Archive for May, 2012

Roy Oswalt Has Moved On, Again

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.

Speaking strength to Kershaw

 

Clayton Kershaw has the aura of the unhittable ace whose “stuff” resides in some magical realm of Valhalla where all talent, hard work and good fortune has coalesced into a spirit force that melts the lesser hitters of the league into a bubbling goo and Kershaw steps over them like I step over the bird crap that fell and solidified on my back step.

Until he met the baseball juggernaut out of America’s gateway to the lower left-hand quadrant of the Gulf of Mexico, Oil City USA: the Astros of Houston, Texas. Martinez, Lowrie, Altuve: the ace-breakers.

Kershaw may as well have been late-career Chan Ho Park last night in Los Angeles, as the Astros lit him up for a monstrous three runs over 7 innings. Well, it feels monstrous, anyway, and for the big shot to come from J.D. Martinez, who only days before tattooing a Kershaw pitch into the left field seats looked every bit the befuddled, out-gunned hitter. That was a good feeling, because let’s face it Astros fans we’re watching with the flutter in the pits of stomachs that this could be the game that we wake up from this very pleasant dream of .500 baseball.

But here is the thing about this team: they don’t care. Why should they? There are no expectations to fail to meet, few cagy veterans around to dictate some dusty brand of faux respect or traditionalism. The young guys don’t have to raise their voice above a din. This place is silent; the only voice is their own. If the bullpen naming itself The Regulators means anything, it means that there’s nobody around to tell them that they aren’t supposed to name themselves anything.

Sidenote: I’ve consulted my 175-year-old soothsaying tortoise Roy Hofheinz Junior Junior and he suggests that a healthy Matt Kemp would have had zero impact on a two-run differential game, so we can take that knowledge of the Ancients forward into today’s match-up.

Increased regulation

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

Brett Myers wearing snakeskin boots with his uniform

If it surprises you that the snakeskin boots above belong to Brett Myers, then you have not been following any of Myers’ other aesthetic decisions very closely.

via Alyson Footer’s blog

Sweet sweepiness – Cubs v. Astros

The write-up says that Wandy Rodriguez didn’t have his best stuff last night, but I think that he DID have his best stuff last night. Unperturbed in appearance after 7 innings of solid work–Wandy’s fastball jumped from his hand, the usual 90 mile per hour straight shooters that somehow by dint of location and delivery seem to travel at a much quicker 94 miles per hour or so. The curveball that curves above the strike zone but never lands there.

I guess Wandy disagrees with me as Brad Mills reported that Wandy told him that his fastball told him that he was a little under the weather–and I’ll admit I wasn’t glued to every pitch as I’ve got a life to live here after all–but I was very satisfied with the work.

And the results! 21-23 feels alright with me. Now on to the Jose Altuve’s All-Star bid. The Pocket Jaguar must play in Kansas City! (Nice logo, BTW, All-Star game graphic designer….)

It’s a tired adage that slumping hitters just need a few easy ones to fall in to get their confidence back. But if the adage happens to true despite its fatigue, then J.D. Martinez had a confidence-boosting night. His triple in the fourth inning is a true scorecard-defier, as Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney and right fielder David Dejesus combined to completely horse up a catchable high short pop-up when Barney, like a retriever pursuing a tennis ball, bounded heedlessly into Dejesus’ ball-filled glove head first and knocked it free. There should be a special asterisk-esque symbol for hits that should have been outs if any other team besides the Cubs were in the field. The & is a decent visualization of the path that Barney took to the ball.

Good teams beat the teams that they should beat, and the Cubs are worse than the Astros so we should have beat them. I’m not saying we’re a great team, but we aren’t a lie-down team that succumbs to even the dregs of the league. Just not being the dregs of the league feels superb. You can have your two-out-of-three, Texas, honestly. You’re a great team, we aren’t gonna beat you. But Cubbies, we’ll sweep you good, because we have a good bullpen and youthful exuberance and a patch of talent where there was thought to be none.

Astros beat the Cubs 2-1 but it never even felt close

I would do some research into how long J.A. Happ takes between pitches but I grew so old and decrepit waiting for him to decide on his middle of the inning throwaway pitch to the Cubs pitcher that I’ve run out of time on this mortal plane; my wick has run out and soon my candle will flicker and blink out. As I age, J.A. Happ’s start will continue, he will dilly dally between pitches for a kind of ageless eternity. Does he take so much time because he knows that as long as he is pitching he can never leave this mortal coil? That he can live on if only he never gets around to throwing the last pitch of the night?

At various points in the game tonight, a Cub player kissed a baseball, bit a bat, and flew through the air. Alfonso Soriano, Starlin Castro and Tony Campana, respectively, pursued a strange library of alternative routes to success. Soriano kissed cowhide after a diving catch in left field; Starlin chewed Louisville Slugger after striking out for the third time and Campana soared into third base over Matt Downs’ glove three feet off the ground after Wilton Lopez chucked away a pick-off throw. You thought it ended with Turk Wendell and Carlos Zambrano? These guys are full of quirk.

It’s nice to beat the Cubs, but it’s even more nicer to beat them despite their litany of rituals.

The Cubs are heavy on quirk and light on hope. Astros fans can at least enjoy some sense of rebuilding, and the long term strategy embedded in that language. The Cubs continue to languish in the middle area–a lot like the Houston Rockets actually–in that they aren’t terrible enough to reboot and they seem a thousand miles from solid baseball every day. Hard to pity a team with plenty of spending bread and a rabid fan base. It’s the formula for success as carried out by the Angels and the Rays, and at this point the Cubs seem well out from a turnaround.

Leading off the game, the Little Jaguar of Maracay, Jose Altuve, clinked a Travis Wood pitch–who really and truly actually looks ilke Jamie Moyer and kind of pitches like him too. Looking at the final numbers I’m amazed he only allowed two runs. He looked so much worse than that–off of the wall above the 404 sign; the homer travelled farther than I thought Altuve was capable, and his 3 home runs on the season are about, oh let’s say, two whole home runs more than I expected from him for the whole of the season.

Jed Lowrie followed with a ground rule double and man alive Jed Lowrie, this guy can hit! We thought he might be able to, but he’s now in the upper echelons of shortstop power hitters. And he wears the double flap helmets! Not since Otis Nixon has a double-flapper made such a splash.

Cubs left-handed relief pitcher James Russell could pass for a mandolin player in the Avett Brothers and let’s wonder together if he would play the mandolin left-handed and would he consider playing the national anthem at a minor league baseball game in Athens, GA. He struck out a fellow relief pitcher at one point, that being Wesley Wright whose swing, especially on this night, resembled Starlin Castro’s more than JA Happ’s.

This game was a close one, but somehow I felt we had it in the bag even when it was tied at 1-1. Maybe it was the faux-Moyer on the mound for the Cubs or maybe it’s the overripe banana aura of the Cubs as a whole, but I knew that we would get over the hump and keep them from scoring. J.D. Martinez, who was in danger of making an art form out of taking hittable fastballs right down the middle, finally poked a hit with two men on in the bottom of the sixth, which let in some light in the tie game.

The bullpen pitched solidly, with fine work from Wesley Wright who seems to have come into his own after years of pretty borderline work. The guy’s sporting 9.5 strike outs per 9! That’s well over what I would have guessed, but we’ll take it. Wilton Lopez overcame the bad pickoff throw that enabled Tony Campana to scampana to third base, where rather than employing the typical hook slide to avoid a tag he decided to fly over Matt Downs’ glove, but he got no farther. Brett Myers’ curveball–what I’ll call the Trade Value Special–looked in fine form.

The Astros are 20-23. That is impossible not to love out of this team that was cast aside like an old hubcap that maybe eventually somebody would find by the side of the road and fix up but even that would be years away. We are rolling on down the road, winning some good ball games and making sure we don’t sink too deep. That’s the reassuring thing about being a sub-par team in this league: there will always be the Cubs to look down on.

From the Puma’s mouth

We can all agree you shouldn’t get hurt just stretching for a ball at first base.”
- Lance Berkman

Astros beat the Cubs, and a foamer night mention!

Jim Deshaies: Back in the dome when you’d get free beer if Mike Schmidt struck out. That’s the only one I’ ve ever heard targetted at an individual. Foamer night at the ballpark. Probably can’t bring that one back.

Bill Brown: Yeah that’s not too workable today, and that’s a hit into right field.

Bottom line: Foamer Night mention! Not this blog, of course, but the historical phenomenon, and that’s good enough for me. I hadn’t heard mention of the Foamer Night being tied to a particular player, that being Mike Schmidt as quoted by J.D. I was under the impression that a particular half-inning was assigned, or maybe a pitch or a batter. The idea that they might’ve picked out one player–and one as likely as Schmidt to take a mustache ride around the four bases–would take the whole affair to another level of 70s greatness.

And the kicker is that they were referring back to another conversation that they had a previous night about the sudsy tradition from the old Dome days!

It was a good night to reminisce, as there were myriad technical difficulties on the TV side, as Milo Hamilton must have kicked out a cord or twelve up in the media booth. In short, there were no commercials. Somewhere around the middle of this match-up between the Astros and the hapless Cubs I thought I sensed a change in the rhythm of the TV broadcast. Like the cut scenes to between innings were oddly long, and the two talking heads who normally arrive at the end of the game were talking to me in the middle. Shows how carefully I was listening to the audio when only at the end of the game did I learn that there were massive problems here and in St. Louis, and Mrs. Miggillicuddy in 14B couldn’t get her stories either. How’s she supposed to fold laundry without her stories?!

The game was a blowout, which the Astros have proved capable of every now and then. Jason Castro hit a three-run home run. “Castro homered!” said my wife to me, I being in the kitchen preparing some organic chicken. Dang, I thought, but heck he’s a good young hitter especially for a shortstop and hopefully I won’t take too big a hit on my fantasy team when Bud Norris gives up a few early runs. He’ll settle down. When I popped into the living room to see the play, I realized it was Jason! His first home run in twenty-seven years of organized baseball! No, it was actually his first home run of the season and his first since 2010.

The swing was solid, and it was nice to see him turn and get his big body into a pitch and pull it into the left field seats were a Cubs fan in a cowboy hat missed it and fell back first into the unforgiving–and empty–seat behind him. Matt Garza gave up the home run employing his theme of the night, the elevated change-up. Jed Lowrie homered, as did Chris Johnson when he boomed a shot over some quick skinny guy playing center field for the Padukah Cubs.

When Castro hit the ball, he knew it was gone. He was so geeked that he initiated Game Winning Home Run sequence and began to raise his fists into the air in triumph. Before he could reach full extension, though, he realized that nobody besides his girlfriend, mother, and Greg Lucas was tracking his home run drought so closely and that they might find it odd to see him celebrating so.

We won handily 8-4, riding Bud “The Ace” Norris to a victory that was even larger than it seems. Bud also happens to be the starting pitcher version of Brad Lidge. Fastball, Fastball, Fastball, Slider-That-You-Can’t-See. Like Lidge, Norris’ slider, thrown at the bottom of the strike zone, evaporates just after the batter decides to swing at it. I didn’t see Bud throw a pitch that wasn’t a fastball or a slider, though admittedly I was pretty darn concerned about the fate of my chicken around those middle innings. (It turned out great, by the by, thank you for asking, and no you may not have the recipe.

On a night of Astro home runs, other notables include Chris Johnson’s mammoth home run to just right of Tal’s Hill. Off the bat C.J. knew it would leave the thickest part of the park and he watched it fly like it was a par 3. Johnson is a Daily Pass guy, wherein we all kind of know he’s like a sort of crappy player, but he is capable of earning that Daily Pass, with a massive home run for example, and it’s like ‘okay you’ve earned another pass, I guess we’ll keep you around tomorrow. But his whole career will be like that! Anyway, he earned his pass tonight.

Brian Lahair of the Cubs, whose name I will not even take the time to look up for spelling purposes, is the baseball style love-child of Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez. Thome’s build and his socks, and Manny’s relaxed, coiled danger holding of the bat.

I was thrilled to win the game, and I was thrilled to hear the Foamer Night mention, if only to confirm that I am not insane. There are no two other broadcasters I’d rather have during a weird TV outage/camera situation than JD and Brownie (Vin Scully is only ONE guy so I get Vin on a technicality).

Crawfish season

It’s been a few days since I’ve watched the Astros play. A confluence of summer activities kept me away from the Rangers series. On one hand I wanted to see the Rangers given that they are THE dynamic team in the Major Leagues and they are our rivals, no?, and our soon-to-be division mates. On the other hand, having handed them several easy losses. On the third hand, there was the win on Saturday night–which I missed on account of a giant mound of crawfish on a paper plate I was consumed with consuming while a Zydeco band urged me on–sure does look like a fun one. I don’t hate the guy, but I’m glad to beat the young Brian Wilson protege Derek Holland, who has crafted himself something of the easy target for non-Ranger fans. As I think it was Tom Scharpling said about I don’t know who, guys like Holland are funny…for athletes. It’s not like they can carry any kind of segment, as Holland proved in his painful appearance on a local weather report at some point during the offseason. His approach was to quickly revert to his (middling) Harry Caray impression at the first sign of comedic trouble.

For Lucas Harrell to hold Josh Hamilton hitless is the kind of miraculous accomplishment that I don’t even want to have seen, because the reality would surely pale in comparison to the holy shining light that glows on the achievement in my imagination.

J.D. Martinez. started the year hitting like a professional hitter ready to take hold of the number three spot in the order and let Mr. Luhnow build up around him like a heavy stone column. I was prepared–the overexcited fan of professional-grade hitters that I am–to grant him that position as a given and move on to more exciting projects like finding the vegetarian food booth at Minute Maid Park or counting the giant oranges in the MMP Express when all of a sudden J.D. started swinging the bat like he had always just gotten his pupils dilated at the eye doctor. The pitcher winds and throws…the pitch is called a ball…and Martinez swings and misses. J.D. brushing them with a piece of hay as they passed. J.D. was possessed to distraction by the refrain of an LMFAO song or he couldn’t find the vegetarian food stand either. Who in the name of Purpura knows what went wrong but the head and the hands and the heart were utterly out of sync. In the games I watched against Milwaukee he could have maybe dented a He-Man lunch box with the cuts he took. I’m glad to read that he had a knock in Saturday’s game, and to his credit, he still supports an on-base average about double anything Jason Michaels’ in the last few years, so the potential to regain his Professional Hitter label is there. There are occasions in baseball when it’s so obvious that the mental side of the game has swallowed up the physical side for a particular player, and for J.D. it really is a case of the hitting yips. Not bad luck, not poor performance, but an honest breakdown of the focus/non-focus Zen state that it takes to be good on a consistent basis.

I figure once he connects with a few line drives in a row it will knock loose the dried sap that’s closed off his chakras, and he’ll be back to form at some point.

Can we say the same for the Astros? They’re sneaking away from the .500 plateau that did for a little while feel realistic. They’ve won three out of their last five and that’s pretty good against the best team in baseball and a division opponent.

In the meantime, the visions of retro splendor on Friday nights should be plenty to sustain. Bud Norris will pitch against Matt Garza and the Cubs tonight, May 21, and oh hey look see the Cubs are worse than we are! I was frankly shocked to learn that Alfonso Soriano was still a starter on that team. I’ll take El Caballo’s contract over the deal CHC made with that guy any time.