Tag:Astros
Posted on: September 26, 2011 5:41 pm
Edited on: September 26, 2011 5:42 pm
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On Deck: Big drama for season's final days

OD

By C. Trent Rosecrans


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James ShieldsRays of hope: "Big Game" James Shields has another chance to live up to his nickname, as the Rays start the day a game behind the Red Sox in the wild card standings. The Rays were nine games behind the Red Sox on Sept. 2, and if they are able to overtake the Red Sox, it would be the largest September deficit made up in the history of the game. Before Sunday, the last time the Rays were within a game of the wild card before Sunday was June 29. Shields faced the Yankees in his last start, allowing four runs on six hits in 7 1/3 innings last Wednesday. He faced the Red Sox twice in a row before facing the Yankees (going 1-1) and faced the Rangers in back-to-back starts before that. He averaged eight innings and 2.5 runs per start in both of his second starts. Yankees at Rays, 7:10 p.m. ET

Cliff LeeUnwelcome sight: You're holding on to a one-game lead and hoping to stave off a collapse, who is the last person you want to see on the mound? If Cliff Lee isn't your first answer, he may be in the top five -- especially if you're hitting .229/.292/.350 as a team against left-handers, like the Braves are in 2011. And in the Braves' corner? A rookie making his seventh career start and coming off his first big-league win. Randall Delgado, a 21-year-old right-hander, has been impressive in his six starts, but has only pitched as many as six innings once. He pitched five shutout innings last week in a win over the Marlins. Phillies at Braves, 7:10 p.m. ET

Lance BerkmanClosing fast: No player has thrived against his former team quite like St. Louis right fielder Lance Berkman, who returns for his seventh game in Houston this season. In his first six games back at Minute Maid Park? He's hit .480/.519/1.160 with five homers and 12 RBI. In eight total games agianst the Astros, he's hitting .429/.484/1.036. The Cardinals hope he stays that hot, as they enter the game just a game behind the Braves for the National League wild card. Houston holds baseball's worst record and are 12-14 in their last 26 games. St. Louis lefty Jaime Garcia is 3-0 with a 1.69 ERA in four starts this month, with St. Louis winning all four games he's started. St. Louis will face Houston's best starter, Wandy Rodriguez. In his only start against the Cardinals this season, Rodriguez allowed just one earned run on five hits in seven innings for a win on July 28 in St. Louis. Cardinals at Astros, 8:05 p.m. ET

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Posted on: September 25, 2011 1:55 pm
Edited on: September 25, 2011 1:57 pm
 

Baseball clamping down on energy drinks

Stewart

By Evan Brunell

Several teams are restricting consumption of energy drinks, drawing the ire of players as USA Today reports.

"It's asinine," Diamondbacks closer J.J. Putz said. "What are they going to ban next, coffee? Soft drinks? It's so bizarre."

The Diamondbacks and Astros have ceased providing energy drinks and are asking players not to drink them, but are unable to enforce their wishes because it is not prohibited in the labor agreement. While it may seem odd for teams to ban energy drinks that could help their own team win a game, harmful benefits are cited as to the reason why.

"We take the same education approach with the energy drinks that we take with supplements," Ross Atkins, vice president/player development of the Indians, said. "We ask why a player is using it, is there something else natural he could to improve his energy levels?"

The Astros began their own monitoring of energy drinks when Wesley Wright left a game in 2009 with dehydration, telling club officials he drank several Red Bulls and soft drinks before the game. Drinks that contain caffeine can dehydrate a person if consumed to excess, which it appears Wright did. Red Bull, in fact, is banned in France for its high caffeine levels. Teams are taking the initiative to scrub the minor leagues of energy drinks, which is not bound by a labor agreement for its players. The Brewers, for one, don't even allow their minor-leaguers to store energy drinks in clubhouse refrigerators.

"We've had a couple of issues regarding dehydration," Wade said, "and our people think they can be traced to misuse, overuse of energy drinks. It just seemed that we shouldn't be creating an environment where we're almost facilitating the effects of dehydration."

Baseball players have increasingly turned to caffeine to gain an edge after baseball banned amphetamines. Amphetamines, unlike steroids, improve focus and decrease exhaustion, so caffeine is an understandable replacement.

"The reason guys take energy drinks is because there's not anything else [legal] to take," Pirates pitcher Jason Grilli said. "Let's face it, the competitive edge is why the whole steroid thing got rampant."

Gary Wadler, former chairman of WADA's banned-substance-list committee, says there is no evidence that energy drinks act as a performance-enhancer, while vice president of communications of the American Beverage Association Tracey Halliday says the concern is overblown.

"We are strong advocates of moderation," said Halliday. "But when it comes to caffeine, the caffeine included in there is half the caffeine of a similar cup of coffee. It's a safe ingredient approved by the FDA."

But it's not performance-enhancement issues that are concerning teams. It's the over-consumption of energy drinks, which is a health issue. While players are understandably upset over the increasing limitations on energy drinks, there are valid concerns that could perhaps be addressed by simply capping the number of energy drinks a day. Joel Hanrahan, the Pirates closer, drinks two Red Bulls a day and unsurprisingly doesn't believe energy drinks should be banned..

"I don't see why it should be banned. You've got to go out there 162 games. You're playing 21 games in a row, and switching time zones, and you want to be mentally and physically ready," Hanrahan said. "If fans can sit in the stands and drink it, why can't we drink it during games? We're human, too."

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Photo: Ian Stewart of the Rockies.

Posted on: September 24, 2011 10:28 am
Edited on: September 24, 2011 12:35 pm
 

Report: MLB to add wild card, 1-game playoff

By C. Trent Rosecrans

Major League Baseball will add a wild card team to each league and hold a one-game playoff for each league to determine which wild card advances to the Division Series, Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports.

Sherman writes that one source told him the new playoff scenario is a "done deal," but another said nothing will be final until the collective bargaining agreement is ratified. The new system will possibly be ready for 2012, but will be implemented no later than 2013.

The report says both the players and owners hope to announce a new CBA during the World Series, although the two sides have not agreed on a slotting system for the draft. The two sides are also trying to finalize the new 15-team leagues with Houston moving to the American League, but that is hung up on the sale of the Astros to Jim Crane.

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Category: MLB
Posted on: September 23, 2011 10:19 am
 

Pepper: Kemp is NL's most valuable

Matt Kemp

By C. Trent Rosecrans

They were wearing KEMVP shirts in Los Angeles on Thursday night -- and it's hard to argue with them.

In a season where there was little to cheer for at Chavez Ravine, Kemp's amazing 2011 season was something that never seemed to disappoint. And in the last home game of the season on Thursday, Kemp did nothing to disappoint -- with his mother in the stands, Kemp went 4 for 5 with three doubles and his 36th home run of the season.

And don't look now, but Kemp still has a shot at the triple crown -- he leads the league with 118 RBI, five ahead of Ryan Howard, he's just one homer behind Albert Pujols and he's third in batting average at .326, trailing Ryan Braun (.330) and Jose Reyes (.329).

He's also fourth in on-base percentage (.403), second in slugging (.582) and first in OPS (.985).  He also leads in total bases (335), runs (109), second in stolen bases (40) and second in hits (188).

If you like more advanced stats, according to Baseball-Reference.com, he leads in WAR (9.6) and OPS+ (171).

You may say his team stunk and he doesn't deserve the MVP -- but doesn't that make what he did more valuable? As bad as the Dodgers' season has been, they're still above .500 at 78-77 after last night's victory over the Giants. Andre Ethier had a nice run earlier in the season, but he's hardly been in the MVP discussion along with Kemp, while Braun has had Prince Fielder and Pujols has Lance Berkman and Matt Holliday. Jose Reyes' team has a worse record and Justin Upton can't match his stats. Kemp's not only the best player in the National League, he's also the most valuable.

Historic collapse: No, I'm not talking about the Red Sox or Braves -- it's the Pirates. Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, with a little help from the folks at Elias Sports Bureau, writes that in the modern age of Major League Baseball (otherwise known as "since 1900"), no team  has fared worse after being in first place at the 100-game marker. The Pirates have gone 16-40 since holding first place at 53-47 on July 25. The Pirates' .286 is by far the worst, with the 1977 Cubs coming second. That team was 60-40 through 100 games and then went 21-41 the rest of the way. You never want to be better than the Cubs at being bad.

Like his stature, Timmy likes his deals short: San Francisco's Tim Lincecum tells the San Francisco Chronicle  that he doesn't want to sign a long-term deal that would buy out his future free-agent years. Lincecum is eligible for free agency after the 2013 season.

Master storyteller: One of the great joys of this job is to meet some of the great personalities in this game. With broadcasters, most of their best stories come off the air -- and nobody has more and better stories than Vin Scully. Check out this story about Scully and Don Zimmer. [Los Angeles Times]

See you in San Jose?: Could the A's be the biggest beneficiary of the change in Giants ownership? They could be, and Mark Purdy, who broke the initial story, explains. [San Jose Mercury News]

Ichiro not ichi?: Ichiro Suzuki will likely have his streak of 10 years with at least 200 hits broken this week, and next year he may not be leading off. Mariners manager Eric Wedge is not committing to Ichiro batting in his customary leadoff spot next season. [Seattle Times]

Runs in the family: Raul Lopez, the father of the guy who caught Derek Jeter's 3,000th hit, got a souvenir of his own on Wednesday. [New York Times]

Ax mustache spray: Brewers closer John Axford made this fake commercial. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel]

How about the American League MVP?: Forget Curtis Granderson on Adrian Gonzalez or Justin Verlander, Robinson Cano says that if he had a vote, he'd vote himself. He doesn't. [ESPN New York]

MVP improves: Last year's NL MVP, Joey Votto, says he did "more with less" this season than he did in 2010 when he won the league's MVP. Looking at his numbers -- and the absence of Scott Rolen in the lineup -- it's tough to disagree. If I had any quibble is it'd be that he did about the same with less. Either way, Votto was impressive and has established himself as one of the game's best. [MLB.com]

Oswalt not done: Although the 33-year-old Roy Oswalt had hinted at his retirement, his agent now says he's not considering hanging them up after this season. It may have something to do with Oswalt looking around at the weak free agent pitching market and seeing he'll get paid. [MLB.com

Porter interviewing again: If the Marlins were dating, they'd just about have to put out for Bo Porter by now. The Nationals' first-base coach is scheduled to interview for the Marlins' manager job soon, the Washington Post reports. Porter interviewed midseason last season when the team fired Fredi Gonzalez and then again after the season. Porter is among the candidates to take over in Washington, too, MLB.com reports

NL dreaming: White Sox starter Mark Buehrle says he's intrigued by the thought of pitching in a new league. Buehrle lives near St. Louis and has mentioned that he'd like to pitch for the Cardinals. Add him to Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright and Jaime Garcia and you'd have a pretty good rotation. Of course, the Cardinals do have other financial concerns this offseason. How about Cincinnati? It's a little longer drive to his home, but the Reds rotation could certainly use the veteran. [MLB.com]

Celebrate good times: The Astros announced their plans to celebrate their 50th anniversary season in 2012 with six different throwback uniforms they'll use next season -- including the famous rainbow jersey, one of the best in the history of the game. [MLB.com]

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Posted on: September 22, 2011 4:36 pm
Edited on: October 12, 2011 1:00 pm
 

Astros secure No. 1 overall pick

By C. Trent Rosecrans

While it may lack the excitement of Chris Burke's walk-off in 2005, the Astros can celebrate Rene Tosoni's double to give Minnesota a walk-off victory over the Mariners. With the Twins' 60th victory of the season, the Astros have clinched baseball's worst record in 2011 and the first pick in the 2012 draft.

Houston lost its 102nd game on Wednesday and hosts the Rockies on Thursday.

There's no Stephen Strasburg or Bryce Harper in this class, but Stanford right-hander Mark Appel, Arizona State shortstop Deven Merrero, LSU right-hander Kevin Gausman, Florida catcher Mike Zunino, California right-hander Luis Giolito and Florida high school right-hander Lance McCullers are all seen as possible first overall picks -- even though that could change dramatically in the next eight months.

It will be the third time in Houston's history it has drafted No. 1 overall, the first since 1992 when the team took third baseman Phil Nevin and passed up shortstop Derek Jeter, who went sixth overall to the Yankees. In 1976, Houston selected left-hander Floyd Bannister with the top pick.

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Posted on: September 19, 2011 11:56 pm
Edited on: September 20, 2011 12:26 am
 

Picking the National League's best defenders



By C. Trent Rosecrans

The Gold Gloves are one of baseball's toughest awards to decide -- and sometimes toughest to understand. Unlike many of the game's other awards, the Gold Gloves are voted on by managers and coaches, and every year it seems there's a winner or two that seems to win the award more with their bat than their glove.

Not only do some players seem to win it with something other than their glove, sometimes the award can be a lot like the Supreme Court, once you get elected, you're not going to lose your seat.

That said, it's a difficult award to vote for. There are better fielding statistics coming out every year, yet most are still in their infancy and can tell you only so much. Good defense, sometimes can be a lot like the definition Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart gave for pornograpy in Jacobelis v. Ohio in 1964: "I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embrued within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it." 

With that in mind, perhaps the voters for the Gold Gloves should be the scouts, but instead I'll try my hand at picking out the best defensive players in the National League.

Catcher: Yadier Molina, Cardinals

As tough as it is to use numbers to evaluate fielders, it's even tougher with catchers. At least the numbers with other fielders have some meaning, with catchers there's so much more to what they do defensively that it's hard not to go on reputation -- and nobody has a better reputation than Molina.

Others considered: Carlos Ruiz, Phillies; Brian McCann, Braves.

First base: Joey Votto, Reds

When Votto was coming up, people knew he could hit -- that was hard to ignore -- but his reputation at first base was nowhere near as good. Even as a rookie, he often struggled, especially on throws to a pitcher covering first. Since then, he's improved every year and this year he has proven himself to be the best defensive first baseman in the league. Votto, last year's MVP, covers more ground at first than any other first baseman in the league, which means it can be tough to get a hit if you hit it on the ground to the right side of the Reds infield, beacuse of the next guy on the list.

Others considered: Albert Pujols, Cardinals. Todd Helton, Rockies.

Brandon PhillipsSecond base: Brandon Phillips, Reds

A two-time Gold Glover, Phillips should be in line for his third. There may be no other player in baseball with as long of a highlight-reel as Phillips, who seemingly makes another amazing play every night.

Others considered: Chase Utley, Phillies, Omar Infante, Marlins, Neil Walker, Pirates

Third base: Pablo Sandoval, Giants

There are players with better defensive reputations than the Kung Fu Panda, but nobody's had a better year. The advanced stats don't tell you everything yet, but they're still pretty good. Sandoval leads qualified National League third basemen in UZR (12.3), UZR/150 (21.2) and plus-minus (20). 

Others considered: Placido Polanco, Phillies; Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals.

Shortstop: Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies

The Rockies may know a little something about drafting defensive shortstops -- they picked two of the best in the league, Tulowitzki and the Astros' Clint Barmes. Finally healthy, Barmes was outstanding defensively for the Astros, while Tulowitzki seems like the second coming of Cal Ripken. 

Others considered: Alex Gonzalez, Braves; Jose Reyes, Mets; Clint Barmes, Astros.

Left field: Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies

The voting has changed this year to award Gold Gloves to each of the three outfield positions instead of three generic outfielder awards that usually went to center fielders. Carlos Gonzalez is tough to categorize, but considering he's played more games in left than any other spot, he's the easy choice here. He's started 60 games in left, 34 in right and 28 in center. He's played all three well, which isn't easy at spacious Coors Field, committing only one error on the season.

Others considered: Matt Holliday, Cardinals. Gerardo Parra, Diamondbacks. Tony Gwynn, Dodgers.

Shane VictorinoCenter field: Shane Victorino, Phillies

This is one stacked category, with several deserving players. Under the old rules it would be easy, you'd have three center fielders and give them the three Gold Gloves. Under the new rules, it's a tougher choice. Victorino has had an MVP-type year, and no small part of that has been patrolling center field for the Phillies. The Flyin' Hawaiian is as good as anyone out there and his error-less season gives him the edge.

Others considered: Chris Young, Diamondbacks; Carlos Gomez, Brewers; Cameron Maybin, Padres; Rick Ankiel, Nationals; Andrew McCutchen, Pirates.

Right field: Mike Stanton, Marlins

He may be known best for the moon shots off his bat, but Stanton is a surprisingly good defensive outfielder. Stanton has the combination of athleticism and arm strength to be the best defensive right fielder in the game.

Others considered: Jay Bruce, Reds; Carlos Beltran, Giants; Jason Heyward, Braves.

Pitcher: R.A. Dickey, Mets

A knuckleball pitcher needs to field his position well -- there are plenty of bad hits coming back to the mound off poor contact. Dickey has been very good fielding his position and helped his team with his glove.

Others considered: Jake Westbrook, Cardinals; Bronson Arroyo, Reds; Hiroki Kuroda, Dodgers; Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers; Derek Lowe, Braves.

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Posted on: September 19, 2011 12:11 pm
Edited on: September 19, 2011 12:20 pm
 

R.I.P.: 2011 Houston Astros

By Matt Snyder

Another season gone, another disappointment for 29 teams as one is immortalized forever. Let’s take a look back at 2011 and forward in Eye on Baseball’s R.I.P. series...

Team name: Houston Astros
Record: 52-100, 37.5 games back in NL Central
Manager: Brad Mills
Best hitter: Carlos Lee -- .277/.338/.455 with 18 HR, 86 RBI, 59 R, 36 2B
Best pitcher: Wandy Rodriguez -- 11-10, 3.55 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 177 2/3 IP, 160 K

Unfortunately for the Astros, leading off the R.I.P. series means they're the worst team in baseball. So the biggest theme of the 2011 season in Houston was losing. They've already set a franchise record with 100 losses and could creep up on the MLB list of most losses in history with a bad final week and a half. The "best hitter" listed above is by default because both Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence were traded at the deadline. With the ownership situation in limbo -- Jim Crane still hasn't been approved -- it's hard to tell what direction the Astros will take in the future. One would expect promising youngsters like Jose Altuve and Jordan Lyles to lead a youth movement.

2011 SEASON RECAP

It was pretty forgettable from Day 1, when the Astros blew a ninth-inning lead against the Phillies. The Astros would open the season 0-5 and never get back to .500 -- the closest they got was when they were 7-11. Perhaps unbelievably, they did win the season series against the defending champion Giants (four games to three). They also took two of three from the Blue Jays, but didn't have a winning record against anyone else. The best month was August, when the Astros went 12-17. So that pretty much sums it up.

Seeing the writing on the wall, Astros GM Ed Wade dealt Bourn and Pence before the non-waiver trade deadline in July for some prospects. He also traded Jeff Keppinger. There was a youth movement from about the middle of the season on, but it's a pretty lackluster movement, as the system simply isn't stocked with much talent -- for example, in Baseball Prospectus' midseason top 50 prospects, Altuve was No. 42. He was the only Astros prospect on the list. The preseason top 101 only had two Astros, with Lyles at 59 being the top prospect in the system.

Basically, they have a long way to go in order to get back to respectability, and I'd venture to guess the overwhelming majority of Astros fans would even admit as much. Whenever there's an ownership change, they need to start over. The mantra should be to clean house and build a foundation from the ground (low-level minor leagues) up ...

2012 AUDIT

Which leads us here. Can the Astros compete in 2012? We obviously have no way of knowing exactly what's going to go down in the offseason, but it's hard to see the team being much improved by next season. Most of the young players either aren't very impressive or aren't yet ready. The veterans  still on the roster are either not very good or past their respective primes -- which is why they weren't traded like Bourn and Pence.

As you can see below, there isn't really any money coming off the books from the current club, though dealing Bourn and Pence did help matters a bit there. Still, it's unlikely the Astros have tons of money to burn on free agency, so the team will have to improve either internally, or through trading veterans like Brett Myers, Lee or Rodriguez. Considering the salaries of each player compared to production, they aren't going to land enough back to immediately make a drastic improvement.

Unless the youngsters all make huge leaps, it's entirely possible the Astros are again the worst team in baseball in 2012.

FREE AGENTS

Clint Barmes, 2B
Jason Michaels, OF

OFFSEASON FOCUS

As stated above, there has to be a complete makeover of the entire organization. Minor-league player development and a youth movement should continue to be the focus. Even if new ownership is firmly in place before free agency and opens the floodgates with spending -- which is, again, unlikely -- there isn't enough in place to make the team competitive with big signings. For example, say the Astros land Prince Fielder, Jose Reyes and C.J. Wilson. (I'll pause for laughter). That still isn't a playoff team. It would be like putting a band-aid on a broken leg, and by the time the youth movement was ready to help those three, they might not be in their prime anymore.

Instead, a much better road map would be to follow the Royals' plan. Fill in holes with temporary players while waiting on the prospects from the low levels of the minors like Delino DeShields Jr. (2B), Jonathan Singleton (1B), Chris Wallace (C) and Jarred Cosart (SP) to develop. Meanwhile Lyles, Altuve, Jimmy Paredes, J.D. Martinez and others already in the bigs need to continue to develop. Of course, the Royals had the best farm system in baseball heading into this season while the Astros were ranked in the bottom five by most outlets. So, again, that's where the focus should be for the next few years. The entire system should be revamped.

So if I was the incoming Astros owner, here's what I'd hope to do:
  • Try to lure Andrew Friedman back home -- he was born and raised in Houston -- and give him the title President of Baseball Operations. He's helped work wonders with the Rays, so it's pretty easy to trust he can build a farm system basically from scratch.
  • Trade Myers, Rodriguez and Lee for whatever prospects they can bring back, even if it meant eating some of the salary. A three-to-five year plan should be put in place, so you need to play young players and see who can hack it at the big-league level. Aging veterans only take away spots from the young players.
  • Put an excellent coaching staff in place with an emphasis on player development. The focus has to be on the foundation before the big-league club at this point. It's far too much a mess to solve in one offseason.
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Posted on: September 17, 2011 4:25 pm
 

Astros drop 100th game of the season

Carlos LeeBy C. Trent Rosecrans

For the first time in franchise history, the Astros have lost 100 games, reaching the century mark with a 2-1 loss to the Cubs at Wrigley Field on Saturday.

The 100-loss season leaves just two teams -- the Rockies and Angels -- without a season of 100 losses in their history.

The A's -- from Philadelphia to Kansas City to Oakland -- have the most 100-loss seasons on their record, 16. The Astros are now just one of six teams to have just one 100-loss season on their record, joining the Brewers, Diamondbacks, Giants, Marlins and Reds.

The Astros have won just 51 games this season to go with 100 losses. Houston has 11 games remaining, meaning it's unlikely they'll lose more than 110 games. Since World War II, only four teams have lost more than 110 games, with the Diamondbacks losing 111 in 2004 and the Tigers losing 119 in 2003.

Houston took an early lead, scoring on an error by Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez in the first inning, but Chicago scored on an error by Astros catcher Carlos Corporan in the bottom of the inning and took the lead on Bryan LaHair's second homer of the season in the fourth inning. Henry Sosa picked up the loss, his fifth of the season.

Chicago's Sean Marshall loaded the bases in the ninth inning with one out, but struck out Jose Altuve and got pinch hitter Humberto Quintero to ground out to help the Cubs avoid their 86th loss of the season.

Houston has by far the worst record in the majors this season, with Minnesota (59-90) and Baltimore (61-88) left as the only other teams with a chance of losing 100 games in 2011.

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