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Can the Astros win 90 and make the playoffs in 2015?


Okay, before you shout me down, consider five reasons it’s possible — possible — the Astros could win 90 games in 2015 and could make the playoffs. And, no, MLB didn’t expand the season to 180 games.

Granted, I did say could, so while this isn’t an outright prediction, getting to 88-90 wins in 2015 should not an impossible task. In fact, few organizations are better positioned for back-to-back significant improvements than Houston.

 

1. The Astros were better than 70-92 in 2014.

  • When you consider the injuries alone, it’s easy to look back and see how the Astros might have even approached .500 in 2014. Astros’ players spent 902 games on the disabled list this season. You can argue — and many of you will — that somehow Jeff Luhnow should have known before signing certain players. Yes, there was a risk with Jesse Crain, but the downside on many others was unforeseen and could not have been anticipated. Matt Albers and George Springer for a full season would have made a significant difference.
  • And, yes, that bullpen was a huge factor with 25 blown saves. No major league team had more than Houston, no matter how you stack ’em up.

2. Breakthrough is coming.

  • Chicken Little already predicted the sky falling. And, it did. Now, the talent is finally rising to the top. When you consider the Astros had a 19-game improvement this season with all the warts, head-scratchers, dysfunctional manager, PR debacles and more, you have to recognize that a huge breakthrough is coming soon. It’s possible the breakthrough won’t happen until mid-season and, yes, it’s even possible the real breakthrough won’t occur until 2016, but with players like Mark Appel, Carlos Correa, Colin Moran, Jon Singleton and even possibly Domingo Santana on the near-term list, the uptick may be closer that you realize. Or prepared to admit.

3. The 2015 schedule.

  • Houston will play 24 games in September against the AL West, so the schedule is set up for the Astros. It allows Houston at least half a season to get all the bugs out and prepare for a late-season run against the teams that really matter. Oakland and Texas will likely be re-tooling in 2015.

4. Luhnow knows.

  • If he’s really worth his salt — and you can debate that if you’d like — Luhnow is learning from his failures. When he hired Bo Porter, Luhnow handed him the coaches he (Lunnow) wanted. This time around, A. J. Hinch hired coaches he was familiar with. That should allow for better trust in the dugout and the front office. If he’s smarter, he’ll have fewer misses — or perhaps more hits — this winter. Moreover, you can bet Luhnow won’t gamble so much on the bullpen this winter. Will he change the minor league tandem system? Probably not, but he’s likely to change his approach on other matters such as contract negotiations and communication with his manager.

5. Core players.

  • A couple of years ago, I wrote that Houston needed only to add 2-3 core players a year during its reconstruction. In 2014, Houston added Collin McHugh, Dallas Keuchel, George Springer, Scott Feldman and, one could argue, Dexter Fowler and Chris Carter. If Houston adds 2-3 additional core contributors next season and either Jason Castro, Matt Dominguez or Singleton breaks out, where would that leave the team? Significant improvement, that’s where. And possibly the playoffs and 88-90 wins.

And, yes, a 20-game improvement is not unprecedented. It’s even occurred in your lifetime. Here are a few times.

  • Tampa Bay. 31 games.
    • 2007: 66-96.
    • 2008: 97-65.
  • Atlanta: 29 games.
    • 1990: 65-97.
    • 1991: 94:68.
  • Seattle: 25 games.
    • 2000: 91-71.
    • 2001: 116-46.
  • Detroit: 29 games.
    • 2003: 43-119.
    • 2004: 72-90.

You may determine that winning 88-90 games and making the playoffs isn’t probable. You may even suggest the idea is hogwash. But the Astros had absolutely no luck in 2014. If Houston gets even a few breaks next season, some of the kids come along and Luhnow takes care of roster business this off-season, Houston could be picking at the other end of the draft in June 2016.

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About Chip Bailey

Chip Bailey lives in Colorado Springs, CO, and is an author and former sports editor and sportswriter who has followed the Astros for more than 40 years. A native of Natchitoches, La., Chip enjoys watching baseball at most any level, especially pro and college. Several years ago, he worked as an associate of Pastor John Bosman, who enjoyed giving nick names to his staff. He came up with Chipalatta, and it’s stuck.

34 comments on “Can the Astros win 90 and make the playoffs in 2015?

  1. Flash
    October 20, 2014

    If one could consider them a .500 team, then the chances of them winning 90 games is a little better than 2.5%. However, they are a .450 team, which puts 90 wins at about a 0.2% chance.

    As I’ve said before, the challenge for Luhnow is to move the team to the right on the bell curve. If you think that the improvement by young players + better bullpen + addition of positive FAs = .050, then they will have the aforementioned 2.5% chance.

    But, I disagree that it is easy to see the ’14 team as a .500 team. Their winning percentages by month are .321, .517, .444, .320, .517, and .458. An eerie, but coincidental pattern. I don’t see improvement over the course of the year. I only see inconsistency. If they were to switch May and July, I’d agree. The team that finished the year could reasonably be considered a .500 team.

    You know what? I’m gonna do that! .321, .320, .444, .517, .517, and .458. There, a .500 team.

    Like

    • Chip Bailey
      October 20, 2014

      Flash, I’ll agree I’m looking for positives and throwing some things out that are “ifs”. One of those “ifs” asks about having George Springer for a full season. Is it merely a coincidence the Astros took a downturn in July when Springer left the lineup after only 13 games (not to mention he wasn’t at full speed for a couple of those)? Moreover, not sure you can count September honestly as they were all over the board with short-termers, benched players (Keuchel/McHugh), etc.

      Like

      • Flash
        October 20, 2014

        The data suggests that the current roster would have to play 500 seasons to produce one 90 win season. But I am with you on this: this team isn’t 2010 bad. They should expect, and likely get, significant improvement from these young players. Even MattyD should be better because not only was he hindered by bad hitting, he was hindered by bad luck. We should expect just bad hitting next year.

        Their approach, as a team, is very good. They don’t swing at a lot of balls out of the strike zone. They do not hit the strikes they swing at very well. Of the two, it is almost impossible to change a hitter’s approach, but contact is something that can improve pretty readily. The Astros are really good at hitting flyballs. And when they hit flyballs about every ninth one goes out of the park. An increase in contact rates will pay dividends in more runs. I expect Springer, Singleton, Carter, and Castro to all improve their contact rates.

        I think Steven suggested signing Alberto Callapso. He owns baseball’s eighth best contact rate. He suffered from more BABIP last year as well.

        I don’t think that makes us a .500 team, but I think it gives us about a one in four chance of reaching .500.

        Like

  2. BrianT
    October 20, 2014

    As they are right now — this roster and this farm system — no. The Astros are maybe marginally better than .500. They might win 85 games if — IF — someone from Fresno or CC replaces Dominguez and if — IF — Castro rebounds at least half way and if — IF — Singleton at least turns into a .230 hitter with better contact. Oh, and if there’s no big regression among Altuve, Keuchel and McHugh. And if Springer stays healthy.

    Of course some free agents and/or trades can change things for the better, giving Houston some breathing room. But even then, I think anything over 85 wins would be a miracle.

    Like

  3. Astro45
    October 20, 2014

    Short answer – No. At 90 wins you are .556 winning percentage. This year that is LAA, LAD, Detroit, Washington, St Louis, & Baltimore. We are not that good yet. We have 2 starting pitchers that had that percentage (Cosart is gone). In batting, several categories of 15th in the league. So for 2015 to produce 90 wins, we need to replace 3 starting pitchers (or have a huge improvement in 3) have a huge improvement in at least 6 hitters, and have no one slide back. Anything north of .500 would be a great season.

    Like

    • Flash
      October 20, 2014

      Starting pitchers’ win % has little to do with the team’s win %. In fact, it is the other way around, or more accurately, luck. If the team scores 8 runs in the first vs. the eighth, the starter gets a win. I don’t think we need to be jettisoning pitchers because of their win %.

      As for the offense, our biggest weakness is hitting balls that are in the strike zone. We do a great job of swinging at strikes and not balls, but a lousy job of hitting those pitches we swing at. I don’t know if that is a trick you can teach our “old” dogs, but if not, then we should add them via trade or free agency.

      Like

      • Astro45
        October 20, 2014

        Flash, appreciate your opinion but must beg to differ. Look at the teams with the improvement and the SP increased in winning %. Most winning % teams have SP with a winning %. You can not expect the Bullpen to win the abundance of 90 wins while the starters are losing over 50% of their games. To win 90 games somebody has to be the winning pitcher.

        Like

      • Flash
        October 20, 2014

        Yes, winning teams have winning pitchers.

        Like

  4. Devin_
    October 20, 2014

    The first week of February I will have talked myself into Sam Deduno coming out of nowhere in ’15 to win the Cy Young, the amazing signing of Alberto Callaspo producing 5 WAR, and a run at .400 by Jose Altuve fueling us to 95 wins as we embarrass those free spenders out West. By the first week of March I will have come to my senses.

    Here is where I will jump on board, though. I believe Altuve and Springer are both catalysts that make the cast around them better. I believe the pitching staff can be consistent and keep us in games. If you get improvement from 1B, 3B, and C, offensively, the team can compete. If they are around .500 in the middle of July, then there is a chance. Looking at the league in 2014, there were only about 8 teams with no chance of the postseason at the trading deadline. In 2015, the Astros need to be in that group. Unfortunately, I would have much higher confidence with Cosart in our rotation…but that trade said to me either Luhnow is playing for 2016 and hoping 2015 is respectable enough to keep him employed, or he was cutting off his nose to spite his face.

    Like

    • Devin_
      October 20, 2014

      I need an edit button…should read NOT in that group eliminated from contention in mid-July….

      Like

  5. Kevin
    October 20, 2014

    Maybe 80 if we can stay healthier, pick up 1 proven solid late inning bullpen arm, and upgrade at 1st and 3rd.

    Like

  6. 1oldpro
    October 20, 2014

    As far as #1, If you were going to pick two relievers out of our system who would have missed most of the year with injuries it would have been an injured Jesse Crain and a Fat Allbers. So why in the world is it so hard for a major league general manager to figure it ouit? Way too much credit of that scenario is given to bad luck.
    #2 Just because the five players you mention are getting close does not mean an uptick. If Singleton and Santana’s brief MLB experience doesn’t show you that no prospect’s success is guaranteed I don’t know what will. Even Keuchel and Altuve have proven that instant success is very rare at this level and Puig has also proven that his instant success of 2013 doesn’t always mean that he isn’t a flash in the pan.
    The AL West is still going to have a LAA team with all that star power and their contracts and an improved Mariners, a Beane driven steady Oakland team, a Ranger team with a lot of their players back and a new staff and us. So I don’t see how that schedule gets better for us unless our team gets a lot better.
    To win 90 games next year we are going to have to go out and buy 20-wins worth of players and I don’t see them doing it.
    The GM who opened up the season with Raul Valdez, Jerome Williams, Marc Krause, Lucas Harrell, Matt Albers and Jesus Guzman on his opening day 25-man roster last year and Collin McHugh and George Springer in OKC is still here. Is he suddenly not going to make 2019’s payroll his #1 priority and go out and get the players he will need to win 90 games in 2015 like all the other GMs will be doing, or is this just year #5 of the rebuild? Remember, three years with the worst record and 1 year with the fourth worst record. So is this year 5 of the rebuild or year 1 of the new, better Astros?

    Like

  7. Dan P
    October 20, 2014

    Thoughts across the board:
    – I don’t see a 90 win team here – I think within 2-3 games of .500 below or above seems reasonable, but….that is without seeing any off-season moves.
    – Oldpro, I think it was reasonable to expect injury problems with Crain. Sorry, but chubby or not – Albers had pitched in 56 -63 games for the last 5 seasons – no real reason for alarm bells to be going off about him.
    – I am always hesitant to think that better health is the answer, because if the Astros had had a much healthier club, but had lost 100 games from Altuve or lost 20 Keuchel starts that would have been worse for them. Injuries happen.
    – The key has to be a big improvement in the bullpen and a medium improvement in the offense. If the starting pitching holds their ground or gets a little bit of improvement in the 4th and 5th slots – they have a solid base to improve from.
    – The way Springer played his first month up and the way Singleton played his whole time up is a warning bell that we can’t expect youngsters to show up and kick butt – it takes time and it takes some patience and coaching to get them to perform at a mlb level.
    – After the Astros sign FAs, make trades, etc. let’s talk after we see what is the team going to spring training and we will see what is possible.

    Like

    • BrianT
      October 20, 2014

      Dan and Oldpro,

      The thing is, sometimes youngsters come up and they excel. Looks at Kike Hernandez or Collin McHugh. I know, McHugh had previous MLB experience, but not a lot. And Kike didn’t have any.

      I’m not sure any of the players we’re talking about — Moran, Santana, Tucker or even Correa this year — are in a position to take off running. But I think Singleton could see a decent uptick. I think Castro can (and better) rebound a bit. And I think Marisnick could be a valuable starter if he plays CF, hits .260 and learns to walk. And that, with a bullpen, approaches 81 wins.

      Like

      • uncleknuckle
        October 20, 2014

        I think our centerfielder of the future has had seven career starts in centerfield. I still shake my head a bit when it’s suggested that Marisnick has somehow earned that job.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Simon Davey
        October 29, 2014

        Gosh, now, reading the name Hernandez, I had flashbacks to Carlos Hernandez and his 3 starts of brilliance. My oh my that was an injury disaster that befell him. And us.

        Like

  8. MikeSand
    October 20, 2014

    In this age of parity anything is possible. If the Astros had several ready made relievers knocking on the door then I might like their chances at 85 or more wins. Since they will be looking for bullpen help from outside the organization (like every other team) I’m not that excited yet. The new coaching staff will need to improve defence, cut down strikeouts AND improve that bullpen. This will be a fun topic to revisit during Spring Training after trades and signings have shaped the roster.

    Like

  9. 1oldpro
    October 20, 2014

    One of the hidden keys to Houston having a good year might be sitting out there in the bullpen. After seeing the development of McHugh, I’m rather inclined to let Strom loose on Mike Foltynewicz. The guy has a 100mph fastball, a potential plus curve, and a meh changeup. Strom is there to change meh pitches into weapons and potential pitchers into real ones.
    Now seems the time, at least to me, for Folty to get his feet wet. You have three pretty steady guys at the top of your rotation and Oberholtzer as a #4. But in a transition year like this, maybe you want to match up Folty with that #5 position and see how he does. He may struggle, but most young pitchers struggle and he is a guy with great potential and rather than spend millions on another Feldman, or $100 million on a Shields, maybe you spend $500, 000 on Folty and let Strom see if he can turn Folty into a Shields in a year where the Astros are not supposed to contend anyway.
    If Folty turns into a pitcher this year, you are really setting yourself up for success in 2016, with Appel in the wings and stepping in as the #5 guy as Folty works his way up in the rotation.
    If Folty struggles with finding a good third/fourth pitch then you have at least given the club a chance to see his real self and put him in the bullpen in 2016 and potentially become a great late inning guy.
    Making Folty the #5 could save you millions to go out and get those guys on the left side of the infield and 1B to get you to 85+ wins and a shot at the wild card.
    Folty has paid his dues in the minors and has proven to be durable. In his year 23 season, it’s time to see if he’s got it.

    Like

    • Devin_
      October 20, 2014

      Where do we expect them to stand on limiting Folty’s innings next year? Unless they view him as a bullpen guy, it makes sense to at least enter ST with him in the running for the 4/5 spot with Peacock, Olberholtzer, and anyone else brought to camp. Of course, this makes assumptions that likely get invalidated at the winter meetings.

      Like

      • 1oldpro
        October 20, 2014

        Devin, I think they try to limit the innings of all their pitching prospects. The most innings Folty ever pitched was around 150 in 2012. He threw 130 in 2013 and 121 this past season. I think what they are thinking is that they want to keep all of their prospects with low innings to keep them from tiring and then getting injured from overthrowing when they are tired. I think 120 innings for a 22 year old Top 50 prospect who throws in the high nineties consistently is their philosophy across the entire spectrum. That’s why they have the tandem system in the first place.
        As Folty physically matures they want his innings to increase. Remember that he is also a high BB pitcher and that does not reflect in IPs. Walking a lot of batters shows up in his pitches thrown but not his IPs.

        Like

    • Steven
      October 20, 2014

      To me Strom’s role in this is going to be less about what he can do to help a professional get command – he might help a little, but in the end it’s on Folty – and more about recognizing how much command he has of each pitch and putting him in the role that best suits Folty – and we all know in pitching success breeds confidence – and confidence breeds command.

      I do think we are on the same page though – if Folty can develop something akin to a plus third pitch – and his curve continues to improve – start him. If it looks like command of his or change doesn’t come along, but he has enough command of one to use it to set up his fastball, then he is tailor made for closing. I understand the desire to have a closer that throws super hard – it gives hitters a different velocity after they have spent all game timing a guy that throws 6-7 ticks lower – but the real trick is to have a definitive out pitch. Folty averaged 96.7 MPH last year on his FB – and you could expect that to increase if he is coming in for shorter stints and letting it loose – and both his change and curve were 15 MPH or better different. If he gets command of all three, pencil him in the rotation – if not, figure out where he helps you the most.

      We will also agree that looking across the pitching as a whole – and the bad bullpen usage last year – Strom has the hardest job in the room.

      Like

  10. Dan P
    October 20, 2014

    I’d like to see if Wojciechowski is ready to shoot at the #5 spot also. He pitched poorly at first coming back from the injury but seemed to be hitting his stride when the season ended.

    Like

  11. Steven
    October 20, 2014

    No. Not really. Spring will bloom eternal hope though. I think we will find the climb from 70 to 90 much more difficult than the climb from 50 to 70.

    I think it is plausible to talk about 2016 being good, and 2017 being a division contendor – but it will take some time for some of these young players to enter their primes – sure they can be upgrades from what they replaced, but Springer isn’t at his best yet. Neither is Altuve. It will take some time to figure out which out of a group of a dozen young pitchers will pan out – and then give them time to turn it up and enter their prime. Still need time to see if Singleton will meet the potential most of us thinks he has, if Carter and Grossman can repeat their second halves, how fast can Correa progress – especially following an injury – will say alot about the future – do we find a temporary band aid at SS – or do we go with Villar until he hands it back to Gonzalez or Petit again? I know if we aren’t hitting at 3B, SS, and 1B – and even one outfield spot is underachieving – along with C – we will have the same lethargic start we had last year, bullpen improved or not.

    Still more holes than Bill Murray had to put up with in Caddy Shack – I like where we have gone, I like where we are going, but even getting to .500 from a 70 win team is going to come on a curve, not linear. As much as we all like Keuchel and McHugh, this is still a .500 teams starting rotation – not good enough to carry all the bad.

    Like

  12. Mr. Bill
    October 20, 2014

    I see a lot of talk about Folty, a little about Obey, and a quick reference to Wojo. Is Nick Tropeano not in anybody’s mix for a 2015 rotation spot?

    If we win 90 games, we will have to have major offensive improvement at 1B, 3B, and LF. Improved production from the bench is also essential. Improved production at C – well, you can’t have everything can you? That ain’t likely to happen.

    Pitching wise we are going to need someone to go out and McHugh for us. I personally see Tropeano as a more likely candidate for that than either Folty or Wojo. And, of course, we would need a closer with some nasty, nasty stuff and good command. I do not see that happening either.

    Like

    • Steven
      October 20, 2014

      I am a fan of Nitro – but not for 2015. I think he will be below average – akin to Keuchel’s development. As long as the Astros are patient with him, and bring him along, he will be fine when we need him to be. To be honest, if ST goes the way I think it will – I would open with Keuchel-McHugh-Feldman-Nitro-Buchanan – accept the growing pains, but I am not the GM or manager. My guess is the first three are safe, but the last two spots will probably be Oberholtzer and the last spot will be open competition. I just love guys that throw strikes. I personally would move Folty to closing – but I am looking at it from far away, for all we know Folty doesn’t have the makeup they are looking for.

      Like

    • 1oldpro
      October 20, 2014

      Bill, he is in the mix for me, but I would like to see him trying to beat out Ober for a spot in the rotation. Why? Because Nitro’s history is low walks and being a righty with the Crawford boxes out there in flyball range.
      Nitro’s intro into the majors was nervousness leading to walks, but I think he goes into ST 2015 with a real chance to get into the rotation.
      The reason I wanted them to try Folty in next year’s #5 is because he needs to get on the mound and start, and I think 2015 is the PERFECT year to see if he can do it for the next ten years. With Velasquez, Appel, Correa, Moran, Kemp, Tucker, and Santana perhaps looming on the horizon in 2016, I would rather see Folty start learning his trade this year, so that when the younger pitching prospects hit in 2016 Folty is already there, and able to be a little more of a veteran presence and a young guy they know to help them get used to the majors. It would be great to have these fine young pitching prospects break into the majors a year at a time. Remember how the Giants seemed to add a good young pitcher into the rotation every year, so that they weren’t all newbies at the same time? By the time Zito was phasing out, Bumgarner was rotating in.

      Like

    • Devin_
      October 20, 2014

      I’m concerned that he is Kirk Saarloos 2.0.

      Like

      • Steven
        October 20, 2014

        His K/9 has been insanely good through the minors, so it’s not just about throwing strikes with Nitro, he definitely has an outpitch also. I think he will be much better than Saarloos.

        Like

  13. rj
    October 20, 2014

    the spots most everybody mentions for improvement are 1B, SS, 3B, C, LF and the bullpen. i really dont see them spending a bunch of money bringing in anyone to more than LF and the bullpen. why? well at 1B you have singleton that needs a full year to see if he figures it out or not and already has a costly (vs league minimum) contract, at SS you have what we hope is superman arriving in 2016 if not before, at 3B they have moran who they made a trade to get and ruiz who has a shot, not to mention dominguez who could possibly come out of his sophomore slump. (although i doubt that and i think he is too slow). catcher you already have castro and they will wait to see if he improves next year. so that leaves LF and the bullpen. i hope they bring in a big bat for LF. this year the bullpen has to be reliable to make any kind of run at 90 wins, thats where the money probably ends up.

    Like

    • Devin_
      October 20, 2014

      I think it all hinges on Fowler. If they move him at the winter meetings I could see Luhnow taking a chance moving prospects for a LF, like STL did getting Matt Holliday from COL. Otherwise, Jake and Robbie will be getting the at bats.

      Like

      • 1oldpro
        October 20, 2014

        Devin, if they move Fowler at Winter meetings they get rid of his salary and pick up who? Then they trade prospects for a left fielder(like Halliday?). So then they have to pay money to that LF and they lose prospects. It seems they are just as well to keep Fowler for $9mil arbitration and trade their prospects for an infielder who can hit. That way they have Fowler and an infielder for 2015 and let the future take care of itself. They can always trade Fowler before the deadline if they are out of the chase.
        I’d rather face 2016 with an established SS/3B plus Correa and Moran and let Luhnow figure out that situation, than just throw away 2015 and wait for Correa and Moran.
        We’re talking about 90 wins in this blog, which definitely puts us in the playoff hunt, and our owner was talking about the playoffs two weeks ago. There is no way we are going to achieve that with the infield we had last year. If the Astros want to win this year they are going to have to get more good players and that means trades and spending. If they don’t want to win, they will just do the same thing they did last offseason, sign some spot fillers and just sit tight and wait, hoping that prospects become players in the next few years, and then contend.
        With the players we have at AAA right now, contending in the AL West for a playoff spot in 2015 with a $65mil payroll seems pretty slim, if not impossible.

        Like

      • Flash
        October 20, 2014

        I don’t see Fowler getting moved unless it is for a controllable starting pitcher or infielder. He is a big fish in our small pond of offense.

        Like

  14. rj
    October 20, 2014

    tim bogar leaving the rangers. wish we had a slot for him

    Like

    • Flash
      October 21, 2014

      I was on the Tim Bogar wagon, but I’m not sure why. Does anyone know why he is a good coach, other than we heard that he was a good coach from someone else? (And, of course, he played for the Astros.)

      Like

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