Friends, make no mistake: The time is now for Astros


Over the past few months — even years — fans and media have debated the timeline for return to respectability and competitiveness for the Astros.

Whether it’s ahead of schedule or right on target with The Plan, we may never know. But…

Make no mistake: The time is now. The Astros, indeed, have entered a new phase and Jim Crane, Jeff Luhnow and the team will be tested on handling the questions and speed bumps that come with being in the spot light and in the thick of things. Rebuilding, you can argue, is the easy part. Just dump the $$ and get prospects, get prospects, get prospects.

Now, it’s onto the heavier part: Continually analyze, put the pieces together, fill in the gaps for injuries and under-performance. Much more tedious.

World Series year? No, probably not, but at this point, it will be disappointing if this team doesn’t play well into September.

Pitching: The key is not to panic.

Even with all of the success thus far, this is not likely the WS season and perhaps not even a playoff year. And panic will not look pretty on the franchise. Brett Oberholtzer will be back next week and we’ll see if he can provide stop-gap starts, at least until the All Star break. Clearly, though, Houston will be a player and a buyer this summer. Clearly, the rotation needs an upgrade. And, clearly, Luhnow has put the word out that he is in the market.

Despite the trades we’ve discussed exhaustively, the organization still has some pitching depth. But here’s a obersvation I’ve noted before. The Astros may be more inclined to build its position stars through the draft, and more likely to pick up its start pitchers through free agency or trades. Just looking at the trends. More later.

A.J. Hinch. Can’t make a comparison.

Look, Brad Mills and Bo Porter never had a chance. To try to compare them to the Astros’ current skipper is ludicrous. Mills was never the long-term guy. Luhnow had to know that the first manager would be beaten up and torn apart, so Mills was the sacrificial lamb. Porter, however, was different, he was anointed for the long run. Hopefully, Luhnow learned much from the Porter experience and it will aid in his personnel decisions going forward. Personality matters. Relationships are key.

But Hinch has the goods as far as lineup and players goes. He’ll reap more benefits from the minor league pipeline than the other two (already has). Comparisons will happen, but it’s apples and oranges and otherwise useless.

The Carter dilemma.

Is it really a dilemma? You know Luhnow is tracking. You know the sabermetrics guys have their graphs, charts and jots and tittles working overtime. What they’ve seen on the surface is the same thing they saw a year ago.

After 30 games in 2014, Carter was hitting .170 with four homers, 13 RBI and 40 Ks. Of course, that line was similar to much of the rest of the lineup, making this year a little different. Through the first 30 games of 2015, Carter is at .152 with four homers, 10 RBI and 43 Ks. Give up on the guy? Ha, not a chance!

Here’s the Saturday morning question for you: If you could bank on the .227 average with 37 homers and 88 RBI from 2014, would it help ease your concern when you see his name in the lineup? At least, for this season?

Yes, he’s a possible, if not likely, trade candidate for a starter at the break. Meaning, he will likely heat up for another team in the second half. But the cavalry is on the way.

One more thing.

What is very clear is that the pipeline is flowing now and may soon burst. Preston Tucker is the first player drafted by Luhnow to reach the majors. Others will soon follow, whether this summer, in September or next Spring. Change is coming. We want to thank Robbie Grossman, Colby Rasmus, Carter, Roberto Hernandez and perhaps even Marwin Gonzalez and Jonathan Villar now, as their exits could happen suddenly over the coming months.

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62 comments on “Friends, make no mistake: The time is now for Astros

  1. Last night was the fifth game in a row that an average starting pitcher totally dominated the Astros lineup. We lost four of the five and only scored off the closer in the game we won. None of the five pitchers was close to being an ace.

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  2. To answer your question, yes, if I could bank on the Carter of the three months of last summer, I would.
    Thing is, I can’t bank on him doing it again and continuing with the current Carter is not going to end well.

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  3. Chip, did you notice who made their Astros debut last night for Quad Cities? Akeem Bostick was the starting pitcher and pitched five shutout innings, allowing 1 single and no walks. Quad Cities won 11-6 and is now 23-6 for the season.
    Bostick was the 20 year old pitcher we got for Carlos Corporan.

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    • OP, when we look back on this thing in 4-5 years, the most critical moves may have not been the big ones at all. I think of McHugh off the waiver wire. Even Marisnick, who was probably not the key component of that deal (Colin Moran, 37th pick in this year’s draft), and Josh Fields (Rule 5). Should we perhaps pencil Bostick into that list? And there will be others…

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      • He is struggling now, but you might want to include James Hoyt into that conversation. He could be a sleeper as a reliever for the Astros in the coming years.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I agree. I assume Bostick has been working all spring on the back fields of Kissimmee in extended spring training. Who would ever have imagined how good Dallas Keuchel would be right now? You just never know.
        A couple of other fun tidbits from the minors. Mike Feliz had his best outing of the year in Lancaster’s victory last night and it was in the back end tandem role. The hero of the game was light-hitting RF James Ramsey who tied the game with a 2 run HR in the ninth and won it with a walk off double in the tenth.
        Brady Rodgers was the starting pitcher in Fresno’s shutout of okwhoever last night, but it took him 105 pitches to get through 4.2 innings of work. He must have had a full count on every batter!

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      • Okay, OP, I haven’t gone back to pull up the entries from a few years ago (at the Chron) but I did predict Keuchel would be a good rotation piece. Always liked him and thought he was one of those “sneaky” lefties. Now, if anyone tells you they predicted THIS, they’re lying…and I’d tell Obama that to his face.

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      • Chip, I was talking about ordinary people like me. I know that professionals have access to inside statistical wizardry that allow them to see deep into a player’s future. You nailed it on Dallas and I missed it when I was too busy watching Keuchel roll his eyes toward the heavens every time Brad Mills walked from the dugout to the mound, patted Dallas on the butt, and said “Don’t worry Keuchsie, we got this”.

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      • and thank heaven we don’t have to listen to all that millsie, springsie, quallsie etc nickname stuff.

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  4. If we didn’t have the injuries to Lowrie and Springer I can understand putting Carter into the lineup until he figures it out. Right now, the offense is really struggling to score runs and we can’t afford to continue putting a .150 hitter in the lineup everyday. Even Singleton wouldn’t be this bad.

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  5. Another item I want to raise because of all the Conger frustration on here, including myself. I don’t have any way to determine how effective ‘pitch framing’ can be, but Conger seems to be the personal caddie for Keuchel, who has the best ERA in baseball as a starter. Is it possible that Conger’s pitch framing has a part in this? I don’t know, but just throwing it out there.

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    • Tim, good point. I’ll take it a step further. The jury is definitely still out on that trade, but I’m looking for some public confirmation that Conger has actually had an impact on Castro’s improvement as a catcher this year. It’s largely gone unnoticed, but his CS% is higher (35%) and his overall demeanor behind the plate is up a couple of notches…Is there any doubt he’s a better catcher this year than last?

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    • Tim, do you remember the “attaboys” we old guys used to refer to? Well, all the pitch framing “attaboys” get wiped out when Conger commits the “oh, s#*t of letting DDJ off the hook on the bases and costing Keuchel a win.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Here my take on Carter , he may come around , I hope he does so we get more for him. This team needs another guy that may only hits 15 -20 Hr’s , but has a .280 average drives in 75-80 and has OBP of .330. This line up has to many streak high k Hitters. I vote Kyle Lohse no Hammels!

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    • Can’t disagree with your take on Carter Kevin. The key is that Carter is one of the few so-called expendable veterans for Houston this year (Rasmus?). Luhnow needs to use that to his advantage and get a good return. Whether it’s ONE key rotation piece, or multiple MLB pieces and prospects, Carter can attract that. He’s young still with explosive potential, and he’s controllable. Incredibly cheap for 30+ HR potential.

      And, remember this about Lohse. Boras client. Free agent at the end of the season. He’s 36 and likely another Scott Feldman. Moreover, HOuston would have the option for a QO with him (I don’t believe).

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      • What about getting Lohse on the cheap just for the rest of 2015, he isn’t any better than Feldman?

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  7. Last summer’s highly anomalous explosion of offense from Chris Carter – something no one had ever seen him do before – raised an eyebrow. But it always looked like an anomaly. What we are seeing now is the Chris Carter seen much more frequently. This is ‘normal’.

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    • Yes, Luhnow may have missed a huge window in the off season, but you know he’ll use the selling point of the second half from 2014. Lot of GMs will salivate and won’t be able to pass that by, so he’s marketable. Now, if Houston keeps him all year and he remains “normal”, no marketability remains…

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    • Bill, you’re right and we know it because if you examinre his last year splits, you will find that by September he was back to his .228 hitting self. He got hot for two months(July and August), and then it was gone and hasn’t returned.

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      • I don’t think he works real hard at improving his game. If the guy can hit 37 dingers, you know the talent is there. I don’t see any real passion though

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  8. OP, did a smidgen of digging…here’s one prediction I made in spring 2012, listing Keuchel as a sleeper. There were other, even stronger, “endorsements”, but that was an early one. Now, AGAIN, I didn’t predict the Keuchel we’ve seen since the beginning of 2014, but for some reason, always thought he’d be an integral part of the next winning team in Houston.

    ——————————————————————————-

    Chip: “Sleeper would be someone who is not a top prospect, right? Watch Dallas Keuchel at OKC. He’s not on the 40-man or among the Astros top 20 prospects, but worth keeping an eye on.”

    ——————————————————————————-

    Interestingly, he never appeared on Baseball America’s Top 10 Astros’ prospects. And, as I said earlier, no one foresaw a possible Cy Young winner. No one.

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    • Great get. That is why we pay you the big bucks! I am going to work harder and dig deeper and maybe someday……Somewhere, over the rainbow….

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  9. Both Bostick and Brandon McNitt, who pitched last night for QC were sent as replacements for Musgrove and Radziewski, who were promoted to Lancaster.
    Catcher Alfredo Gonzalez was also promoted from QC to Lancaster and Jobduan Morales was released.

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  10. Everyone keeps talking about CH from Philly. Really, are we ready to spend 23MM for the next 3 years and trade away an Appel, McCullers, or some more pitching. Lets give these guys a shot and if they are not everything we thought or hoped they’d be then maybe. Maybe, I’m focused too much on the $ but I just can’t see us doing something like that. Don’t sell the farm. Seems like we got some good ones down there. Look tat the Cardinals and Braves. Yes they made some trades but I can’t recall where it bit them later on.

    Yes I agree we’ll need another arm and maybe two but lets see what happens first. The hitting seems to be more of an issue at present.

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    • Zanuda, I wouldn’t think that any real Astros’ follower would propose trading Appel or McCullers. Hamels may not be the answer and we don’t know that Luhnow would go that route anyway. I can’t see Lohse as the answer either, though.

      But, we do know that the only real guarantees in the rotation now are Keuchel and McHugh. Then…there are 7-8 or possibilities, some with more upside than others, but no guarantees. Feldman, Obie, Wojo, Hernandez, Peacock, Deduno, etc. If Houston gets into the mid-to-end of June and is still relative, it will be very tempting — if not, necessary — for Luhnow to pull the trigger.

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  11. Chip i have to respectfully disagree a bit about the managers. mills i agree had no hope given his team, porter about the same. but i think you can see (at least to this point) a clear difference in the handling of pitchers and personnel i.e. locker room.

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    • rj, I wouldn’t disagree that Hinch is a different manager, but you’d also have to agree that Hinch isn’t working with the likes of Lucas Harrell, Erik Bedard, Rick Ankiel, Nelson Figueroa, or Bill Hall. Point is, the roster makeup will dictate certain things and Hinch clearly has more to work with. While they aren’t the same caliber of Hinch in my estimation, we will never know what Mills and Porter might have done with a better roster.

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  12. Speaking of the rotation, what if we could take a time machine back a bit and reverse the trades of Tropeano, Foltynewicz and Cosart? I’m pretty sure we would not have 20 wins right now, based on what Marisnick and Gattis have done so far this season, but would we be poised to be a better team later this season?

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    • I wouldn’t mind a re-do on the Folty and Nitro trades, but I wouldn’t take back the Cosart trade. He is a nice pitcher, but I think we got much more than the Marlins, including the draft pick this year, in that trade.

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  13. I hope Luhnow pulls the trigger on Carter sooner rather than later. A case could be made that since the Astros were inconsequential last year that folks were inclined to challenge Carter with pitches he could handle and for two months he was otherworldly. Now that the Astros are viewed rightly as a contender folks are making adjustments to him and he is not adjusting himself. I view Carter as the type of player who will be able to put up good numbers for a non-contender and be able to make a nice living doing it but I can’t see him ever being the reliable producer a winning team needs. Another thing that really bugs me about Carter is his history of horrendous starts. What has he done/not done in the off season to keep this from happening. If memory serves Bagwell was a poor starter and it bugged him enough that he put more effort into his offseason prep.

    IF we really want to win now and are not just paying lip service due to our good start then the no-brainer is to move Carter, use MarGo/Gattis there as a stop-gap, call up Correa, keep Tucker as DH/LF. and pick up some rotation help. If we don’t get rid of Carter quickly then we ought to petition the training staff to find a hangnail or something that would allow us to put him on the DL and then send him off for an EXTENDED rehab assignment, let him tear up AAA pitching and then trade him straight up for Scherzer, Bumgarner, Kershaw, Kluber or King Felix. I really don’t care which one. Now if you’ll excuse me I have to go take my afternoon meds.

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    • I agree with almost everything you said except putting Gattis at 1B. I think Tucker, even in his limited professional experience there, would be a better option than Gattis. El Oso Blanco is right where he belongs, which is an everyday DH, in my opinion.

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  14. I would trade Carter if there was a reasonable return on him. I mean I keep hearing that the 37 HR and 88 RBIs are some kind of weird anomaly – but in 2013 with an awful lineup around him he had 29 HR and 82 RBIs. In 2012 he hit 16 HR in 62 games – about a 40 HR pace. He is very streaky with lots of Ks mixed in.
    If the Astros had Mr. Correa in the lineup – the poor hitting of Carter would not be as hurtful – the team could wait.

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    • I agree we probably can’t trade Chris for any meaningful return – right now or probably ever. The man’s lifetime BA is .217 [now .152] and his lifetime OBP is .309, has been declining every year since 2012, and is presently .252. He has struck out a ridiculous 61 times in 427 major league games. The question is whether we keep trotting him out with his current .152 BA, .111 vs. lefties, and .150 BARISP, to go 0-4 with 2 Ks, or we at least let Marwin play first, and sit him down, vs any lefty or any righty with an ERA under 3.50.

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  15. Let’s see a bit more e Tucke before declaring him the solution over Carter. I talked up Wallace and Singleton that way in the past, and neither performed well enough to hold a spot.

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  16. Interesting, Mr. Hinch. JFSF will lead off today; Altuve will bat 2nd. If this works [and we’ve talked about it here on this blog for awhile], Altuve could make a bid to become be our team RBI leader as well as hits, BA, OBP, and SB leader.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Now that JFSF is 1 for his last 15 / 2 for his last 19 we are putting him at the top of the order? That is like putting Valbuena in the 2nd spot against lefties (3 for 31).
      I know – JFSF was hot – but the move is catching him on the down swing.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I am guessing Hinch expects him to see more FBs with Altuve hitting behind him. Marisnick has shown he can hit a FB.

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      • I think the right move was putting him at #9 so that he had Altuve on deck when he bats rather than Grossman, Villar, Conger, etc. Leadoff works just the same…so I’m good with it as an experiment.

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  17. Corpus Christi just put up a 7 spot on the San Antonio Mission in the 6th. It all started with a kid named Correa . . . .

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  18. Radziewski and Musgrove introduced their recently promoted tandem to Lancaster tonight and pitched a great game, winning 3-1. Danry Vasquez seems to have woken up and had 3 hits tonight.

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  19. Qualls did have a little bad luck – that infield hit was only a hit because he fooled the batter so badly.
    And Carter had another unimportant HR to give Keuchel back the lead…

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    • Now he can go 0 for 4 tomorrow and maintain that .150 average. He has to be exhausted having to trot around those bases and walking back to the dugout after those two strikeouts and that topper to third base.
      But we won and still have a six game lead and the best record in the AL.
      I missed Gregerson tonight. I hope all is well with his family.

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    • As you know I am not a believer in Carter, and do not expect to see anything from him resembling the eye-popping performance of June and July last year. But I have to say that at least he was part of the win as well as part of the problem last night. Gattis, Conger, and Gonzalez were the more frustrating part of the problem last night, with 0 hits and 7 Ks between them. Conger’s poor offense was made to sting even more by the offensive show put on by Carlos Perez, who we gave up for him. Gonzales poor performance [3 Ks] just made us more hungry for Carlos Correa.

      Preston Tucker did not get a hit last night either, but he gets a pass from me for his first two weeks in the major leagues. And though as a team we struck out 13 times, Tucker did not strike out once. He’s making contact. His hits will come.

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  20. I get tired of watching Carter wave at the ball, I’d like to see Correa now and I am concerned about the rotation, but when a team is 20 and 11 and leads its division by six games, there is not going to be any real sense of urgency in addressing issues.

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