Astros-Diamondbacks: Good Hitting, Bad Pitching, Wash, Rinse, Repeat

The good news is that the vaunted offense of the Houston Astros got to Randy Johnson yesterday, getting nine hits and six runs in Johnson’s four innings of pitching (the six runs came in the first two innings). The bad news is that Astros pitching staff performed as has become expected, giving up eight runs to the Arizona Diamondbacks as the D-backs would go on to win the game 8-7.

Cecil Cooper is mad at his team, especially his pitchers, and especially reliever Dave Borkowski, who gave up a two-run, pinch-hit home run to pitcher Micah Owings in the sixth inning. “If we can't get the stinking pitcher out, we're in trouble," Cooper told the Chron. “My goodness. Two-run lead, and we can't even get out of the stinking inning. That's unacceptable, and it won't happen again. I promise you that.”

But here’s the thing. Micah Owings isn’t just your average pitcher. This was his fifth career home run (in only 43 at bats), and this is only his second season in the majors. He’s got a .632 slugging percentage this season, and he has a career batting average of .346. In other words, Owings isn’t just another stinking pitcher when it comes to batting. There was even talk during the offseason that the D-backs might play Owings at first base on his non-pitching days so they could keep his bat in the lineup.

If Cecil Cooper didn’t know this, then the problem’s not so much the pitching as it is the managing. Frankly, if I were the manager, I probably would’ve put Owings on base and faced Chris Young instead. But that’s just me, because, you see, I happened to know that Micah Owings was more than just a stinking pitcher.

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Now what I didn’t see in Brian McTaggart’s game story, or in his blog, was whether Cecil Cooper is mad at himself. Mad at himself for pitching to Owings, and mad at himself for so crappily mismanaging his bench that he had no pinch hitters left in the ninth inning of the game. No pinch hitters so that, with Kaz Matsui on second base and two outs, Cooper was stuck with Jose Cruz, Jr. and his .065 average having to bat – for some reason Cooper had decided to start Cruz over the slumping Michael Bourn – which is kind of funny in that Bourn’s average has yet to plunge to anywhere near the depths of Cruz’s.

Cooper should also probably be mad at his boss, Ed Wade, for saddling him with a roster of 13 crappy pitchers, causing him to have a short bench. Sure, maybe Cooper could’ve done a better job in using his four bench players; then again, most managers get to work with five, or maybe even six, bench players per game. But Wade did such a piss poor job of assembling this squad that the team must have eight pitchers to use in relief for each game.

And here’s something that’s always bothered me. The Astros were up 7-5 in the sixth inning when the Diamondbacks had a man on, a good batter pinch hitting, then the front of the order. This seems to be a situation where you would want to use your best relief pitcher – the closer – because it’s the closer’s job to put out the threats. Instead Dave Borkowski trots in. I’m not sold on Jose Valverde, but since he’s the closer, that means that, by definition, he’s the best relief pitcher. Why isn’t he in shutting down this threat? I know what the damn book says, but what’s the use of the closer if you’re not going to use him? Why are the likes of Dave Borkowski and Geoff Geary always coming in to handle these threats?

Never mind. The game’s over, and the Astros lost.

The Astros are off today, but they’ll be taking on the Milwaukee Brewers this weekend at MMP. Roy Oswalt goes against Carlos Villaneuva on Friday, Brandon Backe goes against Manny Parra on Saturday, and Chris Sampson goes against Ben Sheets on Sunday.

****************** I would like to congratulate Brian McTaggart. He did month-by-month won-loss predictions in the Chron’s baseball preview. And he predicted the Astros would go 13-16 for the month of April. And guess what, the Astros went 13-16.

If you’re curious, he predicted that the Astros would go 12-16 for May. Starting on Friday, we’ll get to see just how much he really knows.

****************** The Astros no longer have 13 pitchers on the roster. Jack Cassel was returned to Round Rock so that Ty Wigginton could come off of the disabled list. Yep, Wigginton’s going to make all of the difference in the world.

****************** The Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals finished their Aprils on bright spots, with both teams setting franchise records for the number of wins for the month, the Cubs with 17 and the Cardinals with 18. The teams are tied for first place in the NL Central.

And the Cubs set their record by defeating the Brewers last night by a score of 19-5.

****************** Here’s some shocking news: Mike Hampton is hurt yet again. I was a big Hampton fan when he was in Houston, and I’d like for nothing more than to see him pitch in the majors again. But I’ve got to say, Hampton’s making Mark Prior look like a dependable pitcher.

But if not being able to get Hampton in the starting rotation is kind of tough news for the Braves, the fact that John Smoltz has decided to return to closing has to really hurt. The Braves were dependent on Smoltz anchoring their rotation for this season, but he just doesn’t think his shoulder can take it.

**************** If it weren’t for bad luck, pitcher Roy Halladay of the Toronto Blue Jays would have no luck. Halladay has pitched four straight complete games, collecting 22 strikeouts while giving up on 2.86 earned runs. Yet he has only one win to show for those four starts. – John Royal

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