October 2010

Astros position breakdown: second base

Before we get to the latest in our Astros position-by-position breakdown, here’s a reminder that I’m currently fielding Astros-related questions and plan to answer them in the coming days via an Inbox. You can fire off you questions by clicking here.

Back to the task at hand. Our position-by-position breakdown takes us to second base, which for years was occupied by franchise icon Craig Biggio.

For the time being, second base is a position the Astros aren’t too worried about. Jeff Keppinger seized the starting job from Kaz Matsui early last season and was one of the team’s most consistent players all year. He comes with a relatively low salary and is a downright bargain based on his production, so things appear pretty set at the position after a tumultuous regular season.

Here’s a look at what’s going on at second base:


2010 Opening Day starter: Kaz Matsui.

2010 end-of-season starters: Jeff Keppinger.

Others who were in the mix: Geoff Blum, Anderson Hernandez, Angel Sanchez, Matt Downs, Jason Bourgeois.

Combined 2010 stats of Astros second basemen: .252 BA/.313 OBP/.345 SLG, 35 doubles, 7 homers, 59 RBIs, 56 walks, 57 strikeouts, 624 at-bats.

Free agents: Geoff Blum (option declined), Anderson Hernandez (Minor League).

Arbitration eligible: Jeff Keppinger.

What happened: Kaz Matsui, entering the final year of his three-year, $16.5-million deal, began the season as the incumbent starter at second, though he was actually platooning with Keppinger if you consider the number of starts each got in April (Keppinger had 12, Matsui 10). Matsui got off to an awful start and hit .141 in 27 games before the Astros cut him loose and handed the everyday job to Keppinger in mid-May.

Jeff Keppinger, 30, certainly didn’t disappoint and hit .288 with six homers and 59 RBIs in a career-high 514 at-bats. He was the team’s most consistent hitter all season and led the Astros in doubles with 34. He also struck out only 36 times in 514 at-bats while drawing 51 walks. Keppinger’s doesn’t have great range, but he made all the routine plays and was a steady hand at second base. He made only six errors, and his .990 field percentage was fourth in the NL among second baseman.

Keppinger missed 15 games in August after going on the disabled list with left big toe sesamoiditis, which was basically a stress fracture near the ball of his left foot. It forced him to take a few days off later in September, which allowed Anderson Hernandez and Matt Downs to make occasional starts. Veteran Geoff Blum also saw time at second, and shortstop Angel Sanchez was put at second on occasion when Tommy Manzella started at short late in the year. Outfielder Jason Bourgeois made a brief appearance at second base as well.

What’s next: Barring a trade or free agent signing, Keppinger will begin next season as the starting second baseman. The club admittedly needs to upgrade its offense and won’t shy away from a chance to add some pop at second base or shortstop, even if it forces a platoon situation somewhere in the middle infield. Sanchez will again be in the mix at second base, where he’s better suited than at shortstop because of his limited arm and range.

Who’s on the farm: The Astros used their No. 1 overall pick last year on Delino DeShields Jr., an outfielder who will be converted to second base from the outfield. He went to the instructional league to make the transition, but was slowed by elbow problems and was limited to designated hitter duties, though he did field ground balls at second and will continue to work at the position in the winter and heading into Spring Training next year. Jose Vallejo, acquired as part of last year’s Ivan Rodriguez trade with Texas, hit .111 in 99 at-bats in Corpus Christi. That was encouraging considering he severed tendons in two fingers of his right hand in a cooking accident late last year and had extensive surgery. The injury was believed to be career-threatening. He was a six-year Minor League free agent, but has re-signed with the Astros.

Jose Altuve was a South Atlantic League All-Star with Lexington before being promoted to high Class A Lancaster. He hit a combined .301/.357/.448 with 15 homers and 67 RBIs in 125 games. He stands 5-foot-5, but knows how to play the game, has outstanding hands, good speed and surprising pop. He’s liked by every guy on the Minor League staff. Jimmy Paredes, acquired in the Lance Berkman deal with the Yankees, hit .299 with three homers and 17 RBIs in 34 games with Lexington. For the season, he hit .287 with eight homers and 65 RBIs combined between Lexington and Charleston (Yankees). Other second basemen to keep an eye on are Enrique Hernandez (Tri-City) and Ben Orloff (Tri-City). The Astros also re-signed Wladimir Sutil, who can play shortstop.

In summary: The Astros like what they have in Keppinger, and he should provide a solid option until one of the Astros’ youngsters in the Minor Leagues shows he’s ready to take over. Who knows how long that will take, but the Astros are slowly building some quality depth at the position in the Minor Leagues.

Astros position breakdown: first base

Before we break down how the Astros shape up at first base, here’s a reminder that in the next few days I plan to answer some of your questions with a long-awaited Inbox. So if you have some questions you want answered about the Astros, click here.

Now, let’s get back to our series on examing the Astros one position at a time. Today’s topic is first base. And boy, how things have changed at first base in the last few months.


2010 Opening Day starter: Geoff Blum (Lance Berkman would have been starter if not injured).

2010 end-of-season starters: Brett Wallace/Carlos Lee.

Others who were in the mix: Pedro Feliz.

Combined stats of Astros first basemen: .241 BA/.332 OBP/.397 SLG, 30 doubles, 19 homers, 80 RBIs, 72 walks, 127 strikeouts, 585 at-bats.

Free agents: Blum (mutual option for 2011 was not exercised).

Arbitration eligible: None.

What happened: Lance Berkman injured his knee in the middle of Spring Training and had to undergo surgery, which put him out for the first 12 games of the season. Pedro Feliz, who was signed to be the starting third baseman, and veteran utility man Geoff Blum shared the first base duties until Berkman returned to the lineup, April 20, against the Marlins.

Berkman got off to a terrible start at the plate and never really recovered, which along with the early offensive woes by fellow sluggers Hunter Pence and Carlos Lee put the Astros in a huge hole in the NL Central. The Big Puma hit .242 in April and .221 in May and had five homers in his first 37 games. He managed to hit .278 in June, but had only two homers. That forced the Astros to come to the conclusion they wouldn’t pick up his $15 million option for 2011 and they wound up trading him to the Yankees at the Trade Deadline in exchange for right-hander Mark Melancon and Minor League infielder Jimmy Paredes.

Berkman is one of the Astros’ top five offensive players in club history, and watching him get traded away only hours after Roy Oswalt was dealt to the Phillies was quite a shock. Whether Berkman has any game left remained to be seen, but it was clear the Astros were ready to get younger. Brett Wallace, one of the players they acquired in the Oswalt deal in a secondary trade with Toronto, was plugged in as the starter at first base.

Wallace got off to a nice start in his first week on the job in his Major League debut, but he scuffled offensively for much of the season. The power numbers he put up in the Minor Leagues never materialized. Wallace hit just two homers in 144 at-bats and struck out 50 times, but his September was better than his August at the plate and he turned out to be a surprisingly adept defensive first baseman despite his large frame. Wallace hit .222/.296/.319 with two homers and 13 RBIs.

He didn’t hit right-handers (.218) or left-handers (.240) exceptionally well, but found himself splitting time at first base in the final three weeks of the season with Lee, the team’s starting left fielder. Lee started nine of the final 18 games at first base – primarily against lefties – and was adequate defensively, though not nearly as good as Wallace. Lee hit .235/.257/.456 with four homers and 14 RBIs in 19 games as a first baseman.

Feliz saw occasional time at first base before he was let go, and Blum made 10 starts at the position.

What’s next: Considering Wallace has only 144 career Major League at-bats to his name, the Astros are going into next season with him penciled in as the starting first baseman of the future. The one thing that stands in his way is Lee. It wasn’t by accident that the Astros got a long look at El Caballo at first base in September, and it’s not a stretch to consider Lee will come to Spring Training with a shot to be the starting first baseman on Opening Day.

Not only would this give Wallace some more at-bats in the Minor Leagues, but it would allow the Astros to free up a spot in left field for somebody with more range and a better arm than Lee, who is not a good outfielder. Had Wallace come to the Astros and tore the cover off the baseball in Chris Johnson fashion, Lee likely never would have been taken out of the outfield at any point last season.

Who’s on the farm: Like many of the Astros’ positions, you’ll have to go down to Double-A Corpus Christi to find a player who might have a long-term future at first base with the big club. Koby Clemens started at first for the Hooks and was named team Most Valuable Player after hitting .241 with 26 home runs, 85 RBIs and a .350 on-base percentage. The jury’s out on whether he can be a Major League first baseman, but he might get a shot to come to Major League camp next spring.

Mark Ori (.284) and Brian Pellegrini (.283, 16 homers, 45 RBIs) put up good offensive numbers in Class A Lancaster, and Houston native Kody Hinze had a breakout season at Class A Lexington, hitting .277 with 19 homers and 97 RBIs.

In summary: Unless the Astros acquire another player they feel could start at first base, they will come to camp with Wallace and Lee in the mix. It’s probably going to be up to Wallace’s bat to decide who’s going to be manning first base when the season begins next April in Philadelphia. Don’t be surprised to see an older veteran in camp in the mold of Darin Erstad and Geoff Blum who could play first base in a backup role.

Astros position breakdown: catcher

Every few days for the next two weeks, I’m going to take an in-depth, position-by-postion look at the Astros. What went wrong/right last year? Where do they stand at that position? Who do they have coming up that could make an impact? What does the immediate future hold at that position?

This should help us get through the World Series and into free agency, which begins five days after the end of the Fall Classic. Last year at this time, we were writing about who the Astros were going to hire as manager, so things are much quieter this time around. So let’s jump right in and take a look at our first position breakdown of the offseason: catcher.


2010 Opening Day starter: J.R. Towles

2010 end-of-season starter: Jason Castro

Others who were in the mix: Humberto Quintero, Kevin Cash

Combined stats of Astros catchers: .220 BA/.269 OBP/.312 SLG, 22 doubles, 9 homers, 39 RBIs, 35 walks, 122 strikeouts, 551 at-bats.

Free agents: None

Arbitration eligible: Quintero

What happened: The Astros have struggled to find offense at catcher for more than a decade, which was one of the reasons they drafted Jason Castro with the No. 10 overall pick in 2008. He wasn’t going to get confused with Johnny Bench on offense, but the club believes he can be a good offensive player and is already capable of catching at the Major League level.

Still, the season begin with Castro getting his first taste at Triple-A Round Rock and J.R. Towles as the starter with Humberto Quintero backing him up. Towles, in what might have been his last chance in the organization, struggled to hit and was optioned to Double-A on May 5. He wound up getting injured and missing much of the second half.

The Astros were desperate for catching help and called up Kevin Cash, who provided little offense but was a veteran presence behind the plate. All the while, Quintero was hitting his typical .230 and throwing our runners on bases. He also caught Brett Myers, who had his best season in his debut with the Astros.

With the season slipping away, the Astros finally summoned Castro from Triple-A Round Rock on June 22 to began a youth infusion. Castro was plugged into the starting lineup and hit .205/.286/.287 with two homers and eight RBIs in 67 games (57 starts). He still has strides to make defensively, though he did throw out 37 percent of the runners who tried to steal a base against him.

What’s next: The Astros are still committed to Castro. He’s only 23 years old and there’s no reason to believe he won’t get better with age. But don’t be surprised to the see the club perhaps bring in a low-cost veteran to take over behind the plate if Castro just isn’t ready on Opening Day. Among the free agents who could fit that bill are Gregg Zaun, Matt Treanor and Josh Bard or similiar-type players in age (older), ability (declining) and salary (cheap). Unless the Astros don’t tender him a contract, Quintero appears poised to return as the back up yet again.

Who’s on the farm: Ben Heath, taken in the fifth round in the 2010 Draft out of Penn State, had a solid debut and finished the year with a cup of coffee at Double-A Corpus Christi. He hit a combined .276/.387/.495 with 10 homers and 38 RBIs in 210 at-bats between short-season Tri-City and Class A Lexington, spending 37 games at the New York-Penn League and 20 games in the South Atlantic League. Venezuelan switch-hitter Federico Hernandez hit a combined .273/.303/.429 last season between Class A Lancaster and Double-A Corpus Christi. Farther away, 2010 Draft pick Chris Wallace hit a combined .293 with 10 homers and 40 RBIs between rookie-league Greeneville and Tri-City. Jonathan Fixler and Lou Santangelo saw time at Corpus Christi last year, too.

In summary: Castro is the man of the future, but if he winds up not being able to cut it, the Astros seem to have a wave a younger catchers on the rise in the Minors for the first time in years.




A look at the Astros at the Arizona Fall League

The Arizona Fall League gets underway today, giving the Astros and other Major League teams the opportunity see some of their top prospects play in what is considered a graduate school for prospects.

The Astros have eight players in Arizona playing for the Peoria Javelinas: pitchers David Carpenter, Kyle Greenwalt, Matt Nevarez and Patrick Urckfitz; infielder Koby Clemens; and outfielders Jay Austin, Brandon Barnes and Jack Shuck.

In fact, Nevarez will be blogging about his exprerience and you can follow it by clicking here.

Outfielder T.J. Steele and pitcher Sergio Perez were originally scheduled to play, but Steele is still recovering from an injury and Perez had a personal commitment. Carpenter and Barnes are on the taxi squad, meaning they’ll only play on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Each of the six Arizona Fall League teams plays a 32-game schedule through Nov. 18. All Triple-A and Double-A player are eligible to play provided they are on those rosters no later than Aug. 16. Two players below the Double-A level are also allowed to play.

Nearly 60 percent of the players to have played in league’s first 18 years of existence have made the Major Leagues, including more than 70 percent of players from a year ago. Astros catcher Jason Castro played in Arizona last fall.

“It’s a great environment because the competition level is always very high in Arizona,” Astros general manager Ed Wade said. “It’s a different environment than what exists in Latin America in the winter leagues. We’ve got big crowds and the competition amongst the clubs is significant.

“The Arizona Fall League provides an opportunity for top prospects to face top prospects, and all you have to do is look at the history of the Arizona Fall League to see how many outstanding Major League players have come through the program to recognize it’s importance. We’re excited about what we saw in the instructional league, anxious to see kids playing in the Fall League. We’re certainly monitoring what’s coming out of the other Latin programs as well.”

The Astros will scout the entire league with their pro scouts on assignment, with assistant general managers David Gottfried and Bobby Heck among those also going out to check out the league. Wade plans to head to Arizona to see four games later this month.

Here’s a look at the players the Astros sent to Arizona:

  • RHP David Carpenter, 25 years old: Acquired from the Cardinals in the Pedro Feliz trade, he went a combined 6-4 with a 2.51 ERA in 55 games in relief between Class A Palm Beach and Lancaster. He pitched in six games after being acquired from the Astros, going 1-1 with a 3.52 ERA.
  • RHP Kyle Greenwalt, 22 years old: A 20th-round draft pick in 2007, he went 8-7 with a 5.93 ERA in 27 starts in Class A Lancaster. He allowed 191 hits and struck out 90 batters 136 2/3 innings.
  • RHP Matt Nevarez, 23 years old: Injuries slowed him down this year, but he went 2-1 with a 3.76 ERA in 36 relief appearances after appearing in Major League Spring Training with the Astros, who acquired him from the Texas Rangers in the Ivan Rodriguez trade.
  • LHP Pat Urckfitz 22 years old: Spent most of last season at Class A Lancaster, going 5-9 with a 4.13 ERA in 35 games, including 12 starts. He appeared in one game at Double-A Corpus Christi at the end of the season.
  • IF Koby Clemens, 23 years old: Has hit 48 homers and driven in 208 runs in the past two years between Class A Lexington and Double-A Corpus Christi. Last season at Corpus, he hit .241 with 22 doubles, three triples, 26 homers and 85 RBIs.
  • OF Jay Austin, 20 years old: The speedy Austin was the youngest player in the California League to begin last season and wound up hitting .261 with 25 doubles, 13 triples, 10 homers, 59 RBIs and 54 stolen bases in 74 attempts for Class A Lancaster.
  • OF Brandon Barnes, 24 years old:  Taken in the sixth round of the 2005 Draft, Barnes hit .269 with 31 doubles, five triples, 27 homers and 80 RBIs last season at Class A Lancaster. He played six games at Triple-A Round Rock at the end of the year and hit .286 in 21 at-bats.
  • OF Jack Shuck, 23 years old: Spent most of last season at Double-A Corpus Christi and batted .298 with two homers and 28 RBIs. He played in 36 games at Triple-A Round Rock at the end of the year and hit .273 in 139 at-bats. Shuck was taken in sixth round of 2008 Draft.

McLane checks out instructional league

Astros owner Drayton McLane swooped into Kissimmee, Fla., on Friday, joining general manager Ed Wade, assistant general manager David Gottfried and manager Brad Mills to watch a workout day during the fall instructional league at Osceola County Stadium.

Wade, Gottfried and Mills had been in Florida since Tuesday, but McLane decided to pay them a visit to get an eyewitness account of some of the club’s best young Minor League talent. McLane even took time to address the 47 players following the workout.

“It was an excellent opportunity to talk with them and I wanted to get to know them and communicate with them and get a chance to talk to them,” said McLane, who landed in the morning and was gone a few hours later.

McLane was thoroughly impressed with outfielder Ariel Ovando, a 17-year-old Dominican prospect the Astros paid record signing bonus of more than $2.5 million earlier this year.

“He’s really impressive in person and his ability is going to be very good,” McLane said. “He’s barely 17. As you watch him run and field, you can just tell he’s going to be an exceptionally good player.”

Wade said overall the talent level is the highest he’s seen in three years in Houston, but he has been extremely impressed with Ovando as well.

“He’s gotten some big base hits in every one of the games,” Wade said. “He’s still just a kid and a lot of things to learn, as you would suspect with a 17-year-old. But certainly, from the standpoint of athleticism and the way he swings the bat, he has a chance to be a real good player.”

The Astros won all three games they had played during the week Wade and Mills were in Florida, including a game against a Chinese traveling team preparing for the Asian Games in Vero Beach, Fla.

“What a great group of kids we have down here,” Mills said. “They’re very athletic and they can run and steal bases. [Infielders Jonathan] Villar and [Jimmy] Paredes are good kids, Telvin Nash in left field is something special, and we got a real good look at Jordan Scott in center field. We’re awfully young and have some talent, that’s for sure.”

Astros no longer pursuing Loux

The Astros will not be offering a contract to former first-round pick Barret Loux.

Astros general manager Ed Wade told MLB.com on Friday afternoon the club has decided not to try to sign Loux, the former Texas A&M pitcher drafted No. 6 overall by the Arizona Diamondbacks earlier this year, only to later to be declared a free agent.

Wade wouldn’t give specific reasons for the club’s decision.

“We’ve had further internal conversations and we’re probably not going to pursue it,” Wade said. “We talked long and hard about it and we wanted to make sure we did our advance work and tried to get an arm around the entire situation. At this point in time, it’s something we’re not going to pursue.”

Loux was drafted No. 6 overall and failed a physical, reportedly because of arm problems. Major League Baseball declared Loux a free agent and available to sign with any club beginning Sept. 1, awarding Arizona compensatory draft picks in the process.

The Astros had interest the Houston-area product before he was picked by Arizona and twice sent a scout to watch him throw in the bullpen last month in College Station, Texas. Loux went 11-2 with a 2.83 ERA in 16 starts last season as a junior at Texas A&M


Astros set to renovate Minute Maid Park

Minute Maid Park will undergo significant renovations this offseason, including the installation of a 54-by-124 feet video board that will be the second-largest in Major League Baseball, smaller than only the one in Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium.

Pam Gardner, the Astros’ president of business operations, went before the Harris-Country Houston Sports Authority on Thursday morning and shared news of the renovations. The Astros, who lease the ballpark from the Sports Authority, will pony up all of the estimated $10-to-12 million price tag.”It’s been 11 years since it opened, so it’s time,” Gardner said.

The new video board, which will be HD, will be above right field where the current scoreboard sits. The current video board high above center field will become dormant, and the Astros will add a second video board in left field that will be about the size of the current video board in center.

“That’s so people on the bullpen side can look up and see the video board, which they haven’t been able to do before,” Gardner said.

The Astros had been exploring the idea of upgrading their scoreboard for a few years, and a member of the club’s ballpark entertainment department was in Cincinnati last week to check out the video board at Great American Ball Park.

In addition, Minute Maid Park will have 1,000 feet of ribbon board stretching from foul pole to foul pole, replacing the currently 100 feet of ribbon board on each side of the ballpark. Also, the writing press box, which currently sits at the top of the dugout boxes, will be moved up one level to be adjacent to the broadcast press area.

The area behind home plate that currently houses the writing press box will be transformed into an area for premium season-ticket holders, allowing the Astros to generate more revenue.

“I guess I’d call it a hip club area,” Gardner said.

Gardner said the Astros are using money from their asset renewal and replacement fund, which they make yearly payments into as part of their rent. She said the renovations will begin within the next month and will be ready for Opening Day next year.


Astros by the numbers for 2010

Here’s a statistical look back at the Astros’ 2010 season:

  • Of the eight teams that made the playoffs this year, the Astros played seven of them and posted a combined 14-35 record (they didn’t play Minnesota). Here’s how they fared against teams that made the playoffs: Yankees (0-3), Rays (1-2), Rangers (1-5), Giants (2-7), Braves (1-5), Reds (5-10), Phillies (4-3).
  • The Astros hit only 108 home runs this year, which is their fewest since hitting 96 while playing home games at the Astrodome in 1992. Their 611 runs scored their fewest since 1994.
  • The Astros were 59-21 when scoring four or more runs and 21-18 in one-run games.
  • The Astros were 44-34 against the NL Central, winning the season series from every team except the Reds.
  • The Astros had seven sweeps and were swept eight times.
  • The Astros were 7-6 in extra-inning games.
  • The Astros had 123 different batting orders in 162 games.
  • The Astros hit three grand slams: Carlos Lee (June 9), Lance Berkman (July 27) and Jason Michaels (Aug. 1).
  • The Astros hit back-to-back home runs only once (Carlos Lee and Hunter Pence on May 9).
  • Only two players had multi-homer games: Carlos Lee (July 28) and Hunter Pence (Aug. 17).
  • Chris Johnson led the Astros in batting (.308), Hunter Pence led the team in home runs (25) and RBIs (91), Jeff Keppinger in doubles (34) and Michael Bourn in triples (six) and stolen bases (52).
  • Brett Myers won the team’s pitching triple crown among starters, leading the club in wins (14), ERA (3.14) and strikeouts (180).
  • Here’s where the Astros ranked in various offensive categories in the 16-team NL: 13th (tied) in triples (25); 14th in hits (1,438), doubles (252), batting average (.247); 15th in runs scored (611), RBIs (571); and last in home runs (108), total bases (1,974), on-base percentage (.303), slugging percentage (.363) and OPS (.667) and walks (409).
  • The Astros struck out 1,025 times, which was the fewest in the NL.
  • Here’s where the Astros ranked in the NL in various pitching categories: second (tied) in quality starts (95); third in saves (45); sixth in runs allowed (729); eighth in strikeouts (1,183); 10th in ERA (4.09), shutouts (10); and 11th (tied) in batting average against (.262).
  • The Astros went 42-39 at home to finish with a winning record in each of the last 10 seasons at Minute Maid Park.
  • The Astros drew 2,331,490 fans in 81 games this year, for an average of 28,784. Since drawing a record 3,022,763 in 2006 (the year after their World Series berth), attendance has dropped four years in a row. The Astros drew 3,020,405 in 2007, 2,779,487 in 2008 and 2,521,076 in 2009. Major League Baseball’s average attendance dropped for the third straight season, falling 1 percent this year.
  • RHP Wilton Lopez stranded 32 of the 33 runners he inherited this year.
  • RHP Brandon Lyon didn’t allow a run in 33 of his last 36 appearances.
  • CF Michael Bourn led the league in stolen bases for the second year in a row with 52.


Blum option not exercised; Michaels to be picked up

Veteran infielder Geoff Blum told reporters following Sunday’s season-ending win over the Cubs the Astros have told him they won’t exercise his option for 2011.

The Astros plan to exercise the $900,000 option for outfielder Jason Michaels, according to a person close to the situation. Astros general manager Ed Wade didn’t want to comment on the Michaels situation, but confirmed he told Blum  his option wasn’t being exercised.

Blum, who played five seasons in two different stints in Houston, said he was informed by Wade and manager Brad Mills he wasn’t going to return following the Astros’ loss to the Cubs on Saturday. He had an option that would have paid him $1.65 million, but he’ll get a $150,000 buyout instead.

Wade said he’s leaving the door open to Blum’s return in a separate deal.

A teary-eyed Blum nearly broke down in front of reporters Sunday.

“I do know that I will not be here,” Blum said. “I’ll miss being here, trust me. I’ve had several conversations with people within the organization and my services are not going to be needed here.”

Blum, a switch-hitter who won a World Series ring with the Chicago White Sox in 2005, hit .267 with two homers and 22 RBIs. He missed most of August after undergoing surgery to remove loose chips in his elbow.

Blum, who broke in with Montreal in 1999 and played with the Astros from 2002-03, was one the most senior members of the team and a leader in the clubhouse. He’s also played for Tampa Bay and San Diego during his 12-year career.

Astros close out season today

This is it. The Astros will play game No. 162 today at Minute Maid Park with the roof open and the Cubs in town. The Astros have slumped in the final two weeks, losing nine of 11 games, and need to win Sunday to avoid finishing in fifth place for the second year in a row.

Sure, winning 75 or 76 games can’t be considered a great success, but when you factor in the turmoil and the turnover the Astros had early in the season, their second-half push should provide reason for optimism. Brad Mills has done a nice job in his first season as manager and isn’t quite ready for the season to end..

“I made the comment last night to [general manager] Ed [Wade] when Ed came into visit that I wasn’t quite ready for the season to end,” Mills siad. “I wish we had a ways to go, but that’s not how it works. They tell us we can’t play anymore so we start planning and getting ready. From where we’ve came from in Spring Training and the start of the season and the things that we’ve done are definitely exciting for what’s coming with the core group of guys we have in there and we have to look forward to is very important.”

With that said, here is Mills’ final lineup:

CF Brian Bogusevic

2B Jeff Keppinger

RF Hunter Pence

LF Carlos Lee

3B Chris Johnson

1B Brett Wallace

C Humberto Quintero

SS Tommy Manzella

P Nelson Figueroa