September 2011

Pence reacts to being honored in Houston

Despite playing for the Phillies for the final two months of the regular season, right fielder Hunter Pence was still voted as the Astros’ Most Valuable Player for 2011 by the Houston chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

Pence, who was traded to the Phillies on July 29, hit .308 with 11 homers and 62 RBIs in 100 games for the Astros. It’s the second consecutive year Pence has been named the team’s MVP, but this one caught him off-guard.

“Yes, that surprises me,” he said Friday after the Phillies finished working out in preparation for their National League Division Series against the Cardinals.

“Honestly, I’m very honored and humbled that they would select me for that,” he said. “It’s tough to explain. I know there’s a lot of guys that played the whole season there that had good seasons. I don’t really know what to think about that other than it makes me feel better about my accomplishments there and they recognize how I played the game. That’s cool, I guess.”

Left-hander Wandy Rodriguez was named the team’s Pitcher of the Year after going 11-11 with a 3.49 ERA in 30 starts. Outfielder J.D. Martinez was named Rookie of the Year and outfielder Jason Bourgeois was named the winner of the Darryl Kile “Good Guy” Award for his community efforts and good relationship with the media.

Also winning awards as voted on by the BBWAA were Cardinals outfielder Lance Berkman (Houston area Player of the Year) and long-time Astros broadcaster Bill Brown (Fred Hartman Long & Meritorious Service). All award-winners will be recognized at the Houston Baseball Dinner in January.

 

Astros year by numbers

The Astros ended the 2011 regular season with an 8-0 loss to the Cardinals on Wednesday to finish a franchise-worst 56-106. Here is the season by the numbers:

Overall record: 56-106

Home record: 31-50

Road record: 25-56

Series record: 12-36-4

Sweeps: 2-14

When scoring 4 or more runs: 44-39

When scoring 3 or fewer runs: 12-67

Shutouts: 6-12

One-run games: 20-28

Two-run games: 9-22

Vs. LH starters: 22-26

Vs. RH starters: 34-80

Day games: 13-37

Night games: 43-69

When scoring first: 36-36

Opponent scores first: 20-70

Outhit opponent: 42-27

Outhit by opponent: 11-70

Equal hits: 3-9

When hitting a home run: 34-35

No home runs: 22-71

Walkoff homers: 1-3

Come-from-behind wins: 26

Largest comeback : 3 runs

Losses after leading: 43

Last at-bat wins: 17

Largest blown lead: 6 runs

Extra-inning games: 5-13

Batting average leader (min. 400 at-bats): Carlos Lee (.275)

Home run leader: Carlos Lee (18)

RBI leader: Carlos Lee (94)

Runs leader: Carlos Lee (66)

Stolen base leader: Michael Bourn (39)

Pitching wins leader: Wandy Rodriguez (11)

ERA leader (min. 100 innings): Bud Norris (3.77)

Strikeouts leader: Bud Norris (176)

Saves leader: Mark Melancon (20)

Looking ahead to 2012

Arbitration eligible players: LHP J.A. Happ, C Humberto Quintero.

Free agents: SS Clint Barmes, OF Jason Michaels.

 

Berkman a happy man

I had a chance to catch up with former Astros slugger Lance Berkman in the visiting clubhouse at Minute Maid Park, trying to dodge the champagne and beer as best as possible. Berkman was beaming after the Cardinals had just clinched the National League Wild Card.

“It’s just great,” he said. “It’s exciting. Any time you get a chance to play for a championship, that’s all you can ask for as a player.”

What a week it’s been for Berkman. He signed a one-year, $12-million contract extension with the Cardinals only a few days ago and then came to his hometown of Houston and helped the Cardinals take two of three games from the Astros to run down the Braves.

“This year has been pretty special in a lot of ways, and certainly this is a great way to cap it off,” he said.

Now the Cardinals and Berkman will get to face the Phillies in the National League Division Series beginning Saturday in Philadelphia. The Phillies, of course, feature three of Berkman’s former teammates – Hunter Pence, Brad Lidge and Roy Oswalt.

“If you could round up all the ex-Astros you’d have a pretty good team,” he said. “It’s going to be a tough challenge to play those guys. They have a great team, the best team in baseball this year. So we’ll see what happens.”

Astros-Cardinals lineups

Here are the lineups for Tuesday’s Astros-Cardinals game:

HOUSTON

CF J.B. Shuck

2B Jose Altuve

RF Brian Bogusevic

LF Carlos Lee

1B Brett Wallace

3B Jimmy Paredes

SS Clint Barmes

C J.R. Towles

RHP Henry Sosa

ST. LOUIS

CF Jon Jay

3B David Freese

1B Albert Pujols

RF Lance Berkman

LF Matt Holliday

C Yadier Molina

2B Skip Schumaker

SS Nick Punto

RHP Jake Westbrook

Astros-Cards preview

The Astros open their final series of the season Monday night at Minute Maid Park against the Cardinals, who come to town one game behind the Atlanta Braves in the NL Wild Card chase. The Braves are at the Phillies, which is who the Cards would play in the first round of the playoffs if they can edge the Braves for the final playoff spot. The Cardinals have 21 of their last 29 games.

Before we get to the lineup, here are some things you my find interesting:

  • The Astros currently have the youngest team in the NL at 27 years, 131 days old. Only the Royals are younger (26-4).
  • If you’re looking for a positive sign from the Astros, take note of this. The previous three times the club has lost at least 90 games, it came back and improved by at least 15 games the next season. They went from 64-97 in 1975 to 80-82 in 1976; 65-97 in 1991 to 81-81 in 1992; and 72-90 in 2000 to 93-69 and a division title in 2001. I’m just saying.
  • Carlos Lee, who enters Monday’s game with 94 RBIs, has the third-most RBIs in the NL since 2005. He trails only Ryan Howard (858) and Albert Pujuols (824).
  • Tonight’s pitching matchup features two pretty good left-handers in Jaime Garcia and Wandy Rodriguez. Of the lefties who will qualitfy for the ERA title, Garcia is fifth in the NL with a 3.45 ERA and Rodriguez is sixth at 3.51.

Here is the Astros’ lineup:

CF Jason Bourgeois

2B Angel Sanchez

LF J.D. Martinez

1B Carlos Lee

RF Matt Downs

3B Chris Johnson

SS Clint Barmes

C J.R. Towles

LHP Wandy Rodriguez

Astros lineup Sunday vs. Rockies

Here is the Astros lineup for Sunday afternoon’s game against the Rockies at Minute Maid Park:

CF Jordan Schafer

2B Jose Altuve

LF J.D. Martinez

1B Carlos Lee

RF Brian Bogusevic

3B Chris Johnson

SS Clint Barmes

C J.R. Towles

P Lucas Harrell

Deshaies recalls making history 25 years ago

Above is my ticket stub from the Astros' Sept. 23, 1986 game against the Dodgers, in which pitcher Jim Deshaies set a modern Major League record by striking out the first eight hitters of the game. I was happy to give J.D. the ticket stub Friday, the 25th anniversary of the game.

It’s been 25 years since Astros pitcher Jim Deshaies secured his place in history, pitching the kind of game he could only dream about. He mowed down the Los Angeles Dodgers like he was Nolan Ryan and Mike Scott wrapped in one, only to be upstaged by both of those players – his teammates on the 1986 Astros — within a span of 48 hours.

Even though Ryan threw seven no-hitters and struck out more batters than anyone else and Scott won the National League Cy Young and fanned 306 batters in 1986, they were never able to do what Deshaies accomplished on Sept. 23, 1986.

Friday marks the 25-year anniversary of the game in which Deshaies set a modern-day Major League record by striking out the first eight batters he faced in a 4-0 win over the Dodgers. Deshaies fired a two-hit shutout, striking out 10 batters in the Astrodome, to help the Astros move to within two wins of clinching the NL West title.

“Somehow it seems like a long time ago and other times not so much,” said Deshaies, now a popular Astros television broadcaster. “The bottom line is I had hair back then and I could run from home to first base with needing a ventilator. That was a long a time ago.”

With the Astros rolling towards the division title, a crowd of 27,734 came to the Astrodome on a Tuesday night to watch the Deshaies face the Dodgers, who were the Astros’ biggest rival at the time. It was earlier that year Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda proclaimed the Astros were simply renting first place. Turns out they were renting to own and won the division by 10 games.

Deshaies was a 26-year-old left-hander who was en route to winning 12 games in his first full season in the Major Leagues. He was pitching for the first time that Tuesday in nearly two weeks and felt strong coming out of the bullpen before the game, which wasn’t always the case for him.

“I was terrible at the start of games,” Deshaies said. “The team was always holding its breath until I could get through the first couple of innings and I picked up steam as I went along. But I had been on the DL, or at least shut down for 10 days prior to that start. I think for that reason, I felt pretty fresh coming out of the pen. Beyond that, there was no way to predict anything goofy like that would happen.”

Deshaies started the game like gangbusters, striking out Steve Sax, Reggie Williams and Enos Cabell in the first inning. Dodgers slugger Pedro Guerrero led off the second and battled Deshaies in a long at-bat that went beyond a dozen pitches. Deshaies kept throwing high fastballs and kept watching Guerrero foul them off. He finally struck him out looking by throwing a changeup.

“I got a break,” Deshaies said. “It probably wasn’t a strike. That’s the one at-bat I recall.”

Deshaies finished the inning by striking out Alex Trevino and Jeff Hamilton, giving him six strikeouts to start the game. When Dave Anderson became his seventh consecutive strikeout victim to start the third inning, Deshaies began to hear the crowd buzz.

“After I got the seventh, I get the ball back and I was rubbing it up and I hear a secondary ovation,” he said. “I kind of turned around and look at the scoreboard and they put a message saying, ‘Jim Deshaies has just tied the modern record for most strikeouts to start a game with seven.’ That was the first time I got wind of something was going on.”

Deshaies broke the record by striking out Jose Gonzalez to bring up the ninth spot in the order, which would have been pitcher Dennis Powell had Lasorda not decided he had seen enough strikeouts and sent Larry See to pinch-hit for him.

“At that time, you’re so caught up in what you’re doing and you don’t second-guess what’s going on,” Deshaies said. “It didn’t cross my mind it was out of the ordinary or to question his motives. I really felt I should have gotten the ninth one. I had him 2-2, I believe. When you’re pitching and in a zone like that, you can almost foresee results if you make a certain pitch.

“I was pretty convinced if I could throw up here [chest high] that there was a real good chance he was going to chase. I tried to throw it up there and I got it down and he popped it up. It wasn’t until after the game people said, ‘What’s Larry See doing pinch-hitting?’ It kind of bothered me for the longest time, but the more you think about it, it’s September baseball.”

In fact, Powell was a part-time starter and appeared in 27 games that year, only five of which were starts. He hadn’t thrown more than 3 1/3 innings in a game in more than five weeks.

“I think it was more of Tommy saying he didn’t want this thing to keep going on,” Deshaies said.

Deshaies struck out only two batters the rest of the way, but pitched the entire nine innings for the first of his six career shutouts.

With the Astros now on the verge of clinching, more than 37,000 fans came to the Astrodome the next night and watched Ryan strike out 12 batters in eight scoreless innings, allowing just one hit, in a 6-0 win over the Giants. Deshaies’ performance suddenly took a back seat.

“I’m in the clubhouse after the game and I’m shaving and [catcher Alan] Ashby is next to me, so I joked and said, ‘Everything that Nolan’s done in the game, and you think he could have let me be the guy for more than 24 hours?’ I was just having fun with it,” Deshaies said. “Ash says, ‘Well, I’ve got a feeling Scotty’s going to come out tomorrow and show you both up.”

The next day, Sept. 25, 1986, produced one of the greatest moments in team history. Scott became the first pitcher to toss a no-hitter in a clinching situation when he shut down the Giants, striking out 13 batters, to give the Astros the NL West crown with a 2-0 win.

Deshaies, Ryan and Scott provided three of the team’s most memorable pitching performances in consecutive games, something which Deshaies still takes much pride in 25 years later.

“It’s kind of fun to be lumped with that three-game sequence, a two-hitter, one-hitter and no-hitter,” Deshaies said.

Every now and then, Deshaies gets wind of a pitcher who struck out five or six batters to start a game, but his record has stood the test of time for a quarter-century.

“If it does get broken, I hope it’s by an obscure guy,” Deshaies said. “I doesn’t need to be CC Sabathia or Roy Halladay. It needs to be someone like Jim Deshaies. It needs to be some middling fourth starter. That would be my dream.”

Heck discusses challenges of top pick

For only the third time in their 50-year history, the Astros will have the overall No. 1 pick in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. The Astros earned that distinction when Minnesota won its 60th game on Thursday, ensuring the Astros would have the worst record in baseball.

The last time the Astros had the No. 1 overall pick was in 1992, when they selected Phil Nevin, whose career took off after he left Houston. They also had the top pick in 1976 and chose left-handed pitcher Floyd Bannister.

“You better get it right picking No. 1,” Astros assistant general manager/director of scouting Bobby Heck said. “Obviously, it’s an opportunity. I hope it’s the only opportunity I ever have to pick one. The idea is to pick in the late 20s and even better, pick 30.

“These are the types of players you need to get you back to that point. As far as our approach, we walk into every year taking about candidates for the first pick, and I suspect we’ll have a smaller number going into the year. We’re still going to be open-minded and do our do diligence and select the best player.”

Unlike in recent years when phenoms Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper were the clear-cut no. 1 overall picks, Heck said there is a pack of players who have separated themselves. Stanford right-hander Mark Appel, Arizona State shortstop Deven Marrero, Florida catcher Mike Zunino and high school pitcher Lucas Giolito of California and outfielder Byron Buxton of Georgia are among the players who could go No. 1.

“That group will grow as we walk through the fall and enter the spring,” Heck said. “It’s just a matter of getting a group and expanding on it as you get towards the end and then shrinking it down.”

With the No. 1 pick comes a healthy financial commitment. The Astros this year paid a $2.525 million signing bonus when they took University of Connecticut outfielder George Springer with the 11th pick, and they could have to shell out about three times as much. This year’s No. 1 pick, pitcher Gerrit Cole, got an $8 million bonus from the Pirates.

“The precedent says you’re going to pay a lot of money for that first pick,” Heck said. “First and foremost, we better put the talent in the right order and deal with the money factors at a later time.”

Astros lineup for Thursday’s game against Rockies

Here is the Astros lineup for Thursday’s game against the Rockies:

CF Jordan Schafer

2B Jose Altuve

LF J.D. Martinez

1B Carlos Lee

RF Brian Bogusevic

3B Jimmy Paredes

SS Clint Barmes

C J.R. Towles

RHP Henry Sosa

Astros announce Minor League MVPs

The Astros player development department announced the 2011 Most Valuable Players for the team’s eight minor league affiliates on Wednesday. The MVPs, selected by the field staff of each team, will be recognized next Spring Training amongst their peers.

Triple-A Oklahoma City

Infielder Anderson Hernandez, 28, hit .300 (153-for-510) in 136 games and posted a franchise record 30-game hit streak, which lasted from Aug. 2-Sept. 2. His hitting streak was the longest in the PCL since 2004 and also tied for the 10th-longest in PCL history. He hit .365 (72-for-197) after the All-Star Break with a .430 on-base percentage. The switch-hitting Hernandez played all over the infield for the RedHawks, appearing in 63 games at second base, 48 games at shortstop and 41 at third base. He was originally acquired by Houston off waivers from Cleveland on July 21, 2010.

Double-A Corpus Christi

Infielder r Jimmy Paredes, 22, hit .270 (104-for-385) with 22 doubles, 10 home runs, and 29 stolen bases in 93 games. Paredes was recalled by Houston on August 1 to make his Major League debut and has gone on to hit .299 (46-for-154) with two home runs and 16 RBIs in 42 games as the Astros primary third baseman. A 2011 Texas League All-Star, the switch-hitting Paredes had never played above Class A prior to this season. He was originally acquired by Houston along with reliever Mark Melancon from the New York Yankees in exchange for infielder Lance Berkman on July 31, 2010.

Class A Lancaster

Outfielder Austin Wates, 23, finished his second professional season hitting .300 (158-for-526) with 38 extra-base hits, 75 RBIs and 26 stolen bases. The right-handed hitting outfielder finished the season in the top 10 of the California League in hits (158, T-6th) and batting average (T-9th) and led his club in runs scored (85) and RBIs. He was a third-round pick of the Astros in 2010 .

Class A Lexington

Outfielder Emilio King, 22, finished his 2011 campaign with a .293 average (106-for-362), 24 doubles, nine home runs and 42 RBIs to earn MVP honors. After beginning his season in extended Spring Training, King joined the Legends in May and went on to hit .400 (30-for-75) with 12 RBIs in 21 May games. He also had a big August, posting a .337 (30-for-89) average en route to Lexington’s Offensive and Defensive Player of the Month Award. King was signed as a non-drafted free agent out of the Dominican Republic in July of 2006.

Short-season Tri-City

Infielder Matthew Duffy, 22, hit .298 (70-for-235) with 20 doubles and 37 RBIs in 63 games as the ValleyCats primary third baseman. Duffy, a 20th-round selection out of Tennessee in 2011 , signed with Houston on June 10 and began his season by winning Tri-City’s Offensive Player of the Month for July in his first full month in professional baseball. He went on to be named a NYPL All-Star and led his club in runs scored (36) and doubles (20), while finishing second in hits and RBI.

Rookie-league Greeneville

Outfielder Jordan Scott, 19, hit .337 (83-for-246) with 12 doubles, 31 RBIs and a .388 on-base percentage in 60 games for the Astros to earn team MVP honors. Scott also played 14 games for Lexington and five games for Tri-City this season, combining to hit .323 (100-for-310) with 15 doubles, four triples and 43 RBs in 79 games. He was a 14th-round pick out of high school in 2010 .

GCL Astros

Infielder Yonathan Mejia, 19, earned team MVP honors by hitting .329 (48-for-146) with 25 RBIs in 40 games. He played primarily second base, but saw most of his at-bats as the club’s designated hitter. He led the club in batting average and hits, in what was his second professional season after being signed as a non-drafted free agent out of the Dominican Republic in July of 2009.

Dominican Summer League

Outfielder Teoscar Hernandez, 18, hit .274 (62-for-226) average with 13 doubles, seven triples, seven home runs and 35 RBIs in 65 games, in what was his first professional season. Hernandez led his club in doubles, triples and home runs and tied for the club lead in RBIs.

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