May 2010

Tough times for Astros as the losses pile up.

I probably don’t need to say this out loud, because you can probably figure this out on your own, but the Astros clubhouse was silent after Saturday’s loss in Cincinnati. The kind of silence that usually sparks the old cliche “You could hear a pin drop.” Almost two months into the season, the team continues to search for answers, and it’s doubly frustrating now, because not only is the offense continuing to sputter, but the pitching is failing them as well.

Tough times for the Astros, for sure. They used to dominate in Cincinnati, rarely losing here for the better part of a decade, whether they were playing at the old Riverfront Stadium (known in its later years as Cinergy Field) or at the newer Great American Ball Park. Now, they’re on a nine-game losing streak in Cincinnati, which only a couple of years ago would seem impossible, considering Roy Oswalt’s and Lance Berkman’s absolute dominance at this place and against this team.

The Astros are struggling, no doubt, and it didn’t help that they ran into a red-hot Reds team that seemingly can do no wrong. They’ve absolutely pummeled your Astros in the last two days, having outscored them 27-8.

Brian Moehler took full responsibility for the loss and didn’t tip toe around the obvious.

“My location was just terrible,” he said. “I left some balls over the plate and they didn’t miss them. I felt completely fine, but I just had poor location.”

So now it’s up to Felipe Paulino. Now would be the perfect time to get that first win of the season. A complete game would help, too. Just sayin’.

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Not a lot to laugh about these days, but I did get a kick out of this image before batting practice. Oswalt might just have found a new career once he’s gotten this pitching thing out of his system:

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Carry 13 pitchers? Probably necessary, for now.

The Astros are going with the unconventional 13 pitchers and 12 position players for the time being, but a quick look at the rotation situation and the schedule shows that this is probably the right thing to do for now.

Bud Norris will miss at least two starts with bursitis and elbow tendinitis, which pushes Brian Moehler into starting duty. Moehler obviously has extensive experience both starting and relieving, but he’s not exactly stretched out for rotation duty. His longest outing of the season is three innings, and that happened in his second appearance on April 9.

So it’s entirely possible that Moehler might be able to pitch into the sixth or seventh inning Saturday, which is where Wesley Wright comes in. He has been starting at Round Rock and is a prime candidate for the long man role Moehler vacated when he overtook Norris’s spot.

The other issue is the schedule. The Astros are in a stretch of 20 games without an off day, the most consecutive games a team can play without a day off, per league rules. They have 17 more days before their next break, which could be taxing for the pitchers. Having the extra arm in the ‘pen is smart, and probably necessary.

Norris tells McTaggart he’s relieved the damage is minimal

Oswalt pitches, Astros win. A nice break from the norm.

Roy Oswalt leads the Major Leagues with 10 quality starts, having pitched at least six innings and held opponents to three or fewer runs in every outing. That’s all well and good and interesting to a degree, but quality starts don’t mean anything without quality wins, which as we know have eluded Oswalt, and the Astros, more often than not this year.

That’s why it was nice to see the Astros score runs early and often Wednesday night against the Brewers. Oswalt got comfortable immediately, in what turned out to be a typically dominant outing.

The best thing for Oswalt to do is continue to be dominant, which will make him that much more attractive for potential trade partners, should the Astros decide to deal Oswalt before the July 31 deadline. It’s still unclear if the Astros will find a team that fits all three very important criteria: a) can take on Oswalt’s hefty salary, b) has enough young talent to offer in return and c) is a team Oswalt would agree to go to. But the odds of the Astros getting value on their return, should they choose to trade him, increase exponentially the more dominant Oswalt is from here on out.

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Some upcoming events to mark on your calendar:

Praise in the Park

The Astros are bringing Gospel music to Minute Maid Park on Saturday, June 5, with their Praise in the Park event, with a portion of the ticket proceeds benefitting the United Negro College Fund.

The program begins at 2:30 and includes a special Gospel concert, featuring Houston native James Fortune, Vickie Winans and “Houston’s 100 Voices of Praise”. Fortune is a Stellar Award nominee and winner of two prestigious ASCAP Awards for Gospel Song of the Year. Winans is a Grammy-nominated, Stellar Award and NAACP Award Winning artist.

Immediately following the concert, fans will enjoy a Heritage Expo including displays from the Negro League Baseball Museum, the Buffalo Soldier’s Museum, The Ensemble Theatre and many more.

For more information about Praise in the Park, click here.

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National Moment of Remembrance

Major League Baseball will be observing a National Moment of Remembrance on Monday, for three reasons: 1) to remind all Americans on Memorial Day the importance of remembering those who sacrificed their lives in serving their country; 2) provide an opportunity to join this expression of gratitude in an act of unity; and 3) make Memorial Day more relevant, especially to younger Americans.

Games played Monday afternoon will pause precisely at 3 p.m. (local time) in order for the host teams to play a one minute video in observance of a Moment of Remembrance, to honor those Americans who have sacrificed their lives in serving their country. The Astros are hosting the Nationals that day at 1:05 p.m. CT, so assuming the game moves at a normal pace, the game will probably be in the sixth or seventh inning when the video runs.

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And finally, I received this note from Astros fan Sam Restivo when the Astros were in Los Angeles last week. It’s a moving tribute to his grandmother, who spent a large portion of her 94 years passing her love for the Astros on to her family:

I wanted to let the Astros know that one of their all-time biggest fans has passed away.  My grandmother, Clementine Schattel Barton, died on Sunday at home in Houston at the age of 94.  She took me to my very first game at the Astrodome in 1988 and she never, ever missed a game on TV (or an opportunity to yell at it when the boys weren’t playing well!).  She had been a fan since the very beginning, having lived in and around the Houston area her entire life.  Every morning after a game, we’d read through the box scores in the Chronicle together and talk about who was or wasn’t playing well.  She passed her love and passion for the game onto me as I never miss a game either, even though I live in Los Angeles.

My friends at DodgerVision in LA sent me the attached picture of the tribute they did for her at the stadium and I would be honored if you would consider reposting it on your blog.  She was the most loyal of fans and I’m so happy she had the opportunity to see them go the Series in ’05.  She rooted for everybody from Jimmy Wynn to Nolan Ryan to Biggio and Bagwell.  As her health deteriorated over the past decade, she could no longer attend any games but would still be up in arms if anybody tried to change the channel at home! She meant the world to us and the Astros meant the world to her.

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Odds and ends: Wives gala, Race for the Pennant, young pros.

The Astros were anxious to put the results of Sunday’s homestand finale against the Rays out of their minds as quickly as possible, and they did so in party fashion, gathering at a nearby restaurant for a soiree supporting a very worthy cause.

The 21st annual Astros Wives Gala is scheduled to take place Aug. 12 at Minute Maid Park, but a tradition as long-standing as the gala itself is the party that thanks the underwriters for sponsoring the event. Astros players, their wives and a slew of adoring sponsors and fans took over Mo’s…A Place for Steaks on Post Oak, where gala chairs Morgan Keppinger and Heather Byrdak welcomed the crowd and made a short presentation thanking the sponsors.

Proceeds from the gala goes straight to the Houston Area Women’s Center, which provides shelter and support services to survivors of domestic and sexual violence. The gala alone has raised millions for the HAWC over the last two decades and is by far the biggest charity function of all of the charity events with which the Astros are involved.

Individual tickets for the Gala are $500 each, and table prices are priced as follows: $5,000 “Home Run” table of 10; $7,500 “Silver Slugger” table of 10;  $10,000 “Gold Glove” table of 10; $15,000 “Diamond” table of 10 and $25,000 “All-Star” table of 12. All-Star, Diamond, Gold Glove and Silver Slugger tables have the opportunity to select a player and his wife/guest to be seated at their table. Player requests are granted first by level of sponsorship and second in order received.

For ticket information, call 713-781-0053. We’ll post more on the Wives Gala as it gets closer, and I’ll dig out more pictures of past galas and post those in future blogs. In the meantime, enjoy the pictures from Sunday’s event:

Lance and Cara Berkman
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Tim and Heather Byrdak

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Kevin and Emily Cash

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Jeff and Kerry Fulchino

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Morgan and Jeff Keppinger

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Kerry Fulchino, Morgan Keppinger, Pamela Michaels

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Carlos Lee (with his wife Mary, sitting behind him).

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Tommy Manzella and his girlfriend, Andrea.

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Jason and Pamela Michaels

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Ozzie Navarro.

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Humberto and Michelle Quintero

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Race for the Pennant

There is still time for early registration for Astros fans to participate in the 8th Annual Astros in Action Foundation Race for the Pennant. The 5K Run/Walk and Junction Jack’s Kids Fun Run will be this Saturday (May 29) and begins at Minute Maid Park, in front of Union Station on Crawford Street. The run will head toward the Elysian Viaduct, travel back through downtown Houston on La Branch Street, and finish inside the ballpark.

Runners and walkers are encouraged to register online in advance of the event by going to the astros.com/race. Registration forms are available now at all Academy Sports + Outdoors stores. In-person registration and packet pick-up will also be available at the Academy Sports + Outdoors located at 2404 Southwest Freeway on Thursday, May 27 (10 a.m. – 8 p.m.) and Friday May 28 (10 a.m. – 6 p.m.). Registration forms are also available in the Union Station Lobby and the Fan Accommodations booths (Section 112 and 323) at Minute Maid Park.

For the full Race rundown, click here.

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Young professionals
During the last homestand, I snuck out to the patio area to check things out and soon came to the conclusion those are some of the best seats in the house.

Sure, you’re far from home plate, but the patio overlooks the bullpen and you’re directly behind Michael Bourn, who’s known to make some pretty sweet plays in center field.

The Budweiser Patio was hopping when I stopped by, so of course, I took pictures:

 

 

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I’d also be remiss if I didn’t send out a friendly reminder that Saturday’s are “Young Professionals” nights, which offers a pretty nice package deal. For $48 per ticket, you score a ticket on the Budweiser Patio, eight wings or nachos, a 16 oz. beer or nachos, an Astros souvenir mug and an Astros cap.

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Family Sundays

The lobby of Union Station turns into a mini-carnival every Sunday, complete with face painters, balloon artists, arts and crafts and other fun kid-friendly activities. The Kid’s Zone setup is up and running every Sunday until about 1:30 p.m., after the game starts:

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One more tip of the cap to Jose Lima, through pictures.

Team photographer Stephen O’Brien has been snapping pictures of your Astros since the late 1990s, and he was kind enough to send along a bunch of photos of Lima from his glory days in the Astrodome. Enjoy!

Before a Throwback game, Lima tosses soft baseballs into the stands. The wig was a nod to the style of the 1970s era, when the Astros wore the rainbow uniforms.

Lima celebrates his 20th win after the last out was made. He won his 20th on Sept. 11, 1999 in a 5-3 win over the Cubs. 

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Lima acknowledges the fans after winning his 20th.

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Lima liked to clown around before games, and he spent quite a bit of time with the Dome Patrol. Here he is filming some pregame footage.

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Here he is with his son, Jose Jr., while being interviewed after his 20th win.

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Attempting to rally the fans before a game.

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Lima spent more time signing autographs than any other player, by a large margin.

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Celebrating a strikeout.

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Throwing soft baseballs to the fans.

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Celebrating the final out of the clincher, on the final day of the 1999 season.

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Lima celebrates the division title in the clubhouse with a bottle of bubbly.

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Lima Time: Real, and spectacular.

The one thing that’s been missing in the Astros teams in the last few years is that one guy who isn’t afraid to be loud after losses.

I’m not talking about someone yelling and screaming at teammates in an effort to rally the troops. I’m talking about that guy goes into the clubhouse after a bad loss, blasts the stereo with some upbeat music, and forgets about everything with some ear-splitting tunes and a little dancing.

Jose Lima was that guy. He was eccentric, strange, fun-loving and loud. He wasn’t universally respected — opponents couldn’t stand the demonstrative antics on the mound — but to know him was to love him, and to laugh at him, and to laugh with him. That was Lima.

I don’t know anyone that called him Jose. He was simply Lima — and, once he started winning a flurry of games in ’99 — he became Lima Time. Loosely translated, Lima Time meant a good time, and that’s what you had when you spent even five minutes around the guy.

When I heard about his passing Sunday morning, I started Tweeting some of my fonder memories of Lima Time. As soon as I thought of the first one, the rest came rushing through as if they happened last week.

If you peered into his locker, you’d fine the standard fare — shoes, jerseys, pants, and, of course, his Dome Patrol outfit. For those of you not familiar with the old days, the Dome Patrol was equivalent to today’s Park Patrol — the spirited gang that runs around the field and throws stuff to the fans and gets everyone riled up for the game.

Lima wasn’t one to sit around and do nothing on the days he wasn’t pitching, and with the Dome Patrol, he found his niche. He loved people and appreciated the fan base. He loved being adored, and boy, was he. So on any given day when he was not pitching, he’d suit up in his Dome Patrol garb and get to work. The seats were far from the field at the old Astrodome, but still, Lima found a way to make that personal connection with the fans.

During the offseasons in the late 1990s, you could often find Lima hanging around up on the ninth floor of the Dome, where the front offices were located. He’d sometimes spend more than an hour up there, just visiting with folks and making general conversation. I think he liked gossiping with us office girls, and we loved having him around. Without getting too personal, we often tried to give him friendly advice on various topics involving his personal life. I still laugh when I picture the expression on his face when we explained to him what “common law” means in Texas.

I remember walking out of the elevator at the hotel in San Francisco in 2000 and seeing a beaming Lima standing there in the lobby, proudly showing off his brand new head of blond hair. He had it colored the night before, and on him, it wasn’t so much blond as it was canary yellow. He did it to end a losing streak, and upon returning home to then-Enron Field, he lost again. An hour later, he was in the center field restaurant, grooving on stage to some Lima Time salsa tunes. (He also didn’t take offense to friendly banter. Me, after the dye job: “You look ridiculous.” Lima: “Thank you, mama.”)

The year the Astros opened their ballpark, ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap brought his crew to Houston to tape a tour with Lima. They went everywhere — the laundry room, the video booth, the field and the bullpen. Sounds pretty standard, until you consider the bullpen stop took place during batting practice, and the workers at Ruggles, which at the time was the center field restaurant, brought everyone ice cream and carrot cake. Somewhere exists a tape of Schaap and Lima chowing down on carrot cake while baseballs are flying in all directions as the visiting team finished up their BP.

Lima was completely fluent in English, having learned the language on his own in the early ’90s. He was very easy to understand, which was great, because most of what he said, and how he said it, was hilarious.

Lima liked to get a little mud on his uniform before his games would start. “When I pitch,” he explained, “First, I have to dirty my pants.”

At an underwriter’s party for the wives gala, Lima, ever the performer, sauntered over to the piano, and soon, the night turned from a stuffy hoity-toity cocktail hour to another Lima Time concert. The pianist was playing a bunch of oldies, and that was no problem for Lima. Not only did he know the words to three Sinatra songs, he also knew every word to the Four Tops “I Can’t Help Myself” (you know the song — starts with “Sugar-Pie Honey Bunch.” Yea, that one).

Right as the team flights would take off, Lima would yell out something in Spanish that no one could understand. It was the same sentence every time, and it started with “Soobie,” as in Tony Eusebio, but after that, it was unintelligible. Nevertheless, it cracked everyone up and strangely, it gave me comfort that the plane was indeed going land safely.

On a particularly cold, rainy morning at Wrigley Field around 1999, a bunch of us sat huddled in the dugout trying to stay warm during batting practice. Lima scooted over and put his arms around me. “I don’t think we’re allowed to do that,” I said. “I don’t care. I’m %*$&*#& freezing,” he answered.

It was funny, but coming from Lima, it was hilarious. It comes as no surprise to me that following the news of his death, the official statements from the teams Lima played for and the teammates he played with talk more about his singing, dancing and zest for life (this video sums it up) than his on-the-field contributions. He was, as they say, good people. He squeezed more laughter and fun in his 37 years than most do in a lifetime. I’m just thankful I was there to share some of that laughter. He’ll be missed, by me, and by you, and by everyone who was lucky enough to  know him.

Those are my memories. What are yours?

 
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Astros bring back “Kids Free All Summer” for a second year.

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The Astros began their “Kids Free All Summer” promotion last year, and on Friday, they announced that they’re offering the same opportunity this summer.

The offer is simple: buy one full-price adult ticket in the View Deck I, View Deck II or Outfield Deck seating areas and receive two free tickets for kids ages 14 and under. This promotion will run from June 1 to Sept. 1.

The Astros also announced the extension of Price Matters Days, presented by H-E-B, which will be offered for all Monday through Thursday games beginning May 31 and running through the end of the season (the promotion originally included just 13 dates). On Price Matters Days, fans can purchase one View Deck II ticket, one regular hot dog, one H-E-B bag of chips and one 16-oz soda for just $10. That’s a 50 percent savings over regular pricing.

For an additional $10, the seating location can be upgraded to a field-level seat in the Bullpen Boxes.

Both of the above offers are available online at astros.com and at the Minute Maid Park Box Office.

Watch the video of the announcement here

Much more than just a home. A better life.

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Geoff Blum arrived right on time Thursday morning, driving up to a neighborhood filled with modest homes that at first glance, might not stand out to the average passerby. But there’s something special about this area. Many of the homes were built not by corporate construction companies hired by flashy builders, but rather, by people who simply care enough to want to help those who need it.

Habitat for Humanity builds homes for those who need them, but cannot afford them on their own. It began nearly 34 years ago and to date, more than 300,000 families have benefitted from, in Habitat’s words, “the world leader in addressing the issues of poverty housing.”

As part of their Play Green campaign, the Astros have become heavily involved with Habitat. That was evident Thursday morning, when several dozen Astros front office workers teamed up with FS Houston to help build yet another home that will soon be ready for a deserving family.

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Blum and Astros announcer Bill Brown were the “celebrity builders,” but both were quick to note the true work was being done over a much more extensive period of time, long after they were gone.

“Watching volunteers who are doing the actual work is what I think strikes home to people who maybe haven’t been involved in this type of venture before,” ‘Brownie’ said. “There are so many volunteers that give their time. They come out here all day, not just for a few minutes like we do. They put up a home in what, seven days? That’s incredible.”

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The home sits in a 126-home Houston Habitat for Humanity subdivision and features many environmentally sound elements that fall in line with the “green” theme that has become so prevalent to American life.

“I had no idea how involved it was,” Blum said. “The houses are green, everything they’re doing in the attics to cut down on the heat getting in the house, cut down their A/C bills, making their own sustainable energy efficient buildings, is pretty impressive. They’re well-built homes. That’s exciting.”

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The family members who will live in this house was not present, but their neighbor, Luz Flores, stood on her porch and marveled at the kindness of the volunteers — both from the Astros and from Habitat — who put in their time simply for the sake of helping others.

Upon meeting Blum, Flores, herself a beneficiary of a Habitat home, grew emotional as she talked about the life she and her children have been afforded because of Habitat.

Flores is a single mom of an 11-year-old son and nine-year-old daughter. Her income would have never allowed for her to buy a home, and she figured she’d be a renter for the rest of her life. Until Habitat came along.

“There wouldn’t have been another way if Houston Habitat hadn’t helped us,” she said tearfully. “I tried before and there was no way. With my income by myself, there was no way.”

“And this,” she added, gesturing to her home, “Is mine now.”

The Flores family moved into its home Jan. 1, and life for the children changed in ways Luz never could have imagined. Her kids ride bikes around the neighborhood. Her daughter is building a garden. They have friends who come over to visit, to study, or simply to hang out.

These are things most take for granted, but for the Flores kids, this is all new.

“There are always kids in my house,” Flores said. “I love that. For 11 years, my son never had the opportunity to bring somebody home. Now, (his friends) live down the street.”

Flores laughed when she recalled a conversation she had with her kids about their bedrooms.

“My kids have always said, ‘Mom, I want to have this, Mom, I want to paint my room.’ I never had the opportunity because it wasn’t ours. Now I’m like, ‘You can do whatever you want to your room. You can paint it black if you want. You can paint it any color you want.'”

Luz had Blum’s complete attention as she thanked him, and everyone involved with Habitat, for making this happen.

“You’re sharing your time, you’re sharing your life,” she said. “You’re sharing that feeling of giving. It doesn’t matter who you are. It means a lot to me for them to be here, as well as the other volunteers. They don’t have to be here. They want to be here.

“You’re making a difference. Not just for that family. You’re making a difference for me, and that neighbor, and that neighbor over there. We’re all growing together.”

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And her words struck Blum, along with everyone who was listening in on the conversation.

“To see the excitement in her eyes and have her talk about her kids the way she did, about them having their own rooms and being in a community with a bunch of other kids that they’re going to hang around for another 10, 15 years, it’s pretty special,” Blum said.

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Where do the Astros go from here?

Around the seventh inning last night, I posed that very question to our Twitter nation. The instructions are simple: given the current state of the Astros — 13-26 record, a 3-5 road trip that ended with five consecutive losses — if you were running the Astros, what would you do?

I’m not looking at a long-term solution. We have gone over those elements time and time again and by now, we all know the mantra: draft well. Sign the picks. Develop their own talent. Build from within. We get it. They’re doing that.

No, in this particular exercise, I’m talking about the here and now. We’re about a quarter of the way through the season and very few tweaks have been made to the roster thus far. Should there be changes made? And if so, what?

A few ground rules before we get started:
1. Please refrain from the “Fire this guy, fire that guy, fire everyone” blanket statements.
2. Carlos Lee is untradeable. No team is interested in a .190 hitter making $18.5 million a year. And even if there was an interested team, which there is not, Carlos can say, “No thanks,” which he will. So let’s not waste our time trying to hypothetically find him a new home, because there isn’t one.
3. On that note, I’m not looking for suggestions as to what they should do closer to the trade deadline. I’m not looking for the big picture stuff. I realize Roy Oswalt has the highest trade value and Puma would be willing to listen if the Astros approached him. I’m talking in the simplest of terms — what would you do, today? Picture yourself in a meeting with the Astros brass and you’re exchanging ideas. What would you suggest? Tweak the roster? Or stay the course? And if you tweak, where? Whom?

Most scenarios would involve the Round Rock club, so a few notes there: Edwin Maysonet is on the shelf with a hammy problem. Osvaldo Navarro, a non-roster invitee during Spring Training, is a utility infielder type who’s having a nice season, hitting around .300, after starting a couple of weeks late with an injury. Wesley Wright has been pretty good this year, but he had a bad outing Tuesday — six earned runs over three innings with five walks.

I’ve gone over different scenarios in my head and I don’t know if there is a definitive answer as to what could or should happen to get this team moving in the right direction. But when I look at the makeup of the current team, here are the glaring issues:

In the category of “So Obvious I Can’t Believe I’m Actually Repeating It”:The middle of the order is the reason this team is losing. That’s it, plain and simple. Sure, some of the pitchers have had some stinkers from time to time, and the defense hasn’t been as good as we expected when Spring Training began. But this team is built on a few constants: Roy and Wandy being Roy and Wandy (check), a strong back of the bullpen in Lyon and Lindstrom (check) and a strong middle of the order. And so far, the middle of the order has been absent. Without some combination of Berkman, Lee and Pence resembling something close to what the back of their bubblegum cards say, this team isn’t going to win. And, obviously, six weeks in, it’s not.

What happens when the run producers aren’t producing? Shortcomings of the other position players are magnified. It’s unfair, sure, but it’s also inevitable. It happened eight years ago when Ensberg and Everett were shipped out because Bagwell and Biggio weren’t hitting, and it’s happening now, just with a different cast of characters.

It’s all well and good that Jeff Keppinger and Geoff Blum are getting more playing time, because they’re producing pretty consistently on an offensive level. But here’s the problem, friends — THEY’RE BENCH PLAYERS. And when you put your strong bench players into the lineup, that means your bench is made up of starters who have played their way out of being starters. And they’re not much more effective on the bench. And now, you have a problem.

So on any given night, the Astros bench might consist of Kaz Matsui, who’s hitting around .150, Tommy Manzella, who’s a young player who needs to be playing every day and is not experienced enough to be a part-time hitter, and one of the two catchers who’s not starting that day. The only two bench players who are actually, well, bench players, are Jason Michaels and Cory Sullivan, and they’re doing fine in their roles.

The bench is where I think the team needs to re-evaluate. Some of you might want Paulino or Norris to go to Triple-A to “work on things” as they say in the biz, but my reaction to that is a non-committal, “meh.” It’s not the worst thing that can happen but quite frankly, nothing in Round Rock is giving me reason to think bringing up someone new is a better option than to continue to run two very promising arms out there, have them work with a very, very good pitching coach, and hope they figure it out as they go through the season.

My suggestion is to try to construct a bench with players who can truly perform in that capacity. The requirements are: can pinch-hit, can enter games as defensive replacements and can make the occasional spot start.

Is the team better off with Chris Johnson (who’s hitting well for Round Rock since returning from injury) in the big leagues? Would a player such as Navarro, who fits the general bill as a utility man, be a better option than, say, Matsui, as a part-time player?

One more thing — I do not favor the idea of bringing up Jason Castro at this time. First of all, he’s had his own offensive issues in Triple-A, where he’s starting to work out of what has been a very slow start to the season. But more than anything, I do not think it’s a good idea — in fact, I feel that it’s a terrible idea — to bring him into this mess. He’ll have enough pressure on him when he finally does make it to the big leagues. If you bring him up now, there will be this expectation for him to save the day, save the team, save the season. That’s way too much for the kid. If he doesn’t hit immediately, then what?

I’ve posed enough questions. So I ask you — minus the “fire this guy and that guy” and “trade Carlos” demands, what, if anything, should the Astros do?

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So I’m sitting on the plane right now and it’s 2:28 a.m. CT. We’re pretty much on schedule, which would normally be a good thing, if not for the fact that “on schedule” means “landing at 5:15 a.m.” Normally, host teams will usually schedule a day game when the visiting club has a long flight and a game the next day, but the Dodgers had other plans. So instead, we’re taking the proverbial red-eye, flying 3 1/2 hours through the night, skipping two time zones and landing right around when the sun’s coming up in Houston.

These red-eyes are rare, and being the superstitious and sometimes cynical baseball vet that I am, I naturally assumed the game in L.A. was going to go 14 innings, forcing us to begin our travels home two hours later than scheduled. That happened about 10 years ago when the Astros played a night game in Arizona and had to fly to Kansas City, where they had a night game the next day. The game against the D-backs went 11 or 12 innings and we ended up getting to the hotel in K.C. around 7 a.m. The reason I remember this is because after that first game, we got back to the hotel and not only did I not remember what room I was in, I didn’t even know which floor I was on. The next morning, I woke up and couldn’t remember what city I was in.

It happens. It’s baseball.

Astros put their best foot forward to support the troops.

Astros players are asked to do plenty of off-the-field projects throughout the season, and most of the time, they do so willingly — although to be perfectly honest, you do hear some grumbling from time to time, especially as the months wear on.

But one cause that gets 100 percent participation from every player asked, without hesitation, is anything that has to do with the military. The Astros host soldiers from all areas of the armed forces of the military every Sunday, and nearly every player will make his way over to the meet-and-greet near the clubhouse to shake hands and pose for photos. Military personnel and children: two groups that players unfailingly make time for.

So when a support group named “When They Come Back, We Give Back” asked the Astros to participate in a grass roots campaign to rally support for returning military men and women, the club had no problem rounding up its biggest names to help with the project.

The campaign entailed capturing images of civilian Americans in combat boots, with the hope that one simple picture will serve as a reminder to support our military. Inspired by the story of retired United States Navy SEAL Marcus Lutrell, the group has partnered with the now best-selling author of “Lone Survivor” to rally for the cause. They rounded up several celebrity types, including many of your Houston Astros, to pose in ALTAMA combat boots.

Here’s the first Astros picture made public so far. Carlos Lee is one of several Astros who participated in the photo shoot.

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For more information on the boots campaign, visit WhenTheyComeBack.org.

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Greetings from Dodger Stadium, where the crowds were sparse for the opener for two reasons: It was 57 degrees at gametime, and the Lakers were playing that night as well.

It was a gloomy, overcast day and we even got rained on during batting practice. Very unusual weather conditions for LA, especially this time of year.

We managed to capture a few images from batting practice, even through the clouds and sprinkles.

Enjoy.

Brad Ausmus said he’s on the shelf for three months after having surgery on his lower back. Here he is saying hello to manager Brad Mills and former teammate Lance Berkman.  

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Hitting coach Sean Berry talks hitting with Hunter Pence.

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A shot of the field in the early innings. As you can see, not a lot of fans in the bleacher seats. 

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Jason Michaels during BP.

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Pence in the cage.

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Carlos Lee.

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