Ugly. So ugly that ninth inning might bring its bad Astros mojo to today’s game. Maybe having Dallas Keuchel on the mound will help right the ship, but this was an opportunity to sweep– Oakland no less–and the Astros blew it.
Let’s pretend Houston wins one of its remaining July games. That’ll be 44 wins. After the first three months Houston was 36-48. If the team splits the next two to end the month, that’s a July record of 8-17, slightly worse than the April record of 9-19. What do these two months have in common? Not a lot of George Springer. He played in 14 games in April and will likely not top that in July. We also haven’t had a full slate of Dexter Fowler in either month.
Allegedly, Bo Porter will get both back in August. Springer first and Fowler not long thereafter. But say the Astros repeat their two worst months in August and September. Well, that’s the first thing I think I know.
1. If Houston gets to 44 wins in July, then the Astros are looking at a minimum of a 10- or 11-win increase over 2013.
Likely even more. But to get to 70, Houston has to win 26 games the rest of the way. That’s 13 a month. After this skid in July, that’s looking less likely. Houston has played 107 games. After July, it’ll be up to 109. That leaves 53 games. Houston would need to play one game under .500 the rest of the way to get to 70 wins. That said, I will boldly predict we don’t lose 100 this year (baby steps, folks).
2. Despite Chad Qualls’ implosion Tuesday night, this team lives and dies on its offense. Which brings me to the second thing I think I know: The success of this offense has little to do with Jose Altuve because he can’t do it alone.
After an April where he hit .276, Altuve has hit well over .300 each month. Even calculating in the rate at which he misses games, he’s going to collect more than 220 hits this season. Still, no matter how he’s hit, it’s all about having guys like Fowler and Springer in the lineup.
3. That said, Altuve has been amazing. He’s hitting .343, leading the majors in batting average. And that brings me to the third thing I think I know. The race for the AL batting title is Altuve’s to lose, and one of the few reasons that keeps me tuning into games.
Robinson Cano is second in the AL at .327, and he’s fading, hitting just .268 in his last 10 games. Altuve has hit .429 in his last 10. Third Victor Martinez at .325 (about .250 his last 10 games). Fourth is Adrian Beltre at .321, though he’s been at the Mendoza line for the last 10 games.
To catch Altuve, one of two things must happen. First, Altuve has to cool off. He’s got to drop his average about 15 points or more. How unlikely is that? Well, say Altuve ends up with 625 ABs (that’d be a lot with just 55 games left). And say he hits .300 the rest of the way. JUST .300. Well, his batting average would drop to .330. Then the second thing would have to happen: At least one guy would need to raise his average to beat Altuve. And if it’s not Cano, Beltre or V-Mart, then the chances of this happening are less and less.
4. But the problem has been the guys hitting in the second half of the lineup. And right now it’s all about depth. And that brings me to the fourth thing I think I know. Organizationally, the organization might be deep down to A-ball, but with MLB-ready players, Houston is as thin as my high school mustache.
Sure, when Springer and Fowler and even Presley are playing, this lineup is not horrible. Imagine this starting nine:
CF, Fowler, .774 OPS
2B Altuve, .827 OPS
RF, Springer, .804 OPS
1B, Chris Carter, .766 OPS
DH, Jason Castro, .677 OPS
C, Carlos Corporan, .702 OPS
3B, Matt Dominguez, .638 OPS
LF, Enrique Hernandez, .791 OPS
SS, Marwin Gonzalez, .722 OPS
Maybe Presley (.650 OPS) starts against righties and Corp sits, moving Castro to catcher.
Heck, Oakland’s second basemen both have OPSs below .600. They’ve got three other regular starters (Jed Lowrie, Alberto Callaspo and Craig Gentry) with OPSs below .700. That Houston lineup–other than the Ks–looks good.
5. Which is why the Astros lose. That and the bullpen. Which brings me to the fifth thing I think I know. Once again, our bullpen is horrible.
The bullpen’s team ERA is over 5.00 again. There are only three guys who don’t make me groan when they walk in: Tony Sipp, Chad Qualls (though last night was bad) and Josh Fields. Fields is especially interesting. After a horrid April, he’s done very well the rest of the way. Qualls is usually good for the close, but occasionally throws up a stinker. And Sipp, well, has been a diamond in the rough.
Part of the problem has been how Bo Porter handles them. For example, last night Sipp pitches to one lefty then gets replaced with Jose Veras, who isn’t doing as well against righties as Sipp does.
It doesn’t help matters, I’m sure, that Porter feels the same way I do about his bullpen. Those three, along with Darrin Downs and his 1.44 WHIP, lead the team in appearances.
So, I’d like to know what you think you know.
1. How many wins does Houston end up with? Considering how bad 2013 was, is that enough of an improvement?
2. There’s been talk of getting a bat for a pitcher in trade. If we get a decent DH or first baseman, is it worth the addition to this lineup around Altuve? Or do we need to keep what little quality pitching we have?
3. Are you watching the box score for Altuve each day? To me, it feels like 1980 and George Brett all over again.
4. If healthy, is this a lineup that can compete? Do we need to add depth, if not for this season, then for 2015? Or will our AA and AAA talent be ready to plug the injury gaps by then?
5. This bullpen was supposed to be much improved. And, if healthy, I guess it would have been. Is the bullpen your biggest disappointment for 2014?
6. What else do you think you know?