Opening day: The start of something beautiful, or . . .

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.

• •• ••• •• •

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

The patience could wear thin quickly if players like Jake Marisnick, Robbie Grossman, Asher Wojciechowski or even McHugh falter early.

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!


40 comments on “Opening day: The start of something beautiful, or . . .

  1. Facing Kluber on Opening Night is a huge challenge. The Astros did address last season’s issues batting from the left side and batting against RH pitchers. This spring they were in the top third of all teams in those two categories vs dead last in 2014.
    So the first big challenge comes on day one. The Astros did a lot of work in the offseason and all of us here are anxious to see the result. I am not going to let a loss against one of the best pitchers in baseball ruin my day. But, I will be ecstatic with a win.
    Thanks to all here for helping me get through a long offseason. Let’s go!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This whole #1 starter thing is interesting. Does the #1 starter have to be a top 5 guy or does he have to be one of the best 15 starters (since there are 15 teams in the AL) in the league? It could easily be argued that both McHugh and Keuchel were in the top 15 starters in the league last season and there could be arguments that McHugh was right there as far as being a top 5 starter. They could regress – but to me based on their numbers in 2014 (Keuchel #7 in ERA / #13 in WHIP) and McHugh (if he had pitched 8 more innings he would have been #6 in ERA and #3 in WHIP) they would have to regress quite a bit to be considered middle of the rotation guys.
    My point – I don’t mind the Astros pursuing another TOR pitcher – but if you do – don’t trade off one of these two guys – please.


      • Tim, for me, players like Altuve, Springer, Correa and Appel are off the table. We can start talking after that. There are plenty in the system who could attract interest. But remember, I was just using Hamels as a starting point for the conversation since it’s well known he’s available.

        Also, the Astros would have to eat a lot of salary there, which could diminish the return they’d have to make as well.


      • wholeheartedly agree chip. those players should be cornerstone players for us for years. I’m not as high on hamels as others, especially with the salary he has. i’d like to think one or the other of our top two continue to develop and someone like appel or harder or etc turn into a top pitcher. maybe out of all that we don’t develop #1, but 4 #2’s wouldn’t be bad. Tim i feel for you being in Lubbock lol. Hope you enjoy the game!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Don’t trade Appel if you think he will be that top of the rotation guy in 3 years. Do trade Appel for Hamels if you as the GM don’t feel Appel will be an ace, use him to get that ace. Muddy enough for you?


    • Dan, if you take last year’s stats for Keuchel especially, he probably does rate out as a #1. That’s the issue though: “…last year’s stats…” His track record doesn’t extend beyond that, just like McHugh.

      If either can sustain anywhere close to what they did last season, they would obviously be top-end guys. As much as we all like them, I do believe that is one of the big questions of 2015. Can they come close to repeating?

      And…is Keuchel in the same class as Kluber and Hernandez (Seattle)?

      I’d love Keuchel to continue developing into that #1, but honestly, I’m wondering if he’s more a fit for a strong #2.


    • First, we have to remember that this whole starting pitcher story is based on a Jon Heyman twitter, and that doesn’t mean it’s true.
      Second, the Phillies are desparate for starting pitchers. Their #4 is Jerome Williams and they don’t have a #5 listed on their depth chart.
      Third, assuming we traded for Hamels and his money, that would leave us with three lefty starters, when Ober returns. There is no way the Astros want three lefty starters in MMP.
      Based on #2 and #3, you can almost bet money that Oberholtzer is part of that deal. But Ober is on the DL so he would have to be healthy for this deal to fall.
      Question is: Are the Astros ready to take on Hamels $100 million dollar deal right now? I just find that so far fetched, considering all the money issues the Astros have eliminated in the past few season. Hamels is 31. Does his acquisition even feel like something Luhnow would do? It is so against the grain.
      But I will say one thing. The attendance at the two Royals’ games may have shocked the hell out of the Astros. And they might have to make a huge move to jolt the city out of it’s homes and into the ballpark.


      • Hamels and his wife will have to waive the no trade clause to come to Houston. I don’t think that’s happening.


      • He may waive the NT clause to get out of Philly at this point, which is in a worse situation than Houston.

        But I would agree with OP in the no to Hamels in that its not quite the right fit, and when 100 million duckets are on the line, it should fit like a glove.


      • Gentlemen, gentlemen, the emphasis was on a guy like Hamels, not necessarily Hamels himself. Mentioned Hamels only to provide a likeness of a #1 and someone everyone knows is available.

        The emphasis would be on acquiring a #1 pitcher, whether Hamels or someone else. Yes, all those things are true of Hamels — trade value, no-trade clause, etc. — but that’s one scenario. There are likely others. The emphasis — I emphasize again — would be on acquiring a #1 pitcher.


    • If we hit the opposing team’s #1 at all and Keuchel is as good as in 2014, we should do just fine in TOR games. If guys like Kluber completely shut down our line-up, it won’t matter how well Keuchel – or any other TOR pitcher we might replace him with – does. This is not a team that scratches out 1 or 2 runs to win against a pitcher who flirted with a no-hitter. This is a team that either clubs 3 HRs and 4 2Bs or whiffs 15 or more times. Feast or famine. That could be tough on any TOR’s win-loss record.


    • Sweet! No real surprises. Will be interesting to watch Hinch’s phiilosophy over the first week. Obviously Castro and Conger will switch out, but will he — like Mills — want to get everyone a start early? Or will he want to settle in with his regulars? What type of late-inning defensive replacements/changes? Who’s the first off the bench? The first out of the bullpen?

      Personally, I’d like to see a settled approach for a while, but that may take a week or so, especially in left field.


    • A little surprised at Springer batting 2nd. Valbuena’s hot spring paid off, I didn’t think he was better than a 6 hitter at best.

      Lineups are funny things though, we’ll likely see 60 variations of it before its done.

      I wonder if Rasmus is a little surprised that 8 mil only got him the 8 spot in the lineup. IMO the spring he had coupled with the last season he had he should feel lucky that 8 mil got him a starting gig at all.

      Yes, his OPS is a bit of an upgrade from last years OF, but this team didn’t really need another guy who is going to hit sub .250, post around a .300 OBP, and garner most of that OPS with SLG% by hitting 20 homers. We had enough Carters and Gattis already, that is unless we are trying to set a league record for solo homers. We need some OBP in front of that, instead for 8 mil we put more SLG at the bottom. I would rather see Presley in there in LF than Rasmus.

      Still, that aside, I would agree with Dr. Bill, best lineup we have put out there since maybe 2009?


      • Springer’s been hitting second for a few weeks now, and Hinch had indicated he’d be hitting Altuve-Springer 1-2, so not too surprised.

        As for Rasmus, $8 million + .219 + 7 hits (in spring) + 10 K (in 32 AB) = 8th in the lineup. He should be happy with that. 🙂 Just sayin’.


      • Goes to show you how much I watch ST baseball. I check the stats every few days, but never box scores, much less watch a game. I had no clue Springer was batting second, and the notion of a high strikeout, high reward guy batting second, even if he does draw enough walks to very good OBP, is foreign to me, especially when he is the logical pick to lead the team in homers. Maybe I get stuck in my traditional roles a little too much and don’t think outside the box quit enough, but it is strange to me.


      • Tim – I would rather see Grossman over either, I just said Presley because I am tired of trying to convince everyone else that Grossman has something to contribute to this team, and should be batting leadoff, so I rather not bring his name up! Plus I was trying to make a point of how poor of a choice giving Rasmus 8 mil was, not that Rasmus is a bad player, he isn’t, but we could have not spent 8 mil AND gone with a better in house choice, and still had Presley as our 4th – which isn’t a bad option.

        Call it Grossman fatigue.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Steven, I think part of the reason he’s in the two hole is speed. Get a couple of guys like Altuve/Springer on base and bring up the boppers. Then in the later innings/round of ABs, Springer could be good bopper himself with Marisnick/Altuve hitting ahead of him.

        Looks like Hinch is creating two “sections” of the lineup. Speed guys and heavy hitters/K guys. It’ll likely change, but this is the first go of it…


      • BTW – please noone tell Luhnow that Carlos Quentin just became available. I could see him pushing some low strikeout, high average guy out of the lineup. Maybe Quentin can play 2B.


      • Steven, that’s hilarious on Quentin. Why? Because late Sunday when the trade was announced, I noticed that Atlanta intended to DFA him when the deal was complete. Strangely, I had the exact same reaction…hopefully Luhnow is taking the day off to prep for opening day and doesn’t see the waiver wire!

        Of course, he’s already traded with Atlanta once this year, so maybe he could send another up-and-coming pitcher over for Quentin?


      • Quentin is a Stanford guy. This scares me a bit in the where there is smoke there is fire kind of way…


    • if singleton had a great spring and was at 1B, rasmus, wouldn’t be in the starting lineup as i bet carter would go to DH and gattis to LF. so he should indeed be happy. that being said, rasmus in LF makes a pretty dang good defensive outfield and hopefully his bat helps to earn the bulk of the 8 million.


  3. I totally understand the question marks about both Keuchel and McHugh. Watching them actually pitch last season they sure seemed like pitchers, not throwers and that goes a long ways for me. But I agree they have to show repeatability.

    That is a much more solid looking lineup to me – they have to actually perform, but I have some hope that they can. It will be fun to watch at the very least.


  4. In 2013, Indians opening day starter Corey Kluber had an ERA of 3.85 and a WHIP of 1.25. In 2014 he dropped both substantially, to 2.44 and 1.09, respectively. His K/9 went from 8.37 to 10.27, and that’s huge. His BAA dropped from .271 to .233. 2014 was by far his best season in the MLB. That one year of excellence has just made him a very rich man.

    On our side is Dallas Keuchel. Dallas is a year younger than Kluber and makes league minimum. But he improved dramatically in 2014 as well. In 2013 he had an ERA of 5.15 and a WHIP of 1.54. In 2014 he dropped his ERA over 2 runs per game, to 2.93, and cut his WHIPfrom 1.54 to 1.18. Keuchel’s K/9 [6.57] wasn’t nearly as impressive as Kluber’s, but his GO/AO rate was other-worldly, which made up for the lack of Ks.

    Neither allowed many HRs last year. Keuchel’s BAA was slightly higher than Kluber’s in 2014, but he wound up pitching 5 complete games to Kluber’s 3.

    We in Houston are a little anxious about whether Keuchel – at league minimum – can repeat his career best numbers from 2014. If I were an Indian fan, considering the money their franchise just committed to him [$38.5 million over the next five years], might feel a little more than anxious if Kluber can.

    At least if our #1 hits a snag somewhere along the way, we have not committed to him anything like the Indians have committed to Kluber.


    • I think the question marks that come from baseball “experts” on Keuchel is that he is not a power pitcher, and its usually power pitchers that have the “stuff” to repeat great seasons. The best pitchers in baseball, Kershaw, Scherzer, Hernandez, Sale, etc., all power pitchers. Even Lester, Shields, and Cueto strike out quite a few people. When a player puts together Keuchel’s season, at below 7k/9, he will garner some doubt until he repeats it.

      Kluber’s “stuff” won’t garner the same doubt from Cleveland fans, front office, or the national media. I am inclined to agree with it. I’m rooting for Dallas to blow them all away and win a Cy Young this year, but the realist in me says we got a very good pitcher on our hands, and can be a number 2 on a championship squad, but he isn’t showing up in game 6 of the NLCS like Roy O did and mow down a lineup – or think what Mike Scott used to do. He is a plodder – he will go day to day, getting his innings in, not walking people, not making mistakes, and putting together solid seasons – but he isn’t Cy Young stuff, and he isn’t going 3-0 with a 1.50 ERA in 4 postseason starts against the best lineups in baseball. We need that ace (but doesn’t every franchise).

      Liked by 1 person

      • Good stuff Steven – the argument here might be that that “guy” is not Keuchel, but McHugh. 9.1 K/ 9 IP – .208 BAA – 2.73 ERA – 1.022 WHIP – .588 OPS against …maybe he is that #1 guy and Keuchel is Robin to his Batman….


      • And its not say that he isn’t a lefty Maddux or a Glavine, neither one of which ever posted a plus 8K/9 rate, matter of fact Glavine only had 2 seasons over 7K, but those guys are a LOT more rare than the rest. Keuchel to this point statistically looks a lot like Glavine when he broke out too though, so I am optimistic – Glavine even mirrored with the poor season, the meh season, then won 20 games and the rest was history.


  5. My point was merely that Keuchel is young, is a good for MMP and seems to be getting better, is REALLY, REALLY CHEAP, and gives us a lot of flexibility compared to high-dollar guys like King Felix, Hamels, Kluger, etc. We are not exactly expected to take the division – or even compete with any seriousness for the wildcard – this year anyway. I would rather us just see what we have in Keuchel and McHugh – and ultimately Appel, Velazquez, McCullers and Hader – this year, and depending on their performance, maybe next as well.

    If Kluger doesn’t repeat in 2015, or gets injured, the Indians are now stuck big time. I’d rather have the higher level of flexibility this year and next. And by 2017, when I expect us to be competitive, I would hope that Keuchel, McHugh, Appel, McCullers and one or more of the other young guns [Velazquez, Hader, etc.] are performing so well that no one wants to replace them. But whether or not that happens, even if neither Keuchel or McHugh repeat their 2014 breakout this year, we still have the flexibility in payroll and the eye-candy level talent in the pipeline to go out and find someone that will when it matters.


    • IF, and thats a big if, but if Velasquez ever gets healthy, he is a future ace, and I mean dominate a good lineup in the playoffs kinda ace.


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