Archive for the ‘houston astros’ Category
Wednesday, June 16th, 2010
While Nats bloggers have been going back-and forth about whether the team needs another bat or another arm, Mike Rizzo seems to have made up his mind. They need both. Yeah, okay — that’s the right answer. But if Rizzo was pressed (and trade bait was short), what do you think he’d really want? Given John Lannan’s continued troubles and the uncertainty surrounding the return of any number of potential starters, the answer should be obvious: not only can you can always play Roger Bernadina in right field, but you absolutely need to; we’re never going to find out whether this kid can hit unless we put him in the line-up every day. Which means that the Nats should be looking for a pitcher to supplement their front (and only) two hurlers — Stephen Strasburg and Livan Hernandez. Let’s be honest. You never know what you’re going to get with Atilano and Martin, Olsen is just too tweaky too often to be counted as a stalwart, pitching messiah Jordan Zimmermann is a ways away from rehabbing and Ross Detwiler is still an unknown. That leaves Chien-Ming Wang (who won’t be here until July) and Jason Marquis — who has yet to show the team anything. So . . .
So who’s out there?
There’s Cliff Lee, who will be available once the cratering Navigators figure out that doling out $91 million in salaries for a last place team isn’t going to cut it. Lee is in the last months of a four year deal, and the Nats would have to look to sign him longer term, but our guess is that the Mariners will happily take good prospects for him — including Triple-A pitchers and Double-A position players that have a future. The Nats have either, and both. In exchange, the Nats would get a veteran fastball pitcher who could mentor Strasburg and an absolutely lights out number two starter (number one anywhere else), who can rack up some badly needed wins. The folks in Seattle say they won’t part with Lee without getting a big time power hitter in return, but that sounds like wishful thinking. Lee isn’t going to stay in Seattle after this year, especially to anchor what promises to be a development team of young prospects and remaining big contracts. It’s an ugly but pertinent truth: the Mariners will take prospects — or they can keep Lee and try to catch the fast disappearing Belinskys, White Elephants and Whatchamacallits. They’ll make the trade — maybe Mike will too.
Then there’s Roy Oswalt, but his contract is a nightmare: just over $9 million over the rest of this season, $16 million in 2011, and $16 million in 2012 with a club option buyout of $2 million. The Nats say they have money to up their salary ceiling, but Oswalt’s price might be a little high — particularly if (as expected), the Nats would have to pick up most if not all of the salary and throw in prospects. Bottom line: he won’t be cheap. But then, there’s always Jake Peavy. Don’t laugh: the former Friar has struggled with the Pale Hose and it appears he’s losing patience with wheeling-and-dealing Kenny Williams and the perpetually enraged Ozzie the G. He recently told a reporter that he would rather be traded than go through a rebuilding process in Chicago. Translation? “Get me the hell out of here.”
It’s hard to blame him: Peavy was a part of a rebuilding process in San Diego — and the team only started to rebuild when he left. Then too, the ChiSox probably look at the Peavy trade with some remorse; they dealt prospects to San Diego, one of whom (Clayton Richard) has turned into a front line pitcher — 4-3, 2.71 ERA. That’s a damn sight better than Peavy (5-5, 5.62 ERA). Ugh. The White Sox might try the same magic, trading Peavy for pitching prospects in the hopes of striking gold. The Nats could help. Of course, Peavy sports a huge contract ($52 million, three years), a teensy bit bigger than Oswalt’s which (for paperclip counter Mark Lerner) is always a problem. But in the end (and if you carefully weigh this out), the Nats could find a rental (like Lee) for some front line prospects or they could take the longer view (which is probably what Rizzo wants) and pony up some prospects and some cash. In either case, while none of these pitchers are going to come cheap, bringing any one of them aboard right now (or in the very near future) will probably mean the difference between a club that will continue its slow-but-certain downward spiral and one that might be able to contend — and fill the seats.
Friday, June 4th, 2010
The Washington Nationals return home after suffering through a disasterous road trip: losing three in a row in Houston, and dropping seven of their last ten. What was so painful about the losses is that they could have easily been wins. Yesterday’s contest in Houston was emblamatic of the Nats troubles — after trailing throughout the game, the Nats mounted a breathtaking rally at the last minute, only to see their efforts squandered by more bad defense (what is becoming a franchise habit) and strangely poor pitching (for some reason, Matt Capps simply refuses to throw his heater). The latest disaster was yet another last-of-the-ninth win for the Astros, courtesy of a walk-off home run by Carlos Lee — resulting in a 6-4 Astros win. “It turned out to be a miserable day for us,” Nats manager Jim Riggleman admitted. And a miserable road trip that included two losses in San Francisco, three in San Diego, and three more in Houston. In truth, the Astros didn’t look like the worst team in the NL — the Nats did.
At the heart of the Nats troubles is a poor defense, a weakness that (after ’09) was supposed to be solved. After a three error game by Ian Desmond on Wednesday, Cristian Guzman followed with a remarkably similar feat on Thursday, the worst offense being a lost-in-the-lights fly ball that Guzzie botched in right field. As a result, the Nats rank dead last in team defense in the majors with 50 errors (six more than the next-closest L.A. Dodgers, and seven more than the pathetic Detroit Tigers). Last year, after being installed as manager, Jim Riggleman sternly lectured his team on playing smart and tough, focusing his words on the importance of fielding and throwing. Lectures don’t win ball games, but a new focus on defense is in order, particularly with the tough hitting Reds coming into town.
The Strasburg Hype: Washington Nationals fans wait expectantly for the arrival of Stephen Strasburg, leveraging his nationally watched first appearance against a (let’s admit it) mid-week poor attendance game. Strasburg’s appearance next Tuesday will feature a sellout crowd, with ticket holders who made bad guesses (that he might appear against the Reds, or against Pittsburgh on the following Thursday) spiking attendance figures for both series. So the pressure is on Strasburg, but it’s also on the Nats — who could build a stronger fan base with well-played games and lots of bells and whistles . . . which is not say that Strasburg won’t be under his own pressure. And you have to wonder: what if Washington’s newest “phenom” gets rocked by the weak Ahoys instead of (as expected) mowing them down in order. Don’t say it’s not possible — this is the major leagues, and good hitters who have seen MLB pitching have a tendency to adjust to even the best kids with heaters and 12-6 curves . . .
Thursday, June 3rd, 2010
It’s not that the Washington Nationals have slipped back into their old 2009 ways (they haven’t, at least not completely — and at least not yet), it’s that their sloppy defensive play of the last two days (and their successive losses to the forlorn Houston Astros), are a cautionary note for the future. The Nats are a poor defensive team and will need to improve their fielding performance if they hope to contend this year. We begin this sad tale on Tuesday, when the Nats blew a one-run seemingly in-the-bag win against the Astros, with an unusual error by Nats third sacker Ryan Zimmerman. The error put the Astros back in the game and led to a Matt Capps blown save that gave the Astros a 8-7 win. That Lance Berkman, whose checked swing on a Matt Capps offering should have been called a strike notwithstanding — the simple fact is that if the Pedro Feliz grounder had been fielded cleanly, Berkman (an intimidator, and Nats slayer) would not have come to the plate.
The Nats’ defensive woes were even more evident on Wednesday. In the midst of a sixth inning in-the-MASN-booth love fest between Bob Carpenter and Ray Knight over how Ian Desmond reminded them of the young Derek Jeter (Holy Cow!), the rangy rookie Nats shortstop committed two errors on one play: failing to step on second on a force and then throwing wide to first. The otherwise impressive Desmond (and it’s true, he’s a work in progress) bobbled a grounder from Berkman in the seventh. It was an unusually poor play, as Desmond seemed unsure whether to charge the ball, or play it back. “Berkman doesn’t really run that well,” Desmond explained. “I figured if I stayed back on it, I’d still be able to turn the double play. It kind of took a bad hop on me. Ate me up a little bit. I trust myself as a player. Tomorrow will be a new day, bounce back and everything will be fine.” Okay. But the defensive failures and the team’s high strikeout total (thirteen, against so-so Astros’ pitching) led to an indifferently played and disappointing 5-1 loss.
All of baseball was abuzz on Wednesday with the blown call of umpire Jim Joyce that cost Detroit Tigers starter Armando Galarraga a perfect game. The call came with two out in the ninth inning: an infield roller was scooped up and served to Galarraga covering first. The ball and Galarraga clearly beat a sprinting Indians hitter Jason Donald to the bag, but Joyce called Donald safe. Joyce maintained his stance — the infield hit was a single, transforming a perfect game into a one-hit shutout. But after the game, Joyce saw the replay and admitted that he’d made a mistake. “It was the biggest call of my career,” Joyce told reporters, “and I kicked it. I just cost that kid a perfect game.” The admission set off an explosion of commentary about the use of instant replay — but that debate isn’t likely to be resolved soon.
I was hoping that Tim Kurkjian (who seems to know this kind of stuff) could have added some perspective to the Joyce call, by citing the number of calls that had gone the other way; that is, that gave pitchers no-hitters and perfect games when they didn’t deserve them. There must have been at least some small numbers of such incidents, which is not to mention the widened strike zone that recently (and in at least two cases) gave Roy Halladay strike outs instead of walks. So it is: no perfect game is possible without such calls, just as no no-hitter can go into the books without some kind of fantastic play somewhere. It’s a given. Then too, as we might remember, Milt Pappas was one pitch away from a perfect game (on September 2, 1964) when umpire Bruce Froemming, after calling two strikes on the last batter, called the next four pitches (all strikes) balls. Pappas never forgave Froemming and told him, the next day, that he’d blown a chance to call a perfect game. Froemming — who, like Pappas, could be a nasty piece of work — just smiled. “Show me an umpire who ever called a game without making a mistake,” he said.
Tuesday, June 1st, 2010
The Washington Nationals bombarded the Houston Astros on Monday, wracking up 14 runs on 14 hits, and registering the biggest inning in Nats history. Nyjer Morgan, batting second, went 3-4 in breaking out of a May slump, while Adam Dunn and Ryan Zimmerman each had four RBIs. But the Nats-Astros tilt was not only notable for the fireworks provided by Washington’s bats. In the third inning, Houston ace Roy Oswalt was ejected from the game by home plate umpire Bill Hohn, whom Oswalt clearly believed was not giving him an outside strike. Oswalt complained, confronted Hohn, and was tossed. The Nats were pleased with Oswalt’s departure (even though they seemed to be hitting him) and jumped on the Astros’ bullpen.
Oswalt argued his innocence after the Nats win. “I was upset I missed with a pitch a little bit off the plate and was actually talking to myself on the mound,” Oswalt said. “I wasn’t even looking his way, and when I turned around, he was pointing at me and saying something about, ‘Are you going to keep your mouth shut?’ I couldn’t really tell what he said. I told him I wasn’t talking to him and he kept on talking, so I told him again I wasn’t talking to him, and he threw me out.” Houston manager Brad Mills put himself between Oswalt and Hohn, but the signal for Oswalt’s ejection had already come. Hohn’s finger-in-the-air toss came after Adam Dunn had put an extra base knock into right-center field off a pitch that Oswalt seemed to groove after Hohn had called successive balls on his corner pitches. “That’s on you,” Oswalt mouthed to Hohn as Josh Willingham came to the plate.
Is This The Year of the Umpire? Oswalt’s ejection over called balls and strikes highlighted the increasing noise over the strike zone in major league baseball. Roy Halladay’s perfect game against the Marlins on Saturday featured a strike zone that gave the Phillies’ ace an outside strike — not nearly as tight as Hohn’s zone with Oswalt in Houston on Monday. The Marlins refused to talk about “the Halladay strike zone” after the game (“I don’t want to talk about the strike zone, because that’s a discredit to what he did,” Fish regular Chris Coghlan said), but they were clearly upset about some of the calls — on 3-1 and 3-2 counts. Strangely the strike zone seemed incredibly small in April — perhaps an attempt to inject some offense into the game in the post-steroid era — before loosening up through all of May.
A family member (here he is, honest) theorizes that the endless use of slo-mo, super slo-mo and the strike zone box featured in nearly all MLB broadcasts (on Nats broadcasts it’s the “MASN HD Pitch Track”), has so irritated the umpires that they are in revolt. The result of the revolt is a wider strike zone, faster games and punch and judy hit-the-opposite-way games. The theory is more than just an idea. In March, a group of baseball experts convened by USA Today (that included players, umpires and managers), took on the strike zone box used by color commentators. Veteran ump Steve Palermo was the most outspoken; he called the graphic phony and inaccurate. “They put up the same box for Freddie Patek and Dave Winfield,” Palermo said. “You telling me those two strike zones are the same? I don’t think so. Not at 6-foot-6 and 5-foot-4. They should say at the bottom of the screen, ‘This is for entertainment purposes only.’ ” The graphic has led to endless second guessing by managers, fans and viewers of umpire calls. “I hate that damn box on TV. Why don’t they eliminate that?” super scout Gary Hughes queries.
If MLB’s umpires are in revolt, they’re likely led by Joe West, the president of the World Umpires Association and the spiritual leader of the fed up and huddled umpire masses. West would be an odd choice for a revolutionary leader: he’s controversial, holds grudges and spends a lot of time off the field promoting his country western CD and hobnobbing with celebrities. Earlier in the season, West criticized the Red Sox and Yankees for their habit of playing interminable games, calling the two teams “pathetic and embarrassing.” The comment sparked a firestorm of comment. But West’s complaint was hardly new: it has been made often by baseball insiders (and outsiders), who point to the Red Sox and Yankees as arrogant flouters of Commissioner Bud Selig’s wish to speed up the game. “Everybody else gets screwed but those two teams,” Angels outfielder Torii Hunter says. Steve Palermo went public with his own anger back in March, noting that when Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon was disciplined for throwing extra pitches in the bullpen warm-up session after being summoned to the mound, he ripped up the disciplinary notice in front of a group of reporters. “You know what?” Palermo says. “If somebody acts up, whack them. I’m talking about $50,000. And then $100,000. And then $200,000. You usually get the attention after the $100,000 mark.”
If there’s an umpire revolt in major league baseball, it’s likely to reach a boiling point this week, when Bud Selig and crew may decide to reprimand Joe West — and either fine or suspend him — for allegedly recruiting reporters to his side in the length of games controversy. West is also under fire for calling two balks on White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle and ejecting him, and then doing the same with Pale Hose manager Ozzie Guillen. Now, granted, West comes off as a jerk and his “Cowboy” Joe West pose flies in the face of one of the game’s most sacred unwritten rules — that umps should be invisible. But in spite of this, West seems to be making a point that has nothing to do with his comments on the length of game controversy or his dust-up with the South Siders. And it’s a point that every umpire in the MLB would support: that the strike zone is what the umps say it is (that’s what it says in the rules) and . . . and as soon as you step on the field, the umps are in charge. It can’t be any other way and it hasn’t been for more than one hundred years. Then too, let’s get serious: it’s not as if Roy Halladay is Danny Cabrera. You don’t like the strike zone? Well, get a clue: swing the bat. Like the Nats did yesterday in Houston.
Sunday, July 12th, 2009
The Washington Nationals routed the Houston Astros on Saturday at Minute Maid Park, 13-2. The laugher was highlighted by back-to-back-to-back home runs by Nick Johnson, Josh Willingham and Adam Dunn. Craig Stammen went the distance for the win, throwing 107 pitches over nine innings. The win is the highlight of the Nats’ otherwise disasterous season — a game in which everything seemed to work. Nearly everyone in the Washington line-up had a good game: Johnson was 3 for 6, Willingham 3 for 5, Dunn 3 for 4, Gonzalez 4 for 5, Belliard and Guzman 2 for 5 and Nyjer Morgan, now firmed rooted in centerfield, made a flat-outÂ diving catch that made a number ofÂ post-game highlight reels. Outside of Stammen’s pitching performance, the hero of the game was Willingham, with two home runs and four RBIs. The former Phish’s performanceÂ raised his average to .303, fifty points better than his average last year with the Marlins. Willingham is now an institution in right field and has pushed Austin Kearns out of the line-up.Â
TheÂ game was marked more for good hitting than bad pitching, Astros’ starter Mike Hampton said.Â “When I came out of the game, I was upset because I must have thrown a lot of balls over the middle of the plate.Â But when I went and looked at the tape, that wasn’t the case. Sometimes you’ve got to tip your cap to the other team. They came out swinging and I thought I made a couple of mistakes early, but for the most part I didn’t feel I made too many terrible pitches, but they were hitting everything. It happens. I wish it wouldn’t, but it was part of the game.” Forgotten, it seems, were the withering criticisms leveled at the Nats justÂ 48 hours earlier by both in-game analyst Rob Dibble and post-game analyst Ray Knight. Both men seemed to back off their claims, thatÂ some Nats players were “mailing it in” and that their play was “pathetic.” Dibble, in particular, was nearly eloquent — saying that the team was “talented” andÂ capable of playing good baseball.
Prior to Saturday’s blow-out, Manny Act defended shortstop Cristian Guzman — the target of Dibble and Knight’s more critical comments.Â “I see a human being,” Acta said. “In the course of 162 games, every player is going to go through a tough time. He is going through a slump right now. The same thing happened to Ryan Zimmerman.Â It’s a long season. Every one of these guys are going to go through a tough time — offensively and defensively. They are human. That’s why we have to have the patience. It’s very difficult for every one of these guys to be on top of their game for 162 games of the baseball season.”Â My hat’s off — Manny is defending his players. I get that. And he’s right, it’s “difficult for every one of these guys” to be on top of their game for an entire year. But you won’t hear Terry Francona saying something like this, or Joe Girardi, or Tony LaRussa. Â
They don’t need to.
Down On Half Street: Now that Nick Johnson has been healthy for more than 80 games, talk of his departure from the Nats is heating up. MLB Trade Rumors speculates that Johnson may be on the radar of the San Francisco Giants, in a swap for lefty Jonathan Sanchez. ButÂ such a trade would be difficult to explain, even for Giants’ GM Brian Sabean: Sanchez’sÂ recent no hitter has made him a San Francisco darling, one of the real “feel good” storiesÂ of major league baseball’s first half.Â Here’s Jonathan Sanchez celebrating his no-hitter,Â here’s Sanchez getting hugged by his crying father, here’s Sanchez embraced by Randy Johnson . . . here’s Sanchez on his way to the worst team in major league baseball . . . Then too,Â while you can never have enough pitching, the Nats would be exchanging a sparkplug for a pitcher with a historyÂ of struggling on the mound. We already have that here in Washington. Then too, while fans in Frisco might think that Sanchez is now on a par with Lincecum and Cain, we all know that a brilliant single game does not a career makeÂ . . . Bob Carpenter opined on the play of Alberto Gonzalez during yesterday’s game, saying that Alberto’s early season muffs at short “are a thing of the past.” We’ll see . . .
Rule 7.05 d: Now here’s something you don’t see every day. In last night’s Tampa Bay Rays vs. Oakland Athletics game, Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon was ejected after arguing plate umpire Jeff Nelson’s invocation of MLBÂ Rule 7.05d. The infraction occurred when Rays’ catcher Michel Hernandez used his catcher’s mask to scoop a pitched ball into his glove. Rule 7.05d reads: “Each runner including the batter-runner may, without liability to be put out, advance . . . (d) Two bases, if a fielder deliberately touches a thrown ball with his cap, mask or any part of his uniform detached from its proper place on his person.” I watched the replay of this half-a-dozen times and the ump was right. Maddon later agreed: “That was the right call by Jeff Nelson. I didn’t see it at first, but when I watched the replay, he was right.Â I went out there to stir it up a bit, and I was wrong.” The ruling would be invoked (as an example) if the centerfielder were to throw his cap at a balhit into the gap, or if a pitcher were to throw his glove in the air at a ball headed to the outfield. But there were problems withÂ Nelson’s ruling, which was correct in fact but not in implementation: Matt Holliday, the A’s baserunner, was awarded one base, when (according to the rule) he should have been awarded two. Tell me I’m wrong.
Oddly, 7.05 (a,b,c, and d)Â is most talked about among baseball rule wonks for not being invoked — as it was when Bugs Bunny (bear with me) took an elevator to the top of the “Umpire”Â State Building in the 1946 cartoon “Baseball Bugs.” Bugs throws his glove (successfully) from the top of the building to intercept aÂ ball hit off the bat ofÂ aÂ Gas-House Gorilla.Â The umpire calls the batter out, wrongly. The Gas-House guys on base, according to the rule, should have been awarded to extra bases. The Gas-House batter apparently knows this. “Out?” he asks.Â In New York harbor, the Statue of Liberty answers: “That’s what the man said, you heard what he said, he said that.” And here the movie ends, with Bugs triumphant over the Gorillas — final score, Bugs 96, Gorillas 95. This is the second time this year I have invokedÂ Bugs Bunny to prove a baseball point.
Must be some kind of record.
Thursday, July 9th, 2009
The Nats must be ecstatic to get out of Denver. Swept by the Rockies, after yet another shakey start from Ross Detwiler and poor play from a team of subs, our Anacostia Boys are now headed to Minute Maid Park — what MASNÂ announcerÂ Bob CarpenterÂ calls “the pinball machine in Houston.” For good reason: there’s a train that chugs back and forth out in left field (a bow to Houston’s railroad beginnings), the roof moves back and forthÂ (a bow to Houston’s weather), there’s a knee-bucklingÂ slope in center (Tal’s Hill) that’s an orthopedist’s dream (a bow to — gasp — Halliburton, the stadium architect) and fans canÂ sit in theÂ short-porch “Crawford Boxes” — so named (in a fit of what passes for creativity in Houston) because they parallel Crawford Street behind the stadium.Â
What’s so surprising about “the pinball machine” is that, when built, it reflected the kind of high-scoring and free-swinging teamÂ that the Astros have rarely had. When established in 1962 (along with the Chokes) the then-Houston Colt 45’s decided to focus their expansion efforts on building a team of speed, defense and pitching. The result was that, while the Mets sank out of sight in their first year, theÂ 45s were at least presentable. The ownership drafted and built wisely. By 1965, when the Colt 45’s became the Astros, the team had gained a solid reputation for signing young and aggressive players (Joe Morgan) and complementing them with savvy, if aging, pitchers (like Robin Roberts). TheÂ newly minted Astros were what an expansion club could be — a mix of veterans and tough kids.
So it must have seemedÂ a dark injusticeÂ to HoustonÂ fansÂ that it was the Mets, and not the Astros, who rose to prominence: the “Amazin’ Mets” (gag) of 1969 outdrew, outplayed and out-classed the Astros, with the result that the glow ofÂ the franchise’s early years (when the team played in the claustrophobic Astrodome),Â began to wear thin. It’s not that Houston was a bad team,Â but they were never able to put together a complete season until 2005.Â Even then, the Astros were less than amazin’ — they lost in four to the South Side Pathetics. In between, the Houston Astros became a team of nicknames: Richard Farrell became “Turk” Farrell,” Jimmy Wynn became “the Toy Cannon,”Â Bob Watson became “the bull” and, in an era when Cincinnati was winning everything in sight (and dubbed “the Big Red Machine”), Houston Astro fans deemed it fitting to name their nine “the Rainbows.” Their uniforms were gaudy, their fans were fanatic — their team was mediocre.
Even now, perhaps most especially now, the more nicknames thatÂ Houston fans find, the less their team succeeds. “Los Cabillitos” root for Carlos Lee, “the O’s Bros” attend every game featuring Roy Oswalt, “the Little Pumas” cheer themselves hoarse when “the Big Puma” (Lance Berkman) appears and fans in “Byrdak’s Nest” make little chirping noises every time reliever Tim Byrdak trots in from the bullpen. Actually, it’s kind of sickening. Then too,Â you’d think that Houston fans would know better: the best teams ever fielded in Texas, ever, were called “the Killer Bs” — with nods to Craig Biggio (“Bijjjjj”), Derek Bell, Jeff Bagwell (“Bags”)Â Sean BerryÂ (and others) — but the highly touted unit lost four division series prior toÂ 2005. They could never win the big one. Which is to say: “the Killer B’s” might have been “B’s,” but they sure weren’t “killers.”
The 2009 version of the Bayou City ‘Stros fit well with this tradition: they’re aÂ good ballclub that’sÂ fortunate to playÂ in a division where no one is playing well. But good or not, atÂ one game under .500, this year’s version of the AstrosÂ are in desperate need of help, with everyone (including premier pitcher Roy Oswalt) on the block. Tonight’s Astros’-Nats match-upÂ is a talisman of thisÂ desperation: Russ Ortiz is facing off against John Lannan. It’sÂ a match-up of experience versus youthÂ or (put another way), a match-up of “pitchers on their last legs” versus “pitchers with a future.”