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Houston Astros: March 2012

UCB Prediction Week, Part III: National League Central

Posted on March 28, 2012 at 2:30 PM
As you know by now, this is the week for predictions from the United Cardinal Bloggers.  We peak here in the middle of the week with the division we all know and care about, the NL Central.  (Means it's all downhill from here, folks.)

Plenty of activity around this division, with free agents leaving, free agents signing, trades being made, and injured players returning.  Who will wind up at the top of the heap?  Keep reading and find out!
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Winning Is Good

Posted on March 21, 2012 at 7:17 AM
You know, it took a little while for Mike Matheny to get his first spring training win as a Cardinal manager, but now it seems like old hat to him.  

After yesterday's 6-1 win over the Astros, the Cards have won five of their last six, and we can blame that ugly loss on Saturday on those green uniforms, right?  St. Louis is now 9-6 in the spring and, while nobody actually looks at the standings in Florida and Arizona, is only a game behind San Francisco for the Grapefruit League title.  It seems the Cards are showing how they are going to win--no big offensive explosions, just some solid production and some good pitching.

Kyle Lohse was the man on the mound yesterday versus Houston and, though he apparently struggled some with his control, was able to get through five innings relatively unscathed (save for a Chris Johnson home run) and went back to his regular curveball after trying out a variation in the spring.  That's what these games are for--you try something and, if it doesn't work, no harm no foul.

Offensively, Matt Holliday hit a two-run triple, starting the scoring for St. Louis and, as it turned out, providing all the offense that they would need.  A couple of people pushing for roster spots, Erik Komatsu and Bryan Anderson, also had stellar days.  I think Komatsu has probably done enough that, since he's Rule 5, he's going north.  Anderson had a couple of doubles and is hitting close to .500 in the spring.  With the fact that Matheny's been a big Anderson supporter in the past, I'm guessing he may have played his way to St. Louis as well.

Of course, there's still some time to go.  Opening Day is just two weeks (two weeks!) away, though, so time is running out for other people to make an impact and wrest the jobs away from these two.

Nice to see that Allen Craig got a chance to hit in a minor league game yesterday.  Sounds like they tinkered with the rules and had him be pretty much a designated hitter, but just the fact that he's in there against live pitching is a big step in the right direction.  It'll be interesting to see if he can improve quickly enough to get into a regular game before the exhibition season ends.  I'm sure the fans in Springfield would like to see him in that one on April 2!

Cards made some cuts yesterday, though none were unexpected.  Prospects Ryan Jackson and Trevor Rosenthal were among those going down to the minors.  Rosenthal hit 100 again in yesterday's game.  I knew he was a big prospect, but I didn't know he had that kind of arm.  Imagine him, Shelby Miller, Adam Wainwright and Jaime Garcia all in a rotation in a few years!  I tell you, the Cardinals' success window is wide open.

Jake Westbrook goes today against the Mets back home in Jupiter, which may or may not get as much attention as the fact Chris Carpenter is supposed to throw another bullpen session today as well.  The game is on KMOX if you are near a radio or have the GameDay Audio package from MLB.

Housekeeping time!  First off, I wanted to let you know that Out of the Park Baseball 13 is coming out soon.  If you've played OOTP, you know it's a great simulation baseball game and it's only gotten better in 2012.  You can preorder it now and get it three days before anyone else does, so that's definitely some motivation, right?

One of the new features of OOTP is Real-Time Simulation.  It's basically a way to recreate the excitement we saw in Game 162 last year, as you can see what's going on in other games around the league while you are playing your game.  You can see swings in important games, keep up with a no-hitter, and things of that nature.  No longer do you just get the final result--it's like you are always watching the out-of-town scoreboard!

If you are one that would rather do this on the go, there's iOOTP.  Designed for the iPhone and iPad, iOOTP brings you most of the features and all of the fun of the original game to your mobile device.  You'll find it in the App Store on April 5.

OOTP lets you recreate past seasons to see if they'd turn out differently, lets you set up your own league where Bud Selig can't arbitrarily move a team to a different division (though Houston's move to the AL West is incorporated in the game if you play past this season) and lets you get into the game as well.

I'm hoping to get a review copy and if so, I'll let you know what I think of it.  I've played OOTP in the past, so I'm excited to see what this year's looks like!

Playing Pepper with San Diego (and an old friend) today, so check that out later.  Also, if you've not voted in the second round of the All-Time Team Tournament, you need to do that!  PH8 and I70 end today, AMF and here end tomorrow.  All the relevant links can be found in this second round post.

Here's hoping Westbrook can keep his strong spring going and the Cards can take another from the Mets!

Getting The Work In

Posted on March 20, 2012 at 7:27 AM
It's getting to the part of spring training where the newness of seeing baseball scores and highlights is starting to wear off and you start glancing ahead to Opening Day, when everything starts to actually matter.  So while it was nice that the Cards won yesterday over Atlanta 4-3, there wasn't necessarily anything that just stood out.

Let me take that back.  I think the work of Lance Lynn needs to be highlighted.  In his second start of the spring, Lynn looked as good as he did the first time out, not allowing anything until the fifth, when he gave up a run on a couple of hits.  With all the usual caveats (small sample size, spring training games, etc.), Lynn is going to make any decision on Chris Carpenter be a lot easier.  The team isn't going to have to rush Carp at all, because if he's not ready Lynn is showing that he can handle the role for a while with minimal repercussions.

About the only thing off about Lynn's day was the fact that he unexpectedly was pressed into hitting after the Braves wanted to use their pitcher and not a DH.  Of course, hitting might be a misnomer, since he struck out looking twice.  He wasn't there to hit, though, so it's a lighthearted story.  Too bad he didn't crack an extra-base shot with that borrowed equipment!

Nice to see Carlos Beltran get his first Cardinal home run and Matt Carpenter hit one as well, continuing to make that press to start with the big club this season.  I think that he'll probably go north, especially since it sounds like Skip Schumaker is going to be headed to the DL.  Schumaker was diagnosed with a torn oblique and we should find out today the general timetable for his recovery.  Suffice it to say, though, the odds of him being healthy by Opening Day are really, really small.  I'd rather navigate an asteroid field than put money on that proposition.

Reading this story about Mitchell Boggs, you feel like Derrick Goold had this cued up for today, but then had to rewrite the beginning when Boggs stumbled and allowed a home run to Brian McCann.  It somewhat illustrates the contrast between what players say in the spring and what they are going to actually do when the bell rings.  The idea is that Boggs has this new split-finger fastball, but in a game situation (especially a game that didn't even count), he still didn't use it.  

It does sound like Boggs is earning the confidence of Mike Matheny and it seems unlikely that he'll see Memphis again, at least for a while.  If Boggs can step up and be that pitcher people think he can be, that bullpen is just overflowing with strong, young arms that we as fans will be happy with.  Early last year we cringed when Ryan Franklin or Miguel Batista came into the game.  This year, I think Matheny might be able to point blindly down to the 'pen and we'd be happy with whomever came out.

Carp's got another BP scheduled for tomorrow.  In Jenifer Langosch's story, she notes he threw 40 pitches in his last one on Sunday.  I heard the Fox Sports MW guys say at one time that he'd thrown 60, but I think I'll stick with Langosch's number.  Either way, he's ramping up his workload and it's still not inconceivable (see, I do know what that word means) that he'd be the Opening Day guy.  I don't think it's very likely, but I will not be surprised if he avoids the DL and gets into the rotation the second time through.

Speaking of interesting Langosch's articles, there's one on the main site today about Shelby Miller and the weight he lost this offseason.  While we have lauded Jake Westbrook for dropping poundage, it's a little different when it's your top prospect.  The Cards were afraid that he would lose some durability without having that weight to fall back on and they've got him working with the strength and conditioning coaches.  Just another example of how we are all different.  If Shelby still wants to lose weight, though, I've got some extra here I don't mind if he takes.

Finally, Tony La Russa is picking up his pen and writing his memoirs.  At least, some of them.  With a working title of One Last Strike: Fifty Years In Baseball, Ten and a Half Games Back, and One Final Championship Season, not only is it an overly wordy title, it seems to be going to give more focus on 2011 than the whole of his career.  I'd think that a really good book about La Russa's career would take longer than a few months to write, so I'm not overly optimistic about a detailed account.  Still, I'm sure the book will be interesting to Cardinal fans and reliving the 2011 season, well, there's nothing wrong with that.  Nothing at all.

Cards face the Astros today, a game that'll be on Fox Sports Midwest and delayed on MLB Network.  I think it's Kyle Lohse's turn to get back out on the hill, but I can't seem to find that anywhere.

Today's Playing Pepper will be up in a bit, focusing on the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Also, you'll get Round 2 of the Smith Regional here today, with voting staying open until Thursday night.  You can already vote over at Pitchers Hit Eighth and I70 Baseball, so do so!

Playing Pepper 2012: Houston Astros

Posted on March 5, 2012 at 11:30 AM
In 2009, I decided to get a feel for other teams around baseball by asking bloggers for those teams some questions about their squad.  Not only has this series been very popular, but it spawned the Baseball Bloggers Alliance.  With camps opening up again and spring training getting into gear, it's time once again to play a little pepper.

Houston Astros
56-106, sixth in the NL Central

These aren't your father's Astros.  Actually, check that.  These aren't your older brother's Astros.

The team that had some epic contests with the Cardinals in the early part of the millennium is now history.  Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio retired.  Roy Oswalt moved to Philadelphia before deciding on the Roger Clemens career path.  And what stings Astros fans the most, Lance Berkman and Carlos Beltran are Cardinals.

What those stars of the 2000s have left behind is a young team with limited abilities.  Houston finished 40 games out last year and, as much as they'd like to make a run in their last year of NL play, it'd take even a bigger miracle than Miracle Max is able to conjure up.

While it may be sad for us to see a respected rival fall by the wayside, there are some intrepid bloggers that feel the pain much more intensely.

Terri Schlather writes for the Aerys blog Tales From The Juice Box.  You can follow her always-entertaining Twitter feed at AGirlInTheSouth.

Steve Duer typically follows those that have stopped in Greenville on their way up the ladder at his blog Appy Astros.  You can also find him on Twitter at AppyAstros.

Long-time readers of this blog will know James of Astros County.  James and I have written for each others blogs occasionally and James has been a part of UCB Radio Hour and our annual NL preview show.  You can find him on Twitter at AstrosCounty.

After the jump, they'll talk about that noted Cardinal killer and just what they thought of their new GM coming from the Redbird ranks.


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Heroes
Carlos Beltran (6)
Yadier Molina (5)
Matt Holliday (4)
Jon Jay (4)
Matt Carpenter (3)
Daniel Descalso (3)
Jaime Garcia (3)
Pete Kozma (3)
Shelby Miller (3)
Adam Wainwright (3)
Allen Craig (2)
Lance Lynn (2)
Tyler Lyons (2)
Edward Mujica (2)
Jake Westbrook (2)
David Freese (1)
Joe Kelly (1)
Seth Maness (1)
Trevor Rosenthal (1)
Michael Wacha (1)
Ty Wigginton (1)

2012 Top Hero: Matt Holliday (17)
2011 Top Hero: Lance Berkman (24)
2010 Top Heroes: Matt Holliday and Albert Pujols (24)
2009 Top Hero: Albert Pujols (28)
2008 Top Hero: Albert Pujols (25)

Goats
Jon Jay (6)
David Freese (5)
Mitchell Boggs (4)
Joe Kelly (4)
Pete Kozma (4)
Matt Carpenter (3)
Allen Craig (3)
Daniel Descalso (3)
Jaime Garcia (3)
Yadier Molina (3)
Matt Adams (2)
Carlos Beltran (2)
Matt Carpenter (2)
Matt Holliday (2)
Lance Lynn (2)
Seth Maness (1)
Shane Robinson (1)
Fernando Salas (1)
Adam Wainwright (1)
Jake Westbrook (1)

2012 Top Goat: Rafael Furcal (11)
2011 Top Goat: Ryan Theriot (12)
2010 Top Goat: Brendan Ryan (14)
2009 Top Goats: Rick Ankiel and Todd Wellemeyer (13)
2008 Top Goat: Troy Glaus (13)

Cardinal Nation Approval Ratings (March 2013)
Yadier Molina 96.2% (up 8.8%)
Chris Carpenter 89.8% (down 0.3%)
Derrick Goold 89.1% (up 6.3%)
Matt Holliday 88.4% (up 0.9%)
Allen Craig 88.3%
Adam Wainwright 88.2% (down 3.7%)
Jose Oquendo 87.1% (up 2.4%)
Jason Motte 86.9%
John Mozeliak 86.5% (up 1.1%)
United Cardinal Bloggers 85.2% (up 6.3%)
Bill DeWitt 85.1% (up 5.3%)
Mike Shannon 85.1% (down 0.2%)
John Rooney 84.5% (up 3.0%)
Mike Matheny 84.4% (up 3.3%)
David Freese 82.9% (down 2.6%)
Jon Jay 81.8% (up 10.7%)
Lance Berkman 80.6% (down 8.0%)
Jenifer Langosch 79.5%
Lance Lynn 79.5%
Dan McLaughlin 76.0% (up 8.0%)
Jim Hayes 73.0% (up 1.1%)
Ricky Horton 65.5% (down 2.0%)
Jaime Garcia 64.1%
Albert Pujols 59.2% (up 4.3%)
Ballpark Village 58.3%
Joe Strauss 54.3% (down 13.4%)

2012
Tony La Russa 88.2% (up 17.4%)
Mark McGwire 82.6% (up 20.1%)
Skip Schumaker 73.3% (up 9.2%)
B.J. Rains 69.5% (down 0.9%)
Kyle Lohse 68.9% (up 13.8%)
Al Hrabosky 66.4% (up 3.2%)
Colby Rasmus 46.5% (down 35.3%)

2011
Dave Duncan 87.9% (up 0.9%)
Matthew Leach 85.5%
Pop Warner 76.7%
Ryan Franklin 72.8% (up 3.1%)
John Vuch 68.9%
Jeff Luhnow 66.4%
Dan Lozano 58.7%

2009
Rick Ankiel 83.9%
Chris Duncan 69.1%


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