Tuesday, July 29, 2008
July 29: Houston 6, Cincinnati 2
July 30: Cincinnati 9, Houston 5
Quote of the Day: "Woo Hoo!" (Email from Robert C., colleague from Cincinnati, after Dunn"s grand slam)
My friend Robert-the-Reds-Fan's gleeful email arrived in the third inning, when Roy Oswalt's much anticipated return from the DL took an ominous turn - he gave up a grand slam to Adam Dunn. His joy didn't last long, however, as the Astros went on to win the game, and then the series.
I was hopeful but tentative about Roy O's start on Monday. In his last game, here in Washington, he had only made it through one inning before being pulled due to his ongoing injury - and the Astros went on to lose 10-0. Fans and sportswriters have wondered all season if Oswalt's uncharacteristic performance was due to injury. He got through the first inning quickly, but the second inning got off to a challenging start with a leadoff double, followed by a single. With runners on first and third with no outs, Oswalt reverted to classic form: He struck out the next three batters. He struck out the first batter of the third inning, then gave up an infield single. The next batter lined out. With 2 down and a runner on first, Oswalt seemed to have ducked trouble again. But a single and a walk loaded up the bases for Adam Dunn's blast to center - a two-out grand slam.
This set back needs to be put in context though: The Astros kicked off the game with an offensive blast: Matsui hit a leadoff double, then scored on Tejada's single. Berkman walked, moving Tejada up. Lee's single scored Miggy and put Berkman on third. Blum hit a sac fly to score Berkman, giving the Astros 3 runs by the time they made their first out. So Roy O had a little cushion to work with. That lead evaporated with Dunn's granny, but the Astros redeemed Oswalt in the bottom of the third, retaking the lead on Blum's two-run homer, his third home run in two games.
Oswalt pitched uneventful innings in the fourth and fifth, maintaining the 5-4 lead. But Cooper didn't want to overdo it and pulled him out after 5. Oswalt had thrown 74 pitches, 54 of them for strikes, giving up those 4 runs on the grand slam, 7 hits, 1 walk, and 5 strikeouts. He had no good reason to expect his one-run lead to hold for 4 more innings. But the bullpen backed him up in a huge way: Byrdak in the sixth, Geary and Wright sharing the seventh and eighth, and Valverde to top it off. They combined for a total of one infield hit, no walks, and most importantly, no runs. That line was critical, as the Astros failed to add any insurance to that tiny lead. Roy O is back, with a win to even his season record at a very odd 8-8. I got to "Q
Woohoo" back to my Reds-fan friend in the end.
Tuesday Brian Moehler came that close to pitching a complete game, redeeming himself after his horrible start against the Pirates. This time he threw a beautiful game for 8 2/3 innings, giving up only 2 runs on 7 hits, 1 walk, and 3 strikeouts. But with 2 outs and 2 on in the ninth inning, leading 6-2, Cooper brought in his lefty Wright to take out the last Red with a strikeout. (The crowd booed Coop, and gave Moehler a standing O.) With a four-run lead, Wright didn't realize that the runners on base made it a save situation. He did not know until someone told him after the game that he had just earned his first save.
This time it was the Astros' turn for a "Woo hoo!" Carlos Lee hit his granny in the fifth inning, stinging high-kicking Bronson Arroyo for his first loss in the past six starts. Pence's RBI triple in the second plated the Astros' first run, and Tejada added a second run with a solo homer in the third inning.
I'm procrastinating talking about the last game, since it didn't turn out to be quite as much fun, with a note about Wesley Wright. You gotta love this kid, our Rule 5 bargain. Ignore his 4.5ish ERA - with a situational lefty, who pitches to a batter here and a batter there, one or two bad outings can really skew an ERA. But his ability to throw strikes and strike out batters, with no apparent emotion at all, makes him worth a look as a future closer. He just seems to have a complete lack of nerves when he's on the mound.
Okay, enough delay. The Astros lost the pitching match between Wandy and the Reds' All Star, Edinson Volquez. Wandy did not advance his cause towards graduating to last-name status. He didn't even make it out of the fifth inning. The Reds hit him up for a Dunn solo homer and RBI double in the second inning, and then a Griffey 3-run home run and another Dunn solo job in the sixth. Paronto came in to relieve him, and immediately gave up another home run, followed by a single. Cooper yanked him right away, and Brydak came in for a strikeout to end the pain.
Meanwhile, the Astros still hadn't managed to put a run on the board. Facing a 7-0 deficit, Pence led off the bottom of the fifth with a solo home run, but his teammates couldn't keep it going. Sampson pitched the sixth and seventh, giving up another run. After God Bless America, the Astros finally got a rally going, thanks to some poor fielding by the Reds. After Blum's ground out to start the seventh inning, Pence doubled, then moved up to third on a fielding error by the Reds shortstop handing Erstad's grounder. On the very next play, the same guy makes another fielding error on Quintero's ground ball, scoring Pence. Wiggington then came in to pinch hit for Sampson, and was right on the money - a three-run homer. With the Reds lead cut to a much more reachable 8-5, Matsui kept the good times going with a double, but Tejada and Berkman failed to get him past third base.
Lefty Wright pitched a scoreless eighth, but Brocail got stuck with another run in the ninth on a bunch of little stuff: The leadoff batter singled, stole second, advanced to third base on a long fly ball, and scored on another infield single. But it didn't matter, since the Astros didn't manage to score again. Final damage, Red 9, Astros 5.
Still, two wins out of three games is a series, and worth a Woo Hoo or two.
In other news... Bourn is still out with a strained ankle. With the trade deadline looming, the Astros traded minor leaguer Matt Cusick to the Yankees for LaTroy Hawkins, and designated Paronto for assignment to make room on the roster for him. Wade had been looking for another inning eater for the bullpen. By the numbers, it doesn't look like the Astros are getting a huge improvement - for the Yankees this year, Hawkins has a 1-1 record and a 5.71 ERA, but he has improved steadily from a bad April.
Next up, the hated Mets.
July 26 - Milwaukee 6, Houston 4
July 27 - Houston 11, Milwaukee 6
Quote of the Day: "Quite frankly, I was lucky to not give up nine runs with what I had going on." (Randy Wolf on his first start for Houston)
What a difference a series makes! After being swept at home, the Astros went on the road against a very hot team and prevailed. The Brewers had an 8-game streak going, and they must have thought that the Astros would be easy pickin's after the embarrassment with the Pirates. But the Astros showed them that there was still some fight left...
Friday night's game featured another terrific start from Wandy, who's continuing to work his way towards being called "Rodriguez" in my game diary. He pitched 6 innings, giving up only 1 ER on 3 hits, 3 walks, and 7 strikeouts. He must have thought it was an unlucky day, though, since the Astros didn't manage to score any runs in the first 6 innings. Lucky for Wandy, his teammates came through just in time. They scored 3 runs in the top of the seventh on just about the smallest small ball possible: Wiggington walked, Pence got an infield single, then everybody moved up safely on Quintero's ground ball. Wiggington scored on Loretta's pinch sac fly, then Pence scored on Matsui's sac fly. Bourn walked, then Berkman singled to score Q from second base. Berkman was out trying for second, to end the inning. But by then, one base at a time, the Astros had put 3 runs on the scoreboard.
The bullpen did a terrific job to sustain Wandy's good start. Sampson, who has become the team's premier middle inning-eater, pitched 1 2/3 innings, giving up just one hit. Houston's Rule 5 bargain, lefty Wright, threw one pitch to get Prince Fielder out, ending the eighth. Valverde came in to pitch the ninth. After a leadoff double, he settled down and took down the next three batters to get his 26th save of the season.
When I turned on the computer Saturday night after the Sabbath, it was a double bonus: Not only had the Astros won the Friday night game, but they were leading 4-2 in the seventh inning of the game that was underway. The fun didn't last for long, though. The Reds came back in to score a pair in the bottom of the seventh on a two-out homer, tying the game. They added on another couple of runs in the eighth, giving the Reds a 6-4 lead. The Astros couldn't put any runs across and lost. Backe had another good (but rather short) start - he pitched 5 1/3 innings, giving up 2 ERs on 4 hits and 4 walks, striking out 5. But Geary and Brocail each gave up 2 runs, with Brocail earning the loss. The Astros scored their runs Saturday on a 2-run homer by Lee and a solo homer by Pence in the the fourth inning, and on 3 consecutive two-out singles in the fifth.
Sunday's game was a Houston debut for Randy Wolf, the pitcher acquired last week from the Padres. Things did not get off to a very impressive start for him: Coming off an 8-day break since his last mound appearance, he walked the first batter on four pitches. A double and a sac fly later, the Brewers were ahead 1-0. They added on another run in the second, and two more in the third. It didn't look good for Wolf, but his teammates decided to help him out.
The battle of the game was Jeff vs Geoff: Brewers' pitcher Jeff Suppan against Houston's sometimes third-baseman, Geoff Blum. This battle is pretty lopsided: Going into this game Blum had an 11 for 21 lifetime record against Suppan. In his first at-bat, Blum hit a solo home run to get the Astros on the board. But his fun wasn't over yet. Going into the fifth inning, with the Astros down 4-1, the Astros did some serious damage, batting around. A walk and five singles scored the first 4 runs of the inning, then Blum capped the effort with a 3-run homer.
Now with an 8-4 lead, the Astros bullpen had a bit of breathing room. Hungry again to eat middle innings, Sampson pitched 2 2/3 innings, giving up a run. Chad Paronto finished up the last two innings, giving up one additional run. In between, in the eighth, the Astros scored 3 more, getting into the double digits, for the first time in a while. It was a real group effort, offensively, resulting in a season-high 16 hits. Everyone in the starting lineup except Lee got at least one hit - even Wolf, who reached on a bunt single and later scored. In addition to Blum's 4 RBI, 2 home run game, Ausmus went 4-for-4 with a pair of RBI, and Tejada, Berkman, Pence, and Erstad each had a pair of hits.
All in all, a productive weekend, and a good reversal of the bad karma from the previous series. As bad as it was to be swept by the likes of the PIrates, winning the series from a hot team like the Brewers gives back some confidence that the Astros aren't really as "bad" as Berkman said last week.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
July 22 - Pittsburgh 8, Houston 2
July 23 - Pittsburgh 8, Houston 7
Quote of the Day: "Right now we have all the earmarks of a bad team. I'm not saying we have bad personnel and I'm not saying we can't turn it around, but right now the only thing you can say is that we're bad. If we don't turn it around, we'll end the season a bad team. It's unfortunate because I think we have talented players. We're better than we've played." (Berkman)
By the time the Astros bullpen fell apart last Sunday, the Astros had long since checked out of the game; they hadn't really shown much inclination for scoring since they left the bases loaded in the fifth. Not so on Monday, when they held a tenuous one-run lead in what had been a kind of lackluster game right up until, with just 2 outs to go in the ninth, Valverde totally went up in flames. He got the first out on a fly ball, then blew the save on a home run to Jason Bay. Gave up a single to Nady, then a first-pitch homer to LaRoche. A walk, another single... by that time Byrdak had hurriedly warmed up. But not enough - after a strikeout for the second out, he gave up a 3-run in-the-park home run. He struck out Ryan Doumit - who had also opened the inning - to end the meltdown. But too late -- when the Astros came up in the bottom of the ninth, their 3-2 lead was now a huge 9-3 deficit. They did not come back.
Both of the starting pitchers started the season in Triple A, so one might have expected a blowout on both sides. But both pitched surprisingly well - at least from an ERA perspective. Runelvys Hernandez pitched into the sixth inning, giving up only 2 runs on 8 hits and 2 walks, striking out 3. But both teams left runners on base right and left - a total of 25 LOB between them. Up to the ninth inning, it was largely a game of missed opportunities. Valverde and Brydak gave them some extra chances.
If I thought that Monday's game was one of the worst of the season, I only needed to wait until Tuesday's for competition. In a near replay of Sunday's shutout, the Astros didn't get into this game offensively until the bottom of the seventh, when they eked out a single run on a pair of singles from Berkman and Pence. They got a second hard-earned run in the ninth, when Lee was hit by a pitch, moved up, and scored on Wiggington's single. Houston's rent-a-starter for the day, Jack Cassel, leaked a run here and a run there, giving up 5 runs over his 5 innings. Brydak, in an eerie replay of the previous game, gave up a 3-run homer to put the Astros at the bottom of a very steep hill. They did not come back.
This set the stage for the Astro's last chance to redeem themselves, and at least avoid a sweep. It was a Wednesday afternoon game. By the time I got home from work, the Astros had already lost 8-7. This time it was Moehler who dug the hole for the Astros - giving up 4 runs in the top of the first inning, another in the second, another in the third... That was enough for Coop, and he brought in Sampson. In another beautiful relief effort, Sampson threw 2 2/3 beautifully scoreless innings, giving up only one hit. Meanwhile, the Astros were pretty much matching the damage offensively, so by the sixth inning, the score was tied 6-6.
In the seventh, the ping-pong game continued, but this time Geary gave up 2 and his teammates only scored 1, leaving them a run behind, 8-7. Wright and Brocail pitched scoreless innings, but the Astros failed to put another run across. They did not come back.
They were swept. Skunked. That stinks.
Did I mention that they were playing against the PIRATES?
The Astros now have the NL Central cellar all to themselves. That really stinks.
While all this was transpiring, Ed Wade made a deal for a veteran lefty starter, Randy Wolf, from the Padres. He's not having a good year - in his 21 starts, he has a 6-10 record and 4.74 ERA. Just about exactly the same as Backe this year. I'm not sure how this makes the Astros contenders, but it is an indication that the Astros management hasn't given up on the season - yet.
In other news, Q is back from his concussion-induced rehab, sporting one of Ausmus' hockey-style helmets for greater noggin protection.
Off to Milwaukee to play the Brewers, who have an 8-game winning streak going. Will Houston be able to break its 4-game losing streak?
Sunday, July 20, 2008
Quote of the Day: "It was frustrating, especially when I'm out there throwing warmup pitches and he [the home plate umpire] is staring me down. You can't say anything to them. They're going to throw you out of the game if you do." (Backe, upset over the called strike 3)
In a way, it's a good thing that the game wasn't close. If it were, Backe would probably be even more upset than he already is. But that bases-loaded called strike 3 against him really doesn't account for a 9-run deficit. That fifth inning, with 3 singles to load up the bases with no outs, was the only time that the Astros were really in the game, offensively. It was their bad luck that the next batter up, after Tejada, Blum, and Pence got on, was JR Towles, who waved the bat anemically in the direction of the incoming ball to strike out. Backe, a good hitter, came to the plate, down 3 runs already. It would have been a good time for a home run, but he struck out looking on a pretty iffy call. Matsui popped out to end the inning without plating a single run. And that was it for the Astros' attempts to score. Ryan Dempster totally shut them down.
Those few runs that Backe allowed in his 6 2/3 innings would have been plenty to win the game. But Sampson, Byrdak, and Paronto combined to give up 5 more runs in the ninth inning, pretty much nailing the coffin closed. (Same Paronto who played such a big role in last Friday night's 10-0 shellacking by the Nats - I suspect that his trip up from Round Rock will be short.)
All in all, a pretty dismal day at the ol' ballgame.
The Pirates are coming to town tomorrow. There but for Pittsburgh, the Astros would be in the NL Central cellar. The Pirates are coming in on a 5-game losing streak. Hopefully the Astros can jump on the bandwagon...
Quote of the Day: "Shortstop Miguel Tejada believes the key to the Astros' success during the second half of the season isn't about what he and his fellow sluggers are able to do with the bats.The key, Tejada says, is what happens on the pitcher's mound..." (Brian McTaggert, Houston Chronicle, July 20, 2008)
The dominating performance of the Astros' often-maligned rotation continued for a fourth game, as Wandy turned in a beauty. I promised at the All Star break that if he gets 10 wins in the remainder of the season, I'd start calling Wandy by his last name and now he just has 9 to go. He gave up only a single run in his 6 2/3 innings - a homer to his opposing pitcher Zambrano, whose .351 batting average exceeds Backe's. Wandy wasn't lights out - he gave up 9 hits - but the hits were scattered around and the Cubs never really got any serious momentum going against him. He continues to rack up strikeouts - another 7 in this game - and did not walk anyone.
The bullpen was lights out, though. Sampson struck out his single batter on 4 pitches, and Brocail had a 1-2-3 eighth. Valverde came into the ninth with a 3-run lead, but this time he skipped the drama and just went for the save. He struck out the first two batters, then gave up a sharp liner that Tejada just speared to end the game. It was Valverde's 25th save, tied for first place in the NL. (Interesting small-world tidbit: The #4 and 5 closers, measured in numbers of saves, are two ex-Astros - Wagner (23) and Lidge (21).) Astros pitchers have only given up 2 runs in the last 3 games.
Wandy got some offensive help, but not enough to have bailed him out of a mess. The Astros scored their first run in the second inning when Lee led off with a walk, got to third on Tejada's single, and scored on Pence's RBI grounder. Wandy himself got the ball rolling in the third inning with a lead-off single - only his 3rd hit of the season. Matsui's ground ball moved Wandy to second, but Erstad whiffed for the second out. Berkman walked, setting up for back-to-back singles from Lee and Tejada to score two more runs. That 3-0 lead held until the seventh inning, when Zambrano got his solo home run. The Astros added on one more in the bottom on the inning as Newhan got a pinch-hit triple, and scored on Erstads' RBI ground out. It wasn't the big bashing offense that the Astros will probably need to do something spectacular in the second half, but it was twice as many runs as they scored Friday night - and more importantly, 3 more runs than the Cubs had. Tejada was 2 for 4, continuing his return from the doldrums. I think that the Astros' success over the next couple of months will be proportional to the amount of hand clapping from Tejada and fist pumping from Valverde.
Four wins in a row. Five games under .500. And counting...
Quote of the Day: "I just came in here when no one was here and turned on the pitching machine and basically just worked my eye." (Pence, on how he spent his All Star break)
The second half got off to a good start with bottom-of-the-ninth heroics from Hunter Pence, who had spent the All Star Break cozied up with a pitching machine preparing for just such an occasion. His hard work paid off: Pence had 3 hits in this game, culminating in his walk-off RBI double. He may have lost an IQ point or two from the ritual head-bashing performed by his joyful teammates, but it was probably worth it for the good cause.
It's one thing to take a series from the hapless Nats, whose record is even worse than the Astros'; it's another to beat the guys who are leading the division. The recipe for success was the same as the previous two games: Awesome pitching. Moehler held the Cubs to just one run in seven innings, giving up only 4 hits and 1 walk, striking out 3. He got off to a very economical start with a 4-pitch first inning. The single run was a solo home run to Jim Edmonds in the fifth inning. Geary came in tidy up with two perfect innings in relief - he now has an even dozen scoreless innings this month.
Ted Lilly (no relation) pitched just about the same, allowing just a single run on 6 hits in his 7 innings - Carlos Lee's seventh-inning solo homer over the railroad tracks, which put his Caballitos fans into orbit. Subsequent singles by Tejada and Pence and a walk to Blum loaded the bases, but Lilly got out of it without allowing the Astros to turn it into a Big Inning.
The pitchers' duel continued with the relievers until the bottom of the ninth, when Bob Howry took the mound. Howry had never given up a run in Minute Maid Park, according to the Astros broadcasters. So he was overdue: Tejada led off with his third hit of the game - a ground-rule double - trotting into second base clapping his hands. Just as the broadcasters wondered whether Pence would be bunting, he took a nice swing at the first pitch, bouncing the ball into center field. Acting on intel that Edmonds' arm wasn't what it once was, Romero waved Tejada around third and on to home to score the winning run. He was mobbed by his teammates, who then swarmed to second base - where Pence ended up - to do the ritual brain bashing thing.
The joyful ending to the game - much more exciting and unexpected than the end of the shutout here in Washington - was a thing of beauty. I witnessed it (several times in a row) on the MLB.tv archive after the Sabbath ended the next night.
Good start, guys! Six more wins to .500, and then we can start paying much more attention to the other guys in the division.
Sunday, July 13, 2008
Ending the first "half" of the season with a series win seems to have left everyone in a good mood - the Fan in Exile included. Berkman and Tejada went to NY for the All Star Game, and presumably everyone else went on vacation for a few days. A few notes about the game, and then my prognostications for what's left of the season.
When I came home from work on Tuesday, I turned on the live audio that I get with my mlb.tv subscription. I don't have a TV and the game video stream is only available after the fact. When they started introducing the starting players, flanked by their Hall of Fame counterparts, I was thinking how much I wish I could see what the older guys look like now. And then I suddenly remembered that when my daughter Leah bought her new TV recently, she left her old one in our den downstairs. I wasn't sure that we actually have any reception, since we don't have a working antenna, let alone cable. But it appeared that Fox, at least, comes in - although it did seem that the players were bravely slogging through a light snowstorm. My dog Shana and I got comfortable on the couch, planning to watch at least until Berkman and Tejada did their thing. It turned out to be a long night.
A few notes about the All Star game:
* The introduction of the starting lineups by position, rather than team, flanked by their Hall of Fame predecessors, was awesome. But I really, really don't care for the NY fans. It was great the way they cheered for their players and went nuts for Yogi. But the way they booed for the Red Sox players turned me off. Those players are at the ASG representing their personal accomplishments, not their team. And, by the way, the Yankees and the Sox are both on the same AL team. Yeah, I understand that they have a blood rivalry. No doubt it would be just the same in Boston. But booing the Sox HOFers was just gross. Frankly, I much prefer the decency of the long-time rivalry between the Astros and the Braves, or (up to this year) the Cardinals. I just can't imagine that, if this same scene was playing out in Atlanta 10 years from now, the fans there would boo Bagwell and Biggio.
* Sheryl Crow's Star Spangled Banner was kind of ehhh. Her the acoustic guitar accompaniment seemed superfluous, but her military accompaniment creeped me out. Why in the world did we need a stealth bomber flyover during the national anthem? (In the same light, the fireworks that are set off at Nationals ballpark when they sing "the bombs bursting in air" are also tacky and demeaning to the many people who are actually living in terror because of that.) And, sorry to be a crank, but... what did this little patriotic demonstration cost the taxpayers?
* I've never been to Yankee Stadium, and I dislike both NY ball clubs. But there's no denying the history of the place, the great moments there. And I cried, like I always do, when they play the clip of Lou Gerhig's farewell speech.
* I was disappointed that Berkman didn't hit a bomb out of the stadium during the game, but his sac-fly RBI was sweet.
* Viva Tejada! I heard a couple of people say that Tejada shouldn't have been there - probably more because of the drug investigation than his recent slump. But he was a player choice, not popular vote selection. And he played like an All Star - good hitting, aggressive base-running, and fabulous fielding. Looked like an All Star to me. Now he just needs to carry that energy and upbeat mood back to the Astros for the second half!* Uggggghhhhhhh-la! I'm glad I'm not a Marlins fan, or Dan Uggla's mother. By the third fielding error (which didn't really look like an error to me - the ball took a bad hop), he must have been thinking that the ASG gods were mad at him. "Most errors" is not where you want to appear in the record book! But the errors didn't, in the long run, cost the NL team as much as his unheroic plate appearances at times that called for heroics - or even just a bloop single.
* I have to make a confession: I don't watch TV or movies, just baseball games, so I'm basically culturally retarded. I never heard of Josh Groban before. And I don't like singing God Bless America at baseball games - I don't care for the song, or for its post-9/11 usurping of TMOTTBG as the seventh inning stretch song. And I also don't generally like it when singers muck about with the notes or the rhythm of "classic" songs. So I was surprised that I did like Josh Groban's rendition of GBA. (I debated this with my mother in email; she didn't care for it at all.)
* If the Astros don't win the pennant this year (more on that below), the outcome of the ASG doesn't really matter to me. The home game advantage for the World Series, which goes to the league that wins, isn't an issue unless they're playing in Houston. I pick my World Series favorite on a team-by-team, not league, basis. I'll cheer for the Red Sox because my dad grew up in Boston, or for the Mariners or Rays because I have family there. I'll cheer against the Mets against anyone except the Yankees. So watching the whole game wasn't important to me - until it went into extra innings. Then, somewhat perversely, I felt like I had to stick with it to the end. It's kind of a point of honor for the game - now that it "counts" - not to be called as a tie, as it was several years ago. I don't know what would have happened had it gone longer, when the AL ran out of pitchers. I suspect that Kazmir would not have been allowed to pitch more than another inning. But it was just too bad that it had to be Brad Lidge who gave up the game-winning run. He's really had an amazing "come back" since being traded by the Astros - and I still think that he's Cy Young material.
* One last note, a take-away lesson for the Astros: Pitching wins ball games. This game went on for 15 innings, as world-class pitchers threw against the best batters in the major leagues. People can say what they want about the All Star Game being a popularity contest, with players selected by the fans. Well, the fan-selected players were long gone by the last 9 innings of the game - it was the reserves, selected by the players themselves, who were out on the field until the end. They got lots of guys on base, but the pitching came through inning after inning, winning the battle against the batters and base runners. With all that power-hitting talent out there, it was a low-scoring game - another reminder that pitching wins ball games in the end.
Now on to my mid-season ramblings...
If I were a sports writer, and my professional reputation were on the line, I would say the same thing as Alyson Footer and the guys at the Chronicle: This isn't the year for the Astros. Yeah, they have a long history of being a great second half team (but so do their rivals, the Cards). But even with a good run, the Astros are not likely to pull a winning record out of this season.
But I'm not a sports writer. To the best of my knowledge, I am the only reader of this blog, which is basically just a convenient online format for maintaining my personal baseball season diary. So I can write whatever I want, without having to deal with rude and annoying comments from blog-bashers. As a fan-in-exile, I'm allowed to express optimism or even just plain wishful thinking, rather than a professional writer's cold hard assessment of reality. That is why, when the Chronicle gave up on the Astros in 2005, my mid-term predictions were talking about winning the pennant. (You can read them yourself: Click here for my mid-term predictions for 2005.) I was actually wrong about almost all of my specific player-by-player predictions, but I got the important one right: The Astros did win the pennant and they did play in the World Series.
So here's where I'd go with wishful thinking: The Astros will have an immense second half. The starting pitching will be a challenge, to say the least, but there will be some good surprises there. Wandy will have a vindicating year. A promise: If he wins 10 games in the second half, I will start calling him Rodriguez. Backe will need to be more consistently like he was in the finale against the Nats. (If he is, he'll be leading the game in batting average!) I'm mixed on Roy O - with his recent injury, I'm not sure what's going to happen with him. I doubt that Wade will be able to get another good starter, given that demand exceeds supply. Sampson might need to go back into the rotation, although he seems to be much better as a reliever. I just hope that Runelvys Hernandez or Jack Cassel can pull off some wins. The light rotation will put more pressure on the bullpen, and they will continue to pitch well. Geary, Brocail, and Valverde will shine, and our Rule 5, lefty Wright, will turn out to be a huge bonus for the Astros. I'm hoping for better pitching from Borkowski - he's been an inning-eater in the past, which the Astros will need to back up the weak rotation. It would help if Wade can pick up another relief arm in a trade this month.
Meanwhile, the offense is going to be off and on, but more on than it was in the first half - the Astros will end the season with the highest team BA in the league. Berkman and Lee will duke it out for first place in the NL for RBIs, and Berkman will lead the league in OPS. Tejada will get hot again, and Pence will turn it around big-time with a huge second half. I can't predict what's going to happen with Bourn and Towles - they seem like great guys, and I'm cheering for them both, but it's hard even for an over-optimistic fan-in-exile to call that. On the other hand, remember that Towles holds the team record for most RBIs in a game - 8 last September, when he hit .400-something. He has a spark of greatness somewhere in him. On the other hand, Q will be back from the DL soon (with a beefed-up catcher's helmet), so Towles might have to wait for next year.
Bottom line: I'm going to go with wishful thinking and predict another trip to the playoffs, after another terrific second half.
And if it doesn't work out? Just go back and read the bottom line of my 2005 mid-term predictions. I might engage now in then in a bit of tough love. "But I will NEVER boo my own team."
Quote of the Day: "I would just love be able to be the everyday player -- diving catches, running into the wall, getting dirty. I'm just sad I didn't get to slide today." (Backe)
If I am only going to get to see the Astros play one regular season game in person this year, this one was a good one to go to. My son Josh sent me a pair of terrific tickets, up the first base line, field level, as a birthday gift. Then - the best part of the birthday gift - he came down from New York for the day, just to go to the ball game with me. So before I say anything about the game itself, I have to say a huge
THANK YOU, JOSH!!!
On to the game. Cut to the chase: The Astros won, for a series win. Okay, it was over the Nationals, but hey, I'll take 2 out of 3 over the hapless Nats over being swept by the Yankees. The sight of Pence and Bourn in a flying high-five after the last out was irresistible. There hasn't been much opportunity to see the Astros looking like they are having a blast out there for long time - not since May.
The hero of the game was Brandon Backe, who pretty much did everything a pitcher can do to win a game: He threw seven full shutout innings giving up 5 hits, 4 walks, and striking out 5. And just to make sure that the Astros would get some runs, he did some nice work at the plate too: He went 2 for 3, wiht a double and a single, and scored both times. He finished the game with his batting average up to .345, second on the team behind Berkman.
The Astros got the offense going early. The first two batters, Erstad and Matsui, singled, but were not able to score. Houston got on the scoreboard in the second with Wiggington's solo homer (#8). Backe doubled to lead off the fourth, and scored on Berkman's two-out RBI single. Berkman stole second - he took the catcher totally by surprise, and there was no throw. He then scored on Lee's single, making it 3-0. The Astros threatened again in the fourth: Wiggington walked, and Pence doubled to put runners on second and third with no outs, but they were unable to score.
Backe was up first in the seventh inning, but with his game (and his batting) going so well, there wasn't any thought of pulling him. He led off the inning with a single. Erstad bunted him to second. (Now that's unusual - lead off batters doing sac bunts to move the pitcher over!) Matsui grounded out - two down. With first base open, there was no reason to pitch to Berkman - they intentionally walked him. Well, perhaps there's one reason not to walk Berkman: Lee - he's currently second in the league in RBIs. Backe and Berkman moved up a base on a wild pitch. That set them both up to score on Lee's single, giving him 3 RBIs for the game. Astros lead, 5-to-zip.
Coop pulled Backe after he walked the leadoff batter in the eighth. I was surprised to see Sampson brought in to relieve, since he had pitched 1 2/3 innings the night before. But he was lights out: He induced a ground ball for the double play, then facing Guzman, the Nats' All Star Game representative, got another ground ball to end the inning. He pitched a 1-2-3 ninth.
I was also surprised - happily so - to see Berkman and Tejada playing in this game. With both of them off to New York for the All Star Game, I would not have really been surprised if they had the day off. Perhaps Cooper just really, really wanted to end the first "half" of the season with a series win. Or, more likely, Berkman and Tejada didn't want a day off - Tejada never does.
The only thing that wasn't just about perfect about this game was the temperature - close to 90 degrees, and brutal sun for this afternoon game. That's not global warming; it's normal July in Washington. I hope the Astros come here in May in 2009! Anyway, being at the game with my son more than made up for the heat!
Next stop: Berkman and Tejada in the All Star Game. And then, on to the second half...
Quote of the Day: "Everything looks great when you score six runs and win the ballgame. Guys played just as hard when we lost 10-0, but winning covers a multitude of evils and makes you look good." (Berkman)
The fireworks from the Nationals Ballpark a mile and a half away were my Havdalah candles Saturday night, as the game and the Sabbath ended at the same time. I was spending the Sabbath at my friend Marlene's house on Capitol Hill. My daughter in law had passed me a pair of tickets that her boss gave her, just in case I could get there for the 7 PM game, and I brought them along in my overnight bag. But at 6 PM it was still 90 degrees and humid, and we decided to stay in her cool house and drink a bottle of Gewürztraminer instead. After the Sabbath I got on the Metro at Union Station to head home. At Gallery Place, which intersects the Green Line, the train filled with people in Nats hats and jerseys - fans returning from the game. I thought about asking someone what the outcome had been, but didn't. In the car, driving back from the station, I heard on the radio "Nationals lose to the Astros." Hurray! I went home and watched the whole game on mlb.tv.
I'll start with the worst part of the game and get it over with: Wandy turned the ball over to Chris Sampson in the sixth, with one out and the bases loaded. Sampson's first pitch thumped the Nationals' batter Jesus Flores in the shoulder, to force in a run. But he induced a ground ball from Wily Mo, ending the threat with a 1-2-3 (Sampson-Ausmus-Berkman) double play. Nice work.
That two-fer was one of four the Astros converted in this game, a big factor in Wandy's earning a W out of his start. He pitched 5 1/3 innings, giving up 4 runs (3 of his making, and the inherited runner who scored on Sampson's hit batsman) on 8 hits, 1 walk, and (uncharacteristically) just 1 strikeout.
The Astros got on the board right away, with consecutive singles by Matsui, Berkman, and Lee scored the first run. Wandy gave it back in the bottom of the inning, and allowed another run in the second inning to give the Nats an early lead. Both of those runs were initiated by a lead-off double. After that he coasted along until the sixth, when he gave up a leadoff home run and then loaded up the bases to set up Sampson's hit batsman.
In the meantime, the Astros had done some damage of their own: Hunter Pence hit a two-run homer in the fourth. Then for good luck the Astros scored 3 more in the fifth inning, on Berkman's two-RBI double, and Pence's RBI single. More nice work.
So giving up two runs in the sixth chipped away at their lead, but left them in good shape for the closing team. Sampson, Geary, and Valverde combined for the last three scoreless innings, giving up only one hit and no walks between them. More very nice work.
All in all, a very solid game - the kind that this team should be winning routinely. They don't have a lights-out starting rotation, but if they can keep the damage to a manageable level, turn on the offense, score 6 runs, and then turn it over to a tight bullpen, they can win. Unfortunately, statistical history does not bear that out as the recipe for getting to the playoffs. Everyone who trashed Ed Wade in the off season for building up a stable of hitters, without beefing up the rotation, is saying "I toldja so." And they're probably right.
One more game before shutting down for All Star Week - and my son Josh and I will be there. He's riding down from NY with my daughter in law Marissa right now, and will meet me at the ballpark. If I'm only going to get to see the Astros once in person during the 2008 season, the least they can do is win. Right? RIGHT?
Quote of the Day: "When you throw the ball in the middle of the plate, they usually hit it." (Cooper, on his relief pitchers)
It is just not worth the time to write up this game. Losing in a "laugher" - as it was called in Saturday's Washington Post - to the worst team in baseball... Well, what does that make us?
It actually gets worse than that: Oswalt left the game after one inning with a recurrence of his hip injury. Paronto and Borkowski combined for the damage, giving up 3 and 7 runs, respectively.
Thursday, July 10, 2008
Quote of the Day: "We played awfully hard the last three days -- the last day in Atlanta and the two days here. Just long days. It was really good to finally get a win." (Cooper)
I'd have to agree with Coop: The Astros played both awfully and hard the previous three days, losing all three games. So it was really good to watch them get a win tonight, as Houston salvaged one from another blown series. It wasn't a game I'll remember for years, or for more than a day or two - just a regular good game, with decent pitching, competent fielding - and a few runs thrown in too, at least enough of them to pull off a rare win.
Houston got off to a big start with a first inning 2-out rally: Berkman was hit by a pitch, Lee walked, then Blum (substituting at short for resting Tejada) hit a 3-run homer. Consecutive singles by Bourn, Wigs, and Ausmus put another run across, giving Moehler a nice 4-0 lead to work with. He strung it along for 5 innings, giving up a run here, two there, with the Astros unable to answer, until it was all tied up 4-4. In the seventh a medley of singles, sacs, ground outs, and a double pushed in two more runs.
Not a big lead to work with, considering the events of the past few game. But no blown saves this time: Sampson, back in the pen, threw two perfect innings. Valverde didn't dare do his cat-playing-with-a-mouse routine. He closed without letting a batter past first base.
Of note in this game: Kaz is back from the DL. He liked returning to second base so much that he hit a pair of doubles so he could spend more time there. Berkman stole 2 more bases, giving him 14 for the season.
In other news: Villareal was put on waivers. Did they really think he'd take a minor league assignment, when he didn't even want to pitch out of a big league bullpen?
The Astros leave Pittsburgh, all alone in the cellar of the NL Central division. Next stop: Washington DC to play the Nationals, who are undoubtedly the worst team in the majors this season. If it was hard to lose a series to the Pirates, it would be really demoralizing to lose the the Nats. My younger son gave me tickets for Sunday's game, and is coming down for NY to go to the game with me. I'm really really hoping for a big win, no rain, and no extra innings.
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
Quote of the Day: "I was so [mad] the other day when I wasn't allowed to finish what I started, and then they gave me the opportunity tonight and I didn't get it done." (Brocail, on blowing the lead in the eighth)
Even the Pittsburgh TV announcers were sympathetic. Two days after a long rain delay followed by a 17-inning loss, and a 3 AM arrival in Pittsburgh, only to lose again, here they were sitting around Tuesday night, waiting out yet another rain storm. Two rain delays interrupted the game this time, adding up to over 3 hours, and putting the end of the game into Wednesday morning. At least the Astros were winning... up till the eighth inning.
In Sunday's game, I questioned why Coop pulled Brocail to bring in Valverde with two outs and a slim lead - which the big guy then blew, leading to another 9 innings of play. In this game, Cooper must have thought that he'd learned from Sunday's experience. He left Brocail in the game with a 3-1 lead in the eighth, just a little too long - Brocail gave up 3 runs, and the Astros lost again.
All 3 of the Astros' runs scored on home runs: a wind-blown solo flight from Pence, and a 2-run homer from El Caballo.
Backe had a good, but abbreviated, start: He pitched 3 scoreless innings, giving up 3 hits, no walks, and striking out 3. He'd thrown less than 50 pitches but when the first rain delay went on for 2 hours and 39 minutes, Cooper decided to go to the bullpen. Notable relief work in this game: Geary pitched 1 2/3 perfect innings.
Stats of interest: Total elapsed time, including two rain delays: 6 hours, 5 minutes. Paid attendance: 17,867; total left by the end of the game: less than 500. Probably a lot less. I stuck around to watch the whole game, from the comfort of my kitchen in Maryland.
Quote of the Day: " My mind was set to throw nine innings today." (Runelvys Hernandez)
This was a really stupid game. Sure, call it a slugfest - there were a lot of runs. But really, what did you expect, with Runelvys on the mound for life - or so it seemed - the day after the Astros wore out their bullpen in an unofficial double header? What could Cooper do when his starter gave up 6 in the first 2 innings, but the only fresh pitcher he had available in relief was Chad Paronto, called up for this game from Round Rock? So Runelvys pitched as long as he could, giving up 10 runs in 4 innings.
Actually, Paronto acquitted himself very well, giving up only 1 hit and no runs over the next 4 innings. I hadn't seen him since Spring Training - he's a really big guy who pitched for the Braves the last couple of seasons. His good relief pitching held the damage at 10, but it wasn't enough. The Astros could not make up the deficit and lost.
Oh did I mention that the Astros scored 7 runs? There was plenty of run support, if you didn't happen to give up 10 in the first 4 innings. Lee hit a 3-run homer in the first to give the Astros a short-lived lead; Runelvys gave up those and more in the bottom of the inning. Then the Astros batted around in the fourth for another 4, taking the lead momentarily. Runelvys gave back 4 to match in the bottom of the inning. At that point, apparently, Coop decided he'd seen enough.
And, oh, did I mention that the Astros were playing the Pirates? Hey, this is a contest for the last place spot. Get serious.
Bad game. Sixth loss in the last seven games. Takes the fun out of watching baseball.
In Other News: Oswalt has been scheduled to pitch - Friday in Washington. I was hoping he'd be pitching on Sunday, when I'd be there! Meanwhile, two other NL Central teams have beefed up their rotations. Milwaukee won the Sabathia contest, and the Cubs countered by signing Rich Harden from the A's in a 6-player deal. Heading into the trade deadline, what will the Astros be: Buyers or sellers?
Sunday, July 6, 2008
Saturday, July 5: Houston 6, Atlanta 1
Sunday, July 6: Atlanta 7, Houston 6 (17 innings)
Quote of the Day: "My guys battled. That's all you can ask. They battled and played hard. We had a lot of chances to squeeze one across. We just couldn't get it done. Everybody -- every stinking pitcher that went out there -- battled, and that's all you can ask for. They laid it all out on the line." (Cooper, on Sunday's 17-inning loss)
At least they ended it in style Sunday night - a similar style to that best-ever 18-inning game in the playoffs three years ago. It would have been nice if the ending had been similar with the Astros dancing on the field. But instead they trudged exhaustedly back to the visitor clubhouse to pack up for the trip to Pittsburgh, another series loss in the record book. But I'm way ahead of myself... let's start at the beginning of the weekend.
The fireworks sure weren't for the Astros on the Fourth of July. Taking on an Atlanta team that had lost its last 5 games and hadn't had a lead in a game in a week, Houston had a big opportunity. But it faded faster than the fireworks, as Moehler gave up 5 runs and the Astros continued with a weak offense - the killer combo that's accounted for quite a bite of this Losing Season. That's "Losing" with a capital "L": The Astros fell back into last place in the division - behind even Pittsburgh. I guess I should be glad if the Astros save their losses for Friday night, when I'm off celebrating the Sabbath.
Saturday night was a big improvement. When I turned on the computer after the Sabbath ended, it was the bottom of the ninth, and the Astros had a nice fat 6-1 lead. They had scored the last two runs in the top of the ninth, so Valverde was all warmed up to pitch for the save. Now it wasn't a save situation, but the big guy didn't feel that it was necessary to turn it into one to make it exciting. I waited an hour for the game to show up on the MLB.tv archive, and watched it - not live, but it was the first game I'd gotten to watch since Wednesday night, and the first win since last Monday.
Sampson, jumping back out of the bullpen to fill in for Oswalt, pitched a nice, and very economical, game. In his 5 innings, he threw 56 pitches, giving up 1 run on 2 hits, no walks, and striking out 2. The Astros got some early runs for him - 2 in each of the first 2 innings on a mix of walks, singles, and doubles from up and down the order. Loretta, starting at second, had a great night at the plate: 3 doubles, with 4 RBIs. Brydak, Brocail, and Valverde combined to pitch the other four scoreless innings, allowing the Astros to break their 4 game losing streak.
Sunday's series decider got off to an ominous start: A huge rainstorm that delayed the game almost 2 hours. When they finally got going, Wandy gave up a first-inning homer to Chipper Jones. But the Astros came back to score 5 runs in the third, in an inning capped by Wiggington's first career grand slam. Amazingly, all the action in the inning began with 2 outs. Wandy gave back two of the runs in the bottom of the inning, with Chipper J again in the troublesome mix, making it 5-3. In the sixth inning, again with 2 outs, Newhan and Ausmus combined to put another run across, giving the Astros a 6-3 lead.
That was about it for Wandy; lefty Wright came in with one away in the bottom of the sixth, striking out both batters he faced. He fared less well in the seventh, getting two quick outs before giving up a walk and an RBI double (it was Chipper - again - who scored). With the Astros lead cut to 2 runs, Coop brought in Brocail to finish off the inning. In the eighth, Brocail struck out two batters, interspersed with a single and a walk. For some reason, Cooper thought this called for the early entry of the closer. This time the drama queen did make it too interesting: Valverde walked his first batter to load the bases, then allowed a 2-run single to tie the game.
At this point, the ramifications of that weren't fully realized: It would take another 9 innings - a whole game's worth of play - before anyone scored the next run. Cut to the chase: It was Atlanta's turn to win the Marathon. Brydak - the last reliever standing , pitching his third inning- gave up 4 consecutive singles in the bottom of the 17th, giving Atlanta the 7-6 win.
But kudos to the bullpen. On the way to that point, Geary pitched 3 innings and Borkowski threw 2 - each of them only allowing a single hit. And Brydak had pitched his way out of trouble for two innings before his 17th inning meltdown. Unfortunately, the Astros were matched inning by inning by a similar performance from the Brave's pen. Although they threatened, getting runners to 3rd in the 13th, 15th, and 17th, Houston couldn't get a run across. The most disappointing chance was in the 15th inning, when Berkman came in to pinch hit with 2 outs and the bases loaded. Berkman, who was sitting out the game with a goopy eye (diagnosis: pink eye), flied out.
The game ended about 5 1/2 hours after its rain-delayed start. The Astros' flight was then delayed and the did not arrive in Pittsburgh until 3 AM. And now for the bad news: With Runelvys scheduled to pitch Monday - not a really reassuring thought - there's really not much available in the bullpen. So, on to Pittsburgh, where the Astros and Pirates will duke it out for last place in the NL Central.
In Other News: Two Astros made the All Star team. Berkman won the popular vote for first base - the first time he's been voted in by fans. Tejada didn't catch up in the shortstop voting, but was picked by the players. Lee didn't get a spot, but is one of 5 players in the runoff vote. Oswalt, unfortunately, will miss his next start, still out with a hip injury. Back at Spring Training, I was hoping that he'd be leading the race for the Cy Young this year, with all this expected run support, maybe a starring role in the All Star Game. Instead, he's (literally) limping along in his worst season ever. Meanwhile, the Astros have a new pitcher on the roster: They brought up Paronto from Round Rock, and designated Abercrombie for assignment. (Now we can guess who will relieve on Monday.) And far off in Philadelphia, Lidge just got a huge contract to stay with the Phillies for another 3 years. Lidge did make the All Star team - he's having a huge year, with a minuscule ERA. Good for him! Hey, he didn't ask to be traded!
Tuesday, July 1: Los Angeles 7, Houston 6
Wednesday, July 2: Los Angeles 4, Houston 1
Thursday, July 3: Los Angeles 5, Houston 2
Quote of the Day: "I hope it ain't too bad." (Roy Oswalt, about his injury, not the season)
Still in Proposal Fugue, I barely have time to watch the Astros' games, let alone write them up, so I'm continuing to write up whole series at a time. The current proposal I'm working on has delayed its due date to mid-July, which may make the proposal manager happy, but there may be a problem if anyone thinks I'm going to work on Sunday, July 13 - when the Astros are here in Washington.
Meanwhile, this week, I'm not missing much, as the Astros have returned to their series losing ways. This blog entry will be pretty short, considering it covers 4 games - it's just not worth talking too much about more of the same...
I'll give the most attention to Monday's game, which was a nice solid game, with only one big problem. Roy Oswalt pitched his best start of the year - 6 innings, 1 run on 6 hits, no walks, and 9 strikeouts. After a kind of wacky first inning, when he gave up a double, hit two consecutive batters, and then a sac fly, it was the ol' Roy O. For the next 5 innings, he really shut down the Dodgers. Then he came to the mound in the 7th, drew a tight little audience of trainers and coaches, and left with an unspecified injury. It was later identified as some kind of strain in his hip, an he's day to day. Losing the ace, who's finally pitching like an ace, would be crushing for a team that doesn't have a whole lot of confidence in its rotation.
Chris Sampson came in to warm up on the mound, with Ausmus out there reminding him to take all the time he needed. He pitched an inning and change, Wright finished up the eighth, and Valverde took the ninth, all of them combining for a nice save of Oswalt's terrific start. Happily, the big guy didn't try to make it interesting for a change; he just got out there and finished the game.
The Astros didn't take too long to tie it up. Berkman hit a solo homer in the second inning to make it 1-1. In the fourth, Loretta's bases-loaded single pushed across another run. Ausmus followed with a 2-out single to score 2 more, giving the Astros the 3-run lead that they carried through to the end.
Monday's game was definitely the high point of the series. Tuesday's got off to a lousy start, with Wandy at the center of the trouble. The two-run homer he gave up in the first inning was just a shadow of what was to come; he gave up single runs in the third, fourth, and fifth, before he was lifted for a pinch batter in the bottom of the fifth. But this wasn't one of those high-scoring lucky-Wandy games; the Astros only eked out one run on his watch, a Bourn-Pence combo in the first inning. Villareal continued the tradition in the sixth, allowing another single run, leaving Houston down 6-1.
Then, for a while, things got interesting. In the bottom of the sixth, Berkman walked and Tejada singled, setting the table for Wiggington's two-out three-run homer. In the seventh, Bourn and Berkman walked, setting up for Lee's two-out two-run double, to tie the game at 6-6. The score stayed there through the ninth, tenth, and into the eleventh inning - a rare extra-innings game this year - when ex-Astro Jeff Kent homered off of lefty Wright. The Astros went down 1-2-3 i the bottom of the inning, losing 7-6. But at least they were in the game.
No such luck in the following two games. Wednesday, the Astros were helpless against Dodgers' pitcher Hiroki Kuroda, who was just back from the DL. I guess they fixed him: The Astros didn't score a run until El Caballo's solo homer in the ninth inning. But too little, too late. Runelvys (what a terrible name) Hernandez gave up 4 runs in his 5 innings, with Jeff Kent figuring strongly in the trouble again. Hernandez was relieved in the sixth by a familiar Astros, just returned to the Bigs from Round Rock. Dave Borkowski is back (yay!), called up to replace Oscar Villareal. Another one of Ed Wade's acquisitions bites the dust -- the Astros admitted failure with the disappointing Villareal and designated him for assignment. Borkowski pitched two scoreless innings; Brydak and Sampson eached pitched a hitless inning. Good bullpen, but the combination of mediocre starting pitching and invisible bats is not a recipe for success.
I'm not going to write much about Thursday's afternoon loss to break the Astros' successful series streak. After quickly retiring the first two batters of the game, Backe went on to give up 3 runs in the first inning -- and the game was over. The Astros got a couple of runs across - both courtesy of newly returned JR Towles - but that's all she wrote. A sign of the stress the team is under: Brocail was ejected in the ninth for arguing a ball 4 call.
Bad Stat Department: After his home run in Monday's game, Berkman did not get another hit in the series.
Giving up runs early and often, while not scoring many yourself, is not the way to get to the playoffs. I am just hoping that the Nats continue to play worse than the Astros, so I can get to see a win while they're here next week.