Tagged: tommy manzella

At the midway mark

Great win for Houston last night over a great San Diego club. Given Houston’s performance against the first-place Yankees and Rangers last month (1-8), I wasn’t too optimistic going into this series, but with Roy pitching tonight, they’ve got a chance to take the first two. That is, if they can solve San Diego ace Mat Latos; the Astros haven’t done so great against opposing aces this year. Regardless, if they can pull off a split of this four-game set, I’ll be pleased.

The Astros ended up splitting the month of June at 14-14. That’s unspectacular for any team, but for a team that was 17 games under .500 by the end of May, to remain 17 games under .500 by the end of June means they’re making progress. Much has been said already about their 12-4 record against NL opponents in June, but unfortunately you can’t selectively ignore portions of the schedule, so the 2-10 in Interleague remains. That 1-8 v. NYY and Texas underscores that these Astros cannot compete with the elite, but I think that their 13-6 record against everybody else reinforces that this club is not as bad as their first two months. They may actually be set up for a pretty good July: after this weekend in San Diego, they’ve got nothing more challenging this month than one series each in Houston against the Cardinals and Reds. Who are virtually tied for first in the NL Central, granted, but the NL Central is baseball’s weakest division this year. And these Astros have already swept St. Louis once. Not that I expect another late season run – I don’t – but I don’t expect these Astros to lose 100 games any more either.
A trade! A trade! Only July 1, and Ed Wade is already dealing! Nothing of nearly the magnitude that we were (and still are) expecting, however – swapping Kevin Cash to the BoSox for AAA SS Angel Sanchez. Sanchez reportedly joined the Astros in San Diego yesterday, which implies that he’s being brought up to the big club, but no corresponding roster move has been announced yet. Zach Levine analyzed the possibilities and concluded that the unlucky victim will be either Pedro Feliz or Oswaldo Navarro, which seems logical. I doubt that Houston is ready to cut Feliz loose yet, though, especially after his recent 3-for-5 game. It’s more likely they’ve decided that Navarro’s .063 batting average isn’t likely to improve much, which is perhaps unfair after only 19 plate appearances. I would rather they give Navarro an extended trial than increase Geoff Blum’s time at shortstop. I believe this move is in response to the same problem I blogged about when discussing Adam Everett: neither Blum nor Navarro is a natural shortshop. Sanchez is, so he figures to be a stopgap until Tommy Manzella is ready to return next month, and unlike Everett, Sanchez can be expected to accept a minor league assignment later on. Cash was not going to make it back to Houston this year, so I like the move.
Tonight’s game will be #81 in the books for 2010. I know it’s been a “long year,” but are we really halfway done already?

Crazy Eight

After eight tries, the Astros finally beat the Giants, though a day too late for Jason Castro’s debut, but c’est la vie. Castro got his first 0-fer and first passed ball, but he did work a walk and score another run. Chris Johnson was the star rookie for Houston on this night, going 2-4 with a double, a RBI, a stolen base and a run scored. 

Bad news for the other of Houston’s rookie trio, Tommy Manzella; he broke his finger in the 9th Tuesday night, and now he’ll be out for about six weeks. Signing Adam Everett didn’t make much sense when he was DFA’d by Detroit early this month, but he’s officially a free agent now and is still available, so is it time to bring him back? It would certainly make more sense now, with Tommy out until at least August, and it wouldn’t necessarily be a bad move… the Astros recalled Oswaldo Navarro from Round Rock to fill Tommy’s roster spot, and of course we’ve got Geoff Blum, but neither of those two are natural shortstops. I’d love to see Edwin Maysonet get another shot in Houston, but he’s been battling injuries this year and is primarily a second baseman himself. Jeff Keppinger could slide over to short, but he earned his starting job this year at 2B, and I’d rather not muck with that. Adding Everett would solve all of those difficulties, but it would introduce another problem, in the question of what do you do with him when Manzella returns? He refused minor league assignment in Detroit, so I doubt that he’d accept it here. There is also potential for intangible benefit by bringing in Everett, as he could help mentor Manzella and other young Astros players; he was evidently valuable in that role for Detroit. But ultimately, I still don’t think it makes enough sense for a struggling and rebuilding team to go out and add veteran parts when you already have younger guys like Navarro or Maysonet who are capable of filling the role. I would smile to hear that Adam was signed, but I don’t expect it to happen.
Other thoughts: It’s rumored that Delino DeShields, Jr. (or DDJ, from henceforth) is close to signing with Houston, and I hope that’s true. The Astros have already signed their other two first rounders this year, and 28 of 52 draft picks overall; I’d like to see DDJ added to that mix sooner than later. Taken at #8, he was of course greeted with the hype of being “Houston’s highest draft pick since Phil Nevin at #1 in 1992.” Jason Castro had that same hype two years ago when he was taken #10, although Chris Burke was also drafted 10th in 2001. The hope with both Castro and DDJ is that they’ll exceed the careers of Burke (currently with AAA Louisville) and Nevin, but only time will tell. Phil did put together a few good years with San Diego, but his Houston career was a bust, and his final totals were disappointing compared against the expectations for a #1 overall draft pick. Looking back, the gem of the ’92 draft was taken #6 by the New York Yankees… I know, hindsight is 20/20 and all that, and the Astros probably would have been criticized back in ’92 had they not picked Phil Nevin #1. But for a franchise whose career home run leader at shortstop is still the aforementioned Adam Everett with 35, just the possibility that Derek Jeter could have been an Astro all this time is a tantalizing “what if?” fantasy. Imagine Jeter in a Houston infield with Bagwell, Biggio and (pre-injury) Ken Caminiti… wow. I should stop now before I cry myself to sleep tonight.
Astros conclude their third Giants series this afternoon, and then they (and I) are off to Arlington for the weekend. In non-MLB news, how about that Landon Donovan? Go USA!! I was fortunate yesterday to catch both the last 25 minutes of the USA-Algeria game, and the last three innings of the TCU-Florida State CWS game, in which TCU scored 8 in the 8th to roar back from a five-run deficit and win 11-7. My (really cool) father-in-law is a TCU alum, so I’m behind the Horned Frogs all the way in Omaha. Go rally turtle!!

And Castro’s an Astro

So last night’s game is in the books, and now Jason Castro can officially claim the rank of big league ballplayer. Don’t hold your breath for any “Cas-mas” type holidays in Houston like “Strasmas” every fifth day in D.C., but Jason has no reason to hang his head following his debut. A hit off of Tim Lincecum in his first big league at bat, a run scored, and two baserunners caught stealing from behind the plate; maybe he didn’t quite set the world on fire, but he did his part to help the team win (even though they lost), so I’ll gladly take that any day of the week.

The game could have ended better for the Astros, having turned into another disappointing loss following another solid start by Roy Oswalt, but Roy was not the big story last night. It was almost a disastrous game for the Giants, with three errors and no runs through six innings, but a win makes any box score look better. The key play, really, came in the bottom of the third, when Lance Berkman grounded into a double play with the bases loaded and one out. That made the difference between the headlines reading “CASTRO KICKS OFF FIVE RUN OUTBURST,” rather than “CASTRO SCORES ASTROS ONLY RUN.” I’m still not entirely sure that Lance didn’t actually beat the rap, as we never got to see a replay, but if Jason Donald was safe in Detroit, then I’ll accept that Puma was out here.
Let’s look at this again (with thanks again to Alyson Footer for the photo):
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I like this lineup. Maybe more than any Astros lineup since 2007, or even longer. You know why? Because six of those nine guys are Astros farm products. Michael Bourn is a Houston native, was originally drafted by Houston, and has spent the majority of his big league career here. Within a month, Jeff Keppinger will have more experience as an Astro than anywhere else. And while Carlos Lee still has more seasons with the Chicago White Sox (six), he’s in his fourth year here, so at least we’re used to the big guy. It feels like our team, rather than an assembled collection of purchased pieces, rentals and cast-offs. Castro, Johnson and Manzella may never be the next Biggio, Ensberg and Everett, but even if the Astros lose more games now, I’d rather watch them go to battle with these guys than with Cash, Feliz and Blum.
It’s the same reason that 2005 is my favorite Astros team, even without the World Series appearance, rather than the flashier 2004 or 1998 squads. Almost every regular Houston starter in ’05 was a career Astro, excepting Brad Ausmus, Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens. Pettitte and Clemens, like Bourn, were Houston natives, and Ausmus built his legacy here, even if he didn’t begin and won’t end an Astro. They were a Houston baseball club, through and through, and that’s something the local fans will always love. It’s the same reason that, if I was a Florida Marlins fan, I would love their 2003 championship squad more than 1997. The ’97 Marlins were the poster children for buying a World Series win, but the ’03 group was much more organically grown.
So the Jason Castro Era has begun. It may not be remembered as such years from now, as those are unrealistic expectations to place on any kid with only one game’s worth of experience, but it will be fun to watch along the way. The Ivy League-educated Ausmus blocked the backstop in Houston for a decade, with golden defense and plenty of smarts. If the Stanford-educated Castro can do the same, adding at least as much offense (and hopefully more), then we’ve got a keeper.

Sad day for Adam E., big day for draftees

So in Tigers news not about Armando Galarraga, Detroit designated ex-Astro Adam Everett for assignment yesterday. It’s sad in the way that Morgan Ensberg getting cut by the Rays last spring was sad – that was the end of Morgan’s playing career, and Adam is talking as if this is the end of his. Both guys were key cogs in the 2005 World Series team, and you always want to see old friends do well elsewhere if they can’t do well in Houston. Of course my immediate thought is that, if Everett is released or placed on waivers, the Astros should snatch him up; the buzz about Tommy Manzella all spring was that he “could be the next Adam Everett,” and a 33-year-old Everett couldn’t hit much worse than the 27-year-old Manzella has so far. But the reality is that Adam Everett would not have become Adam Everett if the Astros hadn’t let him go through his own growing pains as a big leaguer, and I think it’s still much too early to give up on Tommy yet. Everett would be a great insurance policy if he’s willing to accept a minor league assignment and if Tommy continues to struggle for another month or two. I’d love to see Adam back in an Astros uniform again. But if this is indeed the end of the road for him, he seems to have an admirable attitude about it. His own comments and those by Jim Leyland speak volumes about Adam’s character.

The Astros did indeed take two of three from the Cubs, so they’re still officially keeping pace with the 2005 squad, but they’ll have to sweep this four-game set in Colorado if they’re to keep that up. Houston dodges a huge bullet this week in that they get to face four Rockies starters not named Ubaldo Jimenez, but I still wouldn’t bet on a sweep. A more realistic goal is to climb out of the NL Central basement before the weekend set with the Yankees. Houston has won six of their last eight to pull within a game back of Milwaukee, so it would be nice to head to New York no longer cellar dwellers.
Of course the biggest news in Astroland today is the first round of the 2010 MLB Draft. As has already been often repeated, Houston has their highest pick this year (#8) since drafting Phil Nevin #1 overall back in 1992, and they have more first-round picks this year (3) than they have since 1994. For a farm system that has regularly been rated among the worst in baseball in recent years, this is huge, and probably the most important draft of Ed Wade’s & Bobby Heck’s Houston careers. Brett Eibner looks pretty good…