For the 2014 Astros, the stars must align


It was the stars that made me an Astros fan.

As a kid–and frankly, as an adult as well–I was a big fan of the space program. A born night owl, I’ve always looked at the night sky and dreamed of who or what is out there.

So, when my Little League team was called the Astros (sponsored by a local insurance company) one year, I decided it was time to start rooting for a National League (sigh …) team in addition to my “local” Royals.

So my love of the Astros has always been about the “stars.”

Which brings me to a couple of points:

1. In case you’ve missed it lately, the Astros are begging for a second All Star for this year’s mid-summer classic. Pop-up adds when you log onto the official team site ask you to vote. Scroll through the top stories, and there’ll be something about the All-Star game.

MLB writer and biased Astros supporter Richard Justice recently wrote a convincing piece stating that Dallas Keuchel deserves a spot. I’m sure Tuesday night’s debacle (3 runs in five innings, oh, the horror!) did little to dissuade Justice or any of the Astros loyalists.

Listen to a game–either via TV (I get MLB and am not blacked out here in Minnesota) or the radio–and you’ll hear talk of not only Keuchel’s deserving candidacy but Jose Altuve‘s and even George Springer‘s. Heck, they’re making a case for Dexter Fowler.

So, are they all right? Is this the year Houston gets more than just the “token” All Star?

Well, All-Star rosters are 40-players deep. So part of the determination will be how many pitchers the AL manager decides to carry. Last year, the AL squad had 19 pitchers and 21 position players. The NL squad had 22 position players, so obviously there is a little wiggle room there.

So, let’s look at the candidates:

Altuve has the second-highest batting average and third-best OPS among AL second basemen. Of course, those aren’t necessarily the stats that will get Altuve to Minneapolis. He leads the major leagues with 94 hits and the AL with 24 stolen bases.

Is Altuve an All-Star? Will other second basemen edge him out? After all, Robinson Cano will get the fan vote. And Brian Dozier with his .807 OPS for the hometown Twins would likely be a lock as well. So it really depends on whether the AL will carry three second basemen.

Keuchel, despite his Tuesday night, is still ranked sixth in the AL in ERA at 2.63. His WHIP is still ranked fourth in the league. His batting average against is still top 10.

All the pitchers are picked by the AL manager, so it’s not like someone will get voted in ahead of him. Provided Tuesday night was a blip, it’s unlikely Keuchel’s stats will sink out of the top 10. So the question is whether the John Farrell is a fan of Richard Justice or not.

Springer and Fowler are tougher cases mainly because rosters generally don’t go that deep. You’re unlikely to see more than six or seven outfielders (one being labelled a DH) on the AL squad. Now, neither Springer nor Fowler is likely to get the votes to be a starter. However, Melky Cabrera, who is in the top 3 in voting, is actually ranked lower than Springer and Fowler in OPS, which is really the one category that could earn either an All Star nod.

Frankly, Fowler as an All Star is a pipe dream. Springer, as one of the top and most talked about rookies, is slightly more likely. But he’d have to go on another May-like run to get noticed.

All that said, it’s still very possible Houston only gets one All Star. If Keuchel’s stats slip a tiny bit, he’s probably on the outside looking in. If the logjam of AL second basemen tightens up–Altuve, Ian Kinsler, Dozier, Cano–then Altuve might be on the outside looking in.

While we’d all like two or three All Stars and maybe see one actually play. (Last year Castro just collected splinters, and in 2012 Altuve got one late plate appearance.)

2. Speaking of All-Stars, the Cal League played the Carolina League last night, and some of our favorite Lancaster Jethawks were in the lineup. Not that they did much on the offensive end.

Kyle Westwood pitched a scoreless inning. Josh Hader gave up a run in his one frame.

Meanwhile both Carlos Correa and Anthony Kemp both went 0-2 with a strike out. Teoscar Hernandez doubled that, going 0-4 with two Ks. He did score a run for the winning side, so that’s nice. Roberto Pena went 0-1 at catcher.

Is this the last Cal League stop for Captain Correa? And what about Tony Kemp?

Kemp hit the All Star Break with a .921 OPS and more walks than strike outs. While you could say that OPS is a product of playing at the wind-aided Hanger in the Cal League, those strike out and walk numbers (32 Ks, 42 BBs) are real. He needs stiffer competition.

Correa has a .924 OPS, and has walked 35 times while striking out just 43 times. Not quite Tony Kemp, but nothing to be ashamed of either. Again, the competition in the Cal League is not challenging him.

Hernandez’s OPS is even higher at .926, but he’s struck out 86 times, which is about 25 percent. I don’t think it’s outrageous to say he needs more time looking at High A pitching before getting fooled nonstop by AA pitchers.

Kyle Westwood has a 3.14 ERA in the Cal League, which has got to be some kind of miracle. His 1.16 WHIP and 2.90 ground ball rate would also indicate he’s ready to move up. He only strikes about about 4.5 batters per nine innings, so that’s a little troubling.

Meanwhile, if you thought Westwood looked good, Hader looks even better (Mark Who?). Hader has posted a 2.34 ERA and a .191 batting average against. His WHIP is 1.01, and he’s struck out 75 batters in 65.1 innings. Yep, he’s awesome. His ground ball rate is a little low, which makes you wonder how he’s done all this at The Hanger.

So, here’s some questions:

With the MLB All Star Game about a month away, who should represent Houston? Who actually will represent Houston? What will stop the Astros from getting that second All Star?

With the Cal League All Star Game done, who should be promoted to AA right away? Who still has some High-A lessons to learn?

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43 comments on “For the 2014 Astros, the stars must align

  1. Four runs in five innings for Keuchel. That’s what happens when I write these while asleep. I won’t even mention my incomplete sentence and missed edit of “out about” instead of “about about.”

    Personally, I think if rosters are picked today we have two All Stars. I’m praying for Springer to force his way on the team.

    I’m hoping Hader, Correa and Kemp are packed, ready and booked on the early flight to Corpus. You could argue that Hernandez has always whiffed a ton and deserves a ticket as well. Maybe it could be part of a domino effect on outfield promotion.

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  2. Well Altuve should be a shoe in , Keuchel needs to be solid in his next start or he might be out. I think that will be it, I’m thinking Correa and Kemp to CC. We need to see if Kemp is this good or just The Hanger. Teoscar needs to keep improving his craft at Lancaster and lets see where he is at in August. Isn’t Hader really young maybe some more time In Lancaster before CC

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    • Hader is 20 … like he JUST turned 20. That said, Bob Feller won 24 games at the age of 20. That was to go along with the 31 wins he had amassed from age 17 to 19 in the majors.

      I don’t want to say Hader is the next Bob Feller (wouldn’t that be great!), but he’s more talented than the hitters at High-A. I’m a big believer in challenging players. And if he’s not being challenged — he’s got a sub-3.00 ERA in the Cal League — then it’s time to move up.

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      • I read an article this morning in which Shane Reynolds said a pitching coach in the Venezuelan Winter League turned his career around in a couple of months, taught him what to throw, taught him a new pitch and taught him how to get movement on his fastball. This happened in the early nineties when Reynolds was in AA and he said he owed his success in the majors to this coach.
        That pitching coach’s name was Brent Strom. Reynolds said Strom observed him for several days and then asked Shane if he wanted to pitch for ten years in the minors or at least one year in the major leagues. Reynolds made his choice and they went to work.
        This is what I hope Strom can bring to many of our minor league pitching prospects and our Astros pitchers, too.
        The link I found was in Astros County, If you are interested.

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      • Well at 20, if he is blowing High A hitters away then maybe hes ready or let him get 30-40 more innings. If Westwood is 23 and doing well Hello CC , clock is a ticking

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  3. Singleton, Springer and Tucker are all fast track players and all had at least 500 plate appearances in Lancaster. I would think Correa would get the same. Injuries at the major league level could change that but Luhnow has shown that he sticks to his plan and where he deiated from the 500 PA was with Springer in AAA and that was because of the awful RF in the majors.
    Petit and Mier will run their course soon enough as will Marwin, because a team can only block their potential stars with lesser, older players for so long. Correa hasn’t jumped anyone yet, only because of his age but his ship has sailed and he is the “baddest” one in the fleet so the others will have to get out of the way.
    Kemp is different. The massive figure of Altuve looms large, especially with Jose’s incredibly friendly contract, Torreyes’ youth and batting average, and Fontana is there, too. Something is gonna have to give at 2B.
    I see Altuve as the Astros All-Star. Keuchel has a 25% chance of making it, if his numbers hold, and a 50% chance if his numbers hold and someone ahead of him gets an injury.

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  4. I’ll be optimistic and say a few more HR and diving plays in RF will give Springer a shot at inclusion in the group the fans vote for the last spot. 2B is crowded enough that I fear Altuve might fall into that bunch as well.

    Becky had a comment that I don’t want to get lost as we move on from the last DanP post. Last night Villar was trying to end the game by HR rather than trying to have a good at bat and get on base. I can live with some errors and low offensive performance… I think daveb covered why he still brings enough value…but I feel like Porter needs to sit him tonight and adjust his attitude/approach as the #8 hitter. Then again, he did have two hits in the game.

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    • I think the myth that Grossman improved upon his return to Houston needs to be debunked. He hit .125 in April then was sent down. In May he hit .238, but he’s back down to .200 for June. He has a total of seven extra-base hits in more than 100 at-bats. Basically, he’s got the same stats as Marc Krauss, and we all know where he is.

      I agree, it’s time to send him down. Santana and Wates are both ready. Move Grossman off the 40-man roster or cut Guzman. Either way, add a new outfielder and bring him up.

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  5. Good piece Brian T – even with a late night slip or two in the writing.
    My big proviso is that a lot (injuries, slumps, surges) can happen in 4 weeks…. But if I was betting – I would bet that Altuve serves alone. He is way up there in the old school numbers that seem to carry the day (like BA, hits, SBs) and he has the name recognition of a former All Star.
    Keuchel has quite a few starts left to make an impact – but unless he rips off 3 or 4 wins in a row – I think he gets lost in the “noise” of better known names.
    I think Fowler will not make it.
    Springer will need to go on a run as you said. Part of his problem is that some of his stats like 12 HR and 36 RBI pale in comparison because he has played a lot less games than other folks. If he had played 70 games like an Adam Jones instead of 53 – he would factor up to a much more impressive 16 HR and 46 RBI.
    Bottom line – I think Altuve will be the one.

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    • I fear you’re right, which is a shame because Keuchel has been very impressive. When his horrible outing is a four-run, five-inning affair, that’s saying a lot.

      It’d also be nice if he could show Boston’s manager just how good he is, but we don’t play the Red Sox until the series before the All Star Game, so that’s probably too late.

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      • Big mistake: Players vote for the pitchers, not the manager. Manager fills 5 spots, plus chooses candidates for the fan vote.

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  6. Grossman will go at the All Star break. I think Wates, based on his age, and hopefully the promise of a solid OBP, will get the nod, while Santana gets more time in OKC. Of course, that might all change if Fowler gets dealt. Then we could see Santana in right, George where he belongs and Wates in left.

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    • Man I just don’t see Lunhow bringing up Santana till the end of the year, I hope I”m wrong. I can see LJ getting another shot, but hopefully Wates first.

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  7. I don’t get it, WHY can’t our guys work the opposing pitcher’s count up, like the other teams do our pitchers? Feldman had 26 pitches in the 1st. inning. There’s a LOT of “dead” weight on this team, and I’ve seen enough of Guzman, Grossman, and Presley. Singelton just got caught stealing. *UGH*.
    How much longer do you keep Feldman in the rotation, and Peacock as well?

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    • These are the 5 guys that should be let go right away. They bring nothing to the team. Imagine our record if we had even an average bullpen. We would have won 2 of the last 3 games we lost if our bullpen was even average. This is not to mention the numerous games in April that we lost with leads after 6 innings. Ugh!

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  8. Billy……Agreed 100%!!!!!
    I’m glad I stayed up to watch Kershaw throw a NO HITTER against the Rockies!
    The guy had 15 strike outs, and threw 107 (I think!) pitches! My fantasy rotation would be Chris Sale, Kershaw, Crain, and Sonny Grey…….maybe Wacha!!

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    • Jesse Crain cracks your lineup, or is it a fantasy that he could pitch? I assume you meant Matt Cain. I’d probably take Yu Darvish or Tanaka over him, but can’t really quibble. My hope is within the next 5 years we have at least one starter the majority would put in their hypothetical five man.

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  9. Bopert your question would carry more weight if you did not basically disappear during the Astros recent 15-6 run, but reappear after they lose 3 in a row.
    Their problem areas are the pen, LF, SS,DH and some times a member or two of the rotation. The starters have stopped pitching deep into the games and that exposes a shallow and injured bull pen.

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    • I also decided not to chime in when 30 days elapsed after Crane said that a TV deal would likely get done. I purposely wasn’t around when Krauss got demoted, as long predicted. And I bit my lip hard when Chip started spewing forth that the team just might finish .500. That’s a real side-splitter, by the way.

      I have more predictions for you: 1) the team will finish NOWHERE NEAR .500 2) Collin McWho, despite a hot run, is a bona-fide scrub. 3) ditto Corporan, Villar, MarwinG, Guzman, half the bullpen, and half the outfield.

      Crane is still a shyster. And the team’s payroll and fanbase is still pathetic.

      I think Keuchel might be for real, but who really knows? Fans can’t watch him pitch (unless you live in MN, that is).

      Today’s negative thought (actually, it’s just the reality): the franchise, despite a couple young upstarts, is still in a sorry state of affairs, and mediocrity is the ongoing forecast.

      One last parting thought: what IF Grossman and Dominguez actually accepted Luhnow’s ridiculously lowball offers this past winter? Ponder that for a good long while (hint: M-E-D-I-O-C-R-I-T-Y).

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      • That cynic in me wanted to insist that McHugh could not be any good, based on his limited, crappy resume. But I keep watching him pitch (maybe you have not had the opportunity) and the guy has good stuff. His ball moves and the 2.60 something ERA is evidence of that. Tonight, without a botched DP, he throws 6 shutout innings. He’s getting ML hitters out. Every time he takes his turn and keeps his team in the game, I become more and more convinced that he’s for real.

        Bopert, I don’t like the owner either. But the sky will not fall for you. The team is getting better and at some point late this year or in 2015, it will start clicking, as much as you don’t want it to. What happens when that happens? Who’s dog are you going to go kick then?

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      • There are other guys who criticize the team like daveb and old pro who are on here everyday – I know why you stayed away and you do too. Hard to be snarky when they are playing well.
        Yes – you said Krauss was a scrub – well done. And you said Qualls was a scrub – totally wrong.

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  10. You know bp, I’m wondering what line of cynical thinking you’ll be sharing, once this club entertains us with some real success. As a cynic myself, I’m seeing a few too many good signs, at least enough of them to ignore the present ownership issues.

    Todays positive thought is .241/.323/.823. Our brand new first baseman is more than holding his own against the big boys. If our All Star catcher had an .823 OPS right now, we’d be a few games better off right now.

    But back to Singleton. When this new game slows down a bit for him, he’ll show more contact than the serviceable .323 OBP represents. He’ll take more walks and he’ll see better pitches and hit the ball more. And he does hit the ball hard. We’re going to see some fun stuff from him too.

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    • I’m sure SinglePuff is fun to behold. Haven’t watched him much, but he certainly had the “requisite swagger” when I did see him play. He’s probably for real. But PLEASE, for the love of God, don’t miss the point.

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  11. Villar-F-
    Clemens-F-
    Once again…….Altuve get’s two hits, steals two bases, and these guys get a big fat *zero*. If I never see Clemens in an Astros uniform again, it will be too soon.
    The guy is just AWFUL. Send Villar to Okc, and bring up ANYBODY. The kid is just a head case.

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  12. This team hasn’t won since their manager decided not to put his best team on the field against Price on Sunday. You tie up the wings of an eagle who had not lost a series in weeks, and it won’t fly any more.
    You can’t tell me a manager can’t screw a good thing up with his stupid ideas. Some people just think they are smarter than others and so they just keep overthinking it.

    Like

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