So, over the weekend I posted a little something on the silver linings to our clouds.
But, folks, clouds there be. Or, as 80s’ hair band Poison might play, “Every rose has its thorn.” Oh, truer words were never sung so emotionally, Bret Michaels.
So, as the Astros climb out of the MLB cellar — by a game and a half, the Cubs (Ha ha!) actually have a worse record than the Astros — perhaps a rose is growing out of the, um, fertilized ground that is this franchise. Still, roses come with thorns, and here are some things to remind us that despite winning two series in a row, this team has a long way to go.
Strike outs: Only the Chicago White Sox have whiffed more than Houston, though admittedly they and the Miami Marlins, who are one K behind us, have played one more game, so we can certainly catch up.
And for every Jose Altuve (15 Ks in 45 games and 206 plate appearances) or even Matt Dominguez (32 Ks in 44 games and 174 PAs), there’s a Chris Carter (50 Ks, 41 games, 160 PAs) and, gulp, a Jason Castro (49 Ks, 36 games, 157 PAs). Heck, Springer has whiffed 46 times and Villar 45.
Of course, you can win while whiffing. A strike out is just an out where you can’t hit into a double play. (How’s that for a silver lining as I remix my metaphors?) But you can’t win if you don’t score, which leads me to my next couple of stats.
Runs Scored: Houston ranks 25th in the majors in runs scored, crossing home plate a paltry 166 times. We’re actually getting runners on base at a so-so clip: .305, which is good enough to rank 24th. And our .390 slugging percentage is in the top half, ranking at No. 13. But somehow those runners and all that slugging aren’t amounting to actual runs. Perhaps it’s because …
Runs Batted In: Houston ranks 26th in the majors in RBI with just 156. Why can’t we get those runners across the pay station? Well, it’s not because we can’t hit with runners on base. Despite my complaint last week about leaving runners on third with less than two outs, Houston sports a top 20 (OK, 20th) batting average with a runner on third and less than two outs: .298. While our BA rank is 20th in this situation, our RBI rank here is 23rd, with just 47.
This would suggest Houston just isn’t getting enough opportunities. Well, OK, I think we all could have guessed that. But they aren’t getting enough even compared to other bad teams.
Of course, scoring runs is just part of the problem. After all, the Atlanta Braves have a miserable 126 RBIs. Yet they lead the tight NL East. How can that be?
ERA: How about a team ERA of 2.82? Houston’s (yikes) ranks 27th at 4.64. Um, let’s see, carry the one, x = yada yada. Yep, that’s double Atlanta’s ERA. Wait, I forgot to carry the one. No, but it’s a full run short of double, and that’s pretty bad.
As noted previously, Houston’s starters aren’t great. The rotation combined has an ERA of 4.21, which ranks 22nd. It’s our bullpen that is dead last at 5.44. Wow, and you thought the Braves starters were mad at their bullpen’s 2.99 ERA.
You know, it’s a miracle we win any games at all. Of course, when the Astros win, the team ERA is a fairly stellar 2.76. Now that’s only 27th best in the majors, but good pitching seems to be the key to wins.
Conversely, Houston’s ERA when it loses is 5.76. That’s only 19th worst in the majors, but when you combine that with our overall poor scoring …
Maybe things will get better. After all, half of our bullpen’s back end is on the DL. Say we get them all back — even Jesse Crain — by mid-to-late June, then we can get rid of the bad apples, I mean thorns, from our rose’s stem.
Raul Valdez and Kevin Chapman, with their 12-plus ERAs are gone (for now). As is Jose Cisneros (9.69 ERA), though facing Tommy John surgery he can be forgiven his poor outings. Josh Fields, ERA of 10.05, still lingers. As does Jerome Williams and his ERA of 6.00.
Ideally, we’ll have Tony Sipp (five appearances, 6.2 innings, nothing but awesomeness thus far) 0.00 ERA; Chad Qualls, 3.29 ERA; Matt Albers, 0.90 ERA, Darin Downs, 0.00 ERA, Anthony Bass, 4.50 ERA, Kyle Farnsworth, 4.08 ERA; Josh Zeid, 4.05 ERA; and Jesse Crain to pick and choose from.
So, here’s a few things to consider:
Looking down the road — not to 2015 or 2017, but to say July 1 — is this team more rose or more thorn?
There are a lot of injured relievers here. But most of them are guys we can count on getting back. Anthony Bass has a pulled rib muscle. Albers is expected back in a month. Crain is throwing again, and should be doing so off the mound in a week or so. Does this long weakness finally become a strength?
And when it does, in true Astros fashion, will the rotation start to implode? If so, who do you call on first? Folty? Do we bring Oberholtzer back up? Alex White is throwing in extended spring training games in Florida right now. How about him? Nick “Nitro” Tropeano has a 2.95 ERA, a 1.01 WHIP and a .189 BA Against in OKC. Is he ready if Colin McHugh hits reality?
The runs are starting to come, but I think this West Coast road trip will tell the tale of whether this is a Minute Maid mirage, or the real thing. Who needs to get hot to save their job?
Would you have guessed Castro is tied with Carter in the team “lead” in strike outs? (Yeah, I was surprised as well.)
What thorns do you see?