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Let the games begin: What matters, what doesn’t


Let the games begin. The Astros have a month until opening day and many decisions on the horizon. Some of those decisions are already obvious. Others will take only days to manifest and Jeff Luhnow and Bo Porter will need the full month to reach other conclusions.

But, as the Astros begin the first weekend of games, here are a few things that matter.

  • Innings for pitchers. With opening day about a month away, Scott Feldman, Brett Oberholtzer, Brad Peacock and others projected as starters need to build up arm strength, so getting innings — and soon — will be critical. That will mean manager Bo Porter needs to sort through his boatload of pitchers quickly.

  • No injuries. Asher Wojciechowski is back in Houston. Jesse Crain is rehabbing. We could find out quickly just how deep the staff is if others get a twinge here or a dead arm there.
  • At bats for first base prospects. Expect a huge rotation at DH and first base and you’ll likely see some players out of positions just to get them at bats. It’s critical to narrow down the list that includes Jesus Guzman, Jonathan Singleton, Japhet Amador. Chris Carter may get fewer at bats out of the gate since the Astros know exactly what they have there.
  • Battle royale. The Astros need some suspense, anticipation and expectation. In other words, competition. When is the last time you remember a battle — a real battle — for a spot on the roster? Some candidates to step up, show up and play up are Singleton, George Springer, Max Stassi, Jake Buchanan or Michael Foltynewicz. In other words, force Porter’s hand, force tough decisions, make the team better.
  • John Mallee and Brent Strom. Mallee is on the clock, Strom has some time. But both will be vital as the spring progresses. More than Porter. Much more.
  • Progress of Jonathan Villar. If he falters early, the Astros’ SS position could get ugly quick and Luhnow could be scouring the waiver wire and trade fronts. While Cesar Izturis may be a good “tutor” for the youngsters like Carlos Correa, he ain’t the answer for everyday shortstop.

And, here’s what doesn’t matter.

  • Wins. As much as it would be nice to win games this spring, wins mean nothing over the next month. The Astros were 15-16 last spring, 14-17 the spring before. Did it matter?
  • Where Jason Castro plays. The key for him is at bats. He’ll get his innings eventually behind the plate or elsewhere.
  • Who starts? In the spring, a player — especially a veteran — can prepare just as quickly on the back fields as on the main Kissimmee field. Yes, everyone needs ABs and IPs and it will be critical as March moves forward, but don’t worry about where those come from today or tomorrow.
  • The lineup. The Astros will play 30 games. Wouldn’t be surprising if 15 different players hit leadoff and another 15 hit in the three hole. Doesn’t matter. Only the ABs and situations.
  • The projections. As we roll toward opening day, there will be predictions of 100+ losses, improvement of 20 games over last year and other predictions. No of that matters. Not a bit. The good news is that the predictions will vary significantly and that is an improvement over the past several years.
  • ERA, HRs, hits for pitchers. At least the first week or two. Pitchers will be throwing fastballs, change ups and a handful of breaking pitches the first 2-3 outings. Last spring, Philip Humber had a 1.73 ERA in six outings. Jarred Cosart, meanwhile, gave up 7 runs in 7 2/3 IP. On the hitting side, Rick Ankiel hit .455 (4 HRs) and Brandon Laird .328 (5 HRs). Didn’t matter much, did it?

What matters, what doesn’t this spring from your vantage point?

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About Chip Bailey

Chip Bailey lives in Colorado Springs, CO, and is an author and former sports editor and sportswriter who has followed the Astros for more than 40 years. A native of Natchitoches, La., Chip enjoys watching baseball at most any level, especially pro and college. Several years ago, he worked as an associate of Pastor John Bosman, who enjoyed giving nick names to his staff. He came up with Chipalatta, and it’s stuck.

31 comments on “Let the games begin: What matters, what doesn’t

  1. Steven
    February 28, 2014

    From my vantage point ST doesn’t matter. Teams should only do evaluation from ST on the fringe. Roster spots 19-25, something like that. NRI’s can get a chance to show that they should get a shot. But for the most part, good teams enter with a sense of who is already playing where based on past performance. The trick is not to fall in love because of a 30 game stretch, or to drop because of a similarly bad 30 day stretch. They are all capable of them, thats how they got here, it’s the ones that can do it for 150 games that matter.

    I expect another 100 loss season, because we enter with what is both an unsettled and probably the worst rotation in the AL. I could be wrong, but I expect an OF of Springer/Fowler and whomever wins LF to be better than last years, I expect better from Carter, I think we are top 3 in the AL behind the plate, with great depth, I think Altuve will be better and more consistent, but we can’t pitch our way out of a wet paper bag. It is what it is. I mean, a journeyman pitcher with two mildly successful major league seasons unher him will likely be our opening day starter.

    Like

    • BrianT
      February 28, 2014

      Steven, I think you’re only partially right about the rotation. Yes, our opening day starter is a middling No. 3 pitcher on most teams. But behind his is a lot of talent. Unfortunately, it’s unproven talent. Will the real Obbie and Cosart please stand up? Is Brad Peacock really the guy from the second half? Keuchel and Clemens, can one or the other grab that fifth spot and pitch effectively?

      I don’t know. This could, very easily, end very badly for the Astros. You’re right.

      Or, this young talent could actually live–at least for the most part–up to its potential.

      My guess is we’ll get a mixed bag, sift through a few guys who start the season at AAA and by July we might have a decent, not great and barely good, rotation.

      I just hope we still have some life in that bullpen by then.

      Like

  2. Dan P
    February 28, 2014

    Lot to chew on here Chip
    – Innings for pitchers – So it sure seems odd that Lucas Harrell gets the first start out of the box….Are they hoping he pitches like Phillip Humber last spring and they can trade him to the desperate? Or has Mr. Strom got through to this head case over the winter?
    – No injuries – Asher Wojalphabet had an uphill battle to make the big club – I think his injury early may seal his fate
    -ABs for 1B – whether we like it or not – Brett Wallace is also in that rotation at 1B an an NRI. Too many guys – too few roster spots.
    – Battle royale – Man, if George Springer has to “force” his way on here, that hacks me off – unless they are going to bring him up after the first 10 games as has been suggested.
    – Mallee and Strom – Mallee showed little last season, but he was making battleships out of straw and mud. Strom is more fascinating to me because the eventual success of this franchise will ride more on the development of pitchers than every days.
    – Villar – the guy has talent, especially speed – the SS position may be a low level battle royale to see if Villar can grow a brain.

    Like

  3. Dan P
    February 28, 2014

    Part 2
    – Wins – ST wins mean nothing – nothing. So do ST losses.
    – Where Castro plays – It will be C and some DH – but I bet not much DH in spring training.
    – Starts – agreed – it does not matter who starts or ends games – just the process of getting ready.
    – Lineup – Porter has indicated Fowler is the leadoff – period. So does that mean he gets the work in ST or does Porter figure out who else he has.
    – Projections – tell me who is breaking camp and I can have a shot at projecting something…tell me who starts the season hurt and that tells me something else
    – ST stats don’t mean a lot unless they win Springer, Singleton or some young pitcher a shot they were not going to get.

    Like

  4. daveb
    February 28, 2014

    I think we can all pretty much guess most of the 25 man at this point, excepting a couple of the relievers, with injuries being the only real unknown. It is what it is. We’ll see much more happen once the season begins, even before the All Star break. There are still some things that I don’t get. Is Scott Feldman worth 30 million? Bud Norris could have given us those stats for a fraction of the cost. I know, we got Hoes and Hader. Maybe the 19 year old bean pole will turn into something big. He’s bound to fill out!

    I’ll make one early season prediction: Villar has a better year than Jeter.

    Like

    • BrianT
      February 28, 2014

      Love that prediction. Here’s another: despite poor defense, no wheels and a meh performance at the plate, Jeter is VOTED onto the All Star team and fawned over by the boot-licking bicoastal media.

      Like

      • BrianT
        February 28, 2014

        Oh, and I’m officially coining the phrase “boot-licking bicoastal media,” but you may all use it freely.

        Like

  5. kevin kuns
    February 28, 2014

    Getting another foot and half of snow, PLAY BALL. Looking forward to a couple surprises out of spring and with what we have and new pitching coach, no way we ;loose 10 Steven Downer. 73-89

    Like

    • kevin kuns
      February 28, 2014

      I meant 100

      Like

    • BrianT
      February 28, 2014

      In which frozen circle of Hell do you live? I’m in Rochester, MN, where the temperature climbed to merely “cold” as opposed to “debilitatingly cold” like it was earlier this week.

      Like

  6. Dan P
    February 28, 2014

    Yeah Kevin – back here in H-Town we will be hitting 70 today which matches the number of wins I’d like to see this season.

    Like

  7. Dan P
    February 28, 2014

    I should not be smug – but I was born in Wisconsin and it is a great place (in the summer). I don’t think I could stand moving back up there.

    Like

  8. kevin kuns
    February 28, 2014

    Well guys Casper WY after 15 years in The Woodlands. Good news Moving to southern Colorado this summer. GO STROS!

    Like

    • Dan P
      February 28, 2014

      Sounds like a nice change coming Kevin.
      Hopefully the Astros will be changing too.

      Like

      • kevin kuns
        March 1, 2014

        Thanks Dan!!

        Like

  9. Mr. Bill
    February 28, 2014

    Does winning ST games matter? I will take the role of devil’s advocate here. I will take my had in my hands, respectfully defy the illustrious naysayers above, and say ‘yes’. Why, you ask? Why does it matter? Not because the standings count – or because it by itsel is in any way predictive of a good regular season, but simply because baseball is a game, and the object of that game is not to survive, or to improve, or to make money, but to WIN. You win for your pride. You win for your teammates. You win for your city. And you win because . . . well, it is just so much more fun than losing ever could be. And if you get too old for baseball to be fun, anymore, well, you’ve just gotten too old. Play ball!

    Like

    • daveb
      March 1, 2014

      Mr. Bill,

      Have not heard from you in awhile. Good to see you’re still with us! I’m not sure how much Spring Training game outcomes really matter, but every year there are a few good stories of guys that force their way on to a roster. I’m hoping we have one guy in particular do the same here, or at least make it a poor decision to send him back to AAA.

      Spring Training is almost better than the regular season. Strangers sitting next to each other talk baseball. There are not many folks in the stands at ST games that don’t understand the game. And it’s a treat to see young guys play, guys that you can see by watching them, that they’ve got a real shot down the road. A beer and a hotdog is a lot cheaper too!

      Like

      • Mr. Bill
        March 3, 2014

        Greetings Dave. Always here – always watching or listening. I actually type posts out fairly regularly, but then after thinking about the negative attitude some of the posters are displaying during these difficult rebuilding years, I usually just think better of it – and hit delete before I hit send. I am a little too old and tired, I confess, to do too much swimming in piranha-infested waters.

        Like

  10. Bo Weaver
    February 28, 2014

    What matters is a TV deal getting done. In fact, this has gotta be the highest priority for Crane, bar none.Yet nary a mention…

    Like

    • 1oldpro
      February 28, 2014

      Do you see what you just did there?

      Like

      • Bo Weaver
        March 1, 2014

        What did I do? Cite an uber-valid point?? Enlighten me, please.

        Like

      • 1oldpro
        March 1, 2014

        Enlightening you is like using a flamethrower to light a snowball. No matter how much firepower I have, the snowball won’t light up.

        Like

  11. 1oldpro
    February 28, 2014

    I think what we want to see is none of our starting pitchers walking four batters in two innings.Oh wait, what did lucas just do? That is going to be the fastest way for him to lose his job.
    I can tell you this: there is no way we ought to lead the league in walks again this year. Luhnow has got to get rid of the pitchers who constantly put runners on and get rid of the hitters who never get on base.

    Like

  12. Dan P
    March 1, 2014

    Astros win! Astros win! OK – maybe the only thing more meaningless than spring training games is the first spring training game. But go ‘Stros.

    Like

  13. Devin_
    March 1, 2014

    What matters is beginning to see a roster that is not overmatched. Will it happen this year?

    Like

  14. Dan P
    March 1, 2014

    Astros lose! Astros lose! OK maybe the only thing more meaningless than winning the first ST game is losing the second game.

    Like

    • 1oldpro
      March 1, 2014

      I think the important thing is that only one of our pitchers had a bad outing and the others did ok. Even in ST it is pretty clear that we will be out matched a lot of times playing teams like Detroit. I like Detroit because of there classy managers of the past and their classy manager now.
      I also liked Correa getting another hit.

      Like

      • BrianT
        March 2, 2014

        Correa is determined to skip Lancaster. And his efforts this far have shown it.

        Like

  15. Astro45
    March 2, 2014

    Do the Astros announce at end of ST the 25 man roster, and then announce the salaries for guys not eligible for arbitration?

    Like

  16. Becky
    March 2, 2014

    Listened to the game today, and I was impressed with Cosart,, and Folty’s innings. A clean game with no errors made my day!
    Going off script here for a minute guys, in Kingwood we have a group home called the “Village learning center” for adult’s with special needs.
    During the Astros caravan, Matty D. Matt Albers, Feldman and Brandon Backe came for an afternoon visit. The folks at the center are still talking about their visit! Since I know a few of the members, I had the chance to visit with them after the guys left. Pretty dang special…….Becky 🙂

    Like

    • Dan P
      March 2, 2014

      Nice story Becky – glad that the guys made an impression

      Like

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This entry was posted on February 28, 2014 by in Astros.
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