Archive for the ‘Player Notes’ Category
Watching the post-Houston career of Roy Oswalt unfold is like snooping on an ex-girlfriend on Facebook. It’s not like I CARE what Roy does, but it’s like, really? Texas? I mean that’s cool, we had a great time and he taught me so much about like life and he is on his own journey and I’m happy for him. But Texas is such a gimmie. Texas is the guy with the dimples who drives a Beamer and wears shiny loafers. It’s like oh yeah we’d all love to play for Texas, but some of have to add to the rich texture of life by NOT being the best team in baseball. Life is more interesting when things aren’t so easy.
You know what, it’s great. I hope he gets a World Series ring, and we’ll just keep doing our thing down in Houston, because we are strong and independent and we’ve got our own thing going and I can’t live in the past. It’s just not healthy. We’ve got Bud, now, and he’s so great. And we’re gonna be great. Good luck, Roy, and have fun. With those stupid hand signals. I’m sorry that was rude. I love you.
You heard the GM. Wilton gave up an unseemly 18 walks in his 70+ innings last year, so we’re all glad to see him return to his freakish control levels which are now at 21 Ks per walk which puts him right around the range of the number of SUVs per sensible micro-sedan on the 610 loop at rush hour.
The bulllpen is getting lots of pub, on Twitter and from the local writers. Brandon Lyon’s improvement has a lot to do with it, obviously, but I love watching Wesley Wright hold his own at the big league level, getting out lefties and talking like a veteran:
“It’s a big role and a lot of the times the games are in our hands. I think we all live for that moment,” said Wesley.
He’s been a quiet but consistent presence around this franchise for a good little while now and Wright has earned the right to speak as a crucial member of a well-performing crew.
In the words of McTaggart: Brian McTaggart @brianmctaggart: The talk of Minute Maid Park is the Regulators, citing this article by new Astros.com writer Clark Goble
Ahead of Pudge Rodriguez, Mike Mussina, Mo Vaughn, Tino Martinez, Bernie Williams, Chipper Jones, Kenny Lofton, Jim Thome, and Jeff Bagwell.
Last season, as a resident of Seattle, Washington, for the first half of the year, I watched Jack Cust play baseball, and it was not very impressive.
Now Cust has made the same Pacific Northwest-to-Southwest circuit that I did, signing a one-year deal with the Astros with an option for 2013, and it’s time for me to look at him in the new light that is the Astros team.
Cust certainly looks the part of a jovial masher. The big gut, the warm smile, the fluid left-handed swing, the intense focus in the batter’s box. And Mariners fans had every right to expect that he would and tuck a few baseballs into the low cloud cover above Safeco Field. In 2010, Cust hit 13 taters, and the year before that, taking some reverse-chronological bunny hops, he launched 25, and 33, and 26.
But last year, when all the Mariners asked for was a bit more of the same, Cust couldn’t seem to swing his way out of a flannel shirt.
First off, I don’t know why this happened. Could have been age or any other number of factors. What I do know is my personal experience, and it was this: Seattle is a chilly, damp place. If I was a free-swinging slugger, I would find it most unpleasant to ply my trade in Seattle.
Again, there’s likely no correlation, but I can say that Cust appeared as taught as a filled sail when he hit for the Mariners. Not knowing his hitting style before 2011, I can’t speak of a divergence from his norm. But his style last year suggested desperation and angst over “it’s a kid’s game” looseness and home run lust. An expression of concern hovered over his visage with regularity, and as his failures compounded he started leaving the batter’s box with a perplexed look, an appeal to some greater driving force beyond his understanding.
Not a good place to be for a home run hitter.
Michael Barr over at Rotographs paints an unlovely picture of Cust’s decline, and he may well be right. I’m no scientist, but most every one of the lines on his graphs is diving like a nuclear sub. What I’d offer as a response is that, if there is some psychological element to Cust’s drop-off, that a new approach might do him good.
That approach? Just mash. Swing as hard as you can. Let Houston’s warmth and humidity thaw the muscles in your arms, back, and legs, and set them free. Swing hard. Close your eyes when you do it. Laugh at yourself when you topple over after striking out.
The Astros are an unformed mass of baseball chaos, with few big names to draw anyone’s eye, and with no expectations to burden a player like Cust, who clearly sagged under the expectation that he’d anchor the middle of an order. Cust must not anchor a thing in Houston. He should swing his bat like a helicopter blade to lift the lineup one mighty, hubristic, ecstatic swing at a time.
To quote Zachary Levine in his recent post on the topic: “Despite a really down year last year, [Cust] had an on-base percentage 33 points ahead of the Astros as a team, .344 to .311.”
The stakes are low; the sky is high.
Sometimes baseball is really simple. In essence, for a hitter, there is the one idea: hit the worst pitch you see as hard as you can. Carlos Lee, El Caballo Viejo or Gordo or whichever unflattering adjective you’d like to append, is the most glaring example of a player who has lost the ability to complete that simple task with any regularity.
To that end, the most resounding image of El Caballo this year is the helpless chip of a meatball pitch–whether it be a hanging slider or an easy fastball right down the middle–that clearly should have been hit a long ways, especially by the big, expensive slugger in the middle of the lineup. Lee simply lacks whatever fast twitch muscle response or explosion of exertion that a hitter needs to punish the opposing pitcher’s weakest efforts. The effects of age are not obvious but subtle. Only over time does the millisecond of delay in Carlos Lee’s swings from last year to this year, and the year before to last, become a trend rather than an aberration. While 95 percent of this Astros team tries to calm the nerves of youth and bring order to the chaos of the young hitter’s overall presentation, Carlos Lee is among the few in the Houston stable attempting to patch together the fraying tapestry if his career’s worn through years.
The Monday evening game against the Philadelphia Philles–the gleaming pride of National League baseball with their fireman’s calendar of starting pitchers so strong and consistent that they’ve been able to weather any faltering in the lineup–is among those farcical late season match-ups that is the baseball equivalent of an MMA match between Ivan Drago and McLovin. An Astros victory will add up to little more than a feeble 2012 confidence booster, and a loss is just another affirmation of the pecking order in the league at the moment. That said, I’ll take the win, if only to recall that satisfying sense of order that follows a win even in a lost season.
Two of the runs that added up to the five-to-one victory came off of the bat of the aforementioned Carlos Lee. El Caballo rattled a hanging curveball from the still effective and very relaxed-seeming Roy Oswalt and tagged a few seats in the Crawford Boxes. For just a moment, when Lee jumped on that rare bad pitch, shades of the old Astros–those veteran teams of bad ball punishers and home run launchers and doubles demons–flickered across my mind’s eye. El Caballo rode the 360-foot track from home to home, astride a younger version of himself as he rode the game’s best graceful circuit.
As Jose Altuve took his frenetic warm-up swings before his at bat in the fifth inning, I considered the stats they showed on screen. A fine average for the little guy, but just one home run? The powerfully built second baseman could surely muscle a few more out of the park. How about right now? I love to predict a home run, and I would like to say I predicted Altuve’s shot into the Crawford Boxes last night, the first run in what turned into a blowout. Pirates right-hander Charlie Morton’s sinker, though, so puzzling for right-handed hitters, quelled the optimism. How could Altuve get his hands through the zone quick enough to pull the ball? (And pulling the ball was his best shot at Minute Maid Park.) J.D. Martinez and Clint Barmes were each struck out by Morton’s easy rider of a fastball inside, that disappeared under the wrists at around the time the hitter thinks he should be hitting the ball.
With an out in the fifth, Morton threw another one to Altuve. He crooked his wrist and side-slung the sinker in. And it was in, but Altuve was also in, and the ball he hit dropped into the first few rows of the Crawford Boxes like a piece of candy into the upturned palms of a child. Like I said, I didn’t predict the home run. Instead, it was a response. In those few moments, beginning when I hoped for some life from Altuve’s power bat and concluding when his home run ball dropped into the seats, the Astros dismal record faded to the background. Hunter Pence’s remarkable run with the Phillies faded, too, and Lance Berkman’s hot start in St. Louis. The entirety of the baseball universe was contained within that moment. I stood up from the couch and raised my arms.
All was Altuve, the mighty mite.