TONIGHT: The game is on ESPN at 6 pm CT so everyone can watch. Join Dan tonight for a live blog and enter your comments and thoughts as you watch! (Popcorn and drinks not provided. Good conversation, yes.)
TOMORROW: Chip, Dan and Brian provide their predictions and things to watch over the 2015 season.
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It’s Opening Day 2015 for the Houston Astros.
The organization isn’t where it wants to be yet, but a far cry from where it was in 2011 when Jeff Luhnow arrived. Here are three opening day thoughts to grease the skids.
Is the rotation really strong?
If you believe published reports, the Astros are still looking for starting pitching. What? If you count Brett Oberholtzer and Brad Peacock (on the disabled list) and Mark Appel at Fresno, the choices may be deeper today than at any time in recent years. Yes, but it’s bottom heavy. Today’s opening day starter — Dallas Keuchel — and the next two gentlemen in line — Scott Feldman and Collin McHugh — aren’t necessarily #1s. Some might argue that they would fit much better in the middle of the rotation and you would agree (I’m sure) that a rotation with a guy like Cole Hamels at the top followed by Keuchel, McHugh and Feldman would be much stronger.
That’s one stark difference in the Astros’ GM: Today’s Jeff Luhnow is much more transparent than yesterday’s Jeff Luhnow. Next season, it’s quite possible that Houston will have a clear #1.
One last thought on the rotation: The depth is stronger, but it cannot withstand one of the top three going down for any length of time. Last year’s strong suit (rotation) doesn’t appear to be repeating this year…at least not yet.
All eyes on Mr. Hinch.
Baseball experts have long argued the value of a manager to a winning equation. Needless to say, however, those teams that win generally have a consensus strong manager.
That means all eyes on new manager A.J. Hinch. Whether or not he adds 5-10 wins or not — that’s the argument part — Hinch seems like one who learns quickly from the past, both his and the past mistakes of Houston’s most recent managers, Bo Porter and Brad Mills.
Of course, the obvious things of how he handles the pitching staff, what lineup he puts on the field and his relationship with the media will all be evaluated publicly. They are important, but these may be the most significant items on his list to preserve longevity and success:
- His relationship with Luhnow. Not just a “yes” man, but navigating the relationship in such a way that the exchanges of information are useful. Luhnow seems to recognize that he needs a team around him and setting up Hinch for success should also be his job #1. Watch this closely.
- The handling of players. Whether veterans like Jed Lowrie or young players like George Springer, players need and should expect respect. You should never hear about clubhouse spats and you should never find Hinch correcting his players through the media. Maintaining a strong clubhouse and the atmosphere over a straining 162-game season may be Hinch’s more important jobs this year.
Win now or win later?
There was a change in the wind and it apparently came late last year and manifested in January when Luhnow started the overhaul. It may have been the plan all along, but it’s clear that Houston’s timeline to win includes a winning record in 2015.
Last year, the team had patience with players. This year, the patience may not extend as long. Already Jon Singleton is in Fresno and five of last year’s opening day starters are playing elsewhere or at least won’t be in the starting lineup.
Moreover, it’s obvious Luhnow doesn’t hesitate to pull the trigger, so a deal or deals at the deadline may be in the offing in June or July 2015.
So, enjoy opening day, but give us your thoughts throughout the day…and remember to tune in to Dan’s live blog this evening!