Posted on: August 11, 2011 12:37 am

Astros' season of futility continues

By Matt Snyder

The Houston Astros lost 6-3 Wednesday night to the Arizona Diamondbacks. The loss dropped the Astros to 38-79, marking the first time in history they were 41 games under .500 (Brian McTaggart via Twitter) at any point in a season -- and there are still 45 games left on the schedule. The current winning percentage, .325, puts the Astros on pace to go 53-109, by far the worst in club history. Only once in franchise history have the Astros ever even fallen below a .400 winning percentage and that was a .398 clip (1975).

Considering Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn are gone -- and ace starter Wandy Rodriguez might soon follow via waivers -- it's pretty much a foregone conclusion the 2011 Astros will be the worst version Houston has ever seen. Barring an absolute miracle, it's an inevitability. Instead, Brad Mills' club will be looking to stave off joining a select group in the annals of Major League Baseball.

Only 21 teams in major-league history have dropped below .300, and it's happened just one time since 1962: The 2003 Tigers. That Tigers team was 43-119. Also, only 11 teams since 1900 have lost 110 times in a season. The Astros are on pace to come right down to the wire on that one. And no big league club has dropped more than 105 games since the 2005 Royals.

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Category: MLB
Posted on: August 9, 2011 6:41 pm
Edited on: August 9, 2011 6:42 pm

Crane could take over Astros on Aug. 22

Jim CraneBy C. Trent Rosecrans

The Astros could belong to Jim Crane as soon as the end of this month, Zachary Levine of the Houston Chronicle reports.

Current owner Drayton McLane warned "nothing is set in concrete," Crane could be approved by the other 29 owners at next week's owners meetings and official control would pass to Crane on Monday, Aug. 22.

The owners meet next Wednesday and Thursday in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Crane agreed to buy the Astros for $680 million in May.

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Posted on: August 8, 2011 5:29 pm

On Deck: Wakefield aiming for 200


By C. Trent Rosecrans

Follow all games live with CBSSports.com's GameTracker.

Tim WakefieldGoing for 200:
Boston's Tim Wakefield will take his third chance at winning his 200th game of his career. The 45-year-old knuckleballer has pitched well in his last two starts, but wasn't able to pick up the win. He gave up three runs to both the White Sox on July 29 and to the Indians on Aug. 3, going a combined 13 2/3 innings and 11 strikeouts with just four walks. Baker's looking to bounce back from a three-inning outing against the Angels on Aug. 3. He gave up five hits and four runs (three earned), throwing 77 pitches in the outing. Red Sox at Twins, 7:10 p.m. ET

Perfect timing:
If you're a team just a half-game out of first place, there are few things that can make you happier than seeing a four-game series against the Astros coming up on the schedule. Arizona is 5-5 over its last 10 games but is still just a half-game out in the National League West thanks to San Francisco's recent struggles. The Astros are 40 games under .500. Daniel Hudson starts for the Diamondbacks opposite Houston's best pitcher, Wandy Rodriguez, in the series opener tonight. Watch for Arizona's Justin Upton who is putting up MVP numbers. Upton is hitting .366/.418/..831 with seven homers and 22 RBI over his last 18 games and has a homer in his five plate appearances against Rodriguez. Astros at Diamondbacks, 9:40 p.m. ET

Ryan VogelsongThis one goes to 11?: Pittsburgh has an uphill climb in San Francisco if it wants to stop its 10-game losing streak. While the Pirates will miss Tim Lincecum in the three-game series, they have to face former Pirate Ryan Vogelsong, who is 9-1 with a 2.19 ERA. While Vogelsong's ERA is slightly higher at AT&T Park, batters aren't hitting him as well at home, putting up a .228/.290/.312 line. He's allowed just three homers in his 11 home starts. Pittsburgh's Charlie Morton got the Pirates' losing streak started in Philadelphia by allowing eight runs in four innings. He threw seven shutout innings in his last start, but the Pirates lost a 1-0 game to the Cubs. Pirates at Giants, 10:15 p.m. ET

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Posted on: August 6, 2011 5:55 pm
Edited on: August 6, 2011 5:56 pm

From lucky to unlucky: Astros option J.A. Happ


By Evan Brunell

The Astros, fed up with J.A. Happ's struggles, optioned the starting pitcher to Triple-A in the hopes his head can get screwed on straight.

Happ was the biggest piece in the deal for Roy Oswalt at the trade deadline of 2010, with GM Ed Wade getting bedazzled by Happ's 18-8 record in 2009-10, compiled with a 3.09 ERA in 253 1/3 innings scattered over 39 starts and 12 relief appearances. That was a house of cards, though. Happ's performance came with 189 strikeouts and 103 walks, giving up 28 homers and allowing just 26.9 of batting averages fall into play, with league average at 29-31 percent at the time.

Advanced ERA-scaled metrics, xFIP in this instance, said the lefty's ERA over that time frame should have been 4.50. Yet, the Phillies -- who eschew sabermetrics yet have stayed in contention despite occasional bizarre decisions -- knew Happ was overrated and sent him packing at his highest value along with two minor leaguers at the 2010 trade deadline for Roy Oswalt. Happ pitched solidly down the stretch for Houston, but those who noticed knew that 2011 was unlikely to be kind.

Indeed. In fact, 2011 has been so unkind that he's underrated, at least compared to ERA and xFIP, which counts only those runs that have been considered at direct fault to to pitchers, where the 28-year-old remains a 4.50-type pitcher. xFIP has held steady in evaluating Happ's performance thus far this year, but he's been lit up over 22 starts for a 6.26 ERA, with his last four starts especially bad, giving up 22 runs, 19 earned for a 8.84 ERA in 19 1/3 innings.

Now, he'll ply his trade in the minor leagues, trying to get back on tract. Unless he makes an unforeseen leap forward, though, Happ remains what he's been all along: a solid back-of-the-rotation starter.

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Category: MLB
Posted on: August 6, 2011 1:12 am

3 Up, 3 Down: Major-league debuts are a blast


By Evan Brunell

upJohnny Giavotella, Royals: The rookie Giavotella, who hit .338/.390/.481 for Triple-A, is the newest wave of Royals youngsters. This one is poised to hold second base for a long time on the strength of his bat and he got things started Friday against the Tigers with a 2-for-3 effort with a walk and run scored, getting his first major-league hit off of Rick Porcello. The 24-year-old tacked on an RBI for good measure, singling home Eric Hosmer in the seventh during a three-run outburst to tie the game. Detroit pushed a run across in the top of the 10th to win the game.

Brett Lawrie, Blue Jays: Lawrie, like Giavotella, was making his major-league debut. This time it was over with Toronto, and he wasted no time showing why he's ticketed to be the Jays' third baseman for the next 10 years by collecting two hits in four trips to the plate, driving in a run with two out. He batted ninth, but that will quickly change. Lawrie could have been called up in early June but took a pitch off the hand a day before he was getting called up which cost him months of recuperation. He's finally up, though, and Toronto's pieces for a nice run starting in 2012 is clicking into place.

Carlos Quentin, White Sox: Another powerful day for Quentin, who rocketed two homers and totaled four RBI on the day to bump his overall line to .259/.346/.512. It's a resurgence for the oft-injured righty, who is on pace to post 34 home runs, just shy of his career high of 46 in 2008. Giving how good pitching is these days though, this could be Quentin's most impressive season.

KarstensJeff Karstens, Pirates: Karstens has been pitching way above his head this year and paid for it Friday with a regression to the mean. He coughed up nine earned runs in 3 1/3 innings, walking one and striking out two. His ERA spiked from 2.49 to 3.05. Still, Karstens has gotten this far pitching this well, so he must be doing something right. While he's simply not a 2.49 ERA kind of pitcher -- and not quite 3.05 either -- he has shown that he can be a very good pitcher.

J.A. Happ, Astros: Ugh. Happ's ERA is now a sky-high 6.26. That's in 22 starts, so it's a legit 6.26. Happ had a 18-8 record from 2009-10 between the Phillies and Houston, posting a 3.09 ERA. Those who looked at peripherals and/or advanced statistics knew this was all a fluke. Those who saw nothing but the win-loss record were delivered a blow this season, as Happ gave up six runs in four innings to the Brewers, walking three and striking out two. Oh, and his record? 4-14. The Houston Chronicle's Zachary Levine notes that Happ is the first pitcher in Astros history to allow at least five runs in eight consecutive starts. Oh, and he's the fourth pitcher since 1948 to allow five runs in eight straight starts.

Drew Stubbs, Reds: Stubbs has skidded this season with a .252/.327/.386 mark. This wasn't supposed to happen, not after Stubbs notched a 20-30 season last year with a .255/.329/.444 mark, but his power has all but vanished this year and leads baseball with 145 strikeouts, three of which came against the Cubs on Friday, going hitless in four at-bats. The loss was the second straight for the Reds, who have gone 4-6 in their last 10 and are now 8 1/2 games out of first with a 54-58 record. If they're going to get to the postseason, they need to at the very least stop losing ground.

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Posted on: August 5, 2011 3:01 pm

Carlos Lee and the Astros' kiddie corps

Carlos Lee

C. Trent Rosecrans 

Your stat of the day: Carlos Lee has more career plate appearances than the rest of the Astros' position players combined.

The Houston Chronicle's Steve Campbell figured that stat out for his feature on Carlos Lee. Lee has 7,967 career plate appearances -- four more than the rest of Astros' position players combined.

Only three Astros, shortstop Clint Barmes (2,826), outfielder Jason Michael (2,588) and catcher Humberto Quintero (1,033) have more than 1,000 career plate appearances. Last season Hunter Pence led the team with 658 plate appearances in 156 games, so to put it in perspective, besides Lee, only two current Astros have more than two full seasons worth of big league plate appearances.

How about this? Lee is mired in an 0-for-23 funk -- tonight he'll have three teammates in uniform who don't have 23 career at-bats. In fact, the trio -- outfielder J.D. Martinez, third baseman Jimmy Paredes and outfielder J.B. Shuck have a combined 27 at-bats in the big leagues (and nine hits).

Lee's probably not going anywhere anytime soon, though. He's signed through next season -- and his $18.5 million salary is actually more than twice the rest of the team's position players combined salary.

"I’m more of a teacher, a mentor,” Lee told Campbell. “Pretty much whatever I can do to help, I’m open for it. I try to keep it loose, make ‘em understand to go out and have fun and play hard. Regardless of the situation, it’s still my job to go out there and do the best I can, compete as hard as I can."

(H/T to Aaron Gleeman at Hardball Talk

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Posted on: August 3, 2011 11:01 pm
Edited on: August 4, 2011 11:00 am

Minor-league manager snaps

By C. Trent Rosecrans

This video gets better when you realize that the name of the manager going nuts is Stubby Clapp.

Clapp, a Canadian baseball legend, is the manager of the short-season Class A Tri-City ValleyCats of the New York-Penn League and he was apparently none too happy on Monday night when he thought his player, Matthew Duffy, had been hit by a pitch. Duffy tried to run to first, but was called back by the home plate umpire. And that's when Stubby snapped.

Behold greatness:

Clapp, 38, played in 23 games for the Cardinals in 2001 and last played affiliated baseball in 2004 at Triple-A Syracuse. He played in an independent league in 2005 and 2006 before moving on to a coaching career. In addition to managing the Astros' Tri-City team, he's also managed at Class A Lexington and served as the hitting coach at Double-A Corpus Christi, also in the Astros system.

Clapp was member of Canada's national team for the 2004 and 2008 Olympics and was also a member of Canada's teams in the 2005 and 2009 World Baseball Classics.

His given first name is Richard, but the nickname makes more sense when you realize he's just 5-foot-8. 

(H/T to Dayn Perry at Fan Graphs)

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Posted on: August 3, 2011 11:01 pm
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