Talk of the Astros’ resurrection are a bit premature.
Well, after twice hitting the high-water mark of six games under .500, the Astros have now slipped to 10 games under. Still, despite the recent slide, the Astros are on pace to win 70 games. That’d be a 19-game improvement over 2013. If someone had told you in March that this team would win 70 games, I think most of you would have said, “I’m OK with that.”
I know I would have.
But that’s the problem with success. You see all the little wins, and you start to lose sight of the big picture. This team is better than last year’s version. If Houston picks up its 33rd win this weekend, that puts this team weeks ahead of last year. The 2013 Astros did not pick up win No. 33 until July 12.
No home runs Thursday night, and the Astros lost. You can blame Collin McHugh (why would you?) or the botched play by Jose Altuve and Jonathan Villar (sure, why not?) or even “Gopher Ball” Paul Clemens (now we’re getting somewhere). You can blame the non-Altuve offense. Or, you can ask where the power went.
Houston lost Wednesday night as well. No homers. Tuesday night: a 6-5 loss. No long balls. Sunday afternoon against the Rays … OK, the team got two homers, both solo shots. That’s four losses and in three games the power drought was in full effect.
Overall, Houston has 32 wins, and in those wins the team has hit 57 home runs. Meanwhile, in the 42 losses, the Astros have hit just 20 home runs.
It seems the win column, along with chicks, digs the long ball. That homers bring wins isn’t news. But it makes me wonder.
Is this a case for keeping “All or Nothing” Chris Carter in the lineup? Is this a case for letting George Springer swing for the fences every time his bat twitches? Should this be the reason to dump Robbie Grossman (2 HRs in 107 ABs) and Alex Presley (3 HRs in 163 ABs)?
BAD IS IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER
Our good friend Bopert reared his cynical head yesterday … and he’s got some good points. The TV deal still seems nowhere in sight. While that doesn’t mean much to us Minnesotans (yeah, I caught your dig there, Bopert), I know it means a lot to fans living withing 300 miles or so of Houston. And, yes, the idea of .500 is looking more like a mirage each day. And, yes, Krauss was the AAAA player Bopert said he’d be.
But despite the gloom from our resident Eeyore, there are some things he said that I’d like to ask the crowd about. Is Collin McHugh a “scrub” or is he a legit member of a major league rotation? We all have our own long list of “scrubs” on this team (why does Jesus Guzman still have a uniform? … Presley … Jerome Williams and Clemens from the bullpen?) and there are some borderline names I won’t argue even if I’ve not added them to my list.
But Carlos Corporan has a .710 OPS right now as our backup catcher. Utility infielder Marwin Gonzalez is batting .273 and has a .727 OPS. And I have to keep reminding myself that Marwin is ONLY 25 years old.
It’s late and I don’t intend to scour every roster to see how each team’s backup catcher and utility infielder is hitting. But I’d say, if those are their roles on this team, as bench players and spot starters, I’d say Houston is getting its money’s worth. I’d also challenge anyone to find seven backup catchers in the AL doing better than Corporan or seven utility infielders in the AL doing better than Marwin. These two are in the top half of the league at what they do.
“I’M TIRED … TIRED OF PLAYING THE GAME …”
The Astros’ bullpen has got to be singing Lilly von Shtupp’s song from “Blazing Saddles.” Thursday Porter used only three pitchers, two from the ‘pen. But the team also pitched only eight innings (that’s the benefit of a road loss I guess). Four relievers on Wednesday, five on Tuesday and five on Sunday.
Does Porter need to relax the pitch count a bit? Maybe send a guy out even if he’s over 95 pitches? For example, McHugh on Thursday had just cleared the century mark but looked like he could handle another inning.
Remember when Keuchel nearly pitched three complete games? Man, I bet the bullpen was glad for the rest. I actually was starting to respect Porter then. Alas, he’s gone to his old overwork-the-pen ways.
Some good news. Jose Altuve is having a great year. He’s in a neck-and-neck battle for the AL batting title right now. As of Thursday night, he’s second to Robinson Cano. He’s also second in the league in doubles trailing Melky Cabrera 24-23. His major league-leading 98 hits have him well on pace to collect 200 on the season. Heck, he could miss a couple of weeks and still be on track. He’s swiped 26 bases in 29 attempts, and apparently has hit the century mark in his career.
But here’s what I’m loving the most: In nearly 300 at-bats he’s struck out only 22 times. And while his 19 walks are a bit low (he’d set a goal to walk 10 times a month, so that’s not happening …) it’s because he is just hitting the ball non-stop.
I won’t bore you with my love of Dallas Keuchel at this point. Maybe another day. (Or maybe one of you can talk about how he’s doing awesome.) But there are rays of sunshine in this, another year of losing baseball.
So here’s some questions to ponder:
- When Houston loses, what is it that is the missing ingredient that game from this team? Where is it misfiring that day?
- This season has some good and bad to it. But what, as we head toward 90-plus losses, just bugs the crud out of you?
- For a while, it seemed we were all singing Porter’s praises and pointing to improved play everywhere, including (gasp!) the bullpen. Is Porter back to his mismanaging ways? Or have the starters been forcing his hand?
- Will Bass, Crain and Albers make a difference when they return in a few weeks? All are listed as “possible June” or “possible late June” on the injury report. Would their return be the shot-in-the-arm this bullpen needs?
- What’s your bright spot this year? Altuve? The Springleton call ups? Keuchel? Collin McHugh?
OK, so talk amongst yourselves. It’s a Free Blog Weekend.