Ladies and gentlemen, your Opening Day Roster, options # 1 and # 2:
1 Roy Oswalt
2 Jason Jennings
3 Woody Williams
4 Wandy Rodriguez
5 Fernando Nieve
14 Lance Berkman
15 Craig Biggio
16 Morgan Ensberg
17 Adam Everett
Richard Hidalgo was released today after he refused an offered assignment to Round Rock. Also today, Zeke Astacio showed why the demotion to Round Rock is inevitable when he couldn't throw a first pitch strike to a single A minor league player in a pressure bases-loaded situation. In what was surely the highlight of his professional career so far, former Oneonta Tiger Brennan Boesch hammered a 2 - 0 offering from Astacio to the wall in right center, and cleared the bases of Tigers.
The games as we progress towards April are starting to mean a little more, which is why we find the recent performances from Williams and Sampson so disappointing. It is time for the players to step things up, and the pressure is starting to mount. As such, we should not be surprised that Zeke couldn't cut the mustard today. His stuff is fine, but his mental makeup is such that he turns to candlewax when subjected to the heat of pressure situations.
Zeke should be the next cut.
As JJO suggests, Charlton Jimerson will likely be the last cut before we leave Florida, and Matt Albers should be cut not too terribly long before that. I'm pretty sure Albers had a shot as we entered Spring Training, and he certainly hasn't embarassed himself, but his 11 walks to 6 K's this spring show that Matt'd probably make best use of his time sanding down the rough edges at Round Rock.
And if you assume that Sampson's wretched performance the other day cost him a starter's job, but not a roster spot, that gets you to 26.
That gets you to Bruntlett vs. Borkowski, Eric B vs. Borks, the roster spot battle that will be fought over the last week, even if only in Garner's crafty little mind.
Garner suggested today during his ingame interview that the Astros may very well break camp with 11 pitchers, and if so, Borkowski will be the most likely cut. Borkowski has been hampered not only by the fact that he hasn't had a very good spring, with a 4.22 ERA, and an uncharacteristic 5 walks in 10-2/3 innings, but also by the breakthrough performance of Rick White. With the Lidge-Wheeler-Qualls template in place, with Trever Miller established as the situational lefty, and most importantly, with Sampson as the long guy, it's hard to imagine a situation where Borkowski gives you an advantage over White.
On the other hand, if Garner does go with 12 pitchers, it will be Eric Bruntlett who will be cut. Bruntlett's been terrible offensively in Spring Training, but he is the team's best defensive center fielder, its best defensive second baseman, and its second best defensive shortstop. He also brings a better bat than AE, and when going well, a comparable bat to Burke. But what Rick White is to Borkowski, Mark Loretta is to Bruntlett. Loretta has an unquestionably better bat than Bruntlett, and is more than acceptable defensively at the infield positions Bruntlett plays.
I don't know that last-week performance will have much to do with who makes the team. If Bruntlett goes 6 for his last 8, it may not help him; If Borkowski doesn't allow a baserunner the rest of the way it may not matter. The battle is most likely in Garner's head, as he tries to balance his natural inclination to go with 12 pitchers vs. the luxury of Bruntlett's extreme defensive flexibility.
I would go with Bruntlett myself, especially since he would have to clear waivers, and would be unlikely to do so. But I'd bet that Phil elects to go the opposite way.