August 2006

Pass me the broom

Sometimes you get bad news such as Brandon Backe and his upcoming Tommy John surgery, and you start to wonder how it would have been if the Astros had him in good health throughout this very streaky season. Backe has been one of Houston’s highest hopes and I hope this doesn’t end now with him being sidelined for at least a whole year. We wish him the best.
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And speaking of streaks, I don’t want to bring it, but I can’t help it. Well, I’ll rephrase it for a different take other than the obvious one: Two straight sweeps, this time against the Brewers. And this game was played how it was meant to be during the whole year: a solid outing by Pettitte, with 2 runs off 7 innings, doubles by Ausmus and Taveras, and a 2-run homer by Craig Biggio, his 18th of the year, for a  5-3 final.

It’s always nice to sweep, folks.. Now here comes a true test to see whether these "new and improved" Astros are for real. Yes, folks, we’re about to meet the Mets once again, and most probably we’ll see the return of Tom Glavine this Friday. We’ll watch, and I hope you do too. (Oh, I won’t mention him, don’t worry. Astros fans know who I’m talking about.)

Good luck, Brandon

BACKE TO UNDERGO TOMMY JOHN SURGERY

Right-hander to have ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction on right elbow

HOUSTON, TX ? The Houston Astros announced today that right-handed pitcher Brandon Backe will undergo surgery on Thursday, September 7 to reconstruct the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.  The procedure, also referred to as ?Tommy John? surgery, will be performed in Birmingham, Ala., by Dr. James Andrews and assisted by Astros Team Medical Director Dr. David Lintner.  The announcement was made by General Manager Tim Purpura.

The expected recovery time from the surgery is 12-18 months.

Backe, 28, is 3-2 with a 3.77 ERA (18ER/43IP) in eight starts for the Astros in 2006.  He was originally placed on the 15-day Disabled List on April 14 with a sprained right elbow.  Backe was transferred to the 60-day DL on June 6 and activated on July 22.  He made six starts after rejoining the active roster before being placed on the 15-day DL again on August 19 with a sprained right elbow.

In 104 career big league games, including 42 starts, Backe is 19-14 with a 4.71 ERA (166ER/317IP), with one complete game.  In seven career playoff outings (six starts), he is 1-0 with a 2.95 ERA (12ER/36.2IP).  Backe allowed one hit in eight shutout innings in the 2004 NLCS Game 5 win over St. Louis.  In Game 4 of the 2005 World Series, he pitched seven shutout innings against the Chicago White Sox.

A well-deserved birthday present

Capt28bdfaca77784ef992ff73928ec16a82astrAll Astros fans were looking forward to this: Everyone pointed out that signing Roy Oswalt at all means necessary should be one of the team’s priorities. Their prayers have been answered.
Last night the organization announced a contract extension for Roy-O, for 5 years and $73 million, with an option for a sixth season. If there was any doubt of why Oswalt deserved that honor among casual baseball observers, they only needed to watch last night’s game, when Roy, in his 29th birthday, kept the Milwaukee Brewers silent, granting barely 4 hits and 3 runs, fanning 7.
Obviously, this is a well-deserved recognition to a short yet remarkable career, in which Oswalt has gone through all steps in organized baseball.

"Coming in from a small town, no one really paid attention to me, and Houston had the scouts to come and watch me grow as a pitcher and go through the college ranks and stuck with me through the minor leagues", Oswalt said. "I came in as a low draft pick, and they gave me every opportunity, and they moved me up, at the time I thought was slow, but now I see what they were trying to do. A lot of guys think they should be up here straight out of high school or college, but you learn a lot in the minor leagues, and I think they do a real good job with the guys down there and letting them get innings and learn how to pitch and not rushing them too much".

"I?ve talked to a lot of guys in different organizations, and the guys who have been here in Houston, there is more bragging about playing for this club than any other club, even the guys who play for the big market club". "I told my agent Bob that I really wanted to stay in Houston. If we could get something done, I?d love to stay here. We have the team to win, last year we played unbelievable ball, and we have the same structure here to win. Hopefully over the next four or five years, we can put the team together, including this year. We?re making a good run at it, and the team is starting to have fun playing, and that?s the biggest goal for us. Once you start having fun, you can roll off nine or 10 straight, so hopefully we get on a roll, and get back into the playoffs".

Oswalt surely will give the Astros and its fans plenty of other reasons to feel proud about him.

Is it over?

If there’s something you can count on, it’s on a good pitching performance from Roger Clemens. The stellar hurler got his 347th lifetime win tonight against the Pittsburgh Pirates, 5-1.

Clemens was on the mound for six innings in which he allowed 6 hits and a run; I have run out of words to describe the Rocket.

Craig Biggio told MLB.com that the Astros are trying to stay focused despite the fact they have lost 10 of their last 14 games. At least Willy Taveras is right on target, going 3-for-5 with a RBI, in his 28th straight game batting at least a hit.

Should the Astros throw the towel on this season? What do you think?

If it only were like this all the time…

R100678277Yesterday, we saw the Astros playing the way we’ve always wanted to see them play. Six runs in the seventh inning, supporting a well-deserving Roy Oswalt, stable after granting two early runs.
That win against Cincinnati 7-3 was also the moment for a new franchise record: Willy Taveras has 26 games in a row batting at least a hit; something quite impressive for a player known for the sacrifice bunt and speed.
Phil Garner has made any amount of changes trying to spark a dormant offense, the last one bringing first baseman J.R. House. Fernando Nieve will stay for a while on the DL and Chris Sampson will stay in the Show.
6 games separate the Astros from the Wild Card.

Reserved prognosis

Cvmgpe33I go on a trip for a few days (thanks Thomas for keeping the fort), and what do I find on my way back? The Astros are in such a compromising position that even the ever-optimistic Phil Garner recognizes that if this week goes the wrong way for them, they will have to kiss any postseason hopes goodbye.

Due to a negative series against the Padres, a sweep courtesy of Carlos Zambrano, rookie Ryan O’Malley and the Chicago Cubs, and a split series with the Brewers, what seemed to be a positive recovery became nothing but an illusion. (Roger Clemens had a great outing today, by the way, and the Astros won 3-1).

So, the bad news keep on piling up: Brandon Backe goes on the DL again, Brad Lidge is unable to rediscover himself, and that’s why Garner has decided to go for the infamous "closer-by-committee" situation.

When I heard that, I tried myself to NOT consider this season dead, by any means. How hard it is, though.

The recipe for a National League championship last year was not the stuff of rocket scientists: keeping opposing bats quiet, and in the ninth, Lidge taking care of business for a quick and painless closing job. That’s why the anemic hitting we saw wasn’t trouble at all.

This year, things are quite different. Lidge goes back and forth and gets stripped of his closing title TWICE already. And despite all the efforts in trying to get the bats swinging, it has been impossible, apart from the notable exceptions of Mike Lamb, Luke Scott and Lance Berkman. A recipe for disaster, no doubt.

I have never liked to be a naysayer and a prophet of doom. But I can’t deny this week (despite the allegedly weak rivals they would face) is of reserved prognosis for the ‘Stros. Any slip, and we must start thinking about 2007.

I will confess you, this is not easy to digest for yours truly. Despite I try to keep my objectivity at all times, I consider this moment a very hard one and tough to deal with. We’ll wait and see.

The Toro show

Captfcf2e5a931b7424b860ad2c8b05a6ecfcubsThis team has proved us they’re on their way back; despite the fact they’re 5-5 on their last 10 contests. But there’s certainly a scientifically-tested antidote for any signs of offensive life the Astros might experience. Carlos Zambrano.

The Venezuelan pitcher neutralized the Houston lumber yet again, with eight scoreless innings, with barely 4 hits. Roy Oswalt also had a good appearance, with 2 runs in seven frames.

However, what worries us the most is the bruised wrist he got after Ronny Cedeo got a hard-liner. His status is day to day.

Zambrano and his stuff are no fluff, he is one of the best pitchers currently in baseball. If only the Astros found a way to break his spell. Not an easy task, to say the least.

Is this the real life…

Captcfbba12354494e3e92eb10eec0a31f56pira… Is this just fantasy? What do you think? Which ones are the real Astros: this lean, mean hitting machine we’ve seen recently, with all its pieces healthy and in good shape, or those anemic bats we’ve had to endure during the whole season?

Six homers were shot during the game, two of them by Aubrey Huff, who took the lid off himself and drove in six runs, going 3-for-4; Craig Biggio, Jason Lane and Luke Scott also joined the party… alongside Roy Oswalt, who belted his first dinger in quite a long time.

Some explosive hitting nonetheless, and it all went one-way: 14 runs and 15 hits for the Astros; 1 run and 4 hits for the Pirates; all of them earned by Oswalt, who put on a solid display throughout 7 frames.

Solid pitching, from start to finish

Capt90140631340b4756840e676e9d0f250dpiraIncredible. Brandon Backe will be tomorrow’s headlines (yes, we know it was against the Pirates but that doesn’t make it less remarkable). 3 hits, 1 run in 7 innings. Dan Wheeler and Brad Lidge struck out the side, for a total of 6 straight strikeouts. That’s what you call closing pitching.

A Craig Biggio homer set the pace alongside that dominant pitching, and the Astros started the current home stand the right way, with a 3-1 win over Pittsburgh.

Nice trip

Zyvyg3xaI have denied so many times to call any good streak the Astros might go through as their so-called "turning point", the moment which would turn their luck around, for good. However, it isn’t bad at all to see them ending a road trip in a positive note (for the first time since June 13), with a 4-2 record.

And those wins were achieved thanks to (yes, Thomas, I will say it) some explosive hitting, at least on the three-game series against the Diamondbacks. What a sharp contrast to the scarce offense we’ve seen throughout the season.

8 homers were belted from Friday to Sunday at Chase Field. At least, for the time being, it’s a 180-degree turn. So many times we’ve heard it was just a matter of having all players healthy. That seems to be the case, judging from recent results.

Morgan Ensberg might be Exhibit A for such a case. He seems to be returning to a productive form, similar to what we saw last year (please, don’t keep quiet on your injuries again). Since his return on August 1st, he has a .292 average, with 5 runs, 4 walks and a RBI.

Luke Scott is also on a wild pace, taking doubts away from him and proving us he’s for real. Without counting his performance on Sunday when the ‘Stros fell to the Diamondbacks 4-3, he had a .397 BA, product of 23 hits in 58 at-bats, with two home runs and 9 driven in since his return on July 13. Mike Lamb, who also went yard today, keeps a .320 BA, despite the fact he has seen his playing time dramatically decreased, due to the return of Ensberg and Scott, and the addition of Aubrey Huff to the lineup (he is also picking up pace). And we’re not forgetting Brad Ausmus and his grand slam.

Willy Taveras was a major factor for the Astros’ performance, in a welcome change: he hit .571 in the Arizona series, going 8-14, 2 runs driven in, a double and a homer, which got Houston closer on the scoreboard at the top of the ninth, in which the Astros fell short of at least tying the game and send it to extras.

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Yet another side note: Did you take a good look at Fernando Nieve’s relief appearance on Saturday? Matt Albers was demoted and Nieve returned, showing some filthy stuff, a great slider and fastball. We were quite impressed with what we saw from him. It was a frame in which he didn’t allow any liberties to opposing batters. He has nothing else to do in Triple-A.

All the lumber was enough to cast a shadow in an appearance from Roy Oswalt that wasn’t Oswalt-like on Friday, granting 12 hits and earning 4 runs in 6 innings. The bullpen had some trouble of their own, including Brad Lidge and a script that is being played too often for our taste. On Saturday, Roger Clemens was business as usual: 3 runs and 8 hits in 7 innings; and on Sunday, Andy Pettitte took yet another loss despite some very bright moments, fanning 6.

I will not definitely call it "a turning point", but hey, it’s nice to see a healthy team having a good time. I hope it lasts.