H-Town Sports

Houston Sports Blog - Real sports cities have TWO Conference USA teams

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Hirsh, Albers Receive Pitcher of the Year Awards

AAA: Memphis 10, Round Rock 6 - So much for the return of Zeke Astacio (5 IP, 7 H, 10 R, 9 ER, 4 BB, 7 K). This overshadowed two homers for Brooks Conrad (23 on season) and two hitless innings for Michael Dwain Gallo, who appears poised to emerge as a stopper out of the pen for the Astros' September stretch run. Our favorite lefty specialist continues to thrive in his role, as lefties in AAA are hitting .389 against him on the season.

In other news, Jason Hirsh was named PCL Pitcher of the Year, in a sense repeating, as he was Texas League Pitcher of the Year while with the Hooks in 2005.

AA: San Antonio 5, Corpus Christi 3 - The Hooks' losing streak stretched to five games. Chance Douglass had a rare bad outing, failing to make it beyond the fourth inning.

The postseason accolades continued to roll in for Astros' farmhands, as Hooks' manager Jackie Moore was named Manager of the Year in the Texas League, and Matt Albers was named Texas League Pitcher of the Year. In addition to Albers, Ben Zobrist, Josh Anderson, Hunter Pence and Jonny Ash were named Texas League Postseason All-Stars.

High A: Salem 5, Wilmington 3 (completion of suspended game); Wilmington 4, Salem 1
Salem's winning streak was snapped at fourteen games after winning the completion of Tuesday's suspended game.

Low A: Lexington 7, Hickory 2 - JR Towles continued his resurgence with a home run and four RBI. Koby Clemens was 0-4 with 2 K's and his 22nd error of the season. Tommy Manzella was the only Legend named to the SAL postseason All-Star team. I am no Jim Callis, but how is Brad James not at least an All-Star, if not Pitcher of the Year in the SAL?

Short Season A: Tri-City 5, Brooklyn 3 - Jordan Parraz cranked a three-run walkoff home run for the Valley Cats. Star pitcher Chris Salamida departed after only two innings for reasons unknown to the author of this piece.

Rookie: Kingsport 8, Greeneville 1 - The Astros' bullpen melted down, allowing seven runs on nine hits in the 7th and 8th innings.

Zobrist/Talbot Watch: Ben Zobrist extended his hitting streak to eight games, going 1-3 with a walk against Jon Garland and the White Sox. By the way, on a completely irrelevant note, stud Rays' prospect BJ Upton has made seven errors in his first month with the big club this season. Aubrey Huff was technically a hero last night for the Astros, despite an 0-4 night with a K and four LOB and appearing to ground into a rally-killing double play in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Simms and Shanahan Connect; Football Fans Vomit

Thanks to John McClain for this hot tip. I'll let Tim rationalize why it is not all that strange for his boy Kris Simms to have engaged in such Brokebackian behavior. I'm sure Eric Moulds' respect for his 'receiver' coach is at an all-time high this morning. And yes, 'receiver' is intended to have duplicitous meanings in this instance. If I find out that Vince Young has David Thomas' initials tattooed on his upper thight, then I'm officially quitting football.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Avalanche Don't Win, but Streak Still Intact

AAA: Round Rock 5, Memphis 3 - Nice win for Phillip Barzilla, and homers for JR House and Brooks Conrad. Eric Munson got his first two hits for the Express.

AA: Midland 8, Corpus Christi 3 - Midland completed a sweep of the Hooks. Two more hits for Josh Anderson.

High A: Salem's game with Wilmington in the fifth inning due to rain. Tip Fairchild had put in a nice five innings in the 1-1 tie.

Low A: Hickory 7, Lexington 5 - Three run homer for JR Towles and two hits for Josh Flores.

Short Season A: Tri-City and Oneonta were rained out.

Rookie: Greeneville 8, Kingsport 2 - Great night for Pollin Trinidad (5 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 7 K). 1B Cirilo Cruz was 2-4 with his seventh HR.

Zobrist/Talbot Watch: Aubrey Huff was 1-4 with an RBI single. Ben Zobrist extended his hitting streak to seven games with a 1-4 night and a run scored.

Way to Go, Drayton--Oswalt Locked Up for Five Years

As I opened my Chronicle this morning, I was delighted to learn that the Astros locked The Wizard up for another five (5) seasons. $73 mil is a lot of cheddar, but if there's a pitcher that's worth it, it's Roy Oswalt. The guy is inarguably one of the best ten pitchers in all of baseball (I'd make the case that he might even be one of the top three), and he's only 29 years old. After the seemingly diastrous way the 'Stros handled him at the trading deadline, this amounts to redemption for Drayton & Co. They even gave him a full no-trade clause, for crying out loud. Choke on that, Beltrantichrist.

Fortunately, Drayton didn't try to nickel and dime a guy he knew the team needed. If Oswalt had made it to the open market, he was as good as gone, so Drayton knuckled up and dug into his couch cushions to ensure Berkman and Oswalt are the faces of the organization for years to come. Kudos to the 'Stros for doing the right thing.

***Oh, and the 'Stros are only three (3) games back in the wild card hunt. Part of me regrets writing them off last week (see toe tag), but a bigger part of me wants to believe those guys read this site and got motivated. That's probably just the methadone talking, but whatever.***

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Talbot Dominates Again; Salem Wins 13th Straight

AAA: Round Rock 9, Memphis 3 - Jared Gothreaux won his eighth game by making his fourth consecutive quality start, and Jailen Peguero pitched two solid innings in relief. In his last seven outings, Peguero has pitched 12.2 innings and allowed only three earned runs while striking out fourteen batters. Eric Munson is 0-8 since arriving in Round Rock.

In order to meet the ever-important playoff availability deadline, Humberto Quintero and Eric Bruntlett were added to the Astros' roster and Chris Sampson and JR House were sent out to make room for them. In the infinitesmally likely even that the Astros make the postseason, they will be without House and Sampson. In equally meaningful news, my dog crapped in the backyard this morning before I left for work.

AA: Midland 2, Corpus Christi 1 - The Hooks left eight men on base and grounded into three double plays, turning 12 hits into only a single run. Juan Guiterrez had a nice start, and Paul Estrada was a hard-luck loser, giving up only an unearned run in 2.2 innings while striking out five. Josh Anderson had three hits and stole his 43rd base of the season.

High A: Salem 8, Winston-Salem 2 - The Avalanche made it thirteen wins in a row behind Felipe Paulino del Guidice's seven strong innings and homers from Drew Sutton and Beau Torbert. Last night's win sewed up a playoff berth for the Avalanche. Exactly two of Salem's thirteen wins have been by two or fewer runs, and seven of them have come at the expense of Winston-Salem. The Avalanche have seven games remaining in their regular season schedule.

Low A: Lexington was idle.

Short Season A: Oneonta 11, Tri-City 4 - The Valley Cats made five errors, including a pair by #1 pick Max Sapp. A Night to Remember for Kyle DeYoung, the Valley Cats' reliever who allowed four hits, a walk and seven runs (four earned) without retiring a batter.

Rookie: Greenville 6, Kingsport 5 (10) - Two hits apiece for LF Steve Brown and RF Brandon Barnes.

Zobrist/Talbot Watch: Aubrey Huff and Ben Zobrist were off last night. Mitch Talbot threw 7.2 shutout innings, scattering seven hits and striking out seven while walking only one, while running his record to 3-3 with the Biscuits and dropping his ERA to 1.94. Combined between Corpus and Montgomery, Talbot is 9-7 with a 2.81 ERA in 150+ innings, allowing only six home runs and striking out 154 while walking only 46. The only non-"quality start" Talbot has had with the Biscuits was on August 18, where he pitched 5.2 innings and struck out eleven while allowing only one run.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Avalanche Continues its Roll

AAA: Albequerque 11, Round Rock 0 (Sat); Albuquerque 7, Round Rock 6 (Sun)
On Saturday, both Matt Albers and Mike Gallo were rocked, while Isotopes starter Jeff Fulchino mowed the Express down like a lineup of Ausmuses and Everetts. On Sunday, an error by LF Eric Bruntlett opened the door for four unearned runs as the Express blew a late 5-3 lead. Cody Ransom was 3-4 with a home run for the Express. Taylor Buchholz was marginally effective over five inning of work.

AA: Midland 2, Corpus Christi 1 (Sat); Midland 8, Corpus Christi 7 (Sun)
A pair of heart-wrenching defeats for the Hooks, who have fallen 3.5 games out of first place in the second half race. On Saturday, the RockHounds were able to muster a two-run homer off Troy Patton, but Kevin Olsen threw a complete-game four-hitter to make it stand up. Hunter Pence drove in the Hooks' only run with a double. On Sunday, the Hooks rallied from three runs down to tie the game in the eighth inning, only to lose it in the bottom of the eighth on an RBI single. The ever-clutch Marc Saccamanno tied the game in the eighth with a three-run home run and drove in a total of five runs on the night. Tike Redman was 3-4 with a home run.

High A: Salem 7, Winston-Salem 0 (Sat); Salem 7, Winston-Salem 1 (Sun)
The Avalanche has now won twelve games in a row. Jimmy Barthmaier continued his emergence on Saturday night with nine strikeouts over seven shutout innings. The offense supported him with 15 hits, including three from Edwin Maysonet, who also hit his eighth home run. Barthmaier has now won the last six times he has toed the rubber and shut WS out for the second straight start. He is now 5-0 in August with a 1.15 ERA. Rory Shortell followed up nicely on Sunday, allowing only one run over seven innings. Frankie Caraballo homered, and the Avalanche pounded out ten hits, including a pair of doubles from Beau Torbert.

Low A: West Virginia 3, Lexington 1 (Sat); West Virginia 4, Lexington 0 (Sun)
Brian Bogusevic continues his slow but steady climb back up the ranks of the Astros pitching depth chart, this time allowing six hits and two runs over five innings (with six K's). Two hits for Eli Iorg. Another meager offensive output on Sunday for the Legends, except for Iorg (again) who was 2-4 with a triple.

Short Season A: Tri-City 5, Vermont 3 (Sat); Sunday - Rained Out
Bud Norris was spectacular on Saturday in just his third start of the season, allowing only two hits and striking out 13 batters over five innings. Casey Hudspeth backed him up with four good relief innings. Greg Buchanan was 3-5 with his second home run to lead the offensive attack.

Rookie: Greenville 4, Kingsport 1 (Sat); Greenville 6, Kingsport 0 (Sun)
Very good start from big lefty Thomas Vessella on Saturday. 2B Ronald Ramirez was the hitting start with three hits, including his third home run of the season. Sergio Severino was the star on Sunday, striking out eight over six shutout innings to win his sixth game and drop his ERA to 2.90. Sergio has now struck out 59 batters in his last 34.2 innings of work and 80 in 53.1 innings overall on the season.

Zobrist/Talbot Watch: Mitch Talbot pitches tonight against the Birmingham Barons. Ben Zobrist was 1-5 on Sunday hitting in the leadoff spot and 2-5 with a double on Sunday batting eighth. BZ now has a six-game hitting streak and has hits in nine of his last ten games, though he has still registered only four multi-hit games in 25 games and still has a surprising four walks in 93 ABs. Aubrey Huff registered yet another DNP on Saturday with LHP Zach Duke on the mound and went 2-4 with a pair of singles and two RBI on Sunday.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Undefeated Night for the Astros Organization

AAA: Round Rock 3, Albuquerque 1 - Zeke Astacio continues his mildly surprising resurgence, as the other hero from Spring Training 2005 makes a bid to re-capture the attention of Astros' management. Astacio did allow 13 baserunners (9 hits, 4 walks) over seven innings, but escaped with only one run scoring. Brooks Conrad provided the big blow with a two-run HR, his 19th of the season.

Back in the preseason of 2005, Astacio was lights-out on the mound, allowing only two runs in 13 innings and striking out 13 hitters, and Luke Scott had a 1.19 OPS with seven HR and 20 RBI in 68 ABs, but both players flamed out violently early in the regular season. After another season-and-a-half in AAA, Scott appears to be solidifying a spot in the Astros' everyday outfield. The Astros' young pitchers have struggled mightily in the bigs as of late, and Astacio has become a forgotten name. Re-inserting Astacio's name in the hunt for a position in the Astros' 2007 rotation would be a pleasant surprise, for certain.

AA: Corpus Christi 3, Frisco 2 - Chance Douglass spun another beaut (7 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 8 K), and Tike Redman knocked in the winning run with a two-out single in the bottom of the ninth. Redman has gotten on base at a 42% clip (thanks in large part to an amazing 12:3 BB/K ratio), and he could have proved to be a potentially valuable addition to the Astros' bench in September if the games were to mean anything, though it is quite apparent now that they will not.

High A: Salem 10, Winston-Salem 1 - The Avalanche won their tenth straight game in a rout of the Warthogs. 2B Drew Sutton got the night off, and Wladimir Sutil filled in brilliantly, going 3-6 with two doubles and five RBI, and SS Edwin Maysonet went 3-3 with two doubles and a HR, driving in four. Raymar Diaz was the beneficiary of the offensive explosion, picking up his third win with the 'Lanche.

Low A: Lexington 10, Hickory 3 - The Legends' dormant offense awakened for 17 hits. Brad James, who has been victimized by poor run support all season (only five wins in 13 starts despite posting a 1.13 ERA), had a well-deserved easy night, allowing zero ER in five innings. James has now allowed exactly three earned runs in his last 54.2 innings pitched and has posted an astonishing 0.79 ERA for the Legends since entering their rotation.

Short Season A: Tri-City 7, Lowell 0 - Chris Salamida won his eighth straight start with six scoreless innings. He is now 9-1 on the season with a 0.74 ERA in 12 starts.

Rookie: Greeneville 3, Kingsport 2 - The Astros capped an undefeated night for the organization.

Zobrist/Talbot Watch: Zobrist went 1-3 with a walk against the Orioles. Great night for the Huffster: 0-5 with a GIDP and seven LOB.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Express Clinch Divisional Title, Still Possess Zero Quality Position Players

AAA: Round Rock 4, Albuquerque 3 - After blowing a two-run lead in the top of the ninth, the Express clinched a postseason berth when Brian Gordon scored on an error. Very nice start from Phillip Barzilla (6 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 8 K), and C Hector Gimenez had three hits.

AA: Frisco 11, Corpus Christi 2 - The Rough Riders slugged four homers in a rout of the Hooks. Josh Miller was the generous pitcher for Corpus. Marc Saccamanno continued his hot streak with a 2-4 night. In August, Marc has a .300 avg, .378 obp and .663 slg, and for the season, he is hitting .297 with a .622 slg with RISP.

High A: Salem 3, Potomac 0 - The Avalanche won its ninth straight game behind the brilliant pitching of Tip Fairchild (7 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 5 K).

Low A: Lexington 8, Lake County 4 - Eli Iorg stole two more bases and Josh Flores hit his 11th home run. It will be interesting to see where Koby Clemens winds up next season. His numbers do not indicate that he is ready for the move to High-A ball yet (21 errors, .658 ops).

Short Season A: Lowell 8, Tri-City 2 - The Valley Cats' winning streak was snapped at seven games. Jordan Parraz was 2-4 with a pair of RBI.

Rookie: Pulaski 5, Greeneville 4 - SS Ronnie Ramirez was 3-5, pushing his average to .312 on the season. Polin Trinidad fired a complete game ten-hitter in the loss.

Zobrist/Talbot Watch: Ben Zobrist was 1-3 with his fourth double of the season. Aubrey Huff rode the pine (again) for the Astros, as Phil Garner continues his quest to find the most illogical lineup in the history of baseball.

Diary of a Weekend in Corpus, Part II

If you haven't already, I recommend you read my earlier post entitled "Diary of a Weekend in Corpus, Part I." This entry will serve as the summary for the intrepid group's activities for the remainder of that hallowed weekend:

1. After waking up bright and early at 11 a.m. on Saturday, we decided a trip to the beach was in order. The Hooks didn't play until 7:05 p.m., so we had some time to kill (read: drink). First, we set out for the now-cliched Whataburger by the Bay. Upon ordering and taking a table, Original began complaining about the unfriendly behavior of a few of the local females he had met the night before. Said complaints were rather profane, setting off the ire of a bitter middle-aged man at the adjoining table.

Bitter Middle-Aged Man: "Hey guys, I have a young lady here. Watch your language."
Original: "Oh, sorry about that, sir. I'll watch my filthy mouth."
Tim (thinking): "Why didn't he just tell him to shut the %$& up and to eat his %^&ing burger? That Original sure is a Southern Dandy."

2. So we finish our meals (for the record, Scott had another seven (7) hot apple pies and spent the majority of the time gushing about what a shrewd consumer he is) and head outside. We are accosted by the strange homeless dude in the maroon shirt (we actually spotted him inside the restaurant earlier), who repeatedly asks each of us for $0.50 so he can get something to eat at Whataburger. Original, benevolent heart that he is, responds by asking said gentleman if he has any shirts that aren't maroon. Maybe it was the Whatachicken talking, but I thought this was hilarious. Yes, I know that's not very Christ-like of me. I gave the guy some change in an attempt to right the cosmic scales.

3. We stopped at a local convenience store to purchase beer for our trip to the beach. Before we could get inside, another local derelict began ranting at all of us about the problems in the world. Apparently, there are a lot of problems, and much of them involve gibberish. Someone explained that our only real problem was deciding which beer to buy. After purchasing said beer, Diddy gave the insane derelict some change with one condition: "Don't use this to buy any crack now, you hear?"

4. Original felt pretty confident that the directions he got from a complete stranger with no map about how to get to Padre Island were rock solid, so we proceeded to set out without any further information. About thirty minutes later, we dead-ended at a Coast Guard base far away from Padre Island. After getting our bearings by the formation of the clouds and the whip of the winds, we eventually got to Padre Island and found a suitable beach. Now, this isn't South Padre Island, with all the crazy kids, narcotics, and tomfoolery. We would never hang out there. We're too old to listen to loud music, play frisbee, or whatever the devil it is the kids are doing nowadays. The beach we stopped at is on the northern part of the island; I was really impressed with how clean it was. As a Houstonian, I was expecting something more in the vein of Galveston's littered crapfest; this beach was worthy of a postcard.

Upon deployment, we immediately began doing damage to the beer; at this point, we really only had about an hour and a half before we had to head back to get cleaned up for the game. I don't remember anything momentous happening at the beach. That may have been the beer, or it may have been my steadfast refusal to leave the ocean the entire time we were there. The water was amazing, the sun was out, and we were drinking. Life was fantastic. Scott later asserted that he suffered third-degree burns from his well-researched decision not to wear sunblock, but the beach time was still an unadulterated success in the rest of our respective books.

5. After heading back to the hotel to clean up, we headed over to Whataburger Field early. Why, you ask? Because they were giving away free Hooks camoflauge hats, that's why! Now nattily attired, we took the advice of one gentleman who told us the brand new Brewster Street Bar & Grill (right next to the field, opened about a month before) featured tremendously cheap beer. We had been told to check this place out before, so we heeded his advice. To say that I'm glad we did would be an understatement. This place was simply unbelievable. I've spent some time in bars in my life, and I've eaten my fair share of mediocre bar food. Brewster Street, however, had the best food I've ever had at a bar in my entire life. Words cannot describe how good it was. The menu features the Brooks Kieshnick burger, which is a tortilla burger named after the former Longhorn great and Corpus native. Scott once again asserted that he would pursue nuptials with the Kieshnick if it wasn't frowned upon by society. I'm pretty sure he was talking about the tortilla burger and not the man (besides, Ben Zobrist would be crushed to know Scott was cheating on him). The beer was cheap and cold as well. Frankly, we could have stayed there for the rest of the night. It made Whataburger by the Bay look like amateur hour. I think a big part of the reason we're all so geeked to go back is just to eat again at Brewster Street. Lord help my waistline if the good folks there ever decide to bring the concept to Houston.

6. We then headed back to Whataburger Field for the game. Our seats were on the fourth row down the right field line; yet another great view. We had to deal with the sun in our eyes for the first few innings, but thankfully I was equipped with some sweet shades I had purchased earlier at the Bayfront Plaza. Diddy called them "J-Lo sunglasses," but that guy wouldn't know Cool if it chained him to a radiator and beat him with a stick. We settled in to watch Troy Patton make his home debut for the Hooks. Needless to say, he did not disappoint. The kid can deal; he pitched six strong innings and struck out seven (the bullpen then came on and recorded the three additional strikeouts necessary to ensure all in attendance got a free taco; unfortunately, we failed to take advantage of this). If Patton's not on the big club in 2008, T-Poo should be hung in effigy (assuming he hasn't been by then, anyway). Oh, and Hunter Pence went yard too. No way the 'Stros could have used him this year. Good move, Purpura. The Hooks won, thus leaving H-Town Sports undefeated at Whataburger Field.

7. As you might expect, several gems and quips were uttered throughout the game to the delight of our surrounding fans. A brief recap:

a. Tim: "Dude, why don't people ever wear batting helmets out to games? They're just as cool as hats; in fact, I think they're even cooler. If I had a batting helmet, I'd wear it. Man, I'd even wear it out to the bars tonight."
Original: "Done and done."
[Original returns with a newly purchased Hooks replica batting helmet...]
Original: "I asked for an adult helmet, but it turns out they don't make 'em for adults. Big surprise. You get the kiddie helmet, Junior."
Tim (donning cheap, plastic helmet): "Sweet. How do I look?"
Diddy: "Like a complete tool. Good job, idiot."

b. Woman Sitting Next to Diddy: "You guys are so funny."
Diddy: "Yeah, we're drunk alright."
Woman: "Where are you guys from?"
Diddy: "Houston."
Woman: "Oh, I love Minute Maid Park. And what's that place across the street? The BUS? I love that place."
Diddy (slurring): "The BUS is for suckers. The beer is way cheaper and bigger at the Balcony next door. Only morons go to the BUS."
Woman: "Oh, okay. I'll try the Balcony next time I'm in Houston."
Diddy: "You'd better."

As Scott is about to become a daddy, a discussion of proper child-rearing techniques naturally arose...

c. Scott: "I don't think my life will change all that much when the baby comes."
AFKAF: "Yeah, right. Having to be responsible for another life won't affect your social life at all."
Scott: "No, seriously. People said the same thing when I got married, and that hasn't changed anything."
Diddy: "That's because people like your wife. We probably won't like your infant unless it drinks."
Tim: "Yeah...and you're going to have to take care of it. Cribs and stuffed animals will take the place of big screen TVs and kegerators. Speaking of, why do people even buy cribs? I'd just keep my kid on the floor so it wouldn't fall off anything."
Scott: "Uhhhh...."
Tim: "Seriously, dude--if you ever want to leave the kid with me so you and E.T. can have a nice night out on the town, I'd be glad to help out. If it starts crying, I'll just wrap it in plastic and hug it until it stops."
Elderly Woman Behind Me (horrified): "Young man, I hope you never have children."
Tim: "You sound just like my mom."

8. After we bid adieu to Whataburger Field, we headed out to the bars. Again, not really sure which ones we hit. At one such establishment, Original started throwing ice cubes at my helmet. Yes, I was wearing my batting helmet out to the bars. I'm a man of my word. I warned him that continued pelting of ice cubes would result in an old-fashioned slap to the face. Original continued, taunting me to slap his cheek. Unfortunately, the bar was crowded; I didn't have room to get the necessary crow-hop I needed to make it count. Original apparently thought this meant he was safe. Not so fast, my friends. Ever the innovator, I repositioned myself and backhanded the taste out of his mouth. Before I could properly celebrate, AFKAF delivered a closed-fist blow to my cranium by pounding on my batting helmet. Funny thing about those replica helmets--they don't cushion any blows. In fact, the small, jagged pieces of plastic inside the helmet actually enhance the pain. My head ached for the rest of the night. Fortunately, I don't remember much else aside from hitting Whataburger by the Bay for the third time in two days (second time that day) and passing out in my clothes.

9. We awoke the next morning with the taste of victory and hot apple pies in our collective mouths. As we set off for the airport, we reflected on the weekend's events and giggled like school girls. Oh, and we pledged to do it all again next summer. I mean, we owe it to the Hooks. Obviously, we're good luck.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Garner Has Officially Lost It

Check out the lineup for tonight's tilt with the Bucs.

Taveras - CF
Burke - LF
Berkman - 1B
Ensberg - 3B
Scott - RF
Biggio - 2B
House - C
Everett - SS
Wandy - P

Now I understand that Pat Maholm is a fairly talented young lefty and that righties (1.77 WHIP) are having much more success than lefties (1.33 WHIP) against him. But THIS is a little ridiculous. Hey Scrap, why is Scott in the lineup instead of Lane, if you want to go righty crazy?

By the way, Mike Lamb is 2-3 against Maholm this season, even though he hits left-handed. I wonder what "professional hitter" Aubrey Huff thinks about being benched against such lefties as Chris Michalak and Pat Maholm. FYI - the Astros bottom six hitters have the following batting averages entering play tonight: .231, .400, .257, .000, .240, .097.

Prediction: Pirates 10, Astros 4.

Talbot Pitches Great Again

AAA: Round Rock 8, Albuquerque 3 - Jared Gothreaux pitched just well enough to earn his seventh win of the season. Brooks Conrad was the star of the game with a 3-4 night that included two home runs, two runs scored and four RBI.

AA: Corpus Christi 9, Frisco 3 - The Hooks crept within 1/2 game of Midland in the second-half divisional race. Juan Guiterrez continues a strong comeback from arm troubles, while Carlos Hernandez better have his resume ready. He is not long for the mound, unless it is tossing underhanded for "It's Just a Hug". Marc Saccamanno homered again, but Josh Bonifay was the real hero with a 4-4 night that included a pair of doubles and his 19th home run.

High A: Salem 11, Potomac 2 - The Avalanche moved closer to wrapping up the second-half divisional title with a rout of the Nationals. Felipe Paulino del Guidice continued his late season resurgence with six very good innings, and bullpen stalwart Jeffrey Wigdahl threw two more shutout innings. Drew Sutton was 2-4 with a walk and three runs scored, and Frankie Caraballo added his 13th home run.

Low A: Hickory 5, Lexington 3 - Another ugly night at the park for the Legends. Koby Clemens made his 20th error of the season at 3rd base. Offense has been a struggle as well for the Houston native (.234 avg, .315 obp, .354 slg).

Short Season A: Tri-City 3, Vermont 0 - The Valley Cats won their seventh straight game, with Douglas Arguello taking his turn to shine (7 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 6 K). Jordan Parraz was 2-3 with a double and a run scored. His bat combined with the Valley Cats' stellar starting pitching has proven to be a very successful combination.

Rookie: Greeneville 8, Pulaski 7 - 1B Cirilo Cruz hit a go-ahead three-run homer in the ninth inning to rally the Astros past the Blue Jays.

Zobrist/Talbot Watch: Another sensational start from Mitch Talbot, who got a no-decision for his effort: 8 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 5 K. Since the trade, he is 2-3 (he's no Wandy) with a 2.22 ERA in eight starts, allowing only 40 hits in 52.2 innings while walking 16 and striking out 51. In over 140 innings of work between the Hooks and the Biscuits this year, Mitch has allowed only six home runs. Ben Zobrist was 1-4 for the Rays, and Aubrey Huff was 1-1 with a pinch-hit, two-run single.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Hooks Rally Late to Beat Frisco

AAA: Memphis 4, Round Rock 3 - Anthony Reyes, recently demoted from the Cardinals' rotation, clamped down on the Express offense last night. Another quality start from Taylor Buchholz (6 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 4 K). One wonders if he would be the next to be recycled into the Astros' rotation after either Hirsh or Wandy are removed. SS Jesse Garcia hit a three-run homer in the ninth inning to get the Express close.

I think Hirsh should get one more start, at least. Obviously he is not as bad as he pitched last night, and he has nothing to prove in AAA. A lot could be learned about him by watching how he responds to last night's beatdown. Chris Sampson, by the way, got a welcome call-up to the big club, replacing Fernando Nieve, who was placed on the 15 day DL.

AA: Corpus Christi 6, Frisco 5 (12) - The Hooks' bullpen was incredible. Four pitchers combined to throw 8 1/3 innings of three-hit, shutout baseball, giving the offense time to climb back from a 5-1 deficit and win in extra innings. Hunter Pence was 2-4 with two walks and scored three times, and Big Walter socked a two-run homer. For the second time this year, pitching coach Joe Slusarski apparently fired up the troops by getting tossed for demonstrably protesting balls and strikes.

High A: Salem 6, Potomac 4 - Ex-USC QB Billy Hart was 2-3 with his fifth HR.

Low A: Lake County 5, Lexington 2 - Nothing worthy of mention.

Short Season A: Tri-City 6, Vermont 1 - The Valley Cats won their sixth straight game. Grand slam from LF Greg van Ostrand and three hits from 2B Greg Buchanan. Another nice start from David Qualben. The Valley Cats rotation has been very good this summer.

Rookie: Greeneville 3, Pulaski 2 - Dramatic late inning rally, capped off by a 10th inning HR from 3B Brandon Caipen, wins it for the Astros. Another nice start from Sergio Severino.

Zobrist/Talbot Watch: Ben Zobrist was 1-2 with a walk and the go-ahead sac fly in the Rays win over Texas. Aubrey Huff was 0-4 with four LOB in the aforementioned debacle for the Astros in Cincy. Mitch Talbot will pitch tomorrow against Jacksonville.

Bengals 14, Astros 0

Forgive the obvious title of the post, but it's rare you get to mix in a football analogy in a baseball analysis. Given that a statistic on "Time of Possession" actually flashed across the screen last night, however, I think the comparison is apt.

Well, Astros fans, it's over. Scott will be running the appropriate toe tag image later today. Not only did the boys lose, they lost in legendary fashion. What can even be said about last night's game? Thanks for laying an egg the size of the Astrodome, Jason Hirsh. You made me question the existence of the Almighty last night. And after the profuse praise I lavished on D-Bork, he rewarded my admiration by doing his best to kill me. Thanks for nothing. Once again, the Astros didn't hit with guys on base. Hell, they didn't hit at all. Kyle Lohse looked like Cy Freaking Young. Kyle Lohse, the guy who had been demoted to Minnesota's bullpen earlier this season. Excellent.

Roy O takes the mound this afternoon in an attempt to avoid the sweep, but it doesn't really matter anymore. The 2006 Astros season is over. Ever the optimist, I would like to thank the 'Stros for making baseball irrelevant approximately one week before football season starts. This clears up my calendar considerably. Now I can focus my full attention on inappropriate and uncomfortable man-love for Mack & Co. and The Kubiak Corporation.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Albers, Sampson Help Express Chase Postseason Dreams

AAA: Round Rock 3, Memphis 2 - While Wandy Rodriguez, Chad Qualls and Brad Lidge continue to flounder, Matt Albers and Chris Sampson combined to allow only six hits and two runs while striking out seven (all K's to Albers). Sampson had one bad relief outing against Kansas City (six hits and three runs in two innings) and three great performances (13.1 IP, 10 H, 3 R, 2 BB, 4 K) before being returned to rot in Round Rock, while Albers gave a great effort in long relief against the Reds and struggled in his one chance to start at San Diego before heading to Dell Diamond for the AAA stretch drive. Eric Bruntlett went 2-5 to elevate his average into Ausmus territory (.228).

AA: The Hooks had their last night off this regular season. Brian McTaggart mentions Marc Saccamanno, whose HR ratio is almost equal to Hunter Pence this season, in his minor-league notebook.

High A: The Hooks also had their final off day of the regular season.

Low A: Lexington 3, Lake County 2 - Another nice outing for Brian Bogusevic (6 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 3 K).

Short Season A: Tri-City 2, Lowell 0 - Casey Hudspeth followed Chris Salamida's lead from Sunday, combining with Bud Norris on a shutout (with 12 K's).

Rookie: Greenville had their last night off before their season wraps up on August 30.

Zobrist/Talbot Watch: Ben Zobrist was 0-5, reaching on a pair of fielding errors, to snap his three game hitting streak. Aubrey Huff had a pair of solo home runs in three at-bats before being removed in the seventh inning for a defensive replacement (Morgan Ensberg). Huff has seven HR in 120 ABs with the Astros, and it can safely be said that his numbers have been right around his career norms since coming over from the AL (.267 avg, .353 obp, .508 slg, .861 ops). The question in my mind was not whether or not Huff was a good hitter - he is - but whether or not the fit was right and the price made sense. Mike Lamb was providing nearly identical offensive output and has now been relegated to platoon duty (as has Huff), while the same old, same old problems continue to haunt the team.

This Is It

After last night's debacle (which I'm still not ready to talk about), the Astros' season comes down to tonight's game. Win, and their meager chance for a playoff spot remains alive. Lose, and they're seven (7) games out of the wild card with a little over a month left in the season. Barring some unexpected miracle, that'd be the end. The faint heartbeat that is the 2006 Houston Astros would cease to beat if they lose tonight.

While I'd rather have Clemens, Oswalt, or Pettitte on the mound for such a meaningful game, at least we're not dealing with Wandy tonight. Jason Hirsh, a city turns its lonely eyes to you. Woo woo woo.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Wednesday's Start; Garner Continues to Amaze

The Astros still list their starter for Wednesday as TBA. If Oswalt is ready to go, then he would get the start against TBA for the Reds. Alternatives for the Astros? Matt Albers is scheduled to pitch tonight, Taylor Buchholz on Tuesday and Jared Gothreaux on Wednesday. Seems like Dave Borkowski would get the start, most likely, assuming he is not used early tonight or tomorrow in relief of Andy Pettitte or Jason Hirsh.

Then there's this peach from Phil Garner:

Despite Wandy Rodriguez's ineffective start Saturday, Garner tentatively plans to give the left-hander another start.

Apparently, past history carries some weight.

"Even with Wandy's loss yesterday, he's still 9-7," Garner said. "He's won 19 games over two years."
Further proof that intelligence is apparently not a required characteristic to become a World Series manager.

House Promoted, Munson Burned; Farmhands Fire Four Shutouts

AAA: Round Rock 5, Memphis 0 - Zeke Astacio had his second straight nice start (7 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 6 K). Brooks Conrad, Cody Ransom and Brian Gordon each homered.

In an interesting roster move, the Astros called up JR House from Round Rock and designated Eric Munson for assignment. Munson has been admittedly bad, and that should not come as a surprise considering he has been bad his entire career prior to this season. But giving an oft-injured, historically bad defensive catcher the role as your only backup catcher at this point in the season, however, is a bit intriguing. Granted, House has been red-hot as of late (.429/.463/.679 at Round Rock in 84 ABs), but it is a rather small sample size, and his ability to hold up his end behind the plate defensively on the major league level is quite unclear. House was once a highly-touted prospect, but Tommy John surgery, reluctance by management to let him play catcher in Triple-A and a full year out of baseball in 2005 are not very positive indicators that this guy is ready to be playing on a regular basis in a major-league pennant race. This move would make a lot of sense if House was being promoted as a third catcher/powerful bat off the bench, something the Astros need desperately, but it seems like a shaky move, at best, as executed.

AA: Wichita 4, Corpus Christi 3 - Another nice start for Troy Patton (7 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 2 BB, 7 K), and Hunter Pence walked twice and hit his 28th home run. C Brian Peterson also had three hits.
Patton, still just 20 years old, has now made 25 starts between Salem and Corpus Christi and pitched over 130 innings. He threw just 28 innings after being drafted in 2004 and about 120 between Lexington and Salem in 2005. The Astros have made no noise about slowing him down, and with the Hooks headed for the playoffs, fans in Corpus would certainly be somewhat upset if that was done. There is certainly a delicate balance between the Astros' interest in strengthening his arm in preparation for the 200+ innings you hope he will throw for the Astros in 2008 and the concern his current health and well-being as a result of increasing his workload so much over such a short period of time at such a young age. All things considered, I would have zero issues whatsoever if the Astros decided to limit Patton's pitching from this point on; see what Cincinnati is considering doing with its prized pitching prospect, Homer Bailey.

High A: Salem 5, Winston-Salem 0 - Jimmy Barthmaier seems poised to spend next summer as the anchor of the rotation in Corpus Christi (7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 6 K). His ERA is now 3.89 on the season, which has been lowered significantly as of late.

Baseball America noticed JB's outing last night, referencing it in their Daily Dish. They did more math than I did: Barthmaier has won five straight starts and is 4-0 with a .148 ERA in August.

Low A: Lexington 3, Lake County 0 - And replacing Barthmaier in Virginia will be Brad James (pictured above), who has been absolutely amazing for the Legends. Last night: 7 IP, 7 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 3 K. James is now 4-2 with a 1.20 ERA in 15 appearances (12 starts), allowing only two home runs in 82.1 IP. Last night James got 15 ground outs, three fly outs and three whiffs.

Short Season A: Tri-City 4, Lowell 0 - And replacing Brad James in Lexington will be Chris Salamida (among others), who threw five shutout innings to earn the win last night for the Valley Cats. Chris is now 8-1 with a 0.82 ERA in 11 starts for the Valley Cats. It will be interesting to see if he gets a shot down the stretch for the Legends, who are staggering into the playoffs.

Rookie: Greenville 5, Pulaski 3 - Great relief work from Reid Kelley (4 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 5 K).

Zobrist/Talbot Watch: Ben Zobrist was 1-5 with an RBI in the Rays' loss to the Tribe. Surprisingly, Zobrist has walked only twice in 66 ABs with the Rays so far. He has exhibited good plate discipline, however, in the at-bats that I've witnessed, and he has hit in three straight games since being moved up to the two-spot in the batting order, between Rocco Baldelli and Carl Crawford. Aubrey Huff continues to be relegated to platoon duty, as he sat yesterday against Brewers' lefty Doug Davis.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Thoughts on the Texans

1. David Carr looked bad. I continue to feel that the coaching staff's continued emphasis on Carr's mobility and determination to structure the offense around his ability to 'throw on the run' is more the result of their recognition of Carr's inability to read defenses and make good decisions in the pocket rather than their love of his abilities outside the pocket. Carr, who admitted to reporters in postgame interviews that he needed to get rid of the ball quicker, held onto the ball repeatedly in the pocket last night, failing to make a play downfield. Until I see Carr exhibit the ability to step up in the pocket and hit a receiver in-stride downfield, I will refuse to believe that he is a capable NFL quarterback.

2. Sage Rosenfels, on the other hand, looked more than capable of leading a team.
He is the anti-Carr, exhibiting poise in the pocket and precise passing skills. Should Carr struggle early, I would hope that the coaching staff would not hesitate long to give Rosenfels the reigns. This offense now has the weapons to succeed, so I hope that in the event Carr continues to struggle, Bob McNair's love affair with David Carr would subside at least to the point that Rosenfels would be given a shot to lead the first-team offense.

3. Vernand Morency was awesome.
He looked like a man on a mission last night. If he can consistently run as hard and decisively as he did last night, then he will be the Texans #1 RB whether or not Domanick Davis is healthy. In addition to running the ball well, he also did a nice job in pass protection, something that cannot be said for rookie RB Walli Lundy, who missed a blitz pickup, allowing the Rams' only sack, and took a bad holding penalty.

4. Mario Williams showed flashes of why he was taken #1 overall.
He stood out on defense, taking up defenders, batting down a pass and breaking into the backfield to stuff a running play before it could even get started. As his confidence continues to grow, I expect him to begin dominating on a regular basis.

5. Phillip Buchanon looked great as a punt returner, but his inconsistency in coverage will prevent him from ever living up to his potential.
For every nice play he made, he got burned on a deep ball and made a pass intereference penalty.

6. Benjie Joppru made a very nice downfield catch.
It is amazing that the tight end position has gone from a talent abyss to a position where the Texans are overloaded with quality players.

7. Jason Babin had a nice game off the end.
He looks much more comfortable than he has in years past, getting into the backfield rather routinely. I look for him to establish himself as a rock-solid starter this season.

Talbot Continues to Excel in Montgomery

AAA: Memphis 6, Round Rock 3 - The Express still holds an eight game lead over Oklahoma. Home runs from Brian Gordon and Charlton Jimerson. Phillip Barzilla struggled in the start.

AA: Wichita 5, Corpus Christi 3 - The Hooks are 1.5 games out of first in the second half divisional race. Zack Greinke was the winner for Wichita. Chance Douglass struggled with his control in five innings, walking five batters. Tike Redman was 2-4 with two RBI, and Jorge Cortes homered.

High A: Salem 8, Winston-Salem 5 - Great relief effort from Jeffrey Wigdahl, who provided four no-hit innings of relief, as the Avalanche opened up a four game lead over Kinston. The top three in the order for Salem provided solid again, with Drew Sutton, Nathan Sellers and Beau Torbert combined to produce nine hits, including six doubles, two walks, four runs scored and four RBI.

Low A: Lake County 4, Lexington 2 - A rare two-hit night for Koby Clemens and Eli Iorg's 15th home run were the only highlights for the Legends, who continue to flounder in the second half.

Short Season A: Tri-City 4, Hudson Valley 3 - The Valley Cats have a 2.5 game lead in their divisional race. Bryan Hallberg ran his record to 4-1 with another quality start, and CF Orlando Rosales, recently called up from Greenville, was 2-2 with a home run.

Rookie: Greenville 1, Pulaski 0 - Four Astros combined on a six-hit shutout.

Zobrist/Talbot Watch: Ben Zobrist was 1-5 for the Rays in their loss to Cleveland. Aubrey Huff was splendid, going 0-4 with three K's and a GIDP. Saturday night (accidentally missed by yours truly), Mitch Talbot had his latest outstanding start for the Biscuits (5.2 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 11 K), getting a no-decision for his effort.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Wandy? Wandy??? NOOOOO!!!!

Brandon Backe, who had been quite good in his last couple of starts since his return from the DL, was sent back to the disabled list after last night's start with a sore right elbow - the same sore elbow, apparently, which kept him on the DL for three months earlier this season. Replacing Backe on the 25-man roster and starting tonight against Milwaukee is Wandy Freaking Rodriguez. Yes, the same Wandy who has a 6.92 ERA after five starts in Triple-A.
Dave Borkowski, who pitched six very good innings of relief earlier in the week, was apparently supplanted by Wandy, who has proven to be a bad starting pitcher. Yet another move from Astros' management that makes no sense whatsoever. Why would you expect anything else? If Oswalt missing a start, Backe going back to the DL and Wandy back in the rotation. Kiss the playoffs goodbye, Houston fans.

Time to Turn Out the Lights on Lidge

I tried for months to ignore Brad Lidge's troubles, wishing that he would somehow just right the ship and return to his dominant old self, mostly because I am biased. I really like the guy. He is humble, intelligent, entertaining and accountable for his own actions, all of which are rare qualities among modern athletes. But now even I will admit that it is time to call a spade a spade. Brad Lidge is bad, and he is not getting any better.
No longer is it a question of whether or not Lidge should be the Astros' closer. Even ever-loyal Scrap Iron was finally forced to publicly admit that Lidge had lost his closer job. However, that move alone is not enough of a demotion. Lidge has been scored upon in 14 of his 31 appearances since June 1. Control is an issue, but not walks (10 BB, 44 K in that same timeframe). He is simply getting hit - hard. Lidge has allowed 30 hits in 29 1/3 IP, including five home runs. Since blowing a save against the Dodgers on April 24, Lidge's ERA has never been below 4.67 (currently 5.56). His WHIP is 1.49 for the season. Opponents are batting .254 against him (up from .223 in 2005 and .174 in 2004, and they are slugging a quite astonishing .431 (up from .323 in 2005 and .254 in 2004).

Brad Lidge is not just not "Lights Out" anymore; he's a bad pitcher, and he has been virtually the entire season. Maybe he'll figure it out in the offseason or in spring training next year. Maybe the Astros will feel forced to deal him during the winter. Maybe Jim Hickey will earn a paycheck for the first time in his career and help Lidge correct his painful flaws. Until then, however, Phil Garner must learn that Lidge simply cannot be used in close games. Period. Tie games, leading or trailing by a run or two - these games are not save situations, necessarily, but they are important situations with a very low margin for error. Fake an injury and put him on the DL. Give him some time sort things out, but forget staring at the name on the back of his jersey and listening to his theme music blast from the loudspeakers and assuming that he deserves a back-of-the-bullpen slot by default is not just stubborn; it's stupid. Unless the Astros are ahead by five or more runs or behind by five or more runs, Brad Lidge should gather dust in the bullpen. It is sad, but it is true. The Astros' playoff hopes are dire enough. Each time Lidge is run out in a close game, that faint flame begins to fade a little bit more.

Bruntlett goes Bonkers

AAA: Round Rock 7, Iowa 4 - Jared Gothreaux had a decent start (6 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 6 K), and JR House went 3-4 and drove in three runs. Also worth a mention, one of my favorite scourges, Eric Bruntlett, reached base five times (three walks, two singles) and scored three times.

AA: Corpus Christi 14, Wichita 4 - Marc Saccamanno hit a grand slam, and Josh Bonifay went 3-4 with a home run, as the corner infielders led the Hooks for the second straight game. Josh Anderson continues to excel in the leadoff spot (.362 OBP, 39 SB), but could stand to improve his eye (24 BB, 64 K).

High A: Salem 4, Winston-Salem 3 - Fine start from Tip Fairchild (7 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 4 K), and Frankie Caraballo and Ole Sheldon each had two hits.

Low A: Greensboro 9, Lexington 3 - Eli Iorg was 2-4 with his 14th home run.

Short Season A: Tri-City 7, Hudson Valley 1 - Max Sapp and Jordan Parraz each had two hits, and Douglas Arguello (6 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 7 K).

Rookie: Pulaski 4, Greenville 3 - Greenville's bullpen blew a late two-run lead. No word if Lights Out Lidge was seen in the Tennessee mountain region. Great start from Polin Trinidad (7 IP, 4 H , 1 R, 1 BB, 2 K).

Zobrist/Talbot Watch: Ben Zobrist was moved up to the two-spot in the order and responded with a 1-4 night with a walk, run scored and RBI. Aubrey Huff was 1-4 with an RBI double, a K and three LOB.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Desperate Times Call For Desperate Measures

This is the only justification I can see for the Cards signing Preston Wilson. You'd think LaRussa & Co. would know better after having seen P-Dub first hand several times this season. If the Cards are a drowning man, God just threw them a cinderblock.

***I realize I opined in this space at the outset of this season that Purpura's signing of Wilson would be the best free agent acquisition in all of MLB. I hereby declare that I should not be allowed to opine any more on matters relating to the positives of Preston Wilson.***

Carlos Crushed, Buchholz Better

AAA: Round Rock 6, Iowa 1 - Finally a nice start from Taylor Buchholz (7 IP, 8 H, 1 R, 6 K). The Express roughed up rehabbing Cubs' starter Sean Marshall, led by JR House (2-3 with a HR) and in spite of Eric Bruntlett, who was responded to his move to the leadoff spot with a tidy 0-4. Mike Gallo fired a scoreless ninth (5.40 ERA).

AA: Corpus Christi 6, Tulsa 5 - The Hooks held off the Drillers, thanks in large part to home runs from Hunter Pence (27) and Marc Saccamanno (14). Triumphant return to the mound for Juan Guiterrez (3 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 4 K), and disturbingly awful night for poor Carlos Hernandez (0.1 IP, 2 H, 3 R, 4 BB). We may not be following Carlos' outings much longer. He certainly seems to have hit rock bottom, which really is too bad. He had such promise early in his Astros career.

High A: Salem 4, Kinston 1 - The Avalanche took three of four from Kinston in a key series. Felipe Paulino del Guidice was the hero last night (7 IP, 2 H, 0R, 2 BB, 7 K). Beau Torbert, Ole Sheldon and Erwin Alcantara each had two hits.

Low A: Lexington 8, Greensboro 1 - The suddenly hot Legends won their third straight game. Mitch Einerston hit a grand slam, and Josh Flores added a two-run bomb. Fine start for Sean Walker (7 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 8 K).

Short Season A: Tri-City 8, Hudson Valley 3 - All-Star 1B Eric Taylor was 3-5 with two doubles and a home run, and All-Star pitcher David Qualben earned his fourth win of the season (6 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 4 K).

Rookie: Greeneville 5, Johnson City 4 - The Astros rallied for four in the ninth to shock the Cardinals. Reinaldo Ramirez was the hero, hitting a bases-loaded triple in the ninth to win it.

Zobrist/Talbot Watch: Ben Zobrist was slated to get a night off, but when BJ Upton left in the third inning with a shoulder injury, he was plugged into the game and went 0-3. After having his six game hitting streak snapped on Sunday, Ben has been in a 1-14 slide. Aubrey Huff was 1-3 with a two-run homer, his fifth as an Astro. Mitch Talbot pitches next on Saturday against the Chattanooga Lookouts.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Comets Playoff Preview

This is H-Town Sports, not H-Town Dude Sports, so we owe it to Comets fans to craft an appropriate preview. So without further ado:

Your Houston Comets will win it all. Thanks for reading.

What's that? What do you mean, what am I basing it on? My gut, that's what. I'm the Phil Garner of the WNBA.

Check Back Later

Tim will be back later with an in-depth preview of the Comets postseason.

Sheets Returns Bearing Two Healthy Pecs

Lifetime numbers v. Big Ben, whose last start at Atlanta on 8/12 lasted seven innings, allowing six hits and five runs (only two runs through the first six innings) while striking out eight, earning the win (courtesy of Yahoo):

Ausmus 7-30
Berkman 14-42, 5 2B, 3 HR, 14 K
Biggio 11-48, 2 2B, 4 HR, 10 K
Ensberg 1-16, 1 HR, 6 K
Everett 9-25, 1 2B, 1 HR
Lamb 6-16, 1 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 4K
Lane 5-16, 4 2B, 3 K
Palmeiro 3-19
Taveras 3-7

Scrap's Lineup Prediction:
Taveras CF
Biggio 2B
Lamb 1B
Berkman RF
Scott LF
Huff 3B
Everett SS
Ausmus C
Hirsh P

Scott's Lineup:
Taveras CF
Scott RF
Berkman 1B
Lamb LF
Huff 3B
Biggio 2B
Burke SS
Munson C
Hirsh P

The Answer to the Astros' Offensive Woes: Super Joe McEwing

AAA: Round Rock 6, Iowa 3 - Matt Albers had another nice start (7 IP 9 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 8 K), and Chris Sampson continues to throw well out of the pen (2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 K). Joe McEwing carried the offensive load, going 3-4 with a pair of home runs.

AA: Corpus Christi 7, Tulsa 6 (10) - The Hooks won a wild one at Whataburger Field (a/k/a Paradise). They scored a run in the ninth to tie the game and send it to extra innings, only to allow two runs in the tenth inning to fall back behind. Then with two outs in the ninth, Josh Bonifay launched a walkoff three-run bomb, his 17th of the season. Marc Saccamanno had a great night at the plate, going 3-5 with a home run and four RBI. Hunter Pence got a rest but did come off the bench to go 1-1 with a walk. Interesting occurence in this one: Jonny Ash was pulled from the game for "violating organizational policy". The violation? Sliding head-first into first base. Maybe Purpura could make "popping up with runners in scoring position" or "allowing game-tying home runs" such violations of organizational policy. Of course, the trouble would come in finding 25 suitable players to wear the jersey...

High A: Salem 9, Kinston 4 - Salem went ahead two games to one in this crucial four game set at Kinston thanks to a strong pitching performance by Rory Shortell (6 IP, 5 H , 1 ER, 3 BB, 2 K) and an 8-12 performance from the top three hitters in its lineup: Drew Sutton, Nathan Sellers and Beau Torbert. Drew Sutton led the way, going 2-3 with two walks and two home runs, giving him fourteen on the season.AL takes NY-Penn All-Star Game

Low A: Lexington 4, Greensboro 3 - The Legends scratched across a run in the ninth to shock the Grasshoppers. Brian Bogusevic had his best start as a pro (5 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 7 K).

Short Season A: The Valley Cats return from the All-Star Break tonight. The Valley Cats had seven representatives at the NYPL All-Star Game: Pitchers Chris Salamida, David Qualben, Victor Garate, RF Jordan Parraz, C Max Sapp, 1B Eric Taylor and 2B Greg Buchanan. Parraz scored the NL's only run of the game last night after a walk.

Rookie: Greenville 9, Bristol 2 - Another fantastic start from Sergio Severino (6 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 12 K). In eleven starts, Severino has pitched 56.1 innings, allowed only 46 hits and struck out 76 batters while posting a 3.20 ERA.

Zobrist/Talbot Watch: Great piece by Greg Rajan with the Zobrists, discussing his meteoric rise to the major leagues after being emancipated from the Astros organization. Zobrist went 1-4 last night and scored a run in the Rays 8-3 win versus Toronto. Aubrey Huff is probably thrilled with his new platoon role, especially fresh off a three-hit night on Tuesday. Huff struck out in a pinch-hit appearance against Bobby Howry in the 9th inning.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Notes Regarding Futility

- Guess who leads the Astros in at-bats with RISP and two outs: Adam Everett. In said situations, AE is hitting a crisp .228 with a .313 OBP. Lance Berkman leads the team with a .394 avg with RISP and two outs. The late Preston Wilson was second at .340. Who's next? Roy Oswalt (.333 - 4-12), Eric Bruntlett (.308) and Chris Burke (.276). Notables missing from the leaders: Aubrey Huff (.273), Craig Biggio (.244), Willy Taveras (.238), Mike Lamb (.205) and Morgan Ensberg (.205).

- Close and Late: Luke Scott (.600 OBP), Eric Bruntlett (.440), Chris Burke (.412) and Lance Berkman (.411). Lamb, Ensberg, Biggio, Lane, Huff, Taveras, Everett, Palmeiro and Ausmus ALL have OBPs of .315 or under in close and late situations. That's why I should have learned to turn off my TV from the eighth inning on. Rallies are impossible with these numbers. As a team, the Astros are hitting .225 with a .299 OBP and .343 SLG in close and late situations.

Never Pitched v. Established Winner = Astros Lose (The Sequel)

For the second straight night, the Astros are throwing a dominant veteran pitcher against a kid with virtually zero major-league experience. Astros' fans know that this does not generally add up to a victory for their hometown team. Cubs.com reports that LHP Ryan O'Malley will get the call. With the Cubs AAA team in Round Rock, there were several possibilities, including Wade Miller and Sean Marshall, both of whom are with the Iowa Cubs on rehab stints, but apparently O'Malley was selected to pitch.

O'Malley is 7-7 for Iowa with a 4.08 ERA in 19 starts and seven relief appearances. He was signed by the Cubs as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Memphis in 2002 and has had good success in the lower levels of the minor leagues, but has yet to really duplicate that success at AAA. He had been scheduled to square off against Round Rock's Matt Albers tonight at Dell Diamond. His last outing was a decent, but not spectacular outing against Mark Mulder on Friday night in which he pitched seven innings and picked up the victory.

Defense Lets Patton Down

AAA: Round Rock 8, Iowa 1 - While the big-league Astros cannot handle the meager Cubs, their AAA affiliate did so without much trouble. Zeke Astacio and Phillip Barzilla combined to allow only one run on four hits while striking out ten, and Joe McEwing and Jessie Garcia each had three hits and a home run

AA: Tulsa 5, Corpus Christi 3 - Troy Patton was a victim of poor team defense, as three Hooks errors led to two unearned runs. Patton's line: 5 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 2 K. Chad Reineke, recently moved to the pen from the rotation, pitched well in relief.

High A: Salem 8, Kinston 3 - Jimmy Barthamier pitched great (7 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 7 K) and Lou Santangelo and Billy Hart homered as the Avalanche stretched their divisional lead to two games over Kinston.

Low A: Lexington 4, Greensboro 3 - Another fine start for Brad James (6 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 3 K). Tommy Manzella, Eli Iorg and Mitch Einertson all had two hit nights.

Short Season A: It's the All-Star Break in the NYPL.

Rookie: Johnson City 5, Greenville 2 - No newsworthy items from this one.

Zobrist/Talbot Watch: Ben Zobrist grounded out twice, lined out and struck out in an 0-4 night against Roy Halladay. Aubrey Huff had a 3-5 night with a pair of RBI in the Astros' incredibly depressing loss to the Cubbies.

Fortune (or Brad Lidge) Craps On the Rocket Yet Again

Where do I even start? As most readers of this site know, the 'Stros lost yet another game last night. That in and of itself is nothing new; the team is, after all, five (5) games under .500. But losing in 18 innings? That's pretty damn special. And by "special," I mean "soul-crushing." My thoughts:

1. Just when it looks like the Astros are finally going to pick up Clemens for once, Brad Lidge does his best Mike Gallo impression. Clemens has been the victim of countless 1-0 or 2-1 losses; he actually gave up five runs last night, but the hometown team staged a furious rally in the bottom of the sixth to take a one run lead. Qualls did his job in the seventh. Wheels did his in the eighth. And then Lidge lights himself on fire like a Buddhist monk protesting religious oppression in the ninth. If you didn't see this coming, you haven't been watching the Astros this year.

2. Last night's self-immolation marked the official end of Lidge's tenure as closer for your Houston Astros. Today's Chronicle reports that Garner has officially yanked the job from The Artist Formerly Known As Lights Out Lidge after last night's game. Lidge should be eligible for a Section 8 at this point.

3. Chris Burke: 3-4 after entering the game late as a defensive replacement. Perhaps we should be seeing a bit more of him, huh? Phil? Scrap? Garner? Hello?

4. Morgan Ensberg: 0-4 with countless men LOB after entering the game as a defensive replacement in the tenth inning. I don't know who the guy with Ensberg's jersey is, but it's not the Mo we came to love last year. By the way, if Mo's stance gets any more open, he'll actually be facing the third baseman. At this point, not actually seeing the pitch could help his cause.

5. Berkman had a bad night. It happens.

6. Adam Everett...clutch? Yup. I'm going to get off his case for awhile.

7. Dave Borkowski is a stud. Five innings of one hit relief? Are you freaking kidding me? My first child shall be named D-Bork in his honor. Any women who support this idea should leave their phone numbers as a comment.

8. As tragic as last night's game was, the Astros are still only four out of the wild card. That's disgusting. I really, REALLY want to write the 'Stros off, but I just can't. It will, however, be interesting to see how they respond today.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

No Chance for Tulsa; Huff's Pee-Pee Hurts

AAA: Oklahoma 3, Round Rock 2 - The Express' lead dropped to 6.5 games after another loss to the RedHawks. Wandy Rodriguez was decent, allowing four hits, four walks and two runs over six innings. Octogenarian uber-prospect Alan Zinter was 2-4 with a home run, and white-hot Eric Bruntlett went 1-4 to skyrocket his batting average 17% from .107 to .125. Times are tough in Round Rock, to say the least. JR House was 0-2 and committed an error that led to the game-deciding run, and the Express had runners picked off at first (Mike Rodriguez), second (Hector Gimenez) and third base (Charlton Jimerson) to complete the Hat Trick of Baserunning Ineptitude.

AA: Corpus Christi 3, Tulsa 0 - Chance Douglass was studly, firing a two-hit shutout in just over two hours. Josh Anderson had another three-hit night for the Hooks. Douglass retired the side in order in eight out of nine innings, according to Greg Rajan.

High A: Kinston 12, Salem 11 - Salem rallied from a 6-1 deficit, but then blew a 10-7 lead by allowing five runs in the bottom of the eighth inning. The Indians crept within a single game of the Avalanche in the second half standings. Ole Sheldon was 4-5 with three RBI to lead a 15-hit Avalanche attack.

Low A: Lakewood 8, Lexington 2 - The Legends, who won the first-half divisional title, are now just one game out of the basement in the second half standings and 12 games below .500.

Short Season A: Mahoning Valley 6, Tri-City 5 - The Scrappers rallied for a run in the ninth and a run in the eleventh to defeat the Valley Cats. Tri-City leadoff man Andrew Smith was 0-5 with five strikeouts, apparently an attempt to honor ex-Astro Preston "Big Whiff" Wilson. No word as to whether or not Smith was wearing idiotic headgear.

Rookie: Johnson City 5, Greenville 0 - Nothing good here. The Astros were outhit 16 to 3.

Zobrist/Talbot Watch: The Rays were off last night. Aubrey Huff was 1-2 with a bloop single to left field and a walk, and he also took a 97 mph fastball in the ribs. Huff then proceeded to humiliate himself, the Astros organization, the sport of baseball, the city of Houston and the State of Texas by flopping around on the ground like a fish out of water and failing to impale Carlos Zambrano with his bat in retaliation for what was clearly an intentional beanball.

It is fair to note that the Huffster played in zero meaningful games for the Rays, so Memo to Huffster: when you are desperately fighting for life in the wildcard race and a pitcher who owns you (read: Carlos Zambrano) belts you with a ball in the ribs on purpose, it is your solemn vow as a man and as a teammate to take that man out. Instead, Huff made a laughingstock out of himself, as if his .587 OPS with RISP was not enough.

Monday, August 14, 2006

More Impotent Versatility Required, Garner Laments

Now you know why the Astros have sputtered over the past few weeks. They are clearly missing an intelligent, scrappy guy who fields all positions marginally and hits barely better than Adam Everett. Bruntlett has clearly been fatigued by the abundant playing time that he has received since being demoted to Round Rock, where he currently has three hits in 28 at-bats for an extraordinary .107 batting average. To be fair, his performance at AAA is quite possibly just a blip on the radar when compared to his stellar offensive work for the Astros in 2006 (.655 OPS, six extra-base hits in 92 ABs) and 2005 (.292 OBP in 109 ABs).

OK, that was still not fair. I'll be fair. For his career, he has a .380 OBP as a pinch hitter (.302 avg) and his numbers with RISP and two-outs are quite good (.306 avg, .583 slg in 36 at-bats). He belongs on the roster ahead of Orlando Palmeiro and...Orlando Palmeiro.

Guess Which Pre-Game Show I'll be Watching

Actually, the correct answer is likely neither Fox nor CBS. But in the event that I do decide that I need more hot air, sassy rhetoric and shallow analysis in my NFL pre-game ritual, I now know which channel will be the beneficiary of my clicking. Eat your heart out, Dickie Justice! The award for "Best In-Studio Hair" no longer will be a cinch for Howie Long.

[SI.com] The Big Puma

Great piece on The Big Puma by Gennaro Filice at SI.com. Check it out.

I've Officially Seen It All

Thanks to the Wall Street Journal's Daily Fix for this incredible news story. Apparently during one of yesterday's Little League regional championship games, Colchester (Vermont) led Portsmouth (NH) 9-7 as the game entered its sixth and final inning, with the losing team (Portsmouth) leading off the sixth trying to tie the game.

Normally, the winning home team would try to force three outs and end the game, advancing then to Williamsport to participate in the glorious Little League World Series. However, as Colchester took to the field, their manager realized that one of his players had not yet taken his mandatory turn at the plate, and if the game ended after the top of the sixth with his team winning, then the game would be over, his kid would not bat, and they would be eligibile for a forfeit loss for violating the rules of the game. What transpired, I'll leave to the guys at the Daily Fix to describe, and I can honestly say that I never in my wildest dreams envisioned such a bizarre scenario.

When you are done, consider whether Phil Garner's true calling may eventually be in the upper echelons of Little League, where he would be required to tinker and tweak with his lineup or else be in violation of the rules of the game.

The Early Bird Gets to Wring Out Justice

Tom Kirkendall beat me to the punch again, and as usual, he made his point succinctly and eloquently. I knew the moment I read Justice's column this morning that he was talking out both sides of his mouth, yet again. I have come to accept his role in Houston, more along the lines of a morning shock-jock columnist than a thoughtful reporter, but I still feel that it is important that he gets called to the mat when he puts his now-infamous hypocrisy on display, and Kirkendall nails him nicely (again) this morning.

Carrasco No-Hits Legends

AAA: Oklahoma 4, Round Rock 3 - The Express' lead dwindled to 7.5 games after yesterday's loss to the RedHawks. Mike Rodriguez and Charlton Jimerson each had two hits, and Mark McLemore had another solid three-inning outing. Eric Bruntlett now has three hits in twenty-eight at-bats since arriving at AAA.

AA: Wichita 8, Corpus Christi 6 - Josh Muecke's record dropped to 0-7 and his ERA rose to 8.59 after retiring only three batters. Josh Anderson had another great game, going 3-5 , stealing his 39th base and scoring twice. Jorge Cortes was also 2-4 with a pair of RBI. Stud prospect Alex Gordon was the difference, slugging two mammoth homers for the victors.

High A: Myrtle Beach 6, Salem 2 - Tip Fairchild was roughed up, and the offense managed only six hits.

Low A: Lakewood 2, Lexington 1 - Carlos Carrasco and Andrew Barb combined to no-hit the hapless Legends, adding twelve strikeouts for style purposes. In Carrasco's last start, he carried a perfect game into the eighth inning.

Short Season A: Tri-City 2, Mahoning Valley 0 - Chris Salamida continues to impress with six shutout innings, and closer Victor Garate picked up the save and now has allowed only four earned runs and struck out 54 in 34.1 innings of relief work.

Rookie: Johnson City 5, Greenville 3 - Nary a notable in this one.

Zobrist/Talbot Watch: Rough afternoon for Ben Zobrist, who went 0-3 and committed an error (his second) in the field. Mitch Talbot, on the other hand, was splendid in his start, earning the win with seven shutout innings, allowing only four hits and striking out seven. Talbot has a 2.31 ERA since the trade to the Rays.

Aubrey Huff's vicious slide continued with another 0-3 day, highlighted by a sac fly. Huff is now in an 0-14 slump, and aside from his scorching streak last weekend (14-22), he has 10-76 (.132) with one home run and five RBI in his other twenty-one games as an Astro.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Eli Iorg - Kleptomaniac

AAA: Oklahoma 7, Round Rock 2 - Taylor Buchholz and Mike Gallo both stunk for the Express. Buchholz gave up eight hits, two home runs, five walks and six runs in seven innings. Brooks Conrad had a pair of hits.

AA: Wichita 9, Corpus Christi 1 - Juan Gutierrez had a triumphant return to the mound with two innings of scoreless ball, but the same cannot be said for Carlos Hernandez, who allowed seven runs on four walks and five hits in 3.1 innings.

High A: Salem 8, Myrtle Beach 4 - Beau Torbert was 3-4 with a two-run homer, and Erwin Alcantara was 2-4 with three RBI.

Low A: Lakewood 5, Lexington 4 - Eli Iorg was 2-5 and stole three bases, giving him 33 steals on the season.

Short Season A: Mahoning Valley 4, Tri-City 3 - Jordan Parraz was 2-4 with a pair of RBI.

Rookie: Greenville 8, Johnson City 6 - Big nights for LF Brandon Barnes (3-4 with three doubles) and new CF Matthew Spath (2-3 with a three-run homer).

Zobrist/Talbot Watch: Ben Zobrist was 1-4 (.263/.275/.395). Surprisingly, Zobrist has walked only once in 38 AB's, probably due to the fact that he is in the 8 or 9 slot in the batting order instead of his typical 2-slot. Aubrey Huff was 0-3 with a walk (.274/.350/.455).

OP, Lane Determined to be Lesser Blackmail Threat than Wilson

The Astros front office decided this afternoon that the compromising photographs possessed by Preston Wilson were potentially less damaging than those held by Orlando Palmeiro and Jason Lane. Astros fans should feel even more duped by the Preston Wilson signing when Brian Cashman decides later this week that he would rather have Melky Cabrera and Luis Sojo play corner outfield positions as they battle for the AL East title than P-Dub.