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Saturday, May 27, 2006

"The Sun Made Me Do It!"

One thing I will say about us and the Astros is that when we're bad, we admit it. Unlike the Chicago Baby Bears who, as usual, must find some extenuating circumstance to blame. For, we all know they would've won the World Series had it not been for that fan guy with the headphones! Yeah, right...

In the latest episode of their blame-game ritual, the Cubs' overrated and over-emotional Carlos Zambrano was no-hitting the Braves going into the seventh inning, when, "pinch hitter Wilson Betemit lofted a fly that [Jacques] Jones lost in the glare."

"The sun made me do it!" cried Jones.

What makes this story even better is how the Cubbies managed to lose this one. Marcus Giles of the Braves scored from second on a routine fly ball to right. Jacques relays to NEFFY, who not only mishandles the throw, but then airmails the relays to home, allowing Giles to slide in safely.

This is cool on so many different levels. I think the only thing that beats it is when Tom "Flash" Gordon skipped a pickoff attempt off the runner's lid, sending it into the stands for extra bases and the loss.

Oh, and then there was the time Marty Barrett (yes, I know his name is Michael, but I don't like the guy, okay?) caught a runner (I believe it was Jimmy) halfway down the third base line and decided to throw to third, allowing Jimmy to trot home for the Philly win.

And then there was the time...

Man, I hate the Cubs.

New Rule: Don't Miss in the Happy Zone

Phil Garner's take on the present state of his team's current badness hit the nail on the head: "When [Buchholz] missed, he missed in their happy zone, and they made something of it."

Memo to Astros: when you're playing one of the worst teams in baseball, you're supposed to win, and look good doing it!

I've got to believe that Taylor Buchholz has the stuff to be a solid starter. However, something's not right mechanically right now. In all of his bad starts (3 of the last 4), there's been talk of his ball drifting back over the plate. To me, this sounds like an adjustment problem. The amount of spin he either is or is not putting on the ball is causing it to veer from its intended location, back over the plate (and we're not playing Darth Robinson's team anymore, so that doesn't count).

Adjust, Taylor. When you see your two-seamer drifting over the middle of the plate to a lefty, start it further inside. Risk beaning somebody for the sake of finding the right release point. That, or start it over the outside corner and let it drift off the plate. Make 'em chase it.

A lot of coaches discourage thinking on the ballfield: "Don't think, son. Just do it!" While this is actually sound advice for the overly mental (which all players deal with at some point in their careers), it nevertheless isn't sound advice for an extended stay in baseball. You must know what you want to accomplish and have a plan to do it.

Guys who can throw hard don't necessarily make good pitchers. Pitching is an art... how else would Greg Maddux or Tom Glavine or (dating myself) Ron Mathis make it in the Bigs? Not because they threw "hard," but rather because they could pitch. Getting guys out is an art. It takes fine-tuning and adjustments... especially with Big League hitters.

The same goes for hitting. Know what you want to do before you toe the box. Scan the field, look where they're playing you, know the situation, know what the team needs you to do... and do it. This is why it kills me when, with a runner in scoring position, we have guys trying to pull outside pitches over the wall. Go with the pitch, hit it the opposite way for a single, and score the run.

Alas, quality pitching and hitting are art forms. This is why there aren't more players in Major League Baseball. It is also why, consequently, many players make frequent trips to places like Toledo.

Astros, please, please, PLEASE show some life and come back and win this series. We absolutely have to make up some ground on St. Louis, Cincinnati, and (now) Milwaukee.

Last Note: I know I was a litte sarcastic about Washington Nationals Manager Frank Robinson, but I will say this... he showed tremendous class (and emotion) when explaining having to pull Matt LeCroy from catcher (after Wi-kee-kee had exited due to Special K's special bonk on the head). The Astros stole seven bases off LeCroy before Robinson pulled him. This moved Robinson to tears, not because of how horrible LeCroy was (though he'd not caught for a long time), but rather because he hated to see one of his players be embarrassed like that (the combo of the SB's and getting pulled). Now that's a good manager. Seriously, players appreciate it when managers are upset at having to take guys out... I'm sure Gardner feels the same about Lidge. It probably breaks his heart as much as it angers us.

Friday, May 26, 2006

FIGHT, FIGHT, FIGHT!

I must confess that I'm currently in the midst of trying to start a lunchroom fight between Houston Chronicle columnists Richard Justice and John P. Lopez. The issue? Richard's latest SportsJustice blog (which I actually find to be pretty insightful, at times, when he's not making himself the news story) led off with the following statement:
The Astros are in no position to make a trade. I can demand Tim Purpura make one, but that's what talk-show idiots do.
I found that particular statement to be pretty amusing inasmuch as Lopez's latest entry in his blog (which is right next to Richard's on the main Chronicle sports page, is entitled, "Make a Move, Purpura."

So I posted a comment on Lopez's blog to the effect of:
I think Richard just called you an idiot, John. Are you going to take that from PTI Boy? Stand up for yourself!
I posted a similar comment in Richard's blog, asking whether Richard was prepared to have John take him down in the lunchroom today.

No response yet; in fact, both reserve the right to not post "malicious" comments on their blogs. I would be surprised if Richard has nothing to say on the subject inasmuch as he clearly has an opinion on ALL subjects.

If, by contrast, my comment doesn't show up on Lopez's blog, I think that would probably be because I'm not 100% sure that Lopez actually knows how to turn on a computer, let alone run his own blog.

(Update 4:03 P.M.: Lopez sacked it up and approved my comment. Richard, to date, has not. Either he's preening himself for his next television appearance, or my comment did not contain enough flattery to warrant his attention. Or perhaps Lopez kicked his arse in the lunchroom, and he's recuperating--and allowing his dignity to recover--in the emergency room.)

You'd Expect Me to Be Heartless, Wouldn't You?

So the Astros's disastrous 8-5 loss that dropped them to 6-1/2 games behind the Cards (and only 1/2 game out of fourth place) was sort of highlighted by the Good Guys' having stolen seven bases yesterday, the most against any one catcher since somebody stole seven against Mike Piazza a few years ago. The victim yesterday was Matthew Hanks LeCroy, who is listed by ESPN as a first baseman.

That sort of brings me to the point of this entry. Although Smell the Glove is intended to be a slap-in-the-face baseball blog, we'd like to occasionally balance out our harsh and sarcastic criticism with a few grains of truth here and there. And I mean a few; we don't need to get all journalistically responsible. One of my favorite quotes of all time, for example, is from another trial lawyer who said:

Don't Let the Facts Get in the Way of a Good Story.

So there are times when I'll probably make an off-the-wall statement with probably not one percent of truth in it, such as:
  • David Wells's opinion that Craig Biggio used steroids is no doubt one that was obtained through a careful, thoughtful examination of all of the evidence by a man who has always been known to think and act wisely.
Then there are those statements that may have a bit of truth in them, such as:
  • Had a reliable source uttered the same allegations against Jeff Bagwell--who, by the way, I consider to be one of the greatest Astros ever (and my favorite player)--I might be more inclined to pay attention to such claims.
And then there will be those statements where I will expect the reader to draw his own conclusions as to their truth (or lack thereof), such as:
  • Alex Rodriguez thoroughly enjoys all-night bouts of sex with goats.
In any event, you'd expect that I'd have had a lot of fun out of Matthew LeCroy's troubles yesterday. Well, no, for two reasons:
  1. The Astros, led by Andy Pettitte's incompetence, still managed to find a way to lose yesterday.

  2. Matthew LeCroy, by all accounts, is a good and decent man who was pressed into service as a catcher--despite not having played the position much in the past few years--because Special K decided to knock the gNats' backup catcher out of the game by bonking him in the head during one of his wild strikeout swings (of which there have been many this year--WATCH OUT, NL CATCHERS!!).
True, LeCroy is also described as playing catcher, as well, but the vast majority of his playing time over the past few years has been as the Twins' designated hitter:
Year


Games at C



Games at DH
Games at 1B
2005


1



63
23
2004


26



30
23
2003


22



63
17
2002


6



40
8
2001


3



9
2
2000


49



3
3
So, it's pretty clear that Matty hasn't been catching much over the past few years. I can't make fun of him about the stolen bases, then, given that--with the exception of Morgan Ensberg, who runs pretty well--6 of the 7 stolen bases were by guys with exceptional speed: Willy Taveras, Preston Wilson, Chris Burke, and Eric Bruntlett. Taveras should have many more stolen bases this year, except that Gar[d]ner came up with this foolish notion of batting him second, then keeping Willy on a tight leash for fear that pitchers would then give Berkman a free pass. This idea is ridiculous for at least two reasons:
  1. This proposal effectively deprives the Astros of the benefits of having the fastest guy in the major leagues. (His home-plate-to-first time was measured not too long ago as being faster than anybody else's, including several left-handers--who have a shorter distance to run.)

  2. What's necessarily wrong with having two men on--one in scoring position--with Ensberg batting? Gar[d]ner's idea shows very little respect for his cleanup hitter.
Bruntlett's also a bit of a speedster. Remember that last year, down the stretch, Bruntlett keyed a major rally against the Phillies by stealing second and third off of Billy Wagner in late innings.

So Smell the Glove has opted not to join in on the teasing of LeCroy. If we were talking about rotten catcher and reported sheep-lover Mike Piazza, that would be different.

Baaaaaaaaaa!

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.

The Berkman Blues

Well, warriors, it's official. Lance Berkman's knee hurts.

Apparently, he felt a "twinge" during Wednesday's game whilst stretching for an Adam Everett throw. Being the Lance that he is, he naturally picked the ball out of the dirt despite the "twinge." Today, unfortunately, was more than a "twinge" (yes, I'm doing that on purpose). While taking a rip in his second at-bat (which resulted in a walk), he "really hurt" it.

Gardner (our affectionate name for manager Phil Garner) has been "shaking up the lineup" as of late to try to jump-start this currently anemic offense. My question is this... Phil, me boy, why would you place a guy with an ailing knee (the same one that kept him out for a month of last season) in the outfield, where he has to run around and stuff? Who knows... it's all second-guessing, I suppose.

Let's just hope Lance takes it easy and prevents further "irritation" and "twinges." In the meantime, we've got to figure out how to start scoring runs again. After all, Lance hasn't really been shouldering the offensive production as of late... largely because there's been no offensive production as of late (with one exception).

LiveStrong, Lance... oh, wait... wrong Lance. Uh... get better.

Nuances & Nuisances


Well, I'm finally here... I know you've all been holding your breath, turning blue in the face and grunting as if you'd "accidentally" swallowed half a bottle of Pepto after eating Chipotle; but never fear, I'm finally HERE!!!!

Now that that's out of the way...

Just so you know how my brain works, there are little things that thrill me that others find, well, annoying. Like the times when you're typing and words on the next line match words on the top line like this: ping and words on the next line...

Isn't that cool? Okay, maybe not to most "normal" people, but I'm not normal (shut up, Shafty).

You know what else is cool? Possessing the Jedi Mind Trick power... and USING it ! You know, kinda' like Frank Robinson did last night against my beloved Astros. We all know that it's not our fault we lost. No, Darth Robinson used the Mind Trick to convince not one, but all four umpires to call a balk.

Now before all of you Astro-haters (i.e., those of you who live outside of Houston) start crying about how it really was a balk, let me just say that I know. That's not the point, Danielsans. The point is that all of the schleps in blue missed the call. How, there's no telling... maybe there was a hot chick flashing her boobies, or more realistically, the kiss cam was on a guy with a beer who didn't want to kiss his sist... er... girlfriend.

Anyway, how is it that the entire staff blows a call; but when a mana-jedi comes out and complains--POOF!--call appears. At least they humored the Garr and let him complain.

On another Jedi note, the Dark Lord of the Sith (remember, he does manage a team from our capital) has other tricks up his sleeve. They've said Brad Lidge might be tipping his pitches. I think Darth Robinson is "guiding" them. So as not to be too terribly obvious, he mixes in the fat ones with balls in the dirt.

How, how my brethren, can we stop the dreaded Dark Lord from wreaking his mayhem on our beloved heroes? Alas, it is yet again up to me and Shafty to take out this evil threat and salvage this series.

Shafty, I hope you've washed your robe and dusted off your lightsaber. TO WAR!!!!!111

Lidge Getting Tipsy Again?

Only Brad Lidge, Joe McEwing, and (presumably) Jim Hickey were privy to the details of how McEwing, and the rest of the National League, were able to pick up exactly what Lidge was about to throw. Of course, this isn't exactly rocket science--Lidge throws exactly two pitches: slider and fastball. (I'd love to see him pick up a changeup, to change speeds a bit more and make hitters have to guess.)

Brad hasn't been throwing his slider for strikes, though, so the guesswork has already been diminished for opposing hitters: sit on the fastball. Ignore anything that's below belt-high--that's the slider, and it sure isn't going to land for a strike. Belt-high or higher? Fastball. Crush it.

But last night, Brad got two pretty quick strikes against Matthew LeCroy, who then had a brief conference with the gNats' third base coach. Given that LeCroy had two strikes against him, you just know that they were not discussing strategy (as in the possibility of a squeeze bunt). It occurs to me that the third base coach is in a prime position to see how Brad's gripping the ball.

LeCroy returns to the batters' box and ignores the sliders (with a long confirmitory look to the third base coach in between each pitch), then walks.

Ward, Soriano, and Clayton all then hit Lidge as though they knew what was coming. Again, that Lidge throws only two pitches--and only ONE for strikes--pretty much eliminates the guesswork. But LeCroy's at-bat really makes me wonder whether Brad's tipping his pitches again, or whether third-base coaches are "stealing" the signs (or Brad's baseball fingering, at any rate), and communicating that info. to the batter.

(BTW, Brad's effectiveness against the Rangers doesn't diminish my theory, with the Rangers being in a different league and all.)

Leftovers...

I hadn't wanted to ruin what was a perfectly good rant about last night's Astros suckfest by actually talking about the positives of the 5-1 drubbing. Those were reserved for this morning:
  • Just about every MLB team features a scoreboard race of some variety. In Houston, where our economy is largely driven by oil, our scoreboard race is of ... what else but gas-guzzling Hummers? In Washington, however, the scoreboard race is of the four Mount Rushmore Presidents engaging in a foot race.

    They showed excerpts of last night's scoreboard race on the television; I never saw what happened to Jefferson inasmuch as the only remaining competitors were Washington, Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt. I'm also not exactly clear on the mishap that beset Honest Abe but, when they showed him, he was simply spinning in place as though he were a piece on one of those old electronic football games.

    Washington won after he kicked a traffic cone that brained Roosevelt, who consequently fell off the racetrack. That hardly seems like the most sporting way to win, especially for a race that features some of our greatest Presidents. Then again, those residing in the District of Columbia probably have a pretty good sense of the sometimes-dirty nature of politics and, in their view, hitting a political opponent with a traffic cone may not be all that out of the ordinary.

    Amusing nonetheless.

  • The Astros broadcasters--whose time was certainly not spent in dissecting all three of the hits that the mighty 'Stros sluggers managed--assembled their own all-presidential MLB teams which, of course, featured current and former players whose first or last name matched up with that of a former President.

    Jim Deshaies's choice for pitcher was:

    Calvin Coolidge Julius Caesar Tuskahoma McLish.

    When this name came across my TV screen, I was encouraged--nay, compelled--to run check out my Bill James Almanac, and Baseball Reference, to determine if this was a real player.

    He was, in fact, a real player... and that was his real name. He explained his rather unusual name thusly:
    "There were eight kids in my family, and I was the only one my father was permitted to name, so I guess he figured he'd make up for the situation."
    So I'd like to congratulate Cal McLish not only on making it onto Jim Deshaies's all-Presidential team, but also on having survived a rather rough childhood--clearly, the man who named him had to have been a habitual crack smoker.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Astros Blow Chunks in 5-1 Loss to gNats

For a second straight night, the Disastros improved the confidence of another mediocre young pitcher. The recipient tonight was rookie Mike "Warren Spahn" O'Connor who--before tonight--had all of a muscular 28 career innings under his belt. The Astros managed a grand total of 3 hits against the vaunted Nationals pitching staff and, like last night, scored their only run on a solo Morgan Ensberg homer. (Mo would go on to later strike out twice, both times looking.)

Roy Oswalt pitched a brilliant game, allowing only 2 hits and 1 run in 7 innings, before being pulled for Mike Lamb, who punctuated the occasion with a mighty popup to short. Oswalt's only blemish was an obvious balk with a runner on third, two outs, and an 0-2 count to Alfonso Soriano. Roy began his windup, then stepped off and walked towards third base. Balk? No doubt. Yet none of the four umpires, let alone overmatched-and-inconsistent home plate ump Larry Young, called the balk until after Frank Robinson came out to complain. Technically, managers aren't supposed to argue balk calls. Robinson, however, seems to get away with a lot of stuff that would cause other managers to get tossed. I think Frank benefits from having been (a) a Hall of Famer, and (b) the former MLB Dean of Discipline. Given the absolutely pitiful 8th inning collapse by the Astros pen, however, the balk-that-was-but-which-shouldn't-have-been ended up being largely irrelevant.

Our new favorite whipping boy remained on his pace to strike out 183 times with a second-inning, three strike, swing-at-a-ball-in-the-dirt K. Not only did the strikeout fail to capitalize on a potentially momentum-shifting previous dinger by Ensberg, but Wilson's strikeout swing managed to bonk gNats catcher Wiki Gonzalez in the head.

That would prove to be probably more disastrous than PW's mighty wind inasmuch as Gonzalez's liabilities behind the plate may have been of some use to the Astros. On two successive pitches, Gonzalez allowed Brad Ausmus to move from first to third by failing to block O'Connor's curveballs. Adam Everett took advantage of the opportunity to hit with a man in scoring position (90 feet away, in fact) by flying out to the right fielder to end the inning.

Gonzalez also let another O'Connor curveball get past him in the top of the third inning but, alas, the Astros had no baserunners at the time that could advance to be stranded in scoring position. I really have no beef with Wiki Gonzalez, except that my first instinct when I hear his name is to visualize something like this:


Wiki's a fine catcher, except for the part where he has to ... well, you know ... catch. Anyway, the head-knocking of Wiki by PW's bat led Robinson to pull Gonzalez in favor of Matthew LeCroy, who not only did a better job of blocking the plate, but he also scored the gNat's third run on--get this--a wild pitch by Brad Lidge.

Isn't that ironic? Don't you think? A little too ... ironic. Yeah, I really do think.

Another stellar outing by Lidge, too, by the way; he faced four batters in the 8th. He walked LeCroy, then gave up an RBI single to Daryle "Huge Freaking Tub 'o Goo" Ward, an RBI double to Soriano, and another RBI single to Royce Clayton. Great work, pal. Oh, yeah, and he threw the wild pitch that allowed LeCroy to score from third. Won-der-ful. *slow clap*

So another fine effort from Roy-O was wasted tonight. Let's see if we can salvage a split tomorrow from Andy Pettitte before moving on to Pissburgh.

Today's Literary Diversion

I present a haiku to you for your consideration:
Wind has beset me.
I try to keep from falling;
Preston has struck out.
Oh, yeah, baby. I've got culture growing out of my arse.

By George, We've Done It!!

Well, it may not be a landmark event in the history of computer programming, but I've managed to figure out how to create a "Special K's Statboard" on the side of the page. I'll try to keep updated Mr. Wilson's dubious "chase" for the record books!

gNats 4, Astros 1

Rather than bore everybody with the details of what was a rather uninteresting game (except for the absolute moonshot hit by former Astro lardass Daryle Ward), I thought I'd simply offer a few cogent observations:
  • The Astros have a real knack for making ordinary craptastic pitchers look like the second coming of Cy Young. As with every other such occasion, today's Chronicle is full of the usual "you've got to tip your cap" comments from the Astros... as opposed to owning up to sucking against a lousy pitcher.

  • Overheard on the radio this morning: "At this point in the season, this isn't about Lane's and [Wilson's] scuffling--it's about their SUCKING."

  • Also overheard was Preston Wilson's new nickname: "Special K." I like it; I'm going to appropriate it.

  • Special K's line for last night: 1-for-4, with two punchouts. That brings his season total to 52 strikeouts in 46 games (42 played). He's still on pace to approach Adam Dunn's MLB record for strikeouts in a year: 195. (Wilson's on pace for 183 right now; if he'd played a few more games to this point, he'd be on pace for 201 K's.)

  • I really need to figure out how to post a graphic on the left side of the page with Special K's current strikeouts and pace.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Analysis of a Preston Wilson At-Bat

Now that a little over one-quarter of the baseball season is in the books, it's time to look at the Astros' big free agent "splash," Preston Kevin Wilson. (ESPN has him listed as "Preston James David Wilson." Which is it, PW?) Wilson has played in 41 of the Astros' 45 games, and has amassed the following offensive statistics to date:
  • Batting Average: .244 (19 points below his career average)
  • Slugging %: .378 (95 points below his career average)
  • Strikeout/walk ratio: 50:8... WOW.
  • OBP: .282!!!!
Two-eighty-two! In my last post, I was chastising Christian Guzman for posting a .260 OBP last year... but at least Guzman wasn't expected to produce or, for that matter, penned in to bat in the five-hole. It's nice to see, as well, that the ridiculously short left-field porch in Houston hasn't benefited Preston's slugging in the slightest.

A typical Preston Wilson at-bat goes like this:
  1. Be unable to handle a mid-80s fastball that you should hammer, instead fouling it back.
  2. Turn yourself into a corkscrew swinging at a pitch that never started out a strike, and ended up a foot outside and in the dirt.
  3. Take a pitch that's so far outside that nobody would ever swing at it.
  4. Pride yourself on having a quality at-bat, for working the count.
  5. Take a called third strike right down the heart of the plate.
  6. Stand there in disbelief that you were just rung up again.
  7. Trudge off to the dugout.
Wow, Preston's really been a nice offseason acquisition. No wonder the gNats' lineup--which featured our friend Mr. Wilson--sucked last year.

Astros 10, gNats 3

Last week I purchased the board game Strat-o-Matic (mostly for the days when the Astros play early games on the East Coast--most of which I miss--or for off days). (I told you I'm a baseball stats geek.) Although the game features 2005 cards, I'm still playing (roughly) according to the 2006 schedule. That means that the Astros started off with three games against the Marlins (who were much stronger in 2005 than their minor-league counterparts this year), followed by three with the Nationals.

*sigh* I have nothing against the Nationals. I always enjoyed seeing the Expos come to town in the 80's and 90's, and was cheering for them in their quest to win the NL East in 1994. Then came the strike, the new rich-get-richer collective bargaining agreement, and the eventual demise of the Expos.

But I just can't figure out how they won 81 games last year, with that lineup. Yeah, yeah, I know--the Astros lineup was worse, and they managed to win despite their offensive shortcomings. Of course, the Astros had Roy Oswalt, a sold-my-soul-to-the-devil year from Andy Pettitte, and Roger Clemens. The gNats had solid--but unspectacular--starting pitching from the top of their rotation.

Their lineup, though... apart from Nick Johnson, who appeared to be the clear favorite to bat third, and Christian Guzman (whose ridiculously low .260 or so OBP was an embarassment to baseball), there was very little to distinguish anybody else in that lineup. They all hit .240-.260ish. Their OBP and slugging percentages were all roughly the same, and not overly impressive.

This year's record (16-29 so far), even with the addition of Soriano, appears closer to what I'd have expected from this squad. We slaughtered Washington's starting pitching last night; wish I'd been at home early to watch the game, instead of having to listen to the inexperienced duo of Dolan and Raymond. I'm still not used to them, and I just don't think I'll ever consider them to be improvements over Alan Ashby (who got completely jobbed).

Perhaps the gNats will have more to offer offensively against Fernando Nieve, whose stuff has yet to impress me this year.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Shafty as a South Park Character

I can't for the life of me remember where I saw this, but there's a place online where you can turn yourself into a South Park character. So, hey, here's me:

Yer.

Reject My Recruiting Overtures at Your Peril, Punk.

It comes as no surprise to those who know me that I have donated way too much money to the folks at WhatifSports.com. As with thousands of others, no doubt, I was swayed by an ESPN Magazine column by Bill "The Sports Guy" Simmons (whose 100% Boston all-the-time columns have begun to annoy me recently) in which he discussed his Whatif obsession. If you're a sports fan and, particularly, a statistics geek, you owe it to yourself to at least check the site out. They offer baseball spring leagues (consisting of ten simulated games) so that the uninitiated can try their site for free. Having done a few of those, I was hooked--and have been pretty much ever since.

I'm not a huge college basketball guy, although I religiously watch March Madness and, in fact, I oversee our office Madness pool. I somehow decided to try out Whatif's Hoops Dynasty college basketball simulator. You start out as a coach of a Division III basketball school, charged with taking that program to the promised land, or at least a few seasons with a winning record, before moving on to another program at D2. (You have to show some success at D3 to move up a level, and even moreso to move from D2 to D1.) In any event, in two "worlds" I've got two different Division II teams: Incarnate Word University and Presbyterian College.

Part of the Hoops Dynasty season involves the wooing of limited resources of high school kids to come to play for your program. This is where my HD love/hate relationship comes into play. You choose a variety of recruiting methods, including phone calls and campus visits, out of your available recruiting funds. (And when you're out of recruiting money, if you haven't filled your scholarship slots, you're going to get some suck-ass walk-on players.) Every three hours, the recruits you've targeted will send e-mails to you in which they respond to your various overtures. The responses can be highly entertaining, at times; the folks at WiS spent a lot of time coming up with the various responses. Some recruits respond well. Some, however, just don't respond favorably no matter how much money you spend on them.

That fact wouldn't be so devastating if I weren't desperately wanting this one particular center to sign with my school. I've spent almost 20% of my entire budget on this one kid, and he still shows me no love whatsoever--he's even declined my invitations for him to come visit the campus, including the various accoutrements (booster money, strippers, booze) that no doubt would accompany such a recruiting trip.

Here's the thing; I know I'm not going to be able to sign him before 7:00 tonight (at which time recruits can begin to sign with schools). The only school he's currently "considering" is a conference rival of mine.

This completely pisses me off. Not only am I not going to sign this kid but, having spent a ton of money on him, I'm likely going to end up with a much worse recruit or, even worse, a walk-on. Then I'm going to play his new team twice a year, and have to be reminded of my recruiting failures.

Too bad I don't have Johnny Lawrence on my team. "Sweep the leg, Johnny."

Punk.

You Mean "Shite for Brains" was Already Taken?

I never wanted to have the very first entry on my very first blog read like something that I would expect every first-time blogger's first entry to read:
"Uh, so this is my blog about life, the universe, and everything. I like puppies and walks in the rain. If you want to reply, feel free to comment or sign the guestbook or some crap, and I'll obsessively hit F5 about thirty times a day hoping that somebody left a comment."
Fortunately, the mere task of finding a name for this blog gave me AMPLE time to think of an appropriate first entry:

Searching for an Unused, Witty, and not Overused Quote with
which to Name One's Blog is not as Easy as I Had Assumed.

So much for just making it easy for my friends to find the page by giving it an address such as shafty.blogspot.com. Already taken. My next thought, then, was to borrow from a rather unfortunate event in my formative years: my father's having called me "shit for brains" once. So shiteforbrains.blogspot.com seemed to have a promising start. Yet, once again, that URL was also unavailable. Blogger posited that I instead consider "shiteforbrains-shafty.blogspot.com" or "shafty-shiteforbrains.blogspot.com" but both of those seemed to be getting a big longwinded, don't you think?

As with about a hundred thousand or so other bloggers out there, then, I opted to borrow a phrase from one of my favorite movies of all time: "This is Spinal Tap". If you're looking to find a phrase from a popular movie that's well-known enough to avoid having your friends say,

"Smell... the glove? What's that from/about?"

but not so overused (e.g., anything from a Mike Myers movie) as to make all of one's friends groan or complain,

Just forget about it.

They're all taken. See what I ended up with? Unless you're a pretty big Spinal Tap fan, "Smell the Glove" probably doesn't make much sense. That I chose the trite black template for this blog out of homage to Smell the Glove, which had been described as "how much more black could this be? None more black [which, by the way, was another blog title that somebody else had appropriated]" will probably also be lost on the majority of people who visit (or, more probably, don't visit), too.

Ah, well. It is what it is. Smell the glove.