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Friday, July 14, 2006

Report Card Time, Part 2: "Hitting" (A through E)

Theoretically, because the Astros chose to go with the old "fire the hitting coach because he was unsuccessful in forcing the players to become better hitters than they're meant to be" response to one of the worst offenses in the National League, I could simply assign to Gaetti a grade of F, and give everybody else an A+ for their patience in dealing with him. Or I could just drop the hammer on them, as they deserve.

My way's more fun.
Ausmus, Brad: Whatever the reason(s)--even if I may have been solely to blame for Ausmus's 0-for-40 slump--he's currently hitting .234/.304/.294. That freaking sucks, especially because that's roughly 20 points below his career batting average and OBP, and almost sixty points below his career "slugging." He's pretty much an automatic out, and a sure bet to ground into a double play most nights. (He has grounded into almost as many double plays this year as he did all of last year.) Defensively: He's thrown out only nine out of fifty baserunners: a CS% of .180 (clearly his worst season percentage ever, and less than half his career average). Finally, for being a great "pitch-caller," his catcher's ERA (4.41) is the worst it's been since he was in Detroit. On the bright side, he hasn't allowed a passed ball. Yet. D.

Berkman, Lance "Fat Elvis": He's having a freaking phenomenal year, despite being asked to move back and forth from first base to right field. This ranks as his second-best offensive year, only slightly below his unbelievable 2001. He's led the league in RBIs, and manages to produce consistently despite having a spate of lousy hitters right behind him. (Let us hope that Huff 'n Stuff's presence behind him in the lineup will mean that Lance sees some more hittable pitches.) He's already hit as many home runs as he did all of last year. I really couldn't ask for more from him. A+.

Biggio, Craig: It ain't 1998 (.325/.403/.503), but the Beege is having another solid year offensively. Even at the age of 40, his numbers remain right in line with his career averages. One of the joys of watching Astros games is seeing which Hall of Famer he passes with his offensive accomplishments. He's not carrying the team by any means, but is producing well enough to merit a B+.

Bruntlett, Eric: He's a role player, so he doesn't get all that many opportunities to impress. He seems to be suffering from a significant power drop-off from other years, but his batting average and OBP are up to acceptable levels. Still, it would be nice to have some power threat off the bench, and he ain't it. C.

Burke, Chris: He's having an amazing year at the plate, especially given his relative inexperience at the major-league level. While his numbers have dropped a bit recently, he's been in the 290s or better pretty much all season, with an OBP of .372 and .473 slugging. He's also proving to be a pretty solid "Johnny-on-the-spot," as he's played pretty much every position well. I love his aggressive approach at the plate. I can't help but comment, however, on what I think has to be the very worst player photo in the majors:

I mean, seriously, just because you're giddy to be in the bigs doesn't mean you have to look like you have something shoved up your arse. A for the hitting, F for the photo.

Ensberg, Morgan "The Vortex": *sigh* How do you solve a problem like Maria--I mean, Morgan. I dig his attitude, and the way he plays the game, but he's very, very, very high on my s___ list for not coming clean about his shoulder injuries since May 1st or whenever it was that he began to absolutely suck. I appreciate the whole thing about wanting to play through pain, and all that stuff, but he's only now admitted that he hasn't been able to get the head of the bat through the zone fast enough to make good contact with the ball. Accordingly, he's been content to sit back and watch pitch after pitch come down the strike zone. Yet--largely based on his amazing April--he's having one of his better slugging years, and his OBP has remained at almost .400. Still, he's been hitting in the "production" part of the lineup, and we just can't be content with having our third or fourth hitter sitting there taking walks all the time, instead of looking to get a hit. .236 just can't cut it. Despite his power numbers and amazing April, I can't give him any higher than a D+ given how completely unproductive he's been in the last two and a half months. I hope that his stint on the DL will get him rested enough to get back to his old self; we need him for this pennant run.

Everett, Adam "Never-Hit": He may be a sh__ty hitter but, man... he is a sh__ty hitter. This season, he's even underperforming his own sh__ty standards: .236/.303/.357. And he pretty much had to go on a tear in June (.312) just to get to his current sh__ty .236 level. Would it hurt this guy to take a walk now and then? That the numbers show him to be the best defensive shortstop in the majors is a sure plus, because just about everything else about his game is just... plain... pisspoor. (You thought I was going to say sh__ty, didn't you?) F+
So as I look ahead to the rest of the lineup, I can fairly predict that the grades are just going to get uglier. After all, we haven't even talked about Lanedoza yet.

Introducing... HR Huff 'n Stuff

*clears throat* With apologies to the original lyrics writer, and props to Deadspin for coming up with the nickname:
H.R. Huff 'n Stuff,
Who's your friend when things get rough?
H.R. Huff 'n Stuff
He may not do a lot, but he may do just enough.

Once upon a summertime
Just a dream from yesterday
A fan and his magic pocketbook
Heard a promise from Drayton McLay... ne.
"Come and pay me, Shafty
Come and pay me.
And our boys will win the Series,
This I guarantee."

But Drayton's lineup was in disarray,
His sole acquisition was Special K.
From his office in the sky
He watched his offense fail to materialize.
He waved his wand,
Gary Gaetti was gone.
The skies grew dark
The outcome looked rough
And Ensberg sucked on and on and on and on and on and on.

But Huff 'n Stuff was watching too
And knew exactly what to do
He saw the team's offense go flat,
So he summoned his mighty home run bat.
I'm growing tired of this exercise,
And this is beginning to bore us.
No more rhymes can I devise,
So can we finally get to the chorus?

I guess one more verse is necessary,
This, I think, is called the "bridge."
Let's tar and feather Barry,
And then trade away Brad Lidge.

H.R. Huff 'n Stuff,
Who's your friend when things get rough?
H.R. Huff 'n Stuff
He may not do a lot, but he may do just enough.

H.R. Huff 'n Stuff,
Who's your friend when things get rough?
H.R. Huff 'n Stuff
He may not do a lot, but he may do just enough.
Damn, that just seemed like so much better of an idea when I started the whole thing.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Pitching Win Shares, at the Break

Having handed out grades for the Astros' pitching staff yesterday, I thought I'd come back this morning and try to offer some additional statistical rationale for yesterday's rankings. There may be some disagreements between the two rankings, because yesterday's was what I perceive as a rabid fan (with a few traditional statistics thrown in); these rankings, however, are entirely statistics-based, without regard to whether I think somebody's been clutch, etc.

Bill James devised the concept of "Win Shares," a rather complicated statistic that tries to take into account all of the contributions each player makes towards his team's win total, and then cranks out one number that represents the number of wins contributed to the team, times three. Rather than calculate all of the numbers myself, I've taken those listed yesterday in The Hardball Times, which I highly recommend to other stats geeks. Wonderful site. They have tweaked Bill James's original formula somewhat. (Without getting into the specifics, each player has a calculation for batting, pitching, and fielding. Playing time is factored in; bench players are not expected to contribute as much as starters.)

Although their win shares are expressed by multiplying times three, I'd rather keep the original number so that it gives a clearer picture of approximately how much each player has contributed to the Astros's 43 wins at the moment. Keep in mind that win shares do not reflect "loss shares." That is, where a player actively contributed to a loss, that isn't reflected here, except to the extent to which that player failed to contribute to a win. (Also, even though guys have contributed to many wins--such as Oswalt, who I said should be 11-4 by now--this number reflects only those games that they essentially won by themselves.)
Pitcher Win Shares Above/Below Expected
Oswalt 3.33 +1.67
Qualls 1.67 +0.67
Nieve 1.33 +0.33
Pettitte 1.00 -0.67
Wheeler 1.00 +0.67
Buchholz 1.00 -0.33
Rodriguez 1.00 -0.33
Lidge 0.67 -0.67
Borkowski 0.67 +0.33
Clemens 0.67 +0.33
Springer 0.67 +0.33
Backe 0.33 +0.33
Sampson 0.33 +0.33
Miller 0.33 Even
Astacio 0.00 Even
Gallo 0.00 -0.33

I didn't do too badly, after all. According to Win Shares, the two biggest disappointments have been Pettitte and Lidge (whom I graded as D- and F-, respectively). Not surprisingly, Oswalt has contributed much more to his team's wins than has the average starting pitcher. Qualls (whom I graded B+) and Wheeler (C+) also performed better than expected; perhaps I should have been less critical of Wheeler.

I still wouldn't downgrade Buchholz and Rodriguez, based on Win Shares. They're being compared to the average pitcher with their innings pitched and, after all, they're rookies.

One final note: when compared with last year's Win Shares, Oswalt has contributed even more to his team's success this year than last year (when he won twenty games). Pettitte has contributed only a third as much as he did last year.

Lidge has clearly been the biggest disappointment. At this time last year, Lidge had contributed 2.19 Win Shares to his team's success. This year, less than one game. Like Pettite, he's been two-thirds less effective than last year. In other words:

He sucks. As if we needed statistics to tell us that..

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Report Card Time, Part 1: Bit, err, Pitching

That the Astros announced their trade for Aubrey Huff today--as opposed to tomorrow--does little more than heighten my frustration that last night's waste of time means that no baseball gets played tonight. That further complicates my ability to argue my way out of having to do home improvement chores tonight:
Her: So are you going to start on that lighting project tonight?
Me: What, are you kidding? With the all-important Home Run Derby tonight?

Her: Tonight?
Me: Nope, tonight's the All-Star game and I want to see if the Astros will have home-field advantage in the World Series this year.
Her: Couldn't you watch it while you're working?
Me: Naw, I want to score this one so that I can look back on it fondly. (As it turned out, scoring that game was a frustrating and time-consuming process that I wish I hadn't done.)

Her: Ready to work?
Me: No, I really need to catch up on what the guys on Baseball Tonight think of the Aubrey Huff acquisition.
Her: What, now you care about the opinions of guys whom you criticize just about every night, AND whom you swore you would NEVER watch again?
Me: Uh... professional bowling is on?
Her: Get to work.
On the bright side, I can hand out my rather opinionated and unfair first-half grades to an Astros team that stumbled into the All-Star break by losing three of four, including two absolute choke jobs. Oh, yeah, I'm already working myself into an appropriate lather with which to condemn.

Astacio, Ezequiel "GQ": Let me get this straight: Fat Rog is 1-2, yet this gas can managed a 2-0 record despite posting an 11.12 ERA and 2.25 WHIP? I'd take a break on this kid given that he's thrown only 5.2 innings in the bigs this year... but that was 5.2 innings too much, given the other available options to start the year. D- (if only because I had very few expectations of him except to suck).

Backe, Brandon: Is this going to be his pattern every year? Have a handful of decent starts, then spend more than half of the season on the shelf, then come back to suffer through the rest of the regular season and turn it on for the playoffs? Incomplete.

Buchholz, Taylor "The Magnet": Has shown flashes of absolute brilliance, peppered by bewildering displays of ineptitude. Because he wasn't even on the roster on opening day, and given his lack of MLB experience and pretty consistent strong performances over the past month or so, I'm actually pretty pleased with him. B+.

Clemens, Roger "Fat Rog": I would have expected him to struggle a little more, given the amount of time he took off and that--in between his last start in the bigs--two kids playing A baseball managed to take him deep. But he's pitched pretty well so far this year, off to his usual sub-3.00 ERA. My only gripes are that (1) he hasn't dealt with adversity too well, allowing unearned baserunners to score more than he usually does, and (2) his pitchcount has been remarkably high recently, given to some rather unRogerlike control issues. Still, I'm delighted to have him out there. A-.

Gallo, Mike: As critical as I've been of him over the years, I must say I was more than a bit astonished to see that he's actually posted some rather decent numbers. Until this year, that is. Not that he's alone in the bullpen, but--before his demotion--he was completely ineffective in the one job he had been hired to do: get lefties out. A .360 BAA by lefties, although righties (.420) was even worse. Still, I wouldn't be quite so critical but for that abomination that was the "wild pitch on an intentional walk" bullcrap he pulled earlier this season. That caused me to spit out some very satisfying beer. If his performance hadn't already merited it, that indignity alone earns Gallo an F.

Lidge, Brad "The Mole": Given the lofty expectations placed on baseball's best closer for the past two years, how could I give him anything other than a failing grade? His mechanics have been terrible, and he can't seem to do anything to correct them. Changing to pitching out of the stretch? Didn't work. Going back to the windup? Didn't work, either. He hasn't thrown his slider for strikes, and he's keeping his fastball up. Not surprisingly--especially if he's been tipping his pitches--everybody sits on his fastball, and he's paying for it. For some reason, nobody has encouraged him to learn a third pitch like a changeup that would have kept batters guessing. Oh... and--no matter what he says--there's some underlying mental thing going on. Giving up a bomb to Albert Pooholes? Understandable; lots of great pitchers do it. But getting beaten repeatedly by Aaron Freaking Miles? F-.

Miller, "Trev-2ER": One of the benefits of this exercise is getting to re-examine what I think I know about everybody. For example, Phat-C had dubbed Miller "Trev-ER" because it was pretty much a guarantee that Miller was going to give up an earned run every outing. For my part, I renamed him "Trev-2ER" based on my experiences watching him. But, in all fairness, Trev-2ER has been doing what Mike Gallo was supposed to do--get lefties out. Lefties are hitting only .235 against Miller, and that's decent enough. I'm not entirely satisfied with his ERA although, being a situational lefty, he rarely gets to finish an inning he starts; given some of the other gas cans in our 'pen, it may be that they're simply allowing Trev's baserunners to score. But his WHIP is too high for a reliever (1.38), but he isn't our problem. C+. (I know Phat-C will disagree with me on him.)

Nieve, Fernando: I've actually been pretty pleased with his performance, although I'm happier seeing him as a reliever than a starter. He's been pitching well of late, and lowering his ERA to a pretty satisfactory level for a long reliever. B-.

Oswalt, Roy "Harvey": Roy Harvey is one of those perfect examples of why the won-lost record is so highly overrated. ("Magic Audrey" Rodriguez is the opposite side of the same coin.) 6-6, yet his 3.15 ERA leads the team and ranks seventh in the NL. But for freaking terrible support from his offense (among the worst run support in the majors) and the bullpen (9.00 ERA behind him), his record is 11-4. As it is, he's going to have to have an incredible turn of luck in the second half to get to 20 wins again. He should be talked about in the Cy Young debate... but conventional wisdom will be completely unable to overlook his record. A.

Pettite, Andy "Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel": This is, by far, the worst season of his career. I just love it when sports columnists opine that Andy looks to have "turned the corner." Cletus then (predictably) responds with a terrible outing. His outings are maddening to watch because he's so darn "deliberate" (read: inefficient), and because he screws around instead of going after guys. He's had some success recently, so that means that he's due to suck again in the very near future. D-.

Qualls, Chad: Although he's frustrated me at times, on balance I'm more often happy with his outings than I am angry with him. His ERA has suffered mostly from a few terrible outings, such as the three-run jack he gave up to the Royales with Cheese. Still, he's allowed only one run in his last nine outings, and his ERA (1.13) isn't too terrible for a reliever. B+.

Rodriguez, "Magic Audrey" Wandy: I promise I'll stop harping on the inadequacies of adjudging a pitcher's performance by wins and losses, after this entry. Despite rather underwhelming pitching, and an ERA almost two runs higher than Roy Harvey's, Magic Audrey has managed three more wins. He started the season out well enough, but has been fading recently and was demoted to the bullpen to make room in the rotation for Backe. He's still technically a rookie, so I don't really expect that much of him. In that regard, he hasn't disappointed me. C.

Sampson, Chris: I like this kid. He was also prone to some big innings, although one of those was in a 14-3 Cincinnati rout where he actually ate up 5.1 innings. Two more outs and he's pitched a "quality start." Well, except for the fact that he didn't technically start the game. Still, he zeroed the Cubs (not that that's a huge accomplishment), and shown a fair amount of moxie for a rookie. Was saddened to see him go down again. B.

Springer, Russ "Potato Chips": But for his ERA--which isn't impressive one way or the other--Springer has been pretty effective out of the bullpen. 1.03 ERA, only 9 walks in 30 innings, .203 BAA. Plus, he beaned Barroid. Hero in my book. A+.

Wheeler, Dan: I need to NOT consider only last year's sterling work in assigning an expectation level for Mr. Wheeler. Clearly, he sold his soul for last year's results, and he's paying the price this year. He hasn't been terrible, but he hasn't been consistently good, either. Like Qualls, though, he's been pretty solid recently. That thing he does with his hand in his glove, though? That's bugging the heck out of me. C+.

So the "hitters" are tomorrow. If the fact that I placed "hitters" in quotes doesn't tip you off that I'm not too enamored of their "accomplishments" this year, then the fact that they're tied for worst team batting average in the NL should tell you something about what you can expect from me tomorrow.

Tim Purpura, Demigod

Due to the incompetence of the Houston local media, all we knew this morning was that the Astros had scheduled a press conference to make a "major announcement." On the radio, speculation was rampant that we had traded for Miguel Tejada, Dontrelle Willis, or Carl Crawford. Instead, we landed Aubrey Huff and $1.6 million, in exchange for AA pitcher Mitch Talbot and shortstop Ben Zobrist.

I can already sense the vast majority of Astros "faithful" foaming at the mouth that (a) most of them haven't the foggiest who Aubrey Huff is--and everybody just knows that only big-name acquisitions can help win championships--and, (b) the trade didn't include local whipping boy The Mole--who is the only problem with this team--and feature a very public humiliation (tarring, feathering, wedgies) of him on his way out of town.

I like this trade. A LOT.

One of the SportsJustice commenters already commented, "Oh, great, we got another Preston Wilson." Well, not exactly. Yes, he's a .283 hitter which--at the moment--is close to Preston Wilson's batting average. (Guess what: .300 hitters don't grow on trees, and teams just don't like giving them up.) But he slugs 40 points better than Skullcap, hits from the left side, strikes out rather infrequently (under 100 K's every season; only once every 7.34 at bats or so), and adds some versatility and a serviceable backup/replacement for the Vortex.

Skullcap, by contrast, has never struck out fewer than 100 times in a full season. He's almost twice as likely as Huff to strike out (K every 3.66 at-bats).

And, while he's a bit of a step down from the Vortex in the field, Huff has played both third base and right field during his career, and his fielding percentage at third (.940) is much better than Lambo's (.920), and only slightly less than the Vortex's (.954). Huff answers the question that I was thinking to myself the other day:

So exactly who is going to play third if Vortex sits or goes down?

Bruntlett? Please. He's fine for off the bench, but not an everyday solution. Lambo? Love his bat, but he's never been known for his defense at third. (He's best at first.) Burke doesn't have the arm for it, and I don't want to waste Never-Hit at third when we need his glove at short.

So Huff gives us the option to sit the Vortex, or send him down. (On a related note, Gar[d]ner announced that Magic Audrey--not Taylor "The Magnet" Buchholz--would be demoted to the bullpen when Backe comes off the DL. Kudos; we're totally on board with that suggestion, having been recommending the same for awhile now. But we still have to demote/release somebody to make room for him on the roster. My guess is that Borkowski gets shown the door, although I'd much rather see The Mole head down to AAA to work on that slider and, hopefully, a changeup.)

More importantly, Timmy P. did not give up all that much in return. That consideration is particularly important inasmuch as Huff looks to be in the last year of a three-year, $14.5M contract, so he's probably just a rental. So what'd we give up?

At AA, Mitch Talbot was 6-4, with a 3.39 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP. That's not a HUGE loss. Losing Ben Zobrist (.327/.434/.473) hurts a little more but, let's face it, the Astros had decided (for some unknown reason) that Zobrist--who's 25 already--was not in their longterm shortstop plans; otherwise, he'd be at AAA already. Given that they weren't planning on Zobrist's making a contribution to the big club (although I would at least have liked to see what he could do at AAA), his loss doesn't hurt us that much.

Oh, and we had to DFA Joe McEwing to make room on the 40-man roster. *pause* Uh, I'm okay with that.

So here's how I would like to see our new lineup:
2B The Beege
CF Burke
1B Lambo
RF Fat Elvis
3B Aubrey Huff
LF Skullcap
SS Never-Hit
C Ausmus
I guess I do have to confess to one downside to this trade: It'll be really confusing to have both an Aubrey and an Audrey on the same team. We'll have to come up with a nickname for the newest Astro.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Baerga + Maldonado > Miller + Morgan

Watching last night's game was difficult, not just because the Astros made for tough viewing, but also because ESPN had numerous technical difficulties that took both the video and audio feeds off the air for periods at a time. After a long day of running back and forth to the hardware store, suffering through horrible carpentry projects (since I'm the world's worst carpenter), and crap like that, I was delighted to sit down in the recliner with a Killian's, keep score on my Treo, and try to see how we were going to blow the game last night.

Of course, I don't think that ESPN would get quite the ratings for their boring "ESPN Sunday Night Baseball" graphics page if they just showed that all night long instead of, well, the game itself. I immediately hit the red THUMBS DOWN button on my DirecTV remote, giving the graphics page the worst possible grade one can: THREE THUMBS DOWN.

First, just as in MLB All-Star voting, I'm not altogether convinced that my "votes" actually count for anything. That's probably because I haven't hooked up my DirecTV box to a phone line because I'm too lazy to get up in the attic and finish making all of the phone connections for the telephone line that I ran down the wall behind the television. Because I'm not hooked up to a phone line, I get annoyed at least three times a day by the "You haven't made a daily call in like 476 days" message, or some crap like that. Because, you know, although I wasn't convinced by the "You haven't made a daily call in 475 days," or any of the preceding 445 days before then, I just might decide to do it on the 476th day.

Second, even if DirecTV got my votes--which they probably don't since my unhooked box doesn't have a way of communicating that information to them--I'm sure that my voting patterns would give them inconsistent messages. Last night, for example:
  • Lineup is shown; Ensberg not in there. Three GREEN thumbs up.
  • Lane IS in the lineup. Two RED thumbs down..
  • Jon Miller and Joe Morgan start talking. Three RED thumbs down.
  • Erin Anthony shows up. Three GREEN thumbs up.
  • Astros fail to score until the 6th inning. Three RED thumbs down all game, then Three GREEN thumbs up.
  • Rolen homers to left. Three RED thumbs down.
And so on, and so forth. I began madly pressing the RED thumbs down button when The Mole came into the game, and I just considered gluing the damn thing down.

Anyway, I *think* that the original point of this post was to comment on how refreshing it was when we lost the ESPN audio feed from Miller & Morgan, and were switched over to ESPN Deportes (Candy Maldonado and Carlos Baerga). Those two managed NOT to fellate Albert Pooholes as much as M&M were, and we were spared having to see that stupid NLCS Game 5 replay again. By the way, for all the talk there is about that home run... how'd that series turn out again? I forget.

The only thing I'd much remembered about Carlos Baerga was that he held down a major league job for years while flying under the radar, and that he was on my Cleveland Indians Hardball III team that heroically vanquished Phat-C's Milwaukee Brewers squad in the ALCS. I was pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable their calling of last night's game was.

Of course, all of these guys beat the snot out of dumbass Josh Lewin, whose incompetence was made all the more apparent by the fact that relatively-intelligent-sounding Sweet Lou Piniella was there to clean up the many messes created by Lewin. Lewin? Not good.

Finding an out-of-the-way manner to remind Phat-C of having lost at Hardball III? Very, very satisfying.

A Stirring Victory!

Well, you just have to hand it to the Astros. After a thoroughly demoralizing extra-inning loss to the Cardinals, including a blown save by The Mole, the local boys responded by taking out their frustrations on the Cards, 9-6. Let's hand out props where they're due:
Cletus: Not his strongest outing; 5 earned runs (including THREE homers) in only 4.1 innings. I blame Gar[d]ner for this one, though, because Cletus was obviously tiring in the fifth (as his fastball was topping out at 58mph). The back-to-back shots hit off of him are therefore understandable.
Fat Rog: Two innings of no-hit, shutout relief.
Biggio: 3-5, 3 RBI's.
Berkman: 3-5
The Vortex: 2-5, 2 RBI's (Great job, Mo!)
Things really took off in the 7th inning. In the 5th, the Cards had struck for back-to-back-to-back homers by Pujols, Rolen, and Edmonds to take a commanding 6-4 lead. But pinch-hitter Mike Lamb followed up Burke's flyout with a pinch-double. Biggio then singled, Never-Hit doubled, Jeff Bagwell singled, Berkman doubled, and Ensberg doubled. In the end, Chris Carpenter gave up six straight hits and five runs, thereby getting tagged with the loss.

After the abomination that was Saturday's blown save, one would think that Lidge would be struggling with confidence issues or something. NO SIR!! He pitched a perfect ninth inning for the save, starting with Jason Isringhausen's flyout to left field. (I was a bit perplexed that The Genius left Isringhausen in to bat, with three pinch-hitters still on the bench. Then again, he's The Genius, and I'm not.) Eckstein then grounded out, and Lidge ended the game by coaxing a weak grounder from Larry Walker.

Man, it feels good going into the All-Star break with a win.


Wait, what now? All of that didn't happen?

Oh, shoot. I think I must have been describing my game of RBI Baseball on my NES emulator this morning. Yup, I guess this screenshot cinches it:

Oh, that's right. Now I remember. I was so annoyed about last night's frustrating loss that I decided to re-play the game the way it should have gone.

Well, except for the part about Jeff Bagwell and Dan Miceli still playing for the Astros. Maybe that should have tipped me off. Or the fact that Mark Mulder--who started the game--is actually on the DL right now. Or that Reggie Sanders (now with the Royales with Cheese) was in left field. Or Mark Grudzielanek (ditto) at second base. Or... well, I think you get the point.

Last night's game just doesn't really bring up anything new to talk about. I could moan and complain about the Mole and how he is now the property of the St. Louis Cardinals (although, to be frank, it's not like he's dominated everybody else; I think the other 29 teams jointly have ownership rights to him). I could also raise my eyebrows about seeing Lanedoza (1-for-5, 2 K's) back in the lineup. I could rail on and on about how pi$$ed I was when neither Skullcap nor Lanedoza could even put the freaking ball in play with bases juiced and only one out in the bottom of the 10th.

But, hey, what's the point? It's another frustrating loss in a frustrating season full of very frustrating losses. (I told you I lost my thesaurus, remember?)

We're going to work on our first-half grades for the Astros and, on balance, I'd say that the local boys should not be getting their hopes up for some high marks. In the interim, we can enjoy watching tonight's pre-All-Star event:

"Face-Off of the Roided-Up Ballplayers who will Try to Hit Poorly-Thrown, Juiced-Up Meatballs into the Lovely Pittsburgh Sky and Hopefully, into the Polution-Filled River, All for the Enjoyment of Local Yokels with Nothing Better to Do."

I think they've got a little shorter, more-official-sounding title for tonight's competition, but I'm just too pi$$ed to deal in reality right now.