July 2009

Written on the Wall

capt.10d8eb787e204194a62600edfd3dcda4.astros_cubs_baseball_cxc104.jpgBefore today’s game on this very blog, we were wondering about the possible fate for Mike Hampton and Russ Ortiz. We knew that the upcoming matchup for today would be hard, in the final episode of a crucial series against the Chicago Cubs, which we hope doesn’t come back to haunt the Astros at season’s end.

Hampton had a not-quite-flattering start and Ortiz, sadly, followed suit with yet another terrible start. The numbers kept on piling up, beyond 9 earned runs in 2.1 innings this Thursday.

It was much more than that. It was his 0-5 record in his last 10 outings, a 12.23 ERA in July. It was seeing that, in those few occasions in which Ortiz could do the job, needed a huge amount of pitches.

So Ed Wade had to pull the trigger. There wasn’t much to do. Ortiz was placed on waivers on an unconditional release.

We regret to see Ortiz leaving by the backdoor. He had a chance, and he worked trying to get his career back on track. Sadly, that wasn’t the case.

This is the first step in trying to correct the strange case of a rotation in which the glass is either half full or half empty and there are no in-betweens. We go from the sublime with Wandy Rodriguez (10-6, 2.65) and Roy Oswalt (6-4, 3.61) to… the not that good with Brian Moehler (7-6, 5.16), Hampton (6-8, 5.36) and Ortiz himself (3-5, 4.75).

With a rotation with problems such as these, and a bullpen which has to keep on adding mileage because of so many iffy starts, so the winning path can look as quite dark and winding.

Does Bud Norris have what it takes? He does have a fastball. You saw it yesterday in his brief stint against the Cubs. He got his dream now and he is part of a Major League pitching rotation. The case is that now, he’ll have to prove every five days, that he indeed has what it takes. It’s time for definitions.

Definitions for Norris. And for the rest of the starters. Houston tries to stabilize a situation which, even with Ortiz departing, still looks quite complicated.

Days like this

bud-norris.jpgSome days are good, others are not that good. That’s how things are for your Houston Astros. On one hand, they stil have a shot on the NL Central pennant race. The Stros have won 5 of their last 10 contests, and now they are three and a half games behind the Cardinals. Sadly, there are situations like yesterday’s 12-0 blowout courtesy of their closest rival, the Chicao Cubs. With a result such as this one, any symptom of optimism might go down the drain.

It’s true that it’s a bit hard to figure out how the Good Guys can pull it off with performances such as that of Russ Ortiz and Mike Hampton. Now, to top it all off, Lance Berkman is on the DL and we don’t know for certain if Roy Oswalt will join those ranks as well. He is waiting to see how he reacts to an injection for his back injection. He still doesn’t even know whether he’ll pitch or not this Sunday.

Key moments, no doubt. They are in the midst of series against their closest divisional rivals up to August 9. Of course that, if we look a bit closer, there are still reasons for excitement. Since May 29, the Astros have surpassed their Divisional opponents 12-6.

Some might even call it “Second-half syndrome”. It has hit Houston for as long as I can remember. From May 30, the Astros have a 32-21 record, jumping from being 9-1/2 games out to the current 3-1/2 game distance.

Can they keep on climbing? That’s the question.

Despite injuries, many key stars producing offensively are still there. That’s the case with Miguel Tejada. But, even with people such as Carlos Lee cranking up the heat (.323 BA in July), this game is still about Pitching.

That’s where doubts abound. Ortiz and Hampton show  us, that they seem not to have what it takes for the time being.

The Astros are forced to play a major card, due to Oswalt’s back issue. The organization’s second best prospect has appeared for the first time in the Major Leagues.

Bud Norris left everyone with a good taste, proving that he might be as good as advertised. His smoking fastball (93-95 MPH), and despite some moments in which he let nerves take over him (as it should be. He’s human after all), he kept his poise during practically his whole outing.

So what will happen next with this pitching staff with their good and bad days? Can Ortiz and Hampton justify themselves? Will Norris stay and live up to the hype? Will this be the end of injuries and pain for Oswalt?

After all, it isn’t the end of the world. Look toward Queens and then we’ll talk.

Complete control

Welcapt.95c28c52bb164490a55ffa735840ccba.pirates_astros_baseball_hta114.jpgl, well. After last night’s bitter time, Wandy Rodriguez comes up and pitches like never before.

A complete game shutuout nonetheless. 11 strikeouts, tying his season record, five singles and his first shutout since 2007. Only fitting considering that Wandy has become (for some people’s amazement) one of the most reliable pitchers for Houston in 2009.

It’s true the Astros have a negative record when it comes to shutouts (3-7). However, Wandy has started in each of those shutout games in which Houston has won.

That should tell you a lot about Rodriguez. It’s true he’s had his share of bad times. But this year he has been so much better than we all thought at first. It was a matter of time, wasn’t it?

We have to thank Wandy Rodriguez because he helped the ‘Stros to get something they have not achieved very often this year: Keeping a game under its control from start to finish.

Totally forgettable

capt.c7cfcc24e4a64b94bdab148770d5cb8f.pirates_astros_baseball_hta106.jpgToday was one of those days. One of those in which the Astros make the Pittsburgh Pirates (yes, the Pirates. Have we seen this movie before, right?) look like the New York Yankees. I still don’t know why this is a team which costs so much to beat.

If you know, please drop me a line.

Brian Moehler pitched a good ballgame tonight. He was fairly acceptable for 6.1 innings, except for that Jack Wilson homer. A dinger which didn’t represent too much of a problem, but Houston wasn’t able to capitalize. Pat Maholm got their number tonight.

So many promises of reactions which were left cold (Houston left 8 men on base). And how about that seventh inning: Right after Moehler left with men on, Tim Byrdak and Chris Sampson combined to let them all in, and also helped on that dubious feat by costly defensive miscues. The Astros melted faster on that seventh than an ice cream cone on a Texas summer.

The ‘Stros are near .500, but with displays like tonight’s remain on a mode of “one step forward, two steps back”. I wish I can forget this one pretty soon.