May 2007

One Pence, more the richer

Capt57cf6237c6d7429ea18a81b6e3c3e656gianMany of you might be wondering if this blog will change its name from "The Space Race" to "The Pence Race".

That’s because we have illustrated our posts for the past few weeks almost exclusively with pictures of the Astros rookie. Some of our more casual readers, who are not exactly daily followers of the goings-on at Minute Maid Park, might ask themselves if this hoopla around the newcomer is justified at all or not

We have now confirmed that (God forbid us from sounding big-headed) we were right in focusing that much towards the young outfielder. Pence has been recognized as NL Player of the Week, in a tie with Diamondbacks closer Jose Valverde.

Pence has batted an astonishing .591 average, a product of 13 hits in 22 at-bats, driving in 5 and scoring 9, while rotating between the fifth and sixth spots in the lineup.

The idea behind Pence’s arrival was that of giving the team a much-needed dose of energy. And that has been the case so far. This kid plays with so much drive and intensity, and that has been recognized by his more experienced teammates, and by those who see him play each and every day. He’s enjoying every moment of his stay in the Major Leagues, and you can see that. And luckily for us, that feeling has been rubbing off on everyone else.

May this be the first of many recognitions in The Show for him.

Nasty

Capt79377f2ed6cc44ed9921e56be68b7cc4rangThere isn’t any way to sugarcoat this. Rangers beat the Astros, and beat them bad. Woody Williams can say he lost because he didn’t pitch well, not because his teammates didn’t support him offensively. Well, they didn’t but it wasn’t the main reason for the loss.

There are things looking good about this ball club and some others that don’t quite fit in. It’s true that Hunter Pence and Carlos Lee are carrying the team. Mike Lamb and Mark Loretta are also doing their part. Now, should Craig Biggio stay as lead-off? His OBP is terribly low, and it all points out to him being in a lower position in the order. Of course he has to stay as a starter, being 30 hits away from 3.000.

Now, we don’t know what might happen in the very near future when it comes to more shuffles and changes. It’s only a matter of wait and see. Things are not as bad as they were a few weeks ago. But this isn’t precisely the time for staying put.

The Pence factor

Captfbb39a214bcf4541a411bf44f5f494e0gianYou rarely see a rookie changing a team’s face in the way Hunter Pence has done it with the Houston Astros. It seems like a fairytale. Of course there are several other players such as Carlos Lee with a main role in this unfolding daily drama. But it sure sounds interesting to study how this youngster whose Major League promotion was asked by many fans, has influenced in the way the ‘Stros are playing these days, after four straight wins and finally showing a record above .500. Just take a look at this excerpt from tonight’s postgame notes courtesy of the Astros Media Relations department.

OF Hunter Pence went 4×4 with his fourth home run and has hit safely in seven consecutive at-bats (over eight plate appearances) from 5/15 (2nd inning)-5/16 (8th inning)…he has reached base in eight consecutive plate appearances during that span, including a fourth-inning walk on 5/15…Pence is the first Astro to collect seven consecutive hits (one or more game) since Vinny Castilla from May 31-June 1, 2001…he is one hit away from tying the club record (8 consecutive hits, Art Howe; Sept. 1 (Gm 2)-6, 1980)…additionally, Pence is the first MLB rookie to collect a hit in seven or more consecutive at-bats since SF OF Jason Ellison in 2005 (Ellison had a hit in eight consecutive at-bats).

Pretty in pink

FvlgolqrIt wasn’t an explosive rout, just like last night. But it was good enough, and I can’t agree more with what the Houston Chronicle says today on its Website: this was a good team effort, enough for ensuring an Astros win over the Diamondbacks 5-2.

Wandy Rodriguez gets a win after a long drought, tossing five solid innings; the bullpen performed as expected, and the offense came in baby steps: Carlos Lee going 2-for-3 with a RBI, Craig Biggio batting 2-for-4. Adam Everett and Brad Ausmus had run-scoring doubles. Hunter Pence did an amazing catch.

Baseball is a team sport which excels on the sum of individualities. That’s exactly what the Astros did today. Now, they have won 8 of their last 12, and we can say something we haven’t said in quite a while: they won consecutive series.

Stay tuned

Capt225bf8e4764a4b4e9836eb66cb8b5b6ddiamI’m sorry for not writing recently. Some things both in and outside the Astros organization have prevented me from blogging (Our reaction to the whole Roger Clemens situation is on our Spanish-language website, astrosdehouston.com). However, we’ve seen the Astros playing better ball these days. There are cases such as last night, with Brandon Webb practically holding the offense for a ransom; but tonight we saw a completely different picture altogether for ‘Stros fans.

Four homers, Hunter Pence going yard for the second time this season, going 3-for-4; Roy Oswalt with a great outing (as usual); and Mike Lamb claiming for a bit more of the spotlight, just like he did last year.

One interesting tidbit: Pence has 11 RBI in his last 13 games. Houston is 8-5 in its last 13 games.

Kids Inc.

Capt4b167cda712c436d9fb4d4822498c639astrCapt7a9b3961004741738895ca3e9283aa5bapto
Last week, we spoke to Astros GM Tim Purpura, for an upcoming article on our program/magazine Cronicas de los Astros. One of our questions was regarding the club’s farm system, ranked 22nd in all of baseball by Baseball America magazine. Purpura told us that he wasn’t really paying attention to such rankings; since he considered them highly subjective, thus distanced from the reality he and his staff deal with every day. He considers that the true measure of the organization’s success is the amount of players promoted to the Major Leagues. The first example in his list was Matt Albers.

That’s why Purpura must have felt satisfied yesterday, seeing the remarkable performance made by the two youngest guys in the Astros fold. Albers shut out the Cardinals for 7.1 innings; and Hunter Pence belted his first career grand slam, inflicting more pain to the Busch faithful for the 13-0 win. We knew Pence’s stuff was legit, but this goes beyond the most optimistic forecast.

For our story, we were told on and on by all the people we researched with, that Purpura’s advantage was his experience in the player development ranks, which gave him the skills to evaluate his team’s reality and make decisions, not just thinking about the here and now, but also the short and medium terms. This looks like one of those decisions, and if the gamble pays off, it seems like the reward will be quite handsome.

Flat

Capt6eed6498af954163b426595525e8e32aastr_1 History repeating itself.. again. Woody Williams does a good job, his teammates can’t insure him a win because of offensive woes. Astros have a slim margin; then Albert Pujols, of all people, turns the scoreboard around with a double. Cardinals beat Astros. Wouldn’t blame you if you switched to watch news on Paris Hilton going to "jail".