run away from the cycle) with 4 RBI and 3 runs scored.  SS Wladimir Sutil and 1B James Von Ostrand got in on the fun, each also going 3-for-5, with Sutil collecting his 13th stolen base of the season. 

Lancaster Jethawks (A+) – I’ve made no secret that I like Leandro Cespedes.  His performance last night wasn’t anything to write home about – 6.0 IP, 3 K, 6 H, 2 BB – but he didn’t allow a single earned run and notched his sixth victory of the season for Lancaster as they downed the Stockton Ports (OAK) 5-1.  It’s no surprise that OF Jonathan Gaston led the offense – to the tune of 2-for-3 with yet two more home runs.  He now has 27 on the season.  The next-closest in the California League is High Desert’s (SEA) Joseph Dunigan with 22.

Lexington Legends (A) – The entire South Atlantic League had the night off last night.

Tri-City ValleyCats (A-) – The ValleyCats’ matchup with the Auburn Doubledays (TOR) was postponed due to rain.

Greeneville Astros (R) – Despite 3 runs over the final 2 innings, the Bluefield Orioles (BAL) were unable to catch up to the Astros, who won 5-4.  OF Frank Almonte paced the offense, going 2-for-4 with a 2-run home run, and 3B Jonathan Meyer got in on the fun, as well, also going 2-for-4. 2B Jose Altuve was 1-for-4 with a stolen base, and first-round pick SS Jiovanni Mier looked lost, going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts.

GCL Astros (R) – It was recently brought to my attention that I’ve been completely ignoring our boys in the Gulf Coast League, and a look at the box score for yesterday’s game makes me wonder if I’ve been missing much.  After committing six errors, the GCL Astros fell in a squeaker to the GCL Marlins, 15-0.  It’s hard to pick an offensive leader when no one had any extra-base hits, but I’ll give the nod to leadoff man 2B/SS Pedro Feliz (no, not that Pedro Feliz), who was 1-for-3 with a stolen base.  Emmanuel Cedano recorded one out amidst the 2 walks, 1 hit, 2 wild pitches, HBP, and 4 ER he accrued.  His ERA now stands at 50.14.  Though C Ernesto Genoves was 0-for-4 in the game, his line now stands at very robust .327/.382/.510.  Imagine if he hadn’t worn himself out chasing wild pitches.

DSL Astros (R) – I don’t usually pay any attention to the various “Summer Leagues” in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, but I suppose I should now, for the sake of the blog.  The Astros mounted a late rally last night, scoring 2 runs in the 9th inning, but fell to the DSL Braves 14-11.  3B Hector Rodriguez was 4-for-5 with two doubles, a walk, three runs scored, and an RBI.  Interesting note: 4 of the 5 pitchers to take the mound for the Astros recorded either a wild pitch or a balk.  Starter Jose Perdomo, the only one who didn’t, made up for it by having the team’s only HBP.  It really is the wild west down there. Dieudone Paul recorded the final four outs for the Astros – all via strikeout – walking one and allowing 2 hits, but no runs.

Has Mark Missed The Mark?

There’s a very real chance that Mark Saccomanno‘s opportunity to be a big leaguer came and went.

The 29-year-old corner infielder has been stuck behind Lance Berkman in Houston’s pecking order for quite some time, and failed to distinguish himself as even an adequate fielder at third base.  His best and only chance to play would likely have been this season, with a razor-thin bench.

Before the season, many of us – myself included – wanted Saccomanno to have a legitimate shot either at a bench spot, or even at the starting third base spot, despite his defensive woes.  He’s made a lot of fans in Houston with his solid hitting, topped with his first-ever Major League at-bat, when he hit the first pitch he’d ever seen in the Major Leagues into the bleachers.
SaccomannoHR.jpg
When Berkman missed time recently due to a mild calf strain, the first baseman spot fell to former first-round pick Darin Erstad, who has hit a disgusting .185/.248/.293 this season.  And when the Philadelphia Phillies released backup catcher Chris Coste on July 10, the Astros signed him and almost immediately pressed him into service at first base.

Now, with Erstad on the Disabled List and Berkman slated for an MRI, the merry-go-round continues at first base.  And Saccomanno’s name is nowhere near the top of anyone’s wish list as they contemplate their options, thanks in large part to the mediocre .267/.317/.403 line he’s compiled through 90 games at Round Rock this season. 

With opportunity ringing loudly, Saccomanno has failed to deliver this year.  And when you see a career .279/.337/.437 guy like Coste take a spot that should have been yours, you pretty much know your time has passed.

Mark Saccomanno has played in ten Major League games in his career.  And he may have played in his last.

Stealing One Back

The Astros beat the Cardinals tonight, which does wonders.  It puts us back over .500, it gives us a game in the standings against the division leaders, and it comes on a night when both Chicago and Milwaukee lost – the former an embarrassing 10-1 destruction at the hands of the blazing-hot defending World Series champions.

Cardinals-Astros is always a big series, but if we can win either – or, preferably, both – of the next two games and take this series, we are suddenly starting to look very good.  The Astros’ second half is an extremely difficult one, and any momentum we can get right now is going to be vital down the stretch.

Kashing In

Crazy things are happening in Lancaster.  Sure, the team isn’t doing terribly well, but catcher Koby Clemens – the son of that other Clemens – is coming up with big hits. 

ClemensBatting.JPGClemens came to the Astros system as a third baseman, and was moved to catcher, just in time to see Jason Castro get drafted and become the franchise Golden Boy.  They competed for time in Lancaster before Castro got moved up to Double-A Corpus Christi.  Clemens, who seems to have been virtually passed over, isn’t going down without a fight, though.

Coming into today’s game against the Stockton Ports, he has collected 22 RBI in 10 games, including a two-homer game on July 13.  Unfortunately, he failed to collect any RBI tonight (a game for which he was placed in left field,) but it’s still quite a nice streak.

Speaking of the Jethawks, I will be heading to Adelanto this weekend to catch them on the road against the High Desert Mavericks.

Sign ‘Em All

The High Desert Mavericks (SEA) had a notable game, capped by the fourth inning, which saw them record 6 errors as a team.  In the same inning.  They ended the game with 7, and – not surprisingly – dropped a 12-2 decision to the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (LAA).

What Happened Was…

Round Rock Express (AAA) – The Express really needed a laugher, and that’s just what they got tonight, downing the Albuquerque Isotopes (LAD) 9-2.  Yorman Bazardo had a decent start, fanning 4 in 7.0 innings, allowing a single run on 5 hits and 4 walks.  Doug Brocail, in a rehab appearance, struck out one in a perfect inning of work.  Samuel Gervacio did his best to let Albuquerque back into the game – in a single inning of work, he walked one, allowed a hit, balked, and hit a batter, but gave up just one run and struck out two.  OF Brian Bogusevic was 3-for-5 with 3 RBI and a home run; and 3B Chris Johnson was 2-for-3 with a walk.

Corpus Christi Hooks (AA) – Chia-Jen Lo walked two hitters and beaned another one in a sole inning of work – and looked like the ace of the staff.  At least he didn’t allow any runs, unlike Old Man Andy Van Hekken, Daniel Meszaros, and Ryan McKeller, who also pitched for the Hooks in their 5-4 loss to the Midland Rockhounds (OAK).  OF Andrew Locke stayed hot for Corpus Christi, going 2-for-4 with a double and bringing his season totals to .320/.372/.491.  C Jason Castro was also 2-for-4, as was DH James Van Ostrand, who tallied all three of Corpus Christi’s RBIs in this game.

Lancaster Jethawks (A+) – The Jethawks offense showed up, but couldn’t overcome some terrible pitching, as they fell to the Stockton Ports (OAK) 11-6.  OF Jonathan Gaston was 2-for-2 with 2 home runs (bringing his league-leading total to 25), 3 RBI, and 2 BB. 

Lexington Legends (A) – Brad Dydalewicz is still very good, and he struck out 7 in 7.1 IP tonight, walked 3, allowed 4 hits, and 2 earned runs.  He was followed on the mound by Kyle Godfrey, who struck out 4 in 2.1 innings of work, allowing no runs on a single hit.  But it took until Patrick Urckfitz entered the game in the tenth inning for the offense to catch up to the pitching.  Urckfitz struck out one and walked one in an otherwise-perfect 1.1 innings of work as the Legends got 3 runs in the 11th inning to best the Lakewood Blue Claws (PHI), 5-2.  1B Brian Pellegrini did the heavy lifting at the plate, going 2-for-4 and drawing a walk, then stealing a base just to prove that he can.  2B Michael Diaz did a little showing off, as well, knocking in two runs off the bench, singling in his first at-bat of the ballgame, in the 11th inning.

Tri-City Valleycats (A-) – It was a struggle all day for the ValleyCats, losing 9-3 to the Auburn Doubledays (TOR).  Scott Migl made his claim for Worst Pitcher in the Organization – In addition to his poor consonant-to-vowel ratio, he allowed 3 runs on 3 hits and 2 walks in 2.1 IP.  His season totals for Tri-City are 7 walks, 7 hits, and 7 runs in 4.2 IP, with a 13.50 ERA.  OF/DH J.D. Martinez tried his best to
stave off the bad guys, going 2-for-4 at the plate with a big 3-run home run, but it wouldn’t be enough.

Greeneville Astros (R) – If Carlos Quevedo is really this good, things could get very interesting over the next few years.  Quevedo struck out 9 batters in just 5.0 innings, allowing 2 hits and an unearned run.  Unfortuntately, the Astros’ 5 team errors worked against him, and the rest of the pitching staff, as they dropped a 4-1 decision to the Kingsport Mets (NYM).  Three of those errors belonged to 1B Oscar Figueroa.  You read that correctly: A first baseman managed to make three errors in a single game.  2B Jose Altuve continued to impress, going 1-for-4 with a home run; the only other Astros hit was provided by OF Ryan Humphrey.

Why, Brad, Why?

When Brad Ausmus was announced as the starting catcher yesterday in Dodger Stadium, about fifteen people applauded, and they were all wearing Astros colors.  He responded by stabbing us in the back.

Brad Ausmus.jpg

When good Bees go bad.

2-for-3 with two doubles and two RBI.  He hit the ball great; but still, it wouldn’t have been enough had it not been for two things: Alberto Arias‘s pair of embarrassing errors, and Hunter Pence failing to step up.

Arias mishandled a toss from first baseman Chris “I Don’t Belong Here” Coste, and later allowed the same runner to score when he couldn’t make up his mind where to throw the ball, and ended up deciding to just drop it on the ground.

But Hunter.  Oh Hunter, my Hunter… when Guillermo Mota found himself facing Geoff Blum with Carlos Lee at second base after a steal, he responded with an intentional walk.  Granted, Blum had hit a home run earlier, but they were determined to keep the force play, even if it meant dealing with first-time All-Star Pence.

And Pence responded, with a runner in scoring position, by flying out to right field.  I don’t really believe in clutch, but that most certainly wasn’t.

(This caused great hilarity for the Astros fans in attendance when the audience later booed the Astros for intentionally walking Manny Ramirez to load the bases.  We were all glancing around, and you could see the bemused thought in our eyes, “You walked Geoff Blum and that’s good baseball.  We’re walking Manny Ramirez and it’s boo-worthy?”

Still, coming into Los Angeles and splitting the series is a big moral victory for the Astros, despite coming up empty on a game we had in hand, wasting a rare good start from Russ Ortiz.  With Lance Berkman, Doug Brocail, and Chris Sampson due to rejoin the team soon, almost anything can happen this season.

What Happened Was…

(This section takes a lot longer to write now with Short Season and Rookie ball going on.  Yeesh!)

Round Rock Express (AAA) – There’s something wrong with Bud Norris.  I’m convinced of it.  He took the win yesterday against the Oklahoma City Redhawks (TEX), 7-4, despite striking out just one hitter in 8.0 IP, walking one, allowing 10 hits, and 4 earned runs.  He improved to 4-8 on the season with a 2.61 ERA.  He got quite a bit of help from his friends, notably SS Tommy Manzella and DH/OF John Gall.  Each was 4-for-5 with a stolen base, and each had a double.  Manzella also had a home run, 2 RBI, and 3 Runs Scored. 

Corpus Christi Hooks (AA) – The Hooks couldn’t overcome a 4-run second inning by the Frisco Roughriders (TEX), and fell 9-6.  Starter Sergio Perez earned the loss, getting chased from the game after recording just three outs.  Erick Abreu came on in relief and shut the door for 5.0 innings, giving the Hooks a chance to get back into the game, but they couldn’t overcome the early deficit.  OF Andrew Locke was a rare highlight at 1-for-3 with a 2-run home run, also drawing a walk .

Lancaster Jethawks (A+) – Three huge innings of three or more runs are usually enough to bury you, and yesterday was no exception as the Jethawks fell to the Stockton Ports (OAK) 11-8.  Stockton scored all of their runs in bunches with a 4-run 4th, a 3-run 6th, and a 4-run 7th.  It wasn’t all doom and gloom, as DH/C Koby Clemens was 3-for-5 at the plate with a double and 3 RBI, and OF Jonathan Gaston belted yet another home run – his 23rd of the season.  If not for his eighth error of the season, there’s little doubt he’d be making a push for Corpus Christi right now.

Lexington Legends (A) – Jordan Lyles ran out of gas; it’s really that easy.  He pitched well through four innings, but got into trouble in the fifth, eventually allowing four runs that would prove insurmountable; the Legends lost to the Lakewood Blue Claws (PHI) 6-5.  Offensively, Lexington was led by OF Eric Suttle – 2-for-4 – and OF Steve Brown – 2-for-4 with a double and 2 RBI.

Tri-City Valleycats (A-) – Dallas Keuchel has now pitched 12.0 innings this year, including the five he threw yesterday, and has yet to allow a single run.  Mike Modica, who pitched three innings in relief, has only allowed one earned run in 12.2 innings this season.  Yesterday, he allowed another one – this one unearned – on the strength of a throwing error by 3B Jhonny Medrano.  It was the only run the Batavia Muckdogs (STL) would get, but it was enough, as the Tri-City offense sputtered.  You can’t blame the pitchers, who combined to strike out 7 in 8 innings.  OF Jacob Goebbert led the offense, if you can call it that, going 1-for-3 with a double.

Greeneville Astros (R) – The Astros had four errors, gave up 14 hits, walked 4 batters, and hit another one.  So it’s hardly a surprise that they lost to the Kingsport Mets (NYM) 13-4 in a total team effort of mediocrity.  There were two offensive highlights – 2B Jose Altuve was 2-for-5 with two doubles and already his 13th stolen base of the season; and OF Grant Hogue went 2-for-3 with 2 RBI.

So there you have it.  Seven games in the Houston Astros system yesterday, and not a single win.  That’s right, gang, a complete sweep.  0-7 as an organization.  Yeesh.

Jarb

Some of you have written to ask about my job search.  About a month ago, I accepted a position as a junior agent at a talent agency.  It doesn’t pay well, and it’s a little different from what I was doing before (though I’ve worked at an agency before, and do have some idea what I’m doing), but things are going pretty well.  I enjoy the work, and the work enjoys me.  So things are starting to turn around, which is nice.

For those of you who are unsure what a talent agent does, exactly, we basically spend all day looking at very beautiful people and helping to decide which of them is going to get paid for it, and how much.

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