After 81 games, the Astros were on track toward a 70-win season. They lost Game No. 82 (47 loses) then they won Game No. 83 (36th win). Game No. 84 … another loss. Still, If you had told me at the start of the season that the organization would be on track for 70 wins, I’d have been thrilled. I think most of us, looking at a 19-game improvement, would have been thrilled.
Well, don’t pull out the party hats just yet. At 36 wins, the local nine still has 34 to go, and it’s a long way to Sept. 28 and a 12:10 game against the similarly hapless Mets.
What must the Astros do to get those 34 wins in the final 79 games? Well, here’s a simple list:
1. Hold Leads
The Astros bullpen is 8-12, and has only 15 saves in 28 opportunities. The Pirates have more blown saves, but also a bullpen with a 19-10 record. Houston also has the worst bullpen ERA in the Major Leagues at 4.70 and the fifth-worst WHIP at 1.41.
This week it’s fashionable to be angry with Jerome Williams his 6.04 ERA and three blown saves (thank goodness he’s gone). But there’s plenty of blame to go around. The Kyle Farnsworth experiment was a disaster (6.17 ERA and WHIP of 1.97). Jose Veras hasn’t exactly pitched like the guy we traded a year ago, posting a 9.00 ERA in limited work. Fortunately, the worst offenders, Raul Valdes, Kevin Chapman and Jose Cisnero are gone.
2. Put April Behind in the rear view mirror.
Houston went 9-19 in its first month. May was better at 15-14. The Astros won’t have a winning record in June, but 12-15 isn’t bad.
This is nearly a .500 team since the start of May. Yes, even with a bad week or so in June and a horrible start to May, the often-streaky Astros have almost managed to remain level.
And that’s what they’ll need to continue doing in July, August and September. Heck, this team doesn’t need to go .500 the rest of the way to get to 70 wins, just make sure the bad days don’t outnumber the good too much.
3. More Than Altuve
There is one player who is among the best in the major leagues. But if you look at the Astros’ lineup every night, you see a guy hitting well over .300 and a bunch of .250 or lower hitters.
Oh, I know, measuring a team by its batting average is so 1970s. If we’re really looking at the lineup, its strength can be more easily measured by a quick look at OPS. Unfortunately, only four Astros have an OPS over .700: Altuve (.838), Springer (.822), Fowler (.774) and Corporan (.723 … no “scrub” is he).
If the Astros are going to maintain some semblance of winning, some other players will need to step up. For example, Jason Castro is hitting far below his MLB average for OPS at .660. Last year’s OPS was .835 and in half a season in 2012 he compiled an OPS of .735. If he can just regress up a bit, this will be a better team. Jonathan Villar could not seem to bring his OPS back closer to the .640 he posted last year instead of the sub-.600 he’s got in 2014, and now he’s gone. Will Chris Carter be next? Carter may have struck out a ton in 2013, but he posted a .770 OPS; this year he’s at .673. Jonathan Singleton was brought up to improve our first base offense.
4. An Influx of … Help!
Yes, we’d all like to see Domingo Santana. Yes, Luhnow basically said last week that barring injury he won’t arrive until September.
I don’t buy it. His strikeout rate has been dropping. His average and power have been solid. I’m all for making sure L.J. Hoes gets his chance to shine, especially after he tore up Oklahoma City. But we don’t have a DH worth anything. Jesus Guzman and Carter do not seem to be the answer, Guzman especially so. His spot on the roster looks like it could be opening up soon if you ask me.
And while we have a revolving door between the bullpen and either the DL or Oklahoma City, I think our injured relievers will help stabilize that. Rumor has it Anthony Bass will replace Williams. Gosh I hope so.
That said, any other help from the minors might be whomever is being called up to replace Villar or Mike Foltynewicz filling in for an injured starter. The good news is, we’ve got some quality players to bring up.
There’s also the possibility the Astros are buyers in this market, looking for a shortstop or a DH.
That leads us to …
5. Don’t Sell
The Astros can get to 70 wins or better with the talent on this team. The important thing is to keep the talent on this team.
There’s been talk of trading Chris Carter, and I’m all for that. Twenty-some homers a season isn’t worth all those strikeouts. I was never a fan of Dave Kingman or Adam Dunn. And I’m not a fan of Carter.
So it’s not like the Astros can’t trade anyone, but Luhnow needs to make sure he’s adding to the 25-man roster, not subtracting from it.
So, here’s my basic question: Whether it’s part of my five things or one of your own, what will the Astros need to do to have a successful second half?
And how will you measure success?