After 21 games, there is a lot we know about the Astros. Still, there is much we don’t know.
To be sure, this ride has been stupid crazy.
- 9-1 in the last 10 games.
- Houston has won four straight series.
- Best road start (10-2) in team history.
- At 14-7, the Astros have their first winning April since 2007.
- The team is 12-0 when scoring first and 13-0 when scoring 4+ runs.
So, let’s review a little…
Here are some things we know.
This team will be streaky.
Get used to it. The Astros are on a 9-1 run after a 5-6 start. The next 10 could be 1-9, though that could be unlikely with Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh taking the hill four times every 10 games. A few games ago, Luis Valbuena was the high point. Now, it’s been Evan Gattis and Colby Rasmus of late.
The Astros lead the American League in home runs and strikeouts — as Gomer Pyle might say: Surprise! Surprise! Surprise! — but it’s the average with runners in scoring position (.238) and the question of how many .200 hitters the team will have at any one time that could plague the team.
This team can be scary good.
Don’t believe that? Just ask Oakland and San Diego, who probably has no idea what just hit them in their own stadiums! On any day, it can be someone different who carries the team. And, it can be any one, not just Jose Altuve. Gattis has done it. Valbuena has done it. George Springer has done it. Jed Lowrie, bless that thumb, has done it. This can be the blessing of this team, and on certain days, it will be the curse when no one is able to pick up the other guys.
Already, this team is 5-1 in blowout wins (5+ run wins). Last year, it was 21-29. One-run games? Yeah, there too: 3-1 in 2015, 17-28 a year ago.
This team has more pieces than…well, in a long time!
It’s hard to compare A.J. Hinch to Bo Porter or Brad Mills because Hinch has so much more to work with. Neither of Hinch’s predecessors had as many potential offensive weapons and neither had as solid of a rotation as Hinch as thus far. Clearly, the bane of the team’s existence under Porter and Mills — the bullpen — has already been a safety net for Hinch.
Twenty batting orders in 21 games? Not even Porter or Mills put that many combinations on the field…and they had more roster changes and injuries to push it.
Now, there are still some things we do not know…
How will injuries affect this team?
While Jeff Luhnow has clearly upgraded the major league team and the minor league system is flourishing, depth is still the biggest potential enemy of the Astros. Lowrie’s injury has drawn attention to that and one starter or reliever going down would punctuate it further.
Yes, Corpus Christi is bubbling with eye-popping talent, it’s not quite ripe and the AAA lineup has only a handful of possible solutions ready to pick. The greatest friend for Hinch would be a healthy team this summer while Carlos Correa, Colin Moran, Mark Appel, Preston Tucker, Jon Singleton and others continue to incubate.
How many bad streaks will this team have?
As presented above, the streaks are inevitable. How many, who knows? Will the bad ones out number the good ones? Good question. What we do know is that it could be Hinch’s biggest challenge to make the right moves at the right time. Already, however, this team has proven it can remain relevant even when some of its better players (e.g. Gattis, Springer, Chris Carter) aren’t.
As long as more players than not are streaking positively, perhaps this team can streak to September by staying in reach of contention.
What will Luhnow be forced to do?
As I discussed earlier this week, June and July could pose the most significance moves of the Luhnow Era thus far. If 9-1 turns into 4-6 or even 3-7, it will be difficult to keep Correa, Appel, Tucker or others in Fresno and Corpus all summer. Or it may prove more challenging to say “no” to other GMs wanting to send a “sure thing”, “can’t miss” solution to a perceived hole in the lineup or rotation. Critical moves? Perhaps, especially if more injuries or bad streaks raise their ugly heads.
Things we both know and don’t know…
- Keuchel is very good. Just how good, we don’t know.
- The Astros are definitely better than 2011-14. How much better, we don’t know.
- Houston, we know we could have a playoff team! Just when, we don’t know.
- We know Gattis may well have the talent Luhnow believes, but we don’t know if his talent will live up to the talent given up in the trade.
- Marisnick is dang good, we know that. How long can he sustain and why so suddently, we just don’t know.
- Football and basketball rule in Houston right now. Can baseball return to the forefront by the end of the summer? Don’t know that yet.
What else do you know about the team/season thus far? And, perhaps more importantly, what is it that you do not yet know?