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Thursday, May 25, 2006

Diablog: gNats 8, Disastros 5

This is the first in what we hope will be a long series of "diablogs" consisting of our respective thoughts on a particular topic (usually, an Astros game). The subject, alas, is today's 8-5 beatdown at the hands of the woeful Nationals that has dropped our beloved 'Stros to a mere two games above .500. Shafty's text is in blue, Phat-C's in red.

Ugh. For the record, this one can't be blamed on Special K, who went 4-for-5 with two runs, two stolen bases, an RBI, and no strikeouts. I am also continually impressed by the work of Dave Borkowski, who pitched two innings of scoreless one-hit ball today.

Special K looked today like the Kevin Bass of old (sorry for those Bass fans out there)... yippity-skippity when he goes 4-5 even though the team lost. Down in the dumps because he--sigh--struck out three times (again) but the team won. My thought is that it further shows how out of sync he is with the rest of the team. Arguably one of his best games at the plate, but it comes in non-pressure situations with hardly-if-anyone on base. Great game, OPPW (Over-Priced Preston Wilson), but unfortunately we need you to come through in more appropriate situations.

Borkowski could be in the middle of an anomaly year, but he is pitching like a reliable reliever should. He comes in, no matter the situation, and goes right at guys. I admire his tenacity, and I'd like to see him tested in more "crucial" situations (i.e., ones in which we're holding a narrow lead or tie). I like what I see.

Having doled out the compliments to those very few deserving souls, however, I'm not optimistic about the prospects for this road trip, which so far has started out 1-3. The possibility that this team falls back to .500 is looming rather large in our rear view mirror following this latest catastrophe in our nation's capital.

The problem currently seems to be that the Astros' normal "go-to" guys are not delivering. With all due respect to Roy Harvey ('cause you know I love the guy), that balk blunder was, in my "humble" opinion, the turning point in that game. Here he is, cruising along with a "comfortable" one-run lead, and his whole strategy gets knocked off kilter because of a balk. He boobed that one big time and he knew it. To make matters worse, Andy Pettitte had the opportunity to right the ship and pick his boys up. Instead, he continued his every-other-game pace of getting shelled. On top of all that, who stole Lance Berkman? Why has--with today as an exception--Morgan Ensberg been our only offense in the last week? No one is stepping up right now, and that hurts. It's time for people to start looking at Lance and Morgan the way they have Biggio and Bagwell for so long.

Clearly, the goat of the game is Andy Pettitte, who got lit up once again. 8 hits and 7 earned runs in only three innings. Unfortunately, the majority of the gNat's runs off Pettitte (5 out of 7) were scored with two outs in the inning. If Andy could have found some way to finish those innings, he's looking at only a 2-0 deficit... and we probably win this game.

We've been walking a lot of leadoff hitters. The old saying goes that if you walk the leadoff guy, he almost always scores. The Astros' pitching staff has committed, over the last month, virtually every cardinal (ooooh, I hate that word) sin in pitching. Here's a quick breakdown...
  1. We've fallen behind the majority of the hitters we've faced. By contrast, Taylor Buchholz threw first pitch strikes to over 2/3 of the batters he faced. Pitching from behind on a consistent basis never leads to positive results.

  2. We've been getting two-strike counts on hitters and then not finishing them off. Giving up two-strike hits is a BIG no-no... and we're not talking about full counts, either. These are 0-2 and 1-2 counts. Unacceptable. I'd rather a guy not go for the strikeout and just get outs than give in for the sake of the "big pitch"... especially when we're not hitting our spots (This goes back to the mind powers of Darth Robinson.)

  3. After getting two quick outs, we've been giving up big innings. This amounts, in my opinion, to a lazy mentality. It's lack of focus... nothing has changed physically, and it's not like the rules of the game or pitching change mid-inning. What's happened is that the pitcher's concentration has relaxed and wandered. Instead of battling and staying ahead, we've been giving in to lackluster hitters.

  4. We've failed to adjust mid-stream. Roy Harvey is probably the worst at this; but if you're falling off the mound after you delivery and you're missing your spots, perhaps you should make an adjustment. If you're leaving the ball up, lower your release point... etc. GQ Estacio is the perennial example of "Failure to Adjust."
Bottom line: We haven't been executing our pitches.

Joining Andy in the doghouse is Mike Lamb, who went 0-for-4 with three stikeouts and four men left on base. He also grounded into a double play with bases loaded in the first inning.

I love Mike Lamb and wouldn't trade him for Preston Wilson... uh... I mean.... yeah. Anyway, Mike left 5 runners on base and struck out three times... I think it's safe to say that's very uncharacteristic of him, but it's also evidence that mediocrity spreads like a virus, as does losing.

While on the subject of leaving runners on base... let's take a look at today's "winners" in that category (the Astros, by the way, stranded a remarkable 31 runners on base):
  • Adam Everett - 6
  • Mike Lamb - 5
  • Chris Burke - 4 (just coming back, so we should give this kid a break... he did, after all, beat the Braves in the 18th of Game Four). (And he's coming back from injury.)
  • Five Tied at Three: Brad Ausmus, Craig Biggio (in one at-bat, on a pop-up), Eric Bruntlett, Morgan Ensberg, Jason Lane.
I just don't have it in me to dissect this freaking awful game any further. At least we're consistent--we've found ways to lose with both good (Oswalt, Nieve) AND terrible (Pettitte) starting pitching. Next up is Pissburgh, followed by a weekend set against the Satanic Red Fowl.

With our stellar performance in Washington (who, by the way, has been one of the worst teams in baseball so far), we've now positioned ourselves firmly in THIRD place behind the Reds (by 2 games) and the Cardinals (by 6.5 games). I hate it when we do this... we squander opportunities to move up in the standings against mediocre to poor teams, thus putting more pressure on ourselves.

I've got to believe that the Reds will not keep up their second-place status. I'm more worried about the distance between us and the Cardinals, as well as the National League West, which seems to be a little better this year. Of course, the cliches still stand... "It's a long season. We've got to take it one game at a time." Disgustingly overused, but true. My biggest concern of all is that Lance Berkman left the game in the fourth with a "irritation of the right knee." That, my fellow warriors, is not good.


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