While true, the phrase “it’s early” is getting old. Yes, the Astros are eight games into a 162-game schedule and maybe expectations were too high for April for a team with several new position players, a new manager and a brand new bullpen. However, concerns have shifted, frustrations have mounted and the “I told you so’s” are warming up in the wings.
Yes, there is plenty of angst to go around, but don’t shout me down when I’m preaching good: It. Is. Early. Here are a few things to consider, ponder and remember as the Astros go to bat this Wednesday before an off day Thursday.
Meanwhile, things are hunky dory in Fresno and Corpus Christi!
Evan Gattis is not the Astros’ savior.
You already knew that. Or suspected that. Or feared that. Or… The 28-year-old (umm, just noticed Gattis and I share the same birthday) C/LF/DH is a career .246 hitter with more career Ks than hits. We won’t replay the trade that brought him to Minute Maid Park, but Houstonians must be wondering: What was Jeff thinking?
At his best, Gattis will hit 30 HRs with a .260/.320/.500 line (all above his career line), which would be productive and provide some punch. At his worst, well, I’ll leave that to your imagination. For now, manager A.J. Hinch should do what he’s doing: Keep running him out there, working behind the scenes to build confidence and improve his approach.
The question of overcrowding.
While no one is knocking down the door for a position job for the Astros, it’s clear the team does have pitching options. Soon, Brett Oberholtzer and Josh Fields will be available soon. In fact, since Fields apparently completed his rehab assignment Tuesday, it’s likely he will be activated on the off day Thursday or before Friday’s game.
Who does he replace? The bullpen isn’t the problem. In fact, it can be argued the likely candidate — righty Will Harris — has been the most dominant, allowing one hit, no walks, no runs with five strikeouts in three appearances and five IP. In fact, he hasn’t allowed a run in 19 straight appearances now, dating back to August 19.
Oberholtzer will also return soon, but he’ll need a start or two and hasn’t been on the mound since late March. By the time he’s ready later this month, an opening may have worked itself out anyway.
Yes, the hitting is anemic, but . . .
No one will quarrel with you if you make fun of the Astros’ hitting in the first eight games. It’s nothing short of feeble, frail, ghastly, appalling, pick your adjective. Still, it seems to be going around early in the year. The Astros and Nationals both are hitting .197, but Minnesota (.201), Chicago (.207), Seattle (.207), Texas (.213), Philadelphia (.215) and the Angels (.215) are also struggling at the plate.
Meanwhile, it’s interesting to note that the Astros are actually sixth in the majors with 29 BBs and, believe it or not, 10th in the majors in HRs (8). Yes, yes, yes, there are other putrid stats you can point to that emphasize the Astros’ struggle, but some of the aforementioned stats highlights that other teams are facing similar challenges.
First impressions are lasting.
Yes, this team is making some impressions early on fans and the media, but you have to go back to 2006 to find an Astros’ team that had a winning April (16-8). No one is necessarily expecting a winning month, but there are some necessary goals for the rest of the first month of the season.
- Carter and Gattis (aka Cartis) must contribute. Not asking for .300 or 10 HRs, but reasonable production that adds some punch to the middle of the order. Without it, the Astros are in serious trouble.
- Save the bullpen. Houston starters are already in the top five of most AL categories, but need to continue to stretch themselves out, allowing the bullpen to work on regular rest as well. Not much you can do about 14-inning games, but consistent six-inning outings with 2-3 7+ inning outings a week will go a long way to preserving the pen. The last thing this team needs is disarray in the bullpen with overwork, injuries and a revolving door to Fresno.
- Settle in on the lineup and stick with it, especially up the middle (C, 2B, SS, CF). Play the guys that are consistently producing either defensively or offensively. That means Jose Altuve, Jed Lowrie, George Springer, Jake Marisnick and Jason Castro are in the lineup everyday (or most everyday in the case of Castro). Luis Valbuena, Colby Rasmus and Robbie Grossman should be regulars as well. No more Jonathan Villar at SS, thank you.
- Don’t panic! We’re told Hinch is even-keeled. If that’s the case, keep the ship steady, don’t panic and don’t make radical changes yet. Same for Luhnow. No need to sound the alarm just yet. Heck, the team is only a game and a half out of first.
Some mid-week questions for you now.
- Your biggest concern for the Astros after eight games?
- Is baseball entering another dead ball era?
- Fields is due back this week. Who goes down or away?
- Finish the sentence. The Astros are 3-5 in April with 14 games remaining. I’ll be happy if they finish April at …
- Which player is more important to get rolling: Carter, Gattis, Springer or Valbuena?