I’m going to be attending a lot of Astros games this year. I work about 10 minutes away from Minute Maid park (not counting Houston drivetime traffic, of course), and it’s altogether too easy for me to get off work around 6 and head over to the Park for some baseball. Last year, I would typically buy an upper deck ticket for $6 and sit in the far reaches of Minute Maid Park, where truthfully no seat in the house is a bad one. I’ll be doing the same thing a lot this year; while I won’t attend every single home game, I will probably see the majority of them, and when I get out to the Juicebox, I’m going to provide a running commentary with my thoughts on the game.
This is the first.
- Arriving at the ballpark, I notice that they haven’t changed a lot of the player flags on the lightpoles outside. They’re still last year’s flags, which means last year’s players like Brad Lidge and Adam Everett. Ty Wigginton is the only new player I saw, and he was around for half a season last year. I wonder if they’re going to fix this before the Astros come back for the home season opener?
- The first time walking into Minute Maid at the start of a new year is the best. You can’t beat that feeling. Makes you feel ten years old again.
- Josh and went to Larry’s Bamboo Hut and had cheap (albeit small) margaritas before going to our seats. We were in section 205, Club Level, and they were incredible seats. Sadly, we would not have much to watch during this game, but at least the view was good. The Club Level is also the section where they have waiters come to your seat, take your order, then deliver your food. People actually utilized this despite the food stand being located about 30 feet behind our chairs. I couldn’t bring myself to pay extra to have someone bring me food I could get myself by merely standing up and turning around. This is why Houston is fat.
- Also, the first Dome Dog of the year is undoubtedly the sweetest.
- Wandy Rodriguez looked bad from the start. He was popping the mitt, but never hit his spots, and walked Pudge Rodriguez (the first batter he faced). It went downhill from there for Wandy, as he gave up 7 hits, 3 walks, 2 homers and 5 runs over 4 innings of bad pitching work. I hope Wandy can settle down into his “home form” from last year; his home ERA was 2.94 while his road ERA was 6.37. All I know for sure is that, as it stands right now, he’s easily the worst #2 pitcher in the big leagues. On most teams, he be an average to slightly decent #4, but our pitching is horrid that he’s our second best guy in the rotation. It’s going to be a very, very long season. EDIT: Wandy is no longer the #2 pitcher in the rotation. General Manager Ed Wade announced this morning that Brandon Backe would be the #2 starter, with Rodriguez moving to #3. I can’t see him staying there all year if he continues to perform like he did last night, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him in the #5 slot after the All Star break.
- Woody Williams was even worse than Wandy, if you can believe that’s possible. Woody also gave up 5 runs, but his were over the course of three innings instead of four. I cannot fathom this man making the team. Yes, they owe him 6 million bucks, and yes, he’s a great guy who used to be able to pitch, but he just doesn’t have it anymore. His fastball rarely approaches 88 and he can’t hit his spots, so he can’t be an effective pitcher again. I wouldn’t even use him in a relief role at this point. I full expect him to be cut from the team either late today or early tomorrow, and I just don’t know if anyone’s going to sign him. Might be best for him to recognize the signs and just retire instead of overstaying his welcome like so many others do. EDIT: Sure enough, Williams was cut Saturday morning, just like I thought he would. Chris Sampson has been named the #5 starter, giving us a rotation of Oswalt, Backe, Rodriguez, Chacon and Sampson. I thought for sure they would have Wandy in as the #2 starter, but I’m glad they changed it up and went with Backe.
- Our offense had a couple of good hits, but it was mostly lifeless. Hunter Pence pulled the first pitch he saw down the line for a double, and Carlos Lee, Miguel Tejada and Darrin Erstad each added a hit, but nobody scored. Other than those four hits, the offensive output was stagnant. I suspect this won’t be a normal thing, and the Astros will probably rank in the top ten in terms of runs scored per game, but they’ll also rank in the top five in terms of runs allowed per game.
- The Tigers are one nasty, nasty ballclub. After watching them pound the Astros into oblivion in both pitching and hitting, I feel completely comfortable with my prediction that they’ll be World Series champs this year. I feel even more comfortable with my pick of Miguel Cabrera as the MVP. The kid can do everything, and he’s only 25, which means he has roughly another 7 years of peak performance if he’s able to stay healthy. He had two triples and two RBI’s and looked to be everything that everyone says he is. Jeremy Bonderman pitched four fantastic innings, and Gary Sheffield went 3 for 4 with some very solid hitting to all corners. Placido Polanco hit a moonshot on a hanging curve from Wandy that went past the Crawford Boxes, and Brandon Inge (the catcher, mind you) hit a foul that narrowly missed the foul pole. It bounced off the top of the wall above the Crawford Boxes. When the opposing catcher is not named Russell Martin and he’s hitting long bombs off you, you know you’re in trouble.
All told, this was not a good game. I realize it was an exhibition, but we had all of our opening day starters playing, so it was more like a regular game than a Grapefruit League game. It confirmed that our pitching is probably going to be very, very bad this year, but it was still baseball and I was still thrilled to be there.