With a win and the first off day of the season, the Astros are ready to get into the stride of a full season ahead. Obviously, the win could lead to over reaction and higher-than-reasonable expectations, but it also gives rise to hope for a marked improvement over last season’s 19-game jump toward respectability.
Today, Chip and Dan look at a few more prognostications, some not so easily broken down with yes/no or specific numbers.
Jump in at any point and register your thoughts…
- Dan: My assumption is that both Asher Wojciechowski and Roberto Hernandez have pitched decently (no no-hitters and no 9 run 1 inning stints) and all four pitchers are ready.
- Obie is back in the rotation because a) They want two lefties in the rotation and b) They see a little Keuchel in Obie.
- Obie replaces Wojo because Wojo still can be optioned to the minors
- Hernandez stays in the rotation, because they brought him here to help give veteran stability to the rotation and they like his ability to get ground balls.
- Peacock is the odd man out – they either try to waive him, bring him up in Deduno’s spot, trade him or perhaps….. trade Feldman.
- Chip: Difficult question because it will take into account the conditions — both health and performance — later this month or next of all four pitchers, not to mention the otherthreestarters andDeduno or others in the pen.
- Oberholtzer will be the longest coming back, perhaps not until late April or even early May. So the first question will likely be Peacock. Obie has a job, Peacock is probably not guaranteed and has options. Theoretically, he could jump into the pen to work his strength back up if needed.
- Prediction: Hernandez stays if effective and either Peacock or Wojciechowski head to Fresno or the pen.
- My guess is that the equation will change by the time Obie returns and it will be more obvious.
2. Is Jake Marisnick the real deal? Will he be the center fielder at the break? At the end of the season?
- Dan. The kid is growing on me. I loved his glove last season and still do. I saw a little of him in Spring Training and liked his hitting approach. In the opener he did something that we have lacked with a guy on third in the past. He put the ball in play and lifted a fly deep enough to score the 2nd run and give Luke Gregerson a fairly stress free save opportunity. I don’t know that he will ever be a premier hitter, but he is a big kid and could develop some power over time. Jury’s out – but I think he could be helping us for a while.
- Chip. Is he the real deal? Yes, absolutely. It comes down to what your expectation is for a “real deal” center fielder. Defensively, he can patrol centerfield with the best so the bat is the question. Surprise! If Marisnick can simply hit .250 with a solid OBP, he’ll have the position as long as he wants this season.
3. Will Astros’ hitters break the MLB record for strikeouts in 2015 (1535 by the Astros in 2013)?
- Dan. I’m going to say close but no cigar. I could be totally wrong after watching the opener, but I was at the game Kluber pitched against the Astros last September when he struck out 14 in 7 innings. He still had great stuff in the opener this season, but the K’s were cut in ½ to 7. The Astros seemed to be taking a better approach, especially with a couple strikes. Chris Carter had a great AB (for him) where with 2 strikes he shortened his swing and hit one the other way – that was caught at the right center field wall. Maybe the new hitting coach will help them lower that K%.
- Chip. Nope. Houston will surprise this year and its hitters will get better at the K rate as the season progresses. Don’t get me wrong, still a lot of strikeouts ahead, but not threatening the record.
4. Will the Astros – or any specific player for that matter – give you a reason to watch the team in the last two weeks of the season?
- Dan. It is too much to ask for the team to be in contention in the last two weeks of the season. I would love it – but don’t expect it. I think we could be looking at Jose Altuve fighting for another batting crown and Carter / George Springer duking it out for the HR crown. I’m hopeful that Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh at least get a sniff of the Cy Young race. OK – that is all too much to ask – but they are all possible.
- Chip. Yes, this season will be more exciting than seasons past and, while there may be no wild card push, enough players will be having those kind of seasons. Moreover, it could also be the time of the year when you get a glimpse of spring training 2016. Can you say Carlos Correa, Tony Kemp, Mark Appel, Colin Moran?
5. Does Jon Singleton earn a trip back to Houston, or get called up due only to injury? Or does he remain blocked all season due to solid performance in front of him?
- Dan. I see two scenarios getting him back to Houston – 1) Evan Gattis or Carter are injured or 2) They package Carter in a trade for that TOR pitcher that keeps getting mentioned.
- Chip. It’s all — read ALL – on Singleton. I’m hopeful he has to hit so well (mid to upper .300s) and has to force his way back to Houston. If Carter handles first base like he did Monday, he’ll be solid. Gattis is more at home at DH, and it’s clear an outfield of Colby Rasmus, Marisnick and Springer could be one of the best OF defenses in the majors. If the aforementioned played so well that we didn’t see Singleton again until the second half of the season, that would be excellent.
6. Which injured player will most affect the Astros this season?
- Dan. If Keuchel or McHugh go down, I think they will have a hard time with competently filling those spots.
- Chip. After Keuchel and McHugh, it gets shallow quickly, meaning few others can pick up the slack. If Jose Altuve goes down, there are a few other hitters who could carry the team for a short period of time. Final thought: You can lose either one of Keuchel or McHugh for a DL stint, but if you lose both for extended period of time, it gets ugly. The team also cannot afford to lose Altuve and Springer simultaneously. Again, ugly, and very quickly.
7. Answer this one: Why will the Astros finish above (or below) .500 this season? Show your work. In other words, explain…
- Dan. I think they will end up over .500 for the season and the reason is simple. They will lower their runs given up per game from 4.46 to around 4.10 and they will raise their runs scored per game from 3.88 to around 4.20. They will lower those runs per game mostly through bullpen improvement. They will take the 205 innings they gave to guys with ERAs over 5.00 (Jerome Williams, Darin Downs, Anthony Bass, Paul Clemens, Josh Zeid, Michael Foltynewicz, Lucas Harrell, Kyle Farnsworth, David Martinez, Rudy Owens, Jose Cisnero, and Raul Valdes) and give a big chunk of that to Gregerson and Pat Neshek. They will also replace those poor OPS ABs of Jon Singleton, Marc Krauss, Matt Dominguez, L.J. Hoes, Jonathan Villar and Jesus Guzman with competent numbers from Luis Valbuena, Evan Gattis, Jed Lowrie and Colby Rasmus – plus a ½ season more of George Springer. They will win more games and be a decent mlb team for the first time in a very long time.
- Chip. Simple answer. If the teams stays healthy, it’s .500 plus. The guns are there and health has hindered several players over the years (Springer, Lowrie, Gattis, Castro). If players start going down, it may not happen. Immediate depth is still the biggest question for another year.