Posts Tagged ‘Houston Astros’

Return of Fat Elvis: What I Say?

April 29, 2011

Lance Berkman Hit .571 with 2 Homers and a Double in 3 Days Home.

Berkman awaits the incoming pitch from Figueroa,

What I say? What I say about my nightmares over the return of former Houston Astro Lance “Fat Elvis” Berkman to Minute Maid Park as a member of the rival St. Louis Cardinals? Sometimes dreams come true, whether you want the fragrance or their full blossom or not. The first trip home for dear old Puma, the Rice Owl graduate and fellow Houstonian Berkman was definitively a dream come true.

All those premonitions I wrote about in my first column on this subject came true. They simply happened in greater frequency than even I ever imagined in the pits of my most pessimistic slips on the shores of Gloomsville.

The Cardinals took the series from the Astros, two game to one. Along the way, look at the statistical bling that Berkman ran up on his own personal credit account:

In three games here, April 26-28, Lance Berkman had 8 hits in 14 times at bat for a series batting average of .571.  The hit-fest also bumped his 2010 season batting average as an everyday starter in right field for the Cardinals to .410.

Berkman had no walks in Houston, but he also struck out only twice.

He cracked a double and banged out 2 home runs, giving him 8 long balls on the season. Over the course of three days, he also scored 3 runs and batted in 7 more Cardinal red runs.

Who could ask for anything more?

In spite of the bludgeoning his bat broke down upon the fortunes of our beleaguered Astros, and I was part of the crowd that got to witness that 9-run tumor the redbirds grafted on to our chances in the top of the 6th in Game Three, Houston fans seemed mostly amused to happy for Lance Berkman in his successful return home. The man says he came home simply with the desire to play well gain in front of family and friends – and no one around here, other than broadcaster Milo Hamilton, seems to blame Lance for his absence from the current Astros roster. After 2010, it was simply time for Lance Berkman and the Houston Astros to go in new directions.

Lance is hot, but Cardinal pitching is not.

The new direction of Lance Berkman bodes well for the 2011 Cardinals, if the birds can overcome their holes in pitching and defense. Those areas must improve for the Cards to win big. For now, they show other problems, the kinds you cannot overcome by waiting o the offense to come up with another nine-run-inning explosion.

Still, Lance Berkman is doing his part – way more than his part. And one more time, in the language of the famous Ray Charles lyric, I have to ask:

“What I say? – What I say about that Fat Elvis coming back to Houston?”

Fat Elvis Is Coming!

April 18, 2011

…and he won’t be staying at the Heartbreak Hotel.

Fat Elvis is coming in eight days. He’s traveling with the St. Louis Cardinals this season and he’s due to arrive in time for the redbirds’ three-game series with the Houston Astros next week at Minute Maid Park, Tuesday through Thursday, April 26 through 28.

Oh, and if he keeps it up between now and then, he will be coming back to town carrying one of the best batting averages, home run marks, and runs batted in records in the current National League season. At this Monday morning scribble time, Lance Berkman is hitting .308 with 10 runs batted in and 6 home runs on the season as the mostly-everyday right fielder for the now 8-8 St. Louis Cardinals.

As one of his fans from his Rice University and Houston Astro days, I couldn’t be happier for the 35-year-old bright, funny, and talented man from New Braunfels at this late point in his career.  Lance Berkman’s career marks (.296 BA and 333 HR) still hover on the top side of a great career and I would love to see him finish off his remaining time, whatever that turns out to be, as productively as possible, as long as he does it against anyone but our home town Astros.

Somehow I have this image of Lance coming up late in a game at MMP with the Astros leading 2-1 with two birds on base and then watching old “Berkie” either push an opposite field fly into the Crawford Boxes, or else, lashing an uncatchable drive into the gap in right center. I hope it doesn’t happen, but come on now, if you’ve been watching baseball long enough, you’ve also sniffed this script before: Old hero comes back to victimize his former team as a member of their biggest rival club.

We’ll see. Meanwhile, I will try to find a way to ward off my worst fears about the return to Houston of Lance Berkman with this little book I’ve been reading. I’ve sworn not to reveal its title to the haggard little old lady who sold the book to me at the corner of Texas Avenue and Crawford after a game the other night, but I was also led to believe by the old girl that it’s OK for me to ask questions of you that have  arisen from my reading of this work.

That being said, do any of you know where I can find a 16-legged black spider and a three-headed chicken?

Union Station Revisited

April 15, 2011

Opening in 1911 with additional floors added in 1912.

Entering Minute Maid Park from the Union Station “Great Hall” door on Opening Day of the 2011 baseball season, an old friend of deep orange attachment to the ball club’s early history stopped to ask me which way the tracks ran when this historic place lived its life as a train station. He didn’t ask it quite that way, but that is the way I heard his question. I told him the answer, but in so doing, it also told me that it was time again to do a little Pecan Park Eagle spotlight on the history of this hallowed ground.

First, let me say this much. There are numerous article sites on the history of Union Station available over the Internet. Just do a search with the words “Union Station Houston” and watch what happens. The output from there is absolutely delicious.

Union Stationed opened in 1911. A year later, a 1912 continuation of the work added several stories to the structure. The building was designed by architects Warren & Wetmore at a cost of five million dollars. Upon completion, Union Station became the largest passenger rail terminal in the Southwest. In addition to rail connection to all parts of the country, Union Station served for years as Houston’s base for electric interurban rail service to various mass transit points in Houston and to Galveston. In 1928, with the opening of Buff Stadium four miles  east of downtown, Union Station was a primary departure pint for baseball fans heading for games after work from downtown on the Galveston Interurban line that ran by the new venue.

Tracks ran east-west from the Great Hall of Union Station.

From a point of view that basically corresponds to looking at the ballpark today from across the street on Texas Avenue from the Home Plate restaurant of 2011, the street-side tracks coming into Union Station are quite obvious. I can neither remember exactly how many there were, nor can I find the information online quickly, but I think there were about four to six parallel track sets, stretching parallel on the entire north-south width of the building as you see it here, and extending about as deep as the current third base line for the deepest interior set of incoming rails.

All I recall as a little kid was going there to pick up “Papa” (my grandfather) on his trips to Houston for visits from San Antonio – and looking around at what then seemed like an endless run of railroad tracks and trains coming and going from the station. It was a loud, bell-clanging place too.

For those who have never seen it, this 1999 article by Tom Marsh on the rediscovery of Union Station’s Great Hall is worth the read and photo review.

http://www.kingswayrc.com/gcst/union/union.htm

The thought that never leaves me is the juxtaposition of time and space effect generated by the conversion of Union Station from its grave as Houston’s once early 20th century center of transportation into the city’s hub of 21st century major league baseball. Think about it for a moment or two or more. – Forget the time differential for now:

Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Dizzy Dean, Ducky Medwick, Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Lance Berkman, and Roy Oswalt, at first one time and then another, now and then, all traveled this same ground with fairly identical goals in mind – to play baseball in the City of Houston – and that’s to say nothing of the fact that FDR, Judy Garland, and Ronald Reagan also all could have been there too – just to watch the game – were it not for the fact that most were not traveling by the same ticks on the clock.

Enough said. Union Station is hallowed ground in a Houston history that has now been both preserved and extended by the ongoing presence of Minute Maid Park and the Houston Astros. Think about that one the next time you go downtown to see a game. It makes the trip even more fun and worthwhile.

Our Very Own Jekyll and Hyde

April 14, 2011

Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

It’s not a new analogy, but it plugged in again on fatal levels last night at Minute Maid Park. The Chicago Cubs jumped on Astros No. 2 starter Wandy Rodriquez for five runs after two were out in the top of the first inning to start the evening baseball feast by turning the table back on top of their Houston hosts from the very start. Mr. Hyde has made his appearance a one-inning shot at the top.

The Cubs already had scored two runs with two outs when Jeff Baker of the Cubs lashed a two-out, opposite field double to right to score runners from first and second. Catcher Geovanny Soto then walked to bring up left fielder Alfonso Soriano, who was only 2 for 26 in his previous tries against Wandy with no homers.

After whipping his way to an 0-2 count on Soriano, Wandy decided to challenge his man with a fast one and it was quickly bye-bye baseball. A towering home run to left now put the Cubs on top to stay at 5-0.

Wandy then settled into his Dr. Jekyll goodness mode by shutting out the Cubs in innings 2 through 5, but, by then, the damage was done to the then still goose-egged Astros as they flailed away at the hard-to-hit offerings of their Cubs nemesis pitching foe, Carlos Zambrano. Zambrano was aiming for his 14th career win over the Astros in the rubber game of the three-date series in Houston and he would get it before this long and monstrous performance was completed.

Zambrano also advanced his own cause further by blasting his MLB-pitcher best 22nd career home run in the top of the 6th off Astros reliever Fernando Abad to extend the Cubs lead to 6-0. For his sake, it was good he did. In the bottom of the 6th, Zambrano gave up 5 runs to the Astros before he was lifted with one away and spared further damage.

5-6 would be as high as the vine went for the Astros on this monster night. Wilton Lopez came in to defend in the top of the 9th and promptly gave up three more runs, enough to seal a 9-5 Astros victory.

Once again, the Astros lose because of failed pitching. And look, I’m sorry to pile on Wandy so hard. I think we all know he did not want to have that first inning, but we ought to be free to look at what it means beyond “every good pitcher has a bad night once in a while.”

I’m no pitching coach, but I have been watching baseball for a very long time, long enough to see certain trends with some pitchers that may help to say something about why “Mr. Hyde” shows up sometimes – and, maybe, just long enough to cause the loss of  a game.

Wandy seems to be one of those good pitchers who comes close to being confounding to batters and almost impossible to hit when his focus and ability are working together. Unfortunately, he also seems to be one of those good pitchers who momentarily loses his concentration on what he’s doing every now and then. (Maybe all pitchers do, but with less disastrous results.) That 0-2 pitch to Soriano in the 1st is a good example of inattention leading to disaster. Instead of playing with Soriano to go for an unhittable pitch out of the zone, Wandy grooves one and it results in a hole that runs too deep for full recovery, even with nine innings of batting to go for the Astros.

I’d be very interested in your own observations on Wandy’s “letdown” problem. It’s not as though the club has a better choice at this time, but, my gosh, it’s very hard to improve a club’s standing with one or more Mr. Hydes taking the mound every fifth day. These guys don’t have to be bad for a whole game to cause a loss. They just have to have an inning like Wandy’s first in the final game of the now lost Cubs series.

 

 

Astros Lineup: Where’s the Future?

April 12, 2011

By current age, where are the 2011 Astros prospects?

The 2-8 start of the 2011 Houston Astros is little more than an early bite into the new season, but it sure does accelerate the questions we all have about our prospects for the future. I haven’t talked with or read anyone lately who disagrees with the club’s intent upon rebuilding the farm system and getting younger on the major league field too. It seems to be the way to go.

The real question is: What does getting younger really mean?

To me, it means reaching a point where you have a minimum of at least five of the eight regular position starters and at least three of the five starting pitchers on board with the prospect of five quality seasons ahead of them. Hey! You would always like more, but the way natural decline in ability sometimes just falls off the table at age 32, you can’t count on it.

If we use age 32 as our arbitrary early end of the road measuring stick, this means that a safe prospect needs to be age 27 or younger. Everyone else on a club can be a prospect backup guy, a veteran star, or a journeyman regular position player or relief pitching specialist, along with two veteran or starting pitchers.

How do the current eight regulars and five starting pitchers stack up as prospects by their birthdate ages in 2011? Let’s take a look, using bold type to qualify those that fit our 27 and below general age standard for prospects. In the case of catcher, I’ll go with Jason Castro as our regular man, even though he’s on the DL until late in this season.

Catcher: Jason Castro (06/18/87) age 24

First Base: Brett Wallace (08/26/86) age 25

Second Base: Bill Hall (12/28/79) age 32

Third Base: Chris Johnson (10/01/84) age 27

Shortstop: Clint Barnes (12/06/79) age 32

Left Field: Carlos Lee (06/20/76) age 35

Center Field: Michael Bourn (12/27/82) age 29

Right Field: Hunter Pence (04/13/83) age 28

Starting Pitcher # 1: Brett Myers (08/17/80) age 31

Starting Pitcher # 2: Wandy Rodriguez (01/18/79) age 32

Starting Pitcher # 3: J.A. Happ (10/19/82) age 29

Starting Pitcher # 4: Bud Norris (03/02/85) age 26

Starting Pitcher # 5: Nelson Figueroa (05/18/74) age 37

Based on our standard for the 8 field positions and 5 starting pitcher slots, the Astros currently use only 4 age critical players who might be considered prospects for the future. There other prospects on the roster and some ripening ones at AAA, so, hopefully the ratio will improve as this “tune up” season continues.

While we were busy making plans over the last two to three seasons, Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence grew too old to be considered prospects any longer. In fact, along with Carlos Lee, Bill Hall, and Clint Barnes, Bourn and Pence are now members of our seasoned veterans group.

If it becomes even more obvious that the Astros aren’t going anywhere in 2011, and if Hall and Barnes cannot provide the extra punch that GM Ed Wade was hoping to see from the keystone bag crew, I would have no problem seeing those jobs turned over to prospects too. Also, this is Chris Johnson’s last year as a legitimate prospect. He needs to show that last year’s hitting was no fluke and also improve his fielding.

We also need to see good hitting from Mr. Wallace at first – and I think we will.  I was very impressed with his time at bat against closer Marmol of the Cubs Monday night. Brett has a good eye and some quick wrists. He’s also looking cool under pressure. I like what I see.

I also wouldn’t mind seeing the speedy Jason Bourgeois get more playing time. Bourn’s age creep and his new agent Scott Boras almost make Bourn seem like a double-edged sword. If he hits .250 this year, the Astros cannot afford to keep him in center field in 2012, even with his gold glove. If he hits .300, agent Boras may make it so expensive to re-sign him for 2012 that the club will need to have someone in the wings to take his place.

Bottom Line: Bring on the prospects. We need to see more of the future. And we need to play the past as little as possible.

Minute Maid Park: Open or Closed?

April 11, 2011

Minute Maid Park, Home Opening Day, April 8, 2011.

When the Astrodome opened in 1965, it was the first time in baseball history that we had any kind of answer to the cancellation of games from bad weather on the outside and, even more ordinarily, it was the first time that an enclosed ballpark could be air-conditioned for every day joy and comfort.

That was all well and good, but somewhere over the years of “acclimation” to the everyday sameness of the  Astrodome’s everyday indoor game feel and look, a lot of people got bored with the varied positive effects from nature that were now missing from the game experience. Forget the rain, humidity, and heat for a minute. We all get it on that score. That’s what sold the domed stadium in the first place as a good idea. A venue that was virtually bulletproof from rain checks, one that could provide constant shade, comfort, and coolness was everything we thought we wanted back in the early 1960s.

And it’s what we got too. Except for that game in the late 1970s that was wiped out by flooding rains in the Dome area, everything else that has ever been scheduled for the Eighth Wonder of the World has come off as planned, I think.

What we didn’t count on at the start was the dull sameness that came from watching every indoor game under the enclosed artificial light tones of an inside day that never varied. Over time, we began to miss the periwinkle blue skies that occasionally visit us in the springtime. We missed the always impressive sight of those churning white cotton candy clouds of summer. We missed the scent and taste of breezes blowing in from the gulf on an early June evening. We missed the nip of a late season norther as it brought its forecast to us of the impending autumn season that was coming. We sometimes, if not often, even missed the old Buff Stadium feel of what it was like to sit at the ballpark and down a hot dog and beer under the normal conditions of hot and humid. In short, those of us who were old enough to have known an earlier normal ballpark experience simply missed the variety of everyday life that had now been taken from us by the sterile presence of the Astrodome’s unyielding, invariably predictable sameness.

Minute Maid Park, also April 8, 2011. Same day. Different look at twilight.

The “Ballpark at Union Station,” Enron Field, as we knew it in 2001, and Minute Maid Park, as we know it now, came with a retractable roof. That fact was a direct response to our thirty-five year experience in the Astrodome. When that new ballpark was planned, it came to life with a statement. We Houstonians wanted to keep our air-conditioning, but we also wanted the option of keeping the roof open as weather permitted. In practice, even though the pre-game option always remains with the Astros to open or close the roof, it seems to happen most often in early spring and early fall, when there is less hue and cry from some for the AC to be on with the roof closed at all times.

If I remember correctly, the Astros wanted to open roof for Game Three of the 2005 World Series against the White Sox, but I think they were over-ruled by Commissioner Bud Selig, in response to those who protested that the Houston club was trying to gain an unfair advantage over their opponents from Chicago.

I found that argument to be spurious and with no basis in truth. If you’ve ever spent any time in Chicago during the summertime, you know that the place doesn’t exactly feel like the North Pole at that time of the year. Opening the roof for an evening World Series Game in October seemed like no big game-breaker advantage for the Astros to me. In retrospect, who knows? Maybe leaving the roof open in 2005 could have helped the Astros win the two games in Houston they quickly lost.

Ten years and counting into the Minute Maid Park era, we still have one of the most beautiful and unique ballparks in the majors serving us in Houston. The sliding roof is an important feature. By keeping the roof open during pleasant weather days, and by opening it up at fair times in the late innings, the variation helps to keep the everyday experience of a day at the park from taking on the same look as all others.

Home Opener 2011: Morning After

April 9, 2011

Home Opening Day, Minute Maid Park, Houston, April 8, 2011

The place was packed. The weather was nice. The company was friendly. The food was ballpark. The new giant HD scoreboard was beautiful. And the home season was underway.

But we lost, 4-3. The Florida Marlins spoiled a beautiful seven-inning outing by Astros starter Wandy Rodriquez with two solo-shot homers off relievers Wilton Lopez and Jeff Fulchino in the eighth and ninth innings and the deed was done.

Michel Bourn: Stranded in the Jungle of Failed Clutch.

With the Astros trailing, 3-2, going into the bottom of the eighth, Michael Bourn led off with a single to left to fire home hope. Bourn then moved to second base on a sacrifice bunt by Angel Sanchez and next stole third with Hunter Pence at bat.

 

Unfortunately, Pence then fanned on a 3-2 slider in the dirt and Carlos Lee popped to first on the first pitch his way to end the inning.

The Marlins expanded their lead to 4-2 with a two-out  solo homer by Chris Coghlan off Jeff Fulchino in the top of the ninth. Brett Wallace then pulled Houston back to a 4-3 deficit by homering to left as the lead-0ff man to face new Marlins hurler Leo Nunez in the last of the ninth. Two outs later, J.R. Towles kept things going with a single to left, Earlier in the game, Towles had given the Astros a 1-0 lead with a solo shot homer of his own. This time he would be replaced with a speedier pinch runner in the form of Jason Bourgeois. With lefty Jeff Inglett next pinch-hitting for pitcher Fulchino and down to his last strike, the Astros sent Bourgeois in an attempted steal. A Florida pitch out diagnosed the move and gunned down the play to end the game.

Florida had won the game, 4-3. The Astros now hang at 1-6 with the long season still mostly in front of us. To me, the critical point in this game was the eighth inning failure of the club to get Bourn home from third base with only one out. A Bourn homecoming at that point would have tied the game at 3-3 and changed the face of everything that remained out there to happen next.

Who knows? All we know now is – there’s another game to be played later today. Maybe Game Two of the series will turn in our favor.

The new screen is awesome, but I can no longer read the batting averages next to each name in the lineup.

The new HD video screen is awesome, indeed, but I had a very hard squinting time reading the batting averages next to each name in the lineup as they appear in the photo shown here. Maybe it’s just me and my need for a new prescription, but I still wish the numbers could have shown up bigger – even if it were just on the full stat display that appears for the man at bat.

Of course, I don’t really expect the Astros, or anyone else, to account for all the issues facing those of us with age appropriate mobility needs and failing  sensory function problems. If I did, I would have expected the club to provide me with helicopter service to my Opening Day seats and a loaner oxygen mask and air tank for my use while I was there.

I enjoyed Opening Day. I simply would have enjoyed it more, had we won. Maybe today will turn out a different story ending.

Home Opening Day 2011

April 8, 2011

Opening Day, Minute Maid Park, Houston, 2010.

As Dolly Parton used to energetically sing, “Here We Go Again!” Baseball season is back, full blast.

It’s Friday, April 8, 2011, finally time for the home opening game of the Houston Astros in their fiftieth (YES, 50th) season of major league baseball. Astros broadcaster and SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) member Bill Brown has now written what we are all sure will be a wonderful book on Houston’s time as a major league baseball city. That work will not be released until next year, 2012, the actual 50th anniversary date of the club’s first 1962 season in the National League.

Opening Day at home after actually starting the season on the road against the arguably two best clubs in the National League kind of stains the snow of pure unadulterated hope and the Astros have the 1-5 record to back up that assault on dreams from reality, but so what? It’s early. Baseball is the sport of the long season. The important thing now for us baseball fans is simply the fact that its back, as are we who will be going to the game later today. Nobody could have guaranteed the next coming of this season’s new joy when the 2010 run ended, but here we are, those of us who survived the off-season wait. We are ready to give it a go one more time.

Speaking only for me, I’m not going to allow a lot of high expectations for the outcome of this 2011 Astros club spoil the joy of the season itself. We obviously have some problems that include pitching, hitting, fielding, and roster health, but I really believe we have a good everyday force going for us in the form of Manager Brad Mills and a great long-range plan for rebuilding the farm system and roster strength in the presence of General Manager Ed Wade. Back both those spots with the everyday presence of Astros Baseball President Tal Smith, the almost a half century icon of our entire major experience in Houston, and I would say that things are in the best hands available.

Here are some interest points in 2011 for me: (1) I will be watching to see if our two corner infielders (Johnson and Wallace) can show some strength as big league hitters. Both have to either hit for high average or long ball pop to justify their futures in the lineup; (2) We need to stop thinking of Michael Bourn as the future of the club. I like the guy, love him as a fielder, but he’s 29 years old, too up in years to be the future in a double-binded kind of way: (a) if he doesn’t hit far above .250 this year, the Astros cannot justify keeping him in center, but (b) if Bourn hits close to .300, they have to negotiate his 2012 contract with new agent Scott Boras. Where’s the upside on Bourn? (3) Starter J.A. Happ has good stuff, but awful control. That needs to improve;  (4) waiting and watching to see what happens with Jordan Lyles at Oklahoma City; and (5) to just chill out and watch for surprises.

Baseball games can run on for hours. just as the season itself spills all the way into next fall. To that, I say, “Thank God for both conditions. I just love getting trapped in the ballpark and by the season itself.

Play Ball, Astros! Give us your best shot!

Our Downtown Baseball State of Mind

March 24, 2011

 

Downtown Baseball. Most often, it's an easy drive, in and out.

 

My barber asked me the other day if I had gone to the rodeo this year. Beyond the fact that I am not now, and never have been, a rodeo guy, the thought of the drive from the west side to that congested monster site next to the Astrodome alone is enough to steer me away from such a trip. My barber admitted to the same feelings about the bottle-neck traffic that still controls Kirby at the 610 Loop South area. That problem was one of the same reasons I was happy a few years ago when plans materialized for the downtown baseball park at Union Station. I don’t know how many times I got caught in one of those one or two gate exit traffic clogs at the Astrodome parking lot and went away mumbling “never again.”

Of course, the call of baseball for people like me was strong enough to get me back on a temporarily erased memory of the last traffic jam, but the general effect of Astrodome parking lot and area street congestion was impacting how often I attended games as the years went by. It was just awful. And there wasn’t really any way for it to get better. Texans football fans have the same problem in 2011. Only the tailgaters escape it by arriving early and leaving late. Baseball isn’t a tailgater’s game. At least, the last time I looked, it wasn’t.

So, why is downtown so much better for auto traffic?

The big difference is easy to see. Downtown offers a far more diffuse traffic  situation, one serviced by the same freeways that all serve downtown for daily business, but without the density impact from all those other cars that are involved in our weekly morning and afternoon rush hour traffic. Downtown is a grid of about twelve streets moving north and south and a like number moving east and west –  and they all connect, one way or another with freeways departing downtown in every direction. When baseball schedules itself for a game downtown in the evening, or on weekends, the traffic infrastructure is set up to make the drive to and from the ballpark as easy as it can be for fans coming from and going to all points on the compass.

I can’t help but think of the one condition that would make going to a major league baseball game in Houston even easier – and that would be to live downtown in one of the overdeveloped high rises that sprouted up faster than the area could develop the other kinds of residential services for the neighborhood that are needed to make the downtown residential life an attractive option. For now, there aren’t enough grocery stores and convenient shopping centers and other entertainment/eatery places, not to mention medical, dental, and veterinary services, and gas stations, to get people to cut the cord on their present suburban area dependencies.

Change is big. It comes in parts of letting go of the old and grabbing on to the new. Today, downtown needs a few more amenities we can grab onto and finally say, “That’s it. That’s all I needed. Downtown, here I come.”

For me, for now, the easy ride, to and from the west side out either I-1o or Memorial Drive will have to do. It’s worked for me, so far, since the year 2000.

 

 

2011 Astros: Early Roster Predictions

February 22, 2011

Astros 2011: Who's on First?

Count me among those fans who are happy that the Astros have now put a public face on their plans to rebuild the farm system as the primary talent source for the major league roster. I supported the old skin-shedding of Oswalt and Berkman from the 2010 roster and the decision to go with younger faces at all key roster spots, wherever possible. I applaud Tal Smith and Ed Wade for their re-thinking and re-tooling of the club’s scouting and player development staff – and I like what I’ve seen of the younger players coming in as prospects.

The only black cloud I see is just one of those things that can’t be helped in today’s game, but it deserves comment. Just as Michael Bourn was developing as the icon of our Astros youth or Phoenix bird player redevelopment, he turns around and signs up Scott Boras as his agent. Now the question is: Can we really afford for Bourn to have the career year we need him to have in 2011? If he does, it may simply give agent Boras the opportunity next year to make the Astros an offer on the future of Bourn that they will choose to refuse. What a conundrum!

I don’t see a lot of surprises developing as the Astros cull down to their 25-man roster by opening day. Were it not for our two DL infielders and the two Rule 5 Draft pick pitchers that the Astros are likely to keep, picking it now would be even easier. Given no claims of visionary power or inside knowledge, here’s how I seeing it settle out. Things could change if Brett Wallace squats and doesn’t hit from spring game one, but that would probably just means that Wallace goes down to Oklahoma City while Lee moves to first and Bogusevic takes over in left.

Keppinger and Sanchez will not be fully ready to go on Opening Day, but they should both be back full-bore by late May. I don’t see Tommy “Fair Field/No Hit” Manzella sticking with the club unless Clint Barnes really sucks wind in the spring, nor do I see much future in the infield here for Mr. Downs. I also don’t see any big surprises in the pitching roster from the start, unless we suddenly find Captain Marvel hiding out there in rookie garb.

I look forward to another great year from Billy-Goat-Bearded Brett Myers as we also hope again that this is finally the season that Wandy Rodriguez loses his “Mr. Hyde” alter ego, once and for all.

Nothing original from me on what’s needed this spring: (1) Castro and Wallace have to start showing they can hit MLB pitching; (2) Chris Johnson at third needs to show he can do it again as a hitter; (3) Lee, Bourn, and Pence just need to be the players they already are; and (4) Hall and Barnes need to show us that Ed Wade’s confidence in them is justified as adequate keystone base figures with compensating extra power pop at the plate; and (5) the pitchers need to get their arms in shape and their stuff working without getting hurt before Opening Day.

Here are my early final roster picks. We’ll see how far off I am when the real season starts:

2011 Houston Astros: 2011 Season Opening Day 25-Man Roster Predictions.

Pitchers

Starters

(1)        Brett Myers (BR/TR)

(2)        Wandy Rodriguez (BB/TL)

(3)        J.A. Happ (BL/TL)

(4)        Bud Norris (BR/TR)

(5)        Nelson Figueroa (BR/TR)

Relievers

(6)        Jeff Fulcino (BR/TR)

(7)        Wesley Wright (BR/TL)

(8)        Wilton Lopez (BR/TR)

(9)        Fernando Abad (BL/TL)

(10)    Brandon Lyon (BR/TR) Closer

Rule 5 Draft Pitchers

(11)   Aneury Rodriguez (BR/TR)

(12)   Lance Pendleton (BL/TR)

Catchers

(13)   Jason Castro (BL/TR)

(14)   Humberto Quintero (BR/TR)

Infielders

(15)   1B:  Brett Wallace (BL/TR)

(16)   2B:  Bill Hall (BR/TR)

(17)   3B:  Chris Johnson (BR/TR)

(18)   SS:   Clint Barnes (BR/TR)

(19)   Matt Downs (BR/TR)

(20)   Jimmy Paredes (BB/TR)

Disabled List *

Jeff Keppinger (BR/TR)

Angel Sanchez (BR/TR)

Outfielders

(21)   LF: Carlos Lee (BR/TR)

(22)    CF: Michael Bourn (BR/TR)

(23)   RF: Hunter Pence (BR/TR)

(24)   Brian Bogusevic (BL/TL)

(25)   Jason Michaels (BR/TR)

* As they are able, look for Keppinger and Sanchez to replace Downs and Paredes as the reserve infielders. All plans could change if the Astros decide not to carry either or both of their Rule 5 Draft pitchers (A. Rodriquez & L. Pendleton) on the major league roster for the entire 2011 season.