This entry suffers from A.D.D., so bear with me.
One of today’s top baseball headlines on my Yahoo homepage: A-ROD HITS 3 HOMERS IN BATTING PRACTICE. Really? BP homers are headline material now? I want to know how many homers Big Puma hit in BP today – anybody got that stat? Geez. I don’t mean this as ragging on A-Rod; he was actually one of my favorites back in his Seattle days, though he lost most of my respect when he signed for megabucks in Texas, then lost the rest when he signed for bigger megabucks in NY. I still think he’s an extraordinarily talented athlete, even without steroids. I’m just shaking my head at the mega-media spotlight… Yankees batting practice gets national headlines while most other teams only get headlines when they play against the Yankees (or the Red Sox, or the Mets). Who knew anything about Carlos Beltran while he played in Kansas City?
The Astros have done a good job getting on with the rest of their season since the 1-6 start and the odd mid-series day off on Tuesday. The math is pretty simple: subtract those first seven games and you’ve got 155 left on the schedule. That’s 31 turns through the rotation. If your starters are good enough to win you three out of each five games, on average, that’s 93 wins, plus that one from the first seven. 94 wins has been good enough for the NL Wild Card 12 out of 14 seasons so far, including all of the last six. Is an Oswalt-Hampton-Ortiz-Rodriguez-Moehler lineup good enough to net you three out of any given five games? It’s easier with names like Pettitte and Clemens in there, but probably. The question is if they can do it consistently. And if they can stay healthy.
Which, of course, Brian Moehler now isn’t. Neither is Doug Brocail. And Kaz Matsui hasn’t played in the last two games, and likely won’t play until at least Saturday. Of those three, the one not on the DL (Matsui) actually concerns me the most, because I think the Astros have the least depth behind him. I wouldn’t qualify any of their injuries as disastrous, though, so I’m not that worried yet. Moehler is more replaceable than Mike Hampton or Russ Ortiz.
Speaking of Hampton – for whatever reason, it hadn’t really hit me until yesterday how nice it is to have Hampy back on the team. At least for me, as a fan. And not because he pitched so well yesterday, either; the nostalgia hit in the morning. I’ve gone on before about how Pudge Rodriguez is a throwback to my childhood heroes, and how I miss those like Luis Gonzalez and Curt Schilling that are gone now. Mike Hampton is one of those guys, too. And unlike Gonzo or Pudge or Schill, Hampy did have his best years in a Houston uniform. He was never my favorite pitcher during his previous run here – that was Jose Lima – and I’ll confess I was glad that Houston didn’t get saddled with that horrible contract. I didn’t think that much of Houston re-signing him last November, either, and nostalgia never hit during spring training or his start against St. Louis. It just hit me yesterday. It’s gotta be strange and a bit sad for him being back, that everyone not Doug Brocail that he played with before is now gone. But I’m still glad he’s here, and I’m cheering for a big year now more than ever.
Speaking of Matsui – the guy that seemed most likely next in line behind him, Drew Sutton, got shipped to Cincinnati today to complete the Jeff Keppinger deal. Don’t like it. I still think Keppinger helps the team out a lot – he played Matsui’s 2B today – and he’s certainly proven valuable already. I wouldn’t necessarily undo the deal. I just wish it didn’t have to come at the cost of one of our few upper-level prospects. I’ll be cheering for Sutton to make it big in Cincy, but it will be tinged with regret if he does.
As a Houston sports fan, I can’t ignore that the only franchise to bring the city a major sports championship starts their postseason on Saturday in Portland. Basketball was the only other sport I ever displayed any long-term interest in, and that faded after Houston brought in Charles Barkley. But I’ll admit that this is the most excited I’ve been about a Rockets squad since the 1995 Phi Slamma Jamma title team. I really think they’re better with Ron Ron and without T-Mac. (Sure, Artest is crazy, but we had Vernon Maxwell before!) I was admittedly very disappointed at their inability to close the deal against Dallas last night, which ended up costing them home court; it seemed like Portland wanted it more. But I still think this could end up being a very special group. Go Rockets!
Michael Bourn has done well so far at earning my confidence. Jason Michaels has not. Pudge seems to have caught whatever the other catchers had during spring training, but I think he’s primarily afflicted with a case of Trying Too Hard. He’ll come around.
It’s interesting to note that the only two starters that haven’t helped the Astros win yet this young season are the injured Moehler, and Roy Oswalt. But Roy starts tomorrow at home versus the Reds, whom he owns, so I expect great things. The Astros have owned the Reds in general for the last several years, so I’d like to see them take three out of four before the Ausmus-led Dodgers roll into town.
That’s more like it. A tie with the Yankees still isn’t a win, but it isn’t a loss either (and before anyone says “five-game winless streak,” I’m claiming “one-game lossless streak!”). Lots more positives from yesterday’s game, too.
Hampy got hammered, but even before Brian McTaggart stole my headline, I was already thinking that health matters more than performance for Mike right now. Bottom line is, when Hampton is healthy, we know he’s good. He’s as close to a sure thing as the Astros have right now behind Roy O, so they’ve got to count on him. Hampy’s second inning was better than his first, and spring outings are a bit unfair in that regard too – you see it all the time during the regular season that a starter will struggle in the first inning and settle down after that. Even from Roy. So, as long as he’s healthy – and doesn’t keep getting hammered – I’ll take it.
Jose Valverde looked GREAT yesterday covering for Hampy in the third. Maybe the best news of the day was Russ Ortiz, who looked rock solid again. Brandon Backe and Bud Norris get the chance to match him again today, and it’s always fun playing Tampa – they have so many Houston ties.
Beyond the youngsters Drew Sutton and Chris Johnson, vets Jason Smith and Matt Kata are likewise looking great so far. They aren’t making Cecil Cooper’s backup shortstop selection any easier, but that’s a pleasant problem to have. Better too many good options than not enough (*coughcatchercough*).
Reggie Abercrombie is up to .545. Darin Erstad is a cool .500. Michael Bourn fell to .214 yesterday; that and Jason Michaels’ .100 get starts today, so it’s a chance for them to rally back.
I’m a huge U2 fan, so today’s new No Line on the Horizon is keeping me company this morning. Great stuff, but it’s game time!