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?