July 2006

Standing pat

Hdr_581_06The trade deadline came and passed, and this year we saw a lot of action in that front. Greg Maddux is now a Los Angeles Dodger. Sean Casey comes to bulk up the already powerful Tigers offense, Cesar Izturis now will take grounders at Wrigley field, Bobby Abreu is the newest Bronx Bomber.

And Miguel Tejada is still a Baltimore Oriole.

The Astros didn’t get anything to show off at the trading frenzy for the second year in a row, and this time it wasn’t for lack of effort. They actively pursued Tejada, but the price to pay could have been awfully high. Names such as Brad Lidge, Roy Oswalt and Morgan Ensberg were on the table, according to all the speculation we heard this weekend. (Tim Purpura will never tell you this kind of stuff. Ever.)

We heard that Oswalt had been demanded, and that even Billy Wagner was about to give the Mets scouting reports on Oswalt and Lidge. Who were the Mets willing to trade for them? That is, if Omar Minaya ever made that call. There’s nothing that might prove us he didn’t.

Sending Oswalt somewhere else (being one of your most consistent winners and reliable arms) wasn’t on fans minds anyway; and if this report by Ken Rosenthal (a very well-respected writer) is true, that means they did OK in backing out of that one. I don’t believe separating Roy O from the Astros was the solution, not even for the most-coveted player on the market. What happened today might have saved us from another nightmare la Nolan Ryan.

If indeed there was hard work in getting something worthwhile, Purpura ended up empty-handed anyway. There are two options that might explain us this: Maybe other teams undervalued Astros players. Or there wasn’t enough aggressiveness.

This was a particular season in which Management should have made a bold and remarkable statement telling fans they’re not pulling the plug on this season. However, nothing was worth seeing the Astros’ most promising pitcher leaving town.

But it will be hard to fans to believe there’s still hope after all of this. I do hope I’m wrong.

PS: All Astros fans are having a collective sigh of relief, most especially my good friend Miles Rogers, who is a part of the Os Bros. And at least, we don’t have to change the subject of our wallpaper schedule.

Without a pause

Capta65efadb8e454c3a93449eed013d5924diamYou can’t say Astros management is standing pat these days. They’re working the phones relentlessly. Scouts from the Orioles have been evaluating Astros players in Houston these past couple of days. You can’t say there’s anything definitive though; so it’s mostly wait-and-see.

If the Astros get Miguel Tejada this would obviously improve the team’s offense and overall makeup. But, what are the O’s asking in return? There’s a lot of speculation in that front, and many names are being thrown; such as Jason Hirsh or Chris Burke. No one really know for sure. And we know it’s hard for Tim Purpura, a man raised on the player development field, and who always look at the long-term picture, to get rid of one of his coveted pieces.

We were a bit surprised by the return of Chris Sampson to the big club, while Taylor Buchholz was sent down to Round Rock along with Morgan Ensberg, who will begin his rehab stint. Buchholz, just like Wandy Rodriguez, must be kept on a starter’s schedule; and it’s very true that his ERA was nowhere but up. Sampson left a good impression in his short stint with the Astros, and his return is a well-deserved chance and reward.

The Astros are not quiet on the field either. Roy Oswalt tossed eight solid innings and Houston beat the D-backs 4-1. Willy Taveras drove in two with a triple and Craig Biggio belted a homer. Of course the big news was Oswalt’s stellar night.

These are the days in which fans speculate about who might be coming and going. The only thing we know for know is that, judging from the trade talk we’re hearing, the organization’s high ranks are not giving up on this season whatsoever.

May the force be with you

Captf9565d7dcebe4a04ad10729653abc3f9diamThe Astros fell once again last night, this time in extra innings, to the Arizona Diamondbacks 8-7 at Minute Maid Park. Andy Pettitte took the loss in a relief appearance, and he was very hard on himself, as usual.

However, we saw a hopeful sign despite the loss. The Astros hit this time, most especially Luke Scott, who became the first Astro rookie to hit for the cycle, driving in five runs.

Most attendants were surprised, probably ignoring the fact Scott was capable of having the best season for a foreign player in the demanding Venezuelan Winter League in more than 20 years.

In Venezuela, teams could afford the luxury of bringing seasoned players with Big League experience, taking advantage of the economic bonanza the South American nation experienced until the early 1980s.

Then the bubble burst, and it was positive for the development of Venezuelan players, something we are seeing today with the amount of stars from that country, such as Johan Santana, Carlos Guillen, Juan Rivera, among many others. Import players were mostly rookies from Double-A and Triple-A. Scott had such a monster season that he donated some of his gear to the Venezuelan Baseball Hall of Fame located in Valencia, home to his team, Magallanes.

In a moment in which we don’t know for certain whether to pull the plug on any hopes for the Astros this season or not, what Luke did last night was certainly a good sign that this team might be headed in the right direction, even if there’s a detour this season.

They thought I was out…

Captbc7b763db6e647ec8795c1d7193b4256redsThe Astros were once again at arm’s length from the Cincinnati Reds, current owners of the NL Wild Card, with a six-run fifth inning, which highlighted a monster 3-run shot by Lance Berkman, a key for an Astros 8-5 win at Minute Maid Park.

Just like rain showed no mercy on Houston, the Astros unloaded a rare offensive onslaught, which helped erase a shaky outing by Andy Pettitte. They took advantage of the current trials and tribulations of Reds starter Bronson Arroyo, which were more than evident last night.

Berkman belted two home runs, including that mammoth dinger that was the second longest in Minute Maid Park history; not too bad since he’s recovering from a groin strain that forced him to jog the bases.

It all fit, and it was a solid display of what Jim Molony, one of the most rational writers to cover the team, told us in his latest article: this is not a problem of lack of pieces, but execution. And we saw what the Astros can do if they execute well.

Once and again

Capteae6a849e66e4600957bc7d894cb352bredsAnother shutout. Another great game by Aaron Harang. Yet another heartbreak. The Astros, victims of their own miscues and impatience at the plate, begin what could very well be the season’s most important week with the wrong foot.

Good news, bad news

57209587jm014_houston_astro072320_lowerToday’s been a bittersweet day for Astros fans. Roy Oswalt can finally say he’s had plenty of run support backing him up. Houston bats unloaded a total of 16 hits, including three doubles. That helped in a 8-4 win over the New York Mets.

Best of all, there were actually runs made in the game’s last two innings, and Brad Lidge looked pretty good. That’s something you don’t see often these days. It was Oswalt’s first victory since June, even despite the fact he wasn’t at the top of his game, allowing 4 runs and 8 hits in 5.2 frames, including a homer by Carlos Delgado.

However, it wasn’t a perfect setting. Lance Berkman injured his groin trying to run the bases in the fifth. Berkman is confident he’ll be in the starting lineup Tuesday. And that is badly needed for the Astros these days.

The hitters hit, pitchers threw well, the bullpen was top-notch, and as Lidge said, Guys were hustling. They were taking advantage of any mistake, and Roy got the lead and settled down. The bullpen did a great job. We finally did some things for Roy."

A Watered-down Return

Capt37c40dc1bd7c4f36be32543a96746998astrNot only the rain watered-down things for the Astros this Saturday afternoon. Right after a rain delay, Brandon Backe was on a Major League mound for the first time in four months. Everything seemed to be all right, after Lance Berkman and Preston Wilson belted homers in the first frame.

But things changed in the fourth, after Xavier Nady went yard and drove in three to turn around the score, and deciding a 4-3 final in favor of the Amazins.

Nady’s dinger straightened Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez out. He improved dramatically and was able to contain the Houston offense, whiffing 8 in 7 innings. Backe went out of the game with a 4.50 ERA, with 4 runs in the same amount of episodes.

Looking for a new direction

R3658510033I would like to apologize since I’ve been away from the blogs for a while, I promise it won’t happen again.

We’ve been busy with an article for Cronicas de los Astros, the official Spanish-Language program of the Astros, which will be available for all fans early this August. We talked to Mike Lamb, a ballplayer who is usually away from big headlines and the spotlight. He has become one of the Astros breakthrough players this season.

What impressed us the most about him is how he manages to keep his feet on the ground despite his new fame. It must be everything he’s been through, like his short stint with the Yankee organization. Lamb knows pretty well where he’s standing, and he remains humble under any circumstance. That’s why so many people are very happy for the good times he’s having with the lumber.

2006_07_22t001922_450x382_us_baseball_na
While we were researching, interviewing and writing that article, it has been quite tough to be an Astro. A wild series in Chicago for starters. Now Taylor Buchholz had a very rough night, granting a couple of homers, including a grand slam by John Valentin, for a total of seven runs, six of those earned, in five innings tossed.

The Astros certainly make many starters look like aces when they face them. John Maine tossed a complete-game shutout, giving up four hits (we don’t know whether it was Maine being bright or the Astros and their lack of offensive spark). Mets beat the Astros 7-0.

Houston is a team in search of a sense of direction. Wandy Rodriguez was demoted to Triple-A in order to make room for Brandon Backe on the roster; prospect Matt Albers has been promoted. Time will tell. And it’s running fast.

A side note: There has been some moves in the Astros front office as well. We’ve had the chance to work with Caroline Montao for almost three seasons now. Maybe she’s been our lucky charm: since she has worked with us, the team’s had its best run in franchise history. Her outstanding work has been paramount in bringing a Spanish-language website, a magazine and these blogs you’re reading now. And personally, she’s been a true great friend and coworker. We can always count on her.

Caroline has been promoted to the Broadcasting/Promotions department as Sponsorship Account Manager. We wish her all the best in her new challenges ahead. And those same good wishes go to her successor, Celeste Casas.

You get what you give

Captf98dfa96e0b34082abbf079538bd3c91astrAfter last night’s Astro beating of the Marlins, the Florida team took revenge and shot four taters in today’s contest, beating Houston 9-3 in the series finale at Dolphin Stadium.

Despite the fact Taylor Buchholz painted zeros on the scoreboard for the first four frames, trouble started brewing on the fifth, with two dingers: a solo shot by Wes Helms and Hanley Ramirez drove in three with his shot.

The Astros didn’t win this one, but there’s a feeling that they’re starting to play better baseball; and that’s something that happens progressively. We hope this road trip ends up being productive.

Rout

Capt1632433066b24cbb8cfe123563f2aed8astrThat’s a word you don’t hear associated with the Astros often. What happened last night was sure odd, beating the Florida Marlins mercilessly for a final of 12-0. What was most interesting was to see Adam Everett and Brad Ausmus, two players you usually forgive their offensive shortcomings because of their defensive skills, being the biggest contributors with the lumber.

Everett had a perfect 4-4 evening, with 4 RBI; Ausmus went 3-for-3 with two driven in. Chris Burke and Lance Berkman brought a couple home each.

The nicest was to see the usual Andy Pettitte, fanning 10 in seven frames tossed.

"That hasn’t happened recently, but boy, that was sure fun," Phil Garner said to mlb.com. "Good at-bats, and Andy really did a nice job. The Marlins will surely tell otherwise, after seeing how the Astros took care of their pitching staff, including rookie Yusmeiro Petit. We’ll never get tired of hoping this is the turning point the Astros need.