The Astros hit the quarter-mark of the 2014 season with Wednesday’s win over the Rangers, but I’ll resist looking back, handing out awards and examining what went right, what went wrong. Instead, let’s look ahead at what needs to go right and what will be key over the next 41 games, which will be much more of a barometer than the first 41.
- URGENT! Fix the bullpen. Jeff Luhnow and Bo Porter must — read: MUST — fix the bullpen. With eight blown saves and a 5.73 ERA, there is no more needy area of attention than the bullpen. Yes, Jesse Crain and Matt Albers will help when they return next month. Michael Foltynewicz, Alex White or Asher Wojciechowski might help before the summer is out. But, Luhnow should consider Kyle Farnsworth and Heath Bell, both of whom would come cheap. Can they be worse than what’s out there? Question: With even a decent bullpen, how much better would the Astros 14-27 record be?
- Someone needs to step up and lead. The team appears at times to be wandering aimlessly and this is likely due — at least in part — to the fact that no one player is taking the bull by the horns, holding players accountable and setting the tone. Sorry, this is not the manager’s job! It’s the manager’s job to create the atmosphere, but only the players can create momentum and lead on the field. Porter shouldn’t have to ream out players in the media when they make childish base-running mistakes or throwing faux pas. The older, more experienced players should take younger players under their wings and take some responsibility. The obvious candidates might be Dexter Fowler and Jose Altuve. My sleeper candidates are Scott Feldman and Matt Dominguez.
- This is the easy one. As I suggested yesterday, add a player a month, whether a prospect or injured returnee. If Jon Singleton isn’t hitting sixth in the Astros’ lineup by Memorial Day, something’s wrong. Is there any reason that Max Stassi, Austin Wates, Domingo Santana, or others shouldn’t arrive this summer?
And, a few other things that should begin to crystallize during the next 41 games.
- Is Jason Castro the Astros’ catcher of the future? If so, that should begin to become apparent and Houston should consider a long-term deal. If Stassi or others continue to improve, Castro’s name could become fodder for trade talk.
- What do the Astros really have in Dallas Keuchel, Jarred Cosart and Collin McHugh? Real deal or fool’s gold?
- Can Bo Porter gain control of the team? The next 41 will tell much about what he’s learned in the first year and a half and much about his future. The next 41 should result in a better record than 14-27.
- Minor league promotions should happen in the next 30-60 days and that will further help to identify the future nucleus of the organization. Will Carlos Correa or Josh Hader make it from Lancaster to Corpus Christi? Who moves from Corpus to OKC?
- One other thing to keep an eye on: Sometime this summer the Astros will name the PTBNL acquisition to complete the Fowler trade from Colorado. Will Jordan Lyles solid first half play into that?
- Finally, there’s that TV deal. If — IF — the Astros do improve during the next 41, fans are going to want to see more games. No need to rehash here, but Jim Crane should be working overtime on this.
Have a great weekend!