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Players Gone Crazy: Shawn Chacon

First it was Sidney Ponson getting released by the Rangers for being disrespectful towards the team, or something like that. Ponson is a guy who once punched a judge on the beach in Aruba, so as you could imagine, the news was quite shocking to hear. Anyway, there must be some sort of a trend going around MLB clubhouses where players are getting increasingly disrespectful these days. The Astros suspended pitcher Shawn Chacon for getting into an altercation with GM Ed Wade. Wade wanted to talk with Chacon privately in manager Cecil Cooper’s office to discuss matters (Chacon has been unhappy since being demoted to the bullpen). Chacon wasn’t exactly cooperating, as he told the Houston Chronicle:

And I said ‘You can tell me whatever you got to tell me right here.’ [Wade's] like, ‘oh, you want me to tell you right here?’ And I said, ‘yeah.’ I’m not yelling. I’m calm.”

It deteriorated quickly afterward, according to Chacon.

“He started yelling and cussing,” Chacon said of Wade. “I’m sitting there and I said to him very calmly, ‘Ed, you need to stop yelling at me. Then I stood up and said ‘you better stop yelling at me.’ I stood up. He continued and was basically yelling and stuff and was like, ‘You need to (expletive) look in the mirror.’ So at that point I lost my cool and I grabbed him by the neck and threw him to the ground. I jumped on top of him because at that point I wanted to beat his (butt). Words were exchanged.”

Hello Latrell Sprewell, 2008! Maybe he could call Spree for some advice on how to deal with this. And perhaps P.J. Carlesimo could lob a phone call to Ed Wade to offer support. Honestly, I can’t even imagine a dude like that going on the attack after a boss. Sure, everybody says they would want to knock the snot out of their boss, but who actually does it? Chacon says he knows he might be done in the majors after this. I’m not so sure; if teams are desperate for an arm, they’ll come calling. Either way, this is pretty disgusting to read. Who knew GMs had to keep assault in the back of their mind?

What’s Wrong with Lance Berkman?

Hey, you remember that Lance Berkman guy? The stud who made you forget who that goateed first baseman was…Bag…er, I forget. I digress, Lance Berkman has been an absolute beast ever since his first full-season in the bigs in 2000. The guys career OPS is .975 — I think that says enough. He’s bombed over 40 twice, driven in over 100 four times, and he’s hit over .300 three times. Simply put, when the guy’s in the lineup and healthy, he mashes. Until this year.

Lance Berkman is struggling like no other. I mean, his .265 batting average isn’t embarrassing. Nor is his .780 OPS. The fact that I’m even writing this considering those numbers speaks to Berkman’s abilities. But check this out: he only has six extra-base hits on the year. Six! That’s it. Five home runs and one double. No more, no less. Lance says he isn’t concerned, just irritated. But come on, when Ryan Freel and Yuniesky Betancourt have higher slugging percentages than you, you know something’s up. And something is definitely wrong with Berkman. I’d like to see him fix it.

Who is Hunter Pence?

He’s a rookie center fielder for the Houston Astros, and he’s absolutely killing the ball. The 24-year-old former 2nd round draft pick of Houston in 2004 is batting .355 through 16 games this year, with 15 RBI. But check out what the rookie’s done recently — the Giants haven’t gotten him out once this series. Pence is 7 for 7 against San Francisco, and 11 for his last 14. The kid’s OPSing an incredible 1.071 so far. So what gives? Who is this guy?

Well, according to Baseball America, Pence was the Astros top prospect in 2007. In 308 career minor league games, Pence hit .302 and OPS’d .932. He averaged a home run nearly every five games. And in November, despite hitting .339, Hunter was sent home from the Arizona Fall League because of a DUI arrest. Scouts say he’s very competitive player with an infectious makeup, and high energy. Best part is he teared up a bit when his manager Jackie Moore informed him of his call up. So can he keep it up? Only time will tell, but there’s no question that he has the proven track record. We’ll be keeping our eye on this kid to see if he’s the next great thing in Houston. It sure looks that way right now.

Baseball Preview: Houston Astros

Last year’s record and finish are in parenthesis with projected improvement/decline indicated by plus or minus.

Houston Astros (82-80, 2nd in the NL Central) +1 game

Get Crunked: Roy Oswalt could be the best starter in the NL, he’s consistently awesome. Carlos Lee, Lance Berkman, and Morgan Ensberg will give Houston one of the best hearts of the order in the league. Dan Wheeler was exceptional out of the pen last year, and along with Chad Qualls can come to the rescue if Brad Lidge struggles again. Jason Jennings finally gets out of Coors Field, where he still managed to put together a decent career. Woody Williams can still get the job done as a starter.

Party Foul: There’s a huge rotation drop off in the rotation after slots 1-3. Wandy Rodriguez isn’t much, and who knows what Chris Sampson will bring. Craig Biggio is starting to slip offensively, but he can still hit for some pop. Adam Everett and Brad Ausmus are excellent defensively, but they leave big holes in the lineup. Brad Lidge blew more than Lil’ Kim last year. They can’t compete if he doesn’t turn it around.

Houston’s success hinges upon Brad Lidge’s ability to bounce back

What’d my GM do: He signed Carlos Lee to a six year $100 million deal, which is a lot, but they needed the extra bat in the lineup. They ended a lot of questions by signing Roy Oswalt to an extension last year, keeping one of the best pitchers in baseball around for another five years. They also traded away Jason Hirsh and Willy Taveras to Colorado for Jason Jennings which was worthwhile since Taveras couldn’t get on base, and Hirsh will have to show a lot to match Jennings. Purpura brought in Woody Williams on a two year $12.5 million deal which isn’t a ton of money for the innings Woody should give them. Mark Loretta was an excellent acquisition and provides good depth around the infield.

Lay it on me Straight: The hitting is vastly improved with Carlos Lee’s stick in the lineup. He’ll give the power they’ve needed desperately over the past few years — what Jeff Bagwell was supposed to give them. The team defense is pretty good, and the pitching is questionable, with a lot of it hinging upon Brad Lidge’s ability to close games.

So where my boys gonna finish right now: They’ll be around .500, a few games above that mark most likely. Lidge cannot blow as many games as last year, and if he does, Garner must go to Wheeler and Qualls quicker.

Can we be better than that: Nope, the pitching isn’t good enough. Luckily Carlos Lee makes the offense stronger, but it’s hard to be too improved without Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte.