Archive for the ‘Houston Astros’ Category

Losers can’t be winners

June 24, 2007

.419

.387

.466

.419

Those are the winning percentages of the last four teams the Rangers have played, which explains why they’ve gone 7-2 and gotten over the .400 mark themselves. It’s not because, as Michael Young said, “It’s nice to be playing better baseball, that’s for sure. We’re just doing a better job top to bottom.” Really, they’re doing the same things they’ve been doing all along, it’s just that they hit a stretch where they played a bunch of teams from the worst division in baseball, the NL Central. As proof, we will watch them starting on Monday against Detroit (.603), Boston (.644) and the Angels (.640), the three best teams in baseball. In those eleven games, I’m guessing the Rangers will go about 3-8, winning once each series, and once again everyone will be saying how bad the team is.

If you don’t follow the ESPN Power Rankings, which ranks all the teams each week, then you don’t know that the Rangers jumped to number 28 (out of 30, of course) this week, a huge leap considering they’ve been dead last for the last five weeks.  Apparently the ESPN guys haven’t noticed their weak schedule the past week either.  What’s interesting about the rankings is how the Rangers have fared, starting out at 20 (based on pre-season expectations), then quickly falling to 28 by week four, which is the highest they’ve been in the last nine weeks.  At least the people voting know how bad the Rangers are.  Oh, and back to the previous paragraph, the four teams they beat this past week are ranked 16, 21, 22 and 30 (Reds).  The three we’re about to play are ranked 1, 2 and 3.  Uh-oh.

Now, having said that, things have improved, even if just by smoke and mirrors.  On tv yesterday they said the Rangers are ahead of last season’s attendance, which certainly surprises me.  I haven’t run any numbers at all, but I’d guess appearances by the Red Sox, Yankees and Cubs have boosted things a bit.  And I seem to recall that I’ve read various studies which show that attendance tracks more on last year’s record than this years, which suggests the Rangers are due to tank in attendance next year.  Having said that, I think we will be attending more games next year, now that we’ve determined that Josh can handle going to games.  Before he was born we had the partial season tickets, the 15 game version.  Once he was born we gave them up, knowing we’d never attend that many games with him.  Last year we only got to about three games, and left at least one of them early.  On Opening Day this year, he was so much better it was like night and day.  I think by next year we may be talking those partial tickets again, although we’ll have to go to cheaper seats, since we’ll be buying tickets for three instead of two.

CJ Wilson was excellent today, banging three strikes by Mike Lamb with two on and two out in the 7th, and the Astros down by one.  I would call that the swing point of the game, although FanGraphs hasn’t posted the data yet to be able to tell.  I can tell you that in that situation, the Rangers had a .749 chance of winning, but that rose to .822 after the strikeout.  73 points of Win Expectancy is pretty darn good when you only threw three pitches.  I would also say what I said a couple of days ago, that CJ will be our closer one day.

So the Rangers end up with the Silver Boot this year, yet another highlight to be added to our proud list of achievements.  I’m sure they were all drinking champagne out of it tonight, knowing that it was a job well done.  I wonder if they made t-shirts?

There’s trouble in Texas

June 4, 2007

As I mentioned yesterday, we spent the weekend in Houston. It didn’t occur to me until we were heading home that we could have gone to see the Astros play, although it wouldn’t have fit into our schedule very well. Since we’ve been to their new ballpark, it wasn’t like we were missing much. I did get to see a little of their games on tv though, and read the Houston Chronicle articles about them. The Chronicle, of course, is the paper that announced them as dead and buried a couple of years ago, and then they famously recovered and went to the World Series. This weekend they were writing in a similar vein, although not quite as extremely, about how the Astros have been struggling and are in trouble. I read all the articles they had, and at the end I was thinking “change Houston to Texas and you’ve got the Rangers story”.

So, in a slight diversion, here’s how the 2007 Rangers and Astros are comparing:

Rangers: 20-37, 15.5 games back, half a game behind Kansas City for the worst record in the AL.

Houston: 23-33, 8 games back, third worst record in the NL.

Both are in a 2-8 slump right now.

Rangers have an expected Win-Loss of 24-33, Astros is 24-32.

Rangers have scored 282 runs, fifth in the AL. Astros have 227 runs, 14th in the NL.

Rangers have conceded 329, last in the AL. Astros have conceded 266, for 9th in the NL.

ESPN’s latest Power Rankings put the Rangers 30th and the Astros 27th.

So, teamwise, they both suck. The Rangers have been hitting a lot better (which shocks me, since I’ve been thinking the Rangers have been going so badly at the bat), but giving up a lot more runs. Take the Rangers offense and Astros defense and you’d probably be a couple of games over .500. Take the Rangers pitching and Astros defense, and there’d be a whole lotta Texans jumping off bridges right now.

Looking at individual players on the Astros, a few stand out. Hunter Pence is the rookie star, could be the ROTY by season’s end. Probably would be today. The Rangers have no-one to compare to him, either in the bigs now or ready in the minors in the next year or two.
Carlos Lee, on the other hand, the Rangers did have someone to compare to him – himself. To be fair to him, his OPS this year is identical to what it was with the Rangers last year, at .894, and he was .896 with Milwaukee last year too, so he’s been performing the same. But seriously, does anyone think he is the same player? With the Rangers he was lackadaisical, disinterested, and we weren’t interested in him. I have no comparison because I haven’t seen him with the Astros, but the paper seemed to suggest he was one of the highlights of the year for them. I like Nelson Cruz, I think he will eventually do well here (if he can stop being afraid of what the manager says about him), but since he’s the only result of the trade now, it’s Nelson Cruz for Coco Cordero, and right now that’s a killer for the Rangers. It was really a dumb deal all round, the black spot of Jon Daniels’ career so far, done in panic and regretted forever. On the Rangers now Lee would compare to Mark Teixeira, one of the few reliable bats we have.

Craig Biggio stands out for another reason. He is the player in Houston, especially now that Bagwell is gone, but his career is over. He’s not hitting and he’s not fielding, and all that’s keeping him there is the stumbling to 3000 hits. I think he’s about 20 hits away now, and you’ve got to imagine that once he gets those 20 he’s going to spend some time on the bench, unless they decide to keep him around for a farewell tour, the one draw they have for the remainder of the season. His comparison on the Rangers is Sammy Sosa, we’re just waiting for 600 to be done with him.

On the pitching side, I see that Mark McLemore came out of retirement to pitch an inning for the Astros. Marian will be pleased, he was one of her favorites. Oh, wait, it’s a different guy with the same name, how funny they would link the two teams together like that. I guarantee there will be some confusion about that, or maybe even a photo op when the Astros come here in a week or two, since our McLemore is now working post-game tv for the Rangers.

The Astros have an elite closer in Lidge, the Rangers can’t really compare even though they have Aki and Gagne, because neither have performed at a high level this year. Not their fault, they just haven’t been needed that much.

The Astros also have something I don’t really understand – starting pitchers with ERA’s under 6. What is the meaning of this, aren’t your starters supposed to give up a bunch of runs in the first and second innings? Actually, the Astros have made a habit of developing top pitchers recently, and Roy Oswalt is their current number one. He’s better than anyone the Rangers could trot out. Anyone know who their pitching coach is, and if he’s available? Okay, it’s Dave Wallace, who seems to have somewhat of a track record. Probably not interested in the Rangers pitching coach job, but then who would be?

So that’s a quick rundown of the Astros, and how they compare to the Rangers. Both teams are pretty much in the same boat right now. The Astros at least have the ability to plug the leaks, since they’re only two games out of second place in their division, and the first place Brewers are falling fast. The Rangers though are pretty much doomed, and a few of their players are looking for lifejackets. Hey, could the Astros use some help that the Rangers might provide? They need hitting, we need pitching, sounds like a match made in heaven – or at least in Texas.