J.R. Towles -- The Astros Have Found Their Scapegoat
So it's all the fault of J.R. Towles. That seems to be the only conclusion that can be arrived at by the Astros demoting him to Corpus Christi after the Astros 1-0 loss to Arizona on Tuesday night.
The Astros didn't say it was his fault, of course. There was talk about his not being able to hit the baseball, but it's obvious that's not the real reason because the only person on the Astros right now who can hit ball is Michael Bourn (also because the guy they brought up to replace Towles, Kevin Cash, is a career backup who also happens to be hitting under .200).
And from nowhere there was a lot of talk about Towles and the pitching staff, especially Roy Oswalt, having communication issues. That's a good reason for a demotion -- the pitchers not trusting a catcher. But it's kind of fishy sounding in that there has never been any talk in the past about Towles not being able to communicate with the pitching staff, and it just suddenly arose on Tuesday when Oswalt pitched to Humberto Quintero instead.
It's also kind of fishy sounding because we're talking about Roy Oswalt, and as Cecil Cooper will attest, Oswalt has never been shy about publicly expressing his dissatisfaction with the team, his teammates, and management decisions.
Even with Towles gone, the Astros lost three of the four games to the D-Backs this week to drop to 9-19 on the season. And since the team still had trouble hitting the ball, and seeing that Oswalt's inability to win games this season is actually attributable to every Astro but Bourn failing to hit the baseball when he pitches, then it's pretty obvious that demoting J.R. Towles is just the Astros looking for some kind of scapegoat to explain away their suckitude.
But Towles should be thankful that he's not Max Sapp. Sapp, a catcher, is a former number-one draft choice of the Astros who, by way of a phone call, was released by the team on Wednesday. The release was by phone because Sapp is currently in a brain injury rehabilitation clinic. Sapp contracted meningitis in December 2008, and he's been in the clinic trying to recover from the effects of seizures caused by the meningitis.
Sapp hasn't played since 2008, but as reported by Mark Berman, Sapp says he was assured by the Astros in March they he still had a spot in the organization. His agent contacted the team on Tuesday and informed officials that Sapp, who was also in a coma for a short time, would be able to return by the end of summer. The Astros response was to dump him on Wednesday.
So all in all, Towles is getting off lucky.
Also looking to get off lucky is Lance Berkman.
Berkman, who is beginning to make Carlos Lee look like Babe Ruth, told the Houston Chronicle on Wednesday that he would be open to accepting a trade should the Astros feel such a move would improve the club.
"As a player, if they came to me and said, 'Hey, we've got a deal to go to a contender,' I'd take it," Berkman told Jerome Solomon. "Heck, it's only a three- or four-month deal. It's not like I'm signing on for 10 years with another team."
But even if the Astros were open to trading Berkman so as to improve the team -- and it's been pretty much proven in the past that Drayton McLane would rather destroy the team than trade away icons -- it's doubtful that there would be any takers for him.
At least not at the moment. Not with his average having dropped to .198 and his showing no sign of snapping out of whatever funk he's gotten himself into.
The speculation has started, however, and that speculation leads to the San Francisco Giants and Boston Red Sox as teams that could be interested in Berkman. (Berkman is already attempting to walk back the statement and is claiming that he isn't demanding a trade.)
The Astros, who just yesterday were rated as the worst team in the majors by SI.com, won't find things any easier this weekend. The surprising San Diego Padres, just a half-game out of first place in the NL West, and anchored by a strong starting rotation and a good bullpen, are the adversaries this weekend.
With the Astros having problems hitting even mediocre pitching, then don't expect things to get better this weekend for them weekend. Which means that SI probably won't have to readjust their rankings next week.