Here’s a few bits of news to consider as the Astros head out on the road and try to win two last series.
♦♦♦ The Astros might be heading toward Dallas (Arlington, whatever), but the Tom Lawless has said he won’t go to Dallas any more this season. With 200 innings under his belt, Dallas Keuchel is being given the rest of the year off. Nice, I suppose, but it hurts Houston’s chances of getting to 73 wins.
The only real drama left in the Astros season — aside from the final win total — is whether Jose Altuve wins the franchise’s first-ever batting title. Right now, Altuve sits at .345 (with an .840 OPS). Second in the AL is the Tigers’ Victor Martinez, who is batting .334, which is right about where he’s been hovering for the past week or so. Provided Martinez keeps going 1 for 3 with a walk every night, Altuve would have to go 0-for-22 to drop his average to the same place.
♦♦♦ Jarred Cosart is now 13-10. He was 9-7 when the Astros shipped him to South Beach. If Luhnow had kept Cosart, Houston would almost certainly have three starting pitchers with winning records and more than 10 wins. Right now, Keuchel has 12 wins and Collin McHugh has 11 wins. Not sure the last time that happened, but I’m guessing Roy Oswalt, Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte were involved. (Trivia: In that particular year, the Astros had five pitchers who were 10-game winners with records at .500 or better. Name them all.)
Of course, if the Astros hadn’t traded Cosart, we all would not be enjoying the fine play of Jake from State Farm. I mean Jake Marisnick. Since coming over for Cosart and Enrique Hernandez (ah, Kike, we hardly knew ye) along with minor leaguers and a draft pick, Marisnick has steadily improved offensively. I think he went something like 3-for-a week and a half. He put up an unimpressive OPS of .625 in August. But he’s put up an OPS of .785 thus far in September.
I don’t think he’s either hitter. I’m guessing his a low to mid .700s OPS guy, say .720 to .740. But his fielding has been amazing. I can think of one bad play he’s made, although apparently he has two errors. Between him and Springer, Dexter Fowler should get used to playing balls off the left field scoreboard.
♦♦♦ This one is for Becky: Jonathan Villar has a range factor or 4.21. Of shortstops with at least 500 innings (roughly one-third of a season) played this year in MLB, his range factor ranks 10th. But of those 10 players, his fielding percentage (.950) is by far the worst. The next worse is Milwaukee’s Jean Segura, who has a .975 fielding percentage and a range factor of 4.45 in about twice as many innings. Like Segura, Villar can’t hit, doesn’t get on base and has no real power.
Just so you know, Marwin Gonzalez has a 3.86 range factor and a .982 fpct. Doesn’t get to many balls, but makes the play on the ones he does. And Gregorio Petit has a 4.09 range factor with a .972 fielding percentage is a small sample size. Petit has a .732 OPS and Gonzalez a .705 OPS. Marwin strikes out slightly less than the other two.
While I’m sure Villar and his low cost will be in camp (unless traded), I’d guess he’s no longer the bridge to Carlos Correa.
♦♦♦ If Brent Strom is a genius for what he’s done with the starters, we have to wonder how much time he’s spending with the relievers. Houston’s bullpen ERA of 4.80 is by far the worst in the AL. Yet, there are some bright spots.
I don’t know what the Cubs were doing to Jose Veras, but his ERA and WHIP in Houston have been very good. Tony Sipp came off the scrap heap in San Diego and has been magnificent in Houston. I guess this is the return karma for the Astros giving away J.D. Martinez. Chad Qualls has been lights out against anyone but Oakland. Jake Buchanan (who apparently is not from State Farm) has slowly improved through the season. After a horrible April and a kinda crummy May, Josh Fields has turned things around (other than a couple of bad outings in August).
In total, Houston has blown 24 save opportunities. Only the Rockies make us look good. And that’s pretty bad. Which brings me to my final observation …
♦♦♦ At 69-87 with six games to go, it seems a foregone conclusion that Houston will hit the 70-win mark. Four more wins (hey, the Astros have been making a habit of winning series lately) would put Houston at 73-89. That’s going from losing more than 110 to not losing 90. That’d be amazing.
But if Houston could have converted even one-third of those blown save opportunities, this would be a .500 team.
Let that sink in. If Houston would have had more George Springer, a healthy Matt Albers, a healthy Jesse Crain for even half the season, less Jonathan Villar … if, if, if, if. My guess is Houston is right about where it belongs, somewhere from 71-73 wins. But it seems the Astros are just a few moves from .500 or better.
So here’s some questions for you:
- Looking back — with six games left — what will you remember most fondly about 2014? I mean other than Altuve. Name two other things.
- What makes you pull your hair the most? The bullpen? Villar? Dominguez? The black hole that is first base?
- There were a bunch of off the field distractions this year. The draft and the Astrosleaks thing. Bo Porter getting fired. Contract talks with everyone from Grossman (really?) to Springer and Singleton. When the season ends, other than the TV deal, will you care about any of it?
- If you’re still watching during these last six games, what are you watching for?