Posts Tagged ‘jose altuve’

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.

A Mighty Moment

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.

Gone to the Country

I tuned in to Milo Hamilton and Dave Raymond on the radio while driving back from a weekend at the ranch. There’s not a better way to acclimate to civilized society than baseball on the radio. I came in when the game was tied at 4 and headed into the deep innings, promising a tight game to keep me alert at the wheel–in stark contrast to my dog, who was passed out in the back seat having spent half of the weekend ill-advisedly barking down a palomino horse and the other half dodging the nips of a native Jack Russell Terrier.

Milo Hamilton, whatever his shortcomings as a broadcaster these days, is a master of the emotionally compelling baseball narrative. Early in my listening experience, for example, Milo reminded his audience of Henry Sosa’s proclivity for four-run starts just like the one he tallied on Sunday. That makes three in a row for the consistent young pitcher, and while I didn’t see or even hear much of his start, Sosa seemed to have once again wobbled early before righting the ship for a few more solid innings. Milo told me that story succinctly and with humor, highlighting the quirk in a tone of voice that reminded me of the familiar weirdness of baseball, which we are regularly reminded is a series of probabilities acted out on a board, even as we marvel at its strange inconsistencies.

I’d have also liked to see a couple of J.D. Martinez’s three hits and two runs batted in, though I did have the misfortune, once I settled back in at the house, to witness his utter failure in scoring even one run with the bases loaded and just an out in the crucial bottom of the ninth. J.D. actually took a third strike, which in that situation was viscerally akin to just outright wetting oneself. The tie remained, and it was on to extra innings, which I was able to enjoy on the teevee with Jim Deshaies and Bill Brown until I fell asleep, all country tired on a Sunday afternoon, following the Kung Fu Panda’s two-run roundhouse to center field. The promise of an eleventh inning rally wasn’t enough to keep me–or the dog for that matter–awake.

So where do we stand this year? The Astros acquitted themselves respectively against the San Francisco Giants still in the hunt, adding a couple of wins to tally up a four-game streak before the loss on Sunday. Jordan Lyles and Wandy Rodriguez both pitched well, and there are hitters on this team who are doing their best to prove that they are pro hitters.

Lyles

With the pitch count restrictions befitting a prized prospect in this modern era of arm management, I was curious to see how the Astros would stay within the innings limits that were placed on Jordan Lyles, in the 170 innings range. Would he simply sit for the last weeks of the season? Would he get the hook after three innings every start? We now have the answer: he’ll be demoted, then called up to serve as a reliever, according to Brian McTaggart at Astros.com. Lyles has a starter’s repertoire, with his lively but not overpowering fastball, a sneaky change-up, and an improving curveball. But logic would dictate that good pitches for a starter would be good pitches for a reliever. As the whole relief thing will be a short-term project with a well-defined end point, I can’t imagine this odd late season stint will have much of an impact on Lyles’ career one way or the other.

Jose’s Odyssey

Saturday evening, I had just stepped inside for a glass of water to escape the searing country heat when I got a text message from my friend Half Boot. “Inside-the-parker by Altuve!” I grinned. Context was irrelevant. In my mind’s eye, away from cable teevee or the Internet, I could see young Altuve on his fantastic voyage, scampering through the crowded void of space: passing forming nebula, skirting seething black holes, and dancing around fast-moving comets while the forces of entropy seeking disorder and disarray attempt, that being the completion of baseball’s perfect circle, the completion of the orbital circuit.

Norris and the Astros Bow Down to Greinke and the Prince

“The first place Milwaukee Brewers” rings as odd to me as “the rebuilding Astros.” But it’s true: the team that defined mediocrity for 15 or 20 years leads the league, and not just in the arm tats category, leads the NL Central, three games ahead of the Cardinals, and even further ahead of the sliding Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincy Reds. The Brewers’ offseason trades have given them a combination of pop and pitching that justifies their confident air, led by Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, as dynamic a duo as there is in baseball. Those two elite players, who keep Houston baseball interesting despite itself, offer Astros fans a vision of a possible future filled with, say, Jonathan Singleton and whatever hitter we draft with the first pick next year.

Against Zack Greinke, one of the aforementioned acquisitions, there seemed little chance that the Astros would crack their 0-5 record against the first place Brewers. As a result of his early season injury playing basketball, I believe that he’s been overlooked as an elite NL pitcher, though his ERA and WHIP have hovered around 1 since the All-Star Break. Looking at his arsenal, the amateur Greinkeist sees a pretty good sinking fastball, a tight slider, and a big curveball that he really likes to bury in the dirt. In fact, Greinke felt little reason to spend much time in the strike zone at all against the Astros, typically starting an at bat with a strike, and neglecting the edges altogether while our side flailed at his array of ins and outs.

Against leadoff hitter JB Shuck1 and company barely fazed Greinke, who also made a nice play in the field, drove a fly ball to deep center for an out, and laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt, begging the question: is there anything he is bad at? Who’s up to challenge him to a game of Scrabble?

For the second game in a row, Prince Fielder turned on an inside slider and hit a grown-up home run to right field, with singular flourish. Jim Deshaies, Bill Brown, and the FSN Houston team did a fine job illustrating just how similar the pitchers from Brett Myers the night before and Bud Norris on Sunday were, by placing the two side-by-side and playing them simultaneously. Not only were we privy as the TV audience to two equally deliberate and misguided breaking pitches, but we also had the chance to see, in stereoscopic glory, two swings from a left-handed slugger who rivals Cowboys vs. Aliens for explosiveness.

The two-run deficit Fielder established in the first inning would multiply several times before the night was up, thanks to the lesser known hitters batting behind the prince in Kotsay and Betancourt, rather than Ryan Braun batting ahead of him. Those typically punchless two combined to go 6 for 10 with more runs driven in than the Astros would score on the night. We lose 7-3, without ever casting any doubt on the eventual outcome.

Bud Judgment

It’s not easy to distinguish a great Bud Norris start from a bad one, except in the final tally. When he’s throwing well, the sharp low 90s fastball is well-located, and his slider stays in the bottom of the zone and below. But even when his slider is effective, it’s got a tight, small break, so a bad slider and a good one don’t look too different. In the end, as is often the case with pitching at this level, it comes down to location. The slider to Prince Fielder was too high, and though it was inside Fielder has already proven that his bat was quick enough to find a breaker in that spot.

Notes

The Astros’ second and third place RBI leaders this year are currently in the minor leagues.

In the third inning, Carlos Lee discovered another way to prove his awkwardness in the field, spearing a sharp, low line drive from Prince Fielder. El Caballo, however, slung his first basemen’s mitt upward with the effort, and slung the ball into shallow left field like a lacrosse player. Fielder reached and Lee, as is not unusual, found himself lying on the ground in the field.

With a full count and two outs, Clint Barmes was picked off of second base. I’d be more upset if he wasn’t making very solid plays in the field.

I’d like to see the total number of minutes that MLB have historically spent at bat throughout MLB history. I’d wager that the Astros are challenging for least ever. The number of quick innings this post-Pence/Bourn team tacks up keeps these games easy on the grandfather clock.

Brian Bogusevic hit a bloop single in the top of the 8th, and the crowd cheered like it was a double in the gap. When there’s nothing else, you cheer for a bloop single. Fortunately, Jose “Turtle” Altuve hit a single, and Caballo picked up his pre-Pence/Bourn trade form and drove them both home. On his way home, Altuve ran through a stop sign from third base coach Dave Clark, and grimaced guiltily after popping up from his slide at home. As Altuve barrelled in, Clark had to literally get out of his way after being ignored, side-stepping him like a matador.

  1. yes, in his third major league game, the kid is hitting leadoff, though I’ll admit he has a pleasing, Tony Gwynn-esque singles swing

The Young New Astros Beat the Reds in Extra Innings

As soon as I moved close to the Astros, the Astros picked up and moved away from me. Not literally, of course, just the core of the team, the touchstones of modern Astros baseball and its best two hitters, to boot. I’m winded, quite frankly, from the shock of it all. The trade rumors, obviously, suggested that change was imminent, then other rumors undercut the sense of urgency on the part of Ed Wade, only to have the major move in Pence to Philadelphia go through, followed by the parry of Bourn over to the Braves. The Pence move was anticipated, and we received a couple of well-regarded prospects, even if they came from Philadelphia yet again. But the Bourn move, that one hurt when I thought I was well-defended against melancholic invasions. The trade was such an afterthought after the drama of the Pence negotiations. As quickly as a rain cloud moves in, Bourn was gone, and the return has impressed nobody. Wade, on the cusp of a solid move, seemed to reiterate the national opinion of the team by giving away an underrated player for a bushel full of mediocrity.

We’ve already seen images of Pence in Philadelphia red1. Berkman in pinstripes moved me far more. The Philly fans will take some time adjusting to the odd Pence style, I predict, and I can’t say that even I ever completely reconciled the improbability of his mechanics with the results. But they’ll appreciate the patented Pence moxy, especially as it relates to the calm excellence of Ryan Howard and Chase Utley.

The Braves, chasing hard after the Wild Card slot, have tapped into an electrical charge the likes of which they’re likely unprepared for, from the ground Bourn covers in the outfield to his practiced bat to left field and thousand-volt acceleration. The cord from McLouth to Bourn runs hot.

Hello Walls

From Ultimate Astros, a father on his son’s prospects: “He’s in the ballpark now with a ball and a pen…but I’m not sure there’s anybody left to get an autograph from.”

The team that I traveled out to Minute Maid Park to watch play last night featured a couple of kids in Jimmy Paredes2 and leadoff hitter Luis Durango whose skinny, rangy bodies were classic double-A stock. Paredes showed some big league bat speed, though, when he started off his MLB career in the second inning with an electric triple to deep right center field, the first ever Astros to do so. The resulting two-run lead, made three by a Qunitero sacrifice fly, was a noisome report that woke up the small crowd before they could squint to read the name Paredes on the Jumbotron.

I don’t know much about him, but what I can say is that in one single at bat Paredes displayed more confidence, more aggression, and more reckless abandon than I ever saw from Brett Wallace or Chris Johnson, who have each paid the price with a demotion. Cut it loose, fellows, this is a game of braggarts. Break down your walls.

This is a team of unknowns, absolutely. But for Carlos Lee and Clint Barmes, this lineup is a witness protection program. One fine inning was enough to hold the team until a fortunate 10th inning break gave us the win. That won’t be enough every night, though. While they were impressive against some great Cincinnati hitters last night, the bullpen will not always be perfect. They were last night, though, and the Astros’ young tendons bent but did not break.

  1. Is that pastel Philly hue really red? Rose? Pink?
  2. Translation: Jimmy Walls

Hittable Happ and the Joy of Altuve as the Astros Lose to the Cardinals on Monday

On Sunday, against the Cubs, a natural phenomenon–arguably the natural phenomenon of the human experience–the sun, vexed Hunter Pence in the outfield at a pivotal moment when it veiled the flight of a Marlon Byrd out-turned-triple that would make all the difference.

Against the St. Louis Cardinals yesterday, it was another force of nature that jinxed Pence and several other members of the snake bit Houston Astros: Bono. Hunter Pence will not be using Beautiful Day for his walkup music anytime soon, after a U2 concert a week ago called for the Busch Stadium brass to uproot the grass, and lay down of the green stuff that had yet to settle in by the time the boys in brick commenced to catterwall across it on their way to a 10 to 5 loss to their NL Central opponents. Here’s a rundown of the turf-related incidents:

- Hunter Pence slipped while attempting to throw on the brakes to catch a line drive straight at him, leading to a Nick Punto triple.
- Michael Bourn skidded around in the outfield.
- Jose Altuve missed out on extra bases when he spun out rounding first.
- Jason Bourgeois booted a base hit when the ball took a slightly gamey bounce and passed by his outstretched glove.

“We really didn’t expect all the slipping,” Pence told the Chronicle. I don’t suppose we could say the same thing about the season. More from Zachary Levine on what the Astros had to say about the grass.

Incidentally, the Cardinals didn’t seem to have any problems on the slippery surface. I don’t recall a single instance in which they surfed it to trouble. Maybe they had some more time on it to get used to its feel. You’d think that if it were so terrible it wouldn’t matter how familiar a player was with it.

All the Cardinals did was win, even without one of my favorite players, Lance Berkman, who I can admit I was looking forward to seeing. There’s something so fresh and so clean about the Cardinals, their fresh whites and vibrant cardinal red, their classy stadium. Their cameras seem of a higher quality, even, with a crisp picture and brilliant sunlight. Maybe it’s the golden glow of competence that’s sparking my wistful perception of their home field. Maybe it was the promise of Lance, a rendezvouswhich, alas, must deferred.

Happenstance

J.A. Happ’s first inning hinted at a mild recovery from his general innefectiveness (is there a more kind word I could use in this situation than “ineffective”? I don’t think so). His fastball seemed to have a little more run on it, and he was working the edges of the strike zone. At one point in the first inning, Happ threw a change-up low and away that caused Bill Brown and Jim Deshaies to gasp audibly, suggesting that the duo didn’t consider the lefty capable of such a fine-looking professional baseball pitch.

The funny thing is, in later innings Happ didn’t seem to pitch worse than he did in the first. In fact, he seemed to continue pitching away from the middle of the zone, working low with his breaking pitch and showing some movement on his fastball. The Cardinals just hit the ball. Happ was doing what he was supposed to, it just wasn’t good enough. In the bottom of the 4th, punchless catcher Yadier Molina took one of the aforementioned well-located sliders over the left field wall to increase the St. Louis lead to three.

Happ was gone before the end of his half of the fifth.

Can it be said that we’ve seen all we need to from Happ? I think that, given enough starts even when he stinks, he’s got the location skills and the general pitcherliness to eke out a win here or there. But, barring some hidden injury, he’s just not a very deceptive pitcher. He lacks the unquantifiable deceipt or wrinkle or mojo to force big league hitters off balance. I don’t think that he’s a hopeless case. I think he could adjust. But in his current state, Astro oppoenents can feel pretty good about their odds when he takes the mound.

Altuvian Delight

My wife asked me, around about the 7th inning, how someone can invest themselves in such a bad team. There have been many such conversations online lately, to wit the morose conclusion to this Crawfish Boxes post. “Hey!” I said to my wife a few minutes later, as Jose Altuve walked up to the plate. “He’s about five-foot-five,” I said. “Young guy, a real sparkplug.” My wife is the sort whose attitude about life in part derives from her relatively diminutive stature. “I like him!” she said as Altuve dug himself into the batter’s box. He promptly lined a double, extending his arms gracefully through his backswing and bursting out of the box into his kinetic stride. “I love him!” she yelled. Altuve smacked his hands together and proceeded to bounce around on second base.

Our record is 33-69. Who cares when Altuve’s at bat? My wife didn’t give a darn, and neither did I.

Rhythm and Blues

Chris Johnson hasn’t hit much lately. To my eye, he’s got no rhythm. A batting stance and the pre-pitch load-up is like the verse of a rock and roll song. It establishes the tempo, and creates the blend of tension and mirth that build perfectly to the chorus–the swing–such that every fiber of anticipation is unleashed in perfect harmony with what comes before and what comes after the swing.

Josh Hamilton, to use areally great hitter as an example, practically drops the bat head to the plate just before the pitch, in one of the more extreme displays of swing rhythm. He can get away with it, and he sets the tone for the swing by moving from the height of looseness to the pinnacle of tension.

Chris Johnson, on the other hand, stands stock still. He doesn’t move while the pitcher rocks and prepares to fire a pitch the only intention of which is to throw off the rhythm of the hitter before him. So basically Chris Johnson is doing the pitcher’s job for him, but erasing any rhythm from his pre-swing load-up all by himself. By the time the pitch gets there, Johnson had to start himself up and get a swing off at the last second like the baseball game had just startled him awake.

My prescription for the young hitter is three hours per day on the James Brown Pandora station.