Astros at the 20 percent mark: Expectations vs. Reality


The Astros have just passed the 20% mark of the season, far enough to at least note the trends to this point performance-wise for the team and players. The following is a totally biased look at the over-performers, under-performers and those living up to expectations. The bias is based on a combination of statistics and judgment. Be aware that each player is judged against the pre-season expectations of him and he is not compared to other players in his category.

The Over-Performers

The Team as a whole. Only people who have a padded cell for a bedroom would have predicted a 20-12 start to the season and/or a five-game lead in the AL West for the local nine at this point in the season.

A.J. Hinch and his coaching staff. It certainly helps that when you call in someone from the bullpen they bring fire extinguishers instead of fire starters, but Hinch has been right a lot more than wrong this season and rarely has had us scratching our heads or feeling embarrassed for him. The team is playing much more solid and smart baseball especially in the field.

JFSF. Jake Marisnick is cooling off, but when you are flirting with .400 for the first month of the season that has to happen. He has looked like a great center fielder defensively and a very good one at the plate: .319 BA/.880 OPS with 9 SBs.

Jose Altuve. Hang with me here. The guy who led the AL in hitting, hits and SBs is better. While keeping his BA within a few points of last season, he is on pace for the following improvements RBIs (59 in 2014 on pace for 106 in 2015), HRs (7 on pace for 20), OPS (.830 on pace for .879) and Walks (36 on pace for 60). He has continued to be a hitting machine while leading the team in RBIs from the leadoff or second spot.

Colby Rasmus. Rasmus is doing about what could be expected based on his career numbers, but based on written expectations here, most everyone expected him to be on the downward decline. He has been a pleasant surprise with six HRs and 12 RBIs, a nice .825 OPS and very good fielding.

Dallas Keuchel. People were hoping for only a slight regression from last season. Instead, his 4-0 record, 1.39 ERA, .852 WHIP and 5.1 hits/9 IP has been a bold progression. He is one of the best pitchers in the AL right now.

Roberto Hernandez. He has gone six or more innings in five of his six starts and he has given up three or fewer earned runs in five of six starts (four runs in the other). He has been unlucky as far as run support goes, but has exceeded expectations with performance.

Will Harris. Three hits and 1 run given up in 15 IP for a scrap heap pickup. Talk about exceeding expectations.

Luke Gregerson. He has not been perfect, but seven out of eight on save attempts and a 2.57 ERA for a guy who has never been the closer is above expectations.

Tony Sipp. He has continued to be a very valuable piece picked up for nada. His 0.68 ERA and .750 WHIP have been exemplary.

Meets Expectations

Jason Castro. Based on what he gave the team last year he has met expectations and due to improved defense might be considered a little on the high side.

Luis Valbuena. His glove has been A+, his BA has been a D and his seven HRs and 12 RBIs have been solid. He was expected to be a much better third base option than Matty D and he has been. But his bat has room to grow.

Collin McHugh. His 4-0 record , 3.23 ERA and 1.103 WHIP are aligned with the hopes and expectations after last seasons’ revelatory debut.

Chad Qualls. He has had a few problems, but basically is giving them solid performance late in the games.

Pat Neshek. He had a few clinkers the first 3 weeks of the season, but has been very good lately as his 3.65 ERA is part of a nice drop since it was 5.87 in later April.

Needs Improvement

Cartis. More is expected of both Chris Carter and Evan Gattis than they have produced to date. Gattis’ 18 RBIs are about the only satisfactory statistic between them. And the fact that both of them waited about three weeks to produce anything is also worrisome. Hitters in the middle of the order cannot be putting up .151 and .183 BAs or .558 and .605 OPS. Carter’s 38.8% K rate is as ridiculously high as Gattis’ 3.5% walk rate is low.

George Springer.  Springer brings energy and tremendous desire and fielding. He has speed and power. But compared to what was expected of him, his .192 BA and .685 and his tendency to get injured mark him as a player who is playing below expectations.

Scott Feldman. Feldman’s 5.23 ERA highlights him as an underachiever in 2015. To be honest he has had five solid starts allowing three runs or less, but he has had two very bad and worrisome starts giving up six and seven runs respectively. They need him to do like he did in 2014, which was to turn into a more and more reliable starter as the season progressed.

Dedunchowski. The 5th starter spot shared by Sam Deduno and Asher Wojciechowski has been a mess. Both of those men have ERA’s at 7.00 and above. Oh, and Brad Peacock had one poor start before he ended up injured. Can you say (or spell) Brett Oberholtzer?

The Bench. Marwin Gonzalez has been decent, Robbie Grossman has been a gross man and Jonathan Villar has been worse. Hank Conger has shown some power and seems to handle pitchers well, but is … a backup C.

Incomplete.

Relievers Joe Thatcher, Josh Fields and Kevin Chapman have been good in very small samples.  Jed Lowrie was very good until he did what he always does, which is get hurt. L.J. Hoes and Preston Tucker have not shown much in cups of coffee.

So, where would you grade these folks if it was up to you?

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117 comments on “Astros at the 20 percent mark: Expectations vs. Reality

  1. The team is in first place in the AL West. Team Grade- A
    Their pitching and defense have been great. They would have a 10 game lead if not for the lack of hitting from their big RH hitters, Gattis, Carter and Springer. Those guys have been carried by the rest of the team. They bat in the middle of the lineup and are all hitting under .200. That has to change.

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    • Absolutely old pro – that is why the first 3 guys in the Needs Improvement category are Gattis, Carter and Springer…

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    • The hope Kevin (and it is just hope at this point) is that all three guys head back towards their normal water level. Now that level is not too high when it comes to BA:
      – Gattis has hit .243 and .263 in two partial seasons with Atlanta
      – Springer was .231 last season in 78 games
      – Carter in the last 3 seasons was .239 / .223 / .227

      So to get near those neighborhoods there must be some better months coming – say .280 to .300 for each of those guys.
      The thing is that if any of the 3 catch fire it may lift the others. The team needs that, but frankly they need something better and steadier out of each of them and I am not sure they are capable of it.

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    • You don’t! You get Springer back in the lineup in the #3 spot. You have to put him there. You leave Gattis in the cleanup spot because he is making much better contact than Carter. You move Carter down in the order and just pray he and Tucker start to hit.
      That’s all you can do. These are the players you have. We are supposed to be .500 team and are in better shape than most imagined. For some reason we have been a better road team than at home, and you’d think that would change. But maybe the home record is more a reflection of the team’s ability and the road record is more a reflection of their attitude and maturity.
      If the team can hold on until the slumping hitters find traction, Correa shows up and Lowrie returns, they might have a shot at a playoff spot.

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      • Well it is – as you said in your first comment – amazing that this team can be where they are at with a big donut hole in the middle of the order. Gattis’ 18 RBIs raise him above the other two because with his better contact rate he is better at getting people home without a hit.

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  2. Contact, Contact, Contact! That’s the name of the game for Springer, Carter, Gattis. Put the ball in play. The hits will come and the HR’s are simply a by-product. You don’t even get out of the batters box if you don’t put wood on the ball. Pretty simple equation.

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    • Carter has been the worst offender there with a 38.8% K rate, Springer bad at 29.4% and Gattis really not too bad at 25.4% (for a slugger).
      I would expect that their BAbip (batting averages for balls in play) must rise just due to normal percentages – they are all very low – Carter – .204 / Gattis – .187 !! / Springer – .242
      Anyways there is at least some hope there.

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  3. Simple equation to a complicated game. If it was that easy contact contact contact hits and Hr’s, there would be 5000 dudes in the HOF I’m with you Dan, I’m not sure all 3 can get there!

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    • The career BAbip for each of the guys (including 2015) is as follows:
      Carter – .278 (.204 this year)
      Gattis – .265 (.187 this year)
      Springer – .280 (.242 this year)

      So the hope is that even if they don’t make significant improvement with their contact rates that their luck and BA will improve if more balls they hit find a spot.

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      • And given that all three swing pretty solid bats speed wise, I expect better BABIPs than those career averages. There was no reason for all 3 not to have career years.

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      • As I understand BABIP, if a player has 60 ABs, and gets 3 singles and 50 Ks, he would be sitting at .300. The 50 Ks tells me the story, not the 3 hits and .300 BABIP. And my opinion does not change if he only got 1 single and thrown out 2 times by a great defense. I just don’t see how one can “explain away” a 38.8% K rate – 238 Ks per year.

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      • Not trying to explain away the unacceptable K% – just trying to say that their BAs will likely rise just due to better luck.

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      • DanP – as I understand the stats – Carter’s BABIP is .204 this year but historical is .278. My inept math says for Carter to get to his norm he would need 4 more hits that were not home runs. That brings him to 20 hits. Also his batting average would now be .189. Yes, better but still horrible.

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      • Don’t disagree astrocolt45 – just saying that along with hitting better – hitting in better luck will help raise that average.

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  4. Neither Carter or Gattis is a middle-of-the-order quality hitter on a team in the chase in July, August or September. Springer at least has the capability to be one – he just has not yet successfully made the adjustments he worked on in the off-season.

    If we had/when we have a functioning George Springer, an adjusted-to-major-league pitching Preston Tucker, and either a healthy Jed Lowrie or a promoted and adjusted-to-major-league-pitching Carlos Correa, we should all breathe a little easier, as we watch Cartis pushed further and further down in – and eventually out of – the line-up.

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    • I guess we have to hope (there is that word again) that Cartis have enough hot streaks in them to sustain the lineup until the cavalry appears.

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      • If those guys stay at 3-4-5 we will need consistently over-expectation performance from Marisnick, Valbuena, Rasmus, Tucker, and either Castro or whoever plays SS just to play .500 ball from this point forward.

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  5. For me, one other area that I feel need, and can actually expect, improvement, is at 3B. Luis Valbuena’s defense has been fun to watch, of course, and offensively he has been a significant improvement over Matty, so it is hard to say too much negative. But Luis’ OBP [.270] this far has been disappointing – especially since he was touted as the OBP replacement for Dexter Fowler. Luis’ OBP so far this year is .70 points under his OBP last year [.341], and 40 points under his career number [.310]. If a return to pre-2015 OBP numbers from Luis coincides with the development of a real middle-of-the-order, this could actually turn out to be a really good team over the long term.

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    • His numbers across the board are down from last season – but his numbers against lefties – .094 BA / .390 OPS are putid.

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  6. I believe that in 18 of the 20 games the Astros won, Altuve had at least one hit. If anyone was hitting behind him, he would score even more often. He apparently has proven time and time again that it is easier to score from 2nd or 3rd than it is from home plate.

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  7. I have this to say about Preston Tucker. He has played in a whopping 4 games. His BA is only .100 in his first 10 ABs, but his OBP is .347. On our team, that trails only Altuve, Marisnick, and the injured Jed Lowrie. And he’s only struck out twice in those 10 ABs. Sure, it’s only 4 games. But making contact and getting on base is just is what Preston Tucker does. And that is exactly what this offense desperately needs.

    Considering that fact, and the continued hapless performance and low ceiling of Robbie Grossman, please don’t tell me that when Springer comes back, Preston Tucker is the one the Astros’ are planning to send down. I’d rather send Villar, but it is a ‘pure outfielder’ that goes, Robbie needs to be the guy.

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    • Do you want Tucker on the bench in Houston? He isn’t displacing Rasmus, JFSF, and Springer without huge output. I don’t think he displaces Gattis with regularity…and the Carter salary will not be benched I expect. If he could play 1B, you could rotate him through those three spots to keep his AB consistent.

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      • Robbie Grossman is 25 y/o. Preston Tucker is 24. I don’t see either as young or developing to the point that they ‘need’ at bats in the minor leagues. I believe that Preston Tucker will work, hustle, produce, make things happen with whatever chances he is given, and force his way into the lineup somewhere. Robbie – I just don’t see it.

        That said, I would hope that from this point forward, as we transition from other team’s rejects to bright young talent, we would make it a point from the beginning of their tenure in our system for all corner outfielders in our system to be required to take regular reps at 1st, and by AA, if they show promise of big league impact ability like Tucker has, to start at least two games a month there.

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    • Tucker has gotten on base – but Devin has a point about there not being a place for him when Springer comes back – unless you want him to be that 4th OF (or unless someone gets traded).

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    • Yes agree. Grossman has been terrible. Given his potential for better and the fact that he is probably not in any long term plan, he should be the guy that gets 8 plate appearances a week, and Tucker should go back to AAA and get 25 a week. Tucker will end up the better player for it.

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      • So am I a greedy bad fan if I say that I want Tucker up for what he can do for the mlb team (vs. Grossman) short-term instead of what he can do long-term for himself?

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      • Personally, I think Grossman would be doing a lot better if he wasn’t playing once a week and getting 7 plate appearances every 5 days. That said you can’t argue with the complete lack of results in his given opportunities, he isn’t doing squat, and defensively he hasn’t helped in his limited time either.

        Tucker needs at bats.

        In short, yes, you will be a greedy fan LOL.

        The best answer would be to find a way to dismiss Rasmus with his 38% K rate (even higher than last years previous career high of 33%). When are you hitting .239 and people are still expecting even more regression, ugh. Unfortunately I don’t see that happening. I would be content with an outfield of Tucker, Marisnick and Springer with Grossman getting even more playing time (yes, I am not dumping on the guy after 40 plate appearances, afterall, look at Marisnick’s last 40 before you do). Unfortunately, the 8 million dollar man is real.

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      • The only plus side is that Rasmus has been more effective than you would expect given that K rate. It could be worse.

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      • To boot – Grossman has been used mostly to prevent Rasmus from batting against lefties, forcing him to his weaker side. 51 plate appearances, in a very limited role, in a situation that is not your strong suit or comfort zone, I am not surprised from the poor performance.

        He isn’t a superstar, he isn’t the future, he doesn’t even have the potential of a Tucker or Springer, but he can do some things well, unfortunately what he does well, he doesn’t do from the bench. He needs more at bats from the left side of the plate, not the right, he needs more at bats to allow that OBP to shine, and he needs more consistent playing time to improve that BABIP through repetition. Personally, I would like to see him at AAA playing everyday, Tucker in LF in Houston, and Rasmus either gone, or used as the bench guy.

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      • How about the Astros switching Grossman and Presley, and giving Grossman a chance to head to AAA and play everyday?

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      • Presley is hitting for average – but no power. Hey – how do you tell Tucker that some guy who is not producing like he did at AAA and is almost 30 years old is taking his place…

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      • By telling him noone is interested in him being a part time player at this stage, and by ST he will be the favorite to win the job if he continues to produce at AAA….

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  8. The bad news is, we’re not going to keep this up. 8 games over at 20% translates to 40 games over at 100%. This team will not win 101 games. Furthermore, I think we will see some individual regression among Marisnick’s and maybe Rasmus.

    The good news is, the Astros don’t need to win 101 games to make the playoffs. Just 90 wins should do it. That’s just picking up about 2-3 games over .500 a month from here on out. Furthermore, since we’re bounf to see some progression from Springer and Valbuena and probably Carter and Gattis, this is very possible. Even probable. Add in the return of Oberholtzer to pick up some of the rotation slack and this is a team that can absolutely make the playoffs.

    Oh, and some kid named Correa might have something to say about it too.

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    • Yes and someone in the division will wake up and go on a run. But the longer the Astros hold on – the more confidence they will build.

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  9. Re-visit on the BAbip – additional thoughts.
    – Again so far the BAbip for the 3,4,5 guys is bad.
    – In 2014 – the league average for BAbip was .298
    – In 2014 – 74 of the 77 “qualifiers” had BAbip’s higher than Springer’s .242 including Matt Dominguez.
    So, I believe each of their BAbip’s will go up which will raise their BAs. This does not help with Carter and Springer’s whiff rates.

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  10. I’m very encouraged by the start of the season considering how awful the offense has been. I actually think maintaining a winning pace is likely IF the pitching and defense stay consistent and above average. The offense has been good enough to outscore the opponents 20 times and should get better. I expect the team to improve as the season wears on unless more major injuries creep in.

    Unlike others I’m unimpressed with Valbuena offensively. He’s riding the wind of a big Spring but I really scratch my head over him being in the top third of the order. Of his 12 RBI 7 of them have come by driving himself home with a HR. I’m always leery of hitters who don’t drive in at least two to three times as many runs as HR. Gattis with an 18:6 ratio is more like it. Valbuenas BA with RISP is pretty abysmal and if he’s also not getting on base he ought to be dropped way down in the order until he produces something.

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    • I agree on the fact that they ahve survived this long with an offense that just has to rise a bit.
      I don’t understand Valbuena hitting higher than about 6th, especially when a lefty is pitching. I understand that he is a better player than Matt D, but so are about 95% of the major leaguers.

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  11. Bill here’s the thing: The other teams are making adjustments. Rasmus, Valbuena and Tucker are not hitting lefties and we are seeing lefties from other teams, so that handicaps our lefty hitters.
    But the reason we are seeing so many lefties is because our RH hitters are letting the other teams get away with it by not punishing other teams for throwing lefty pitchers at us. If Springer, Carter, Gattis and Marisnick were hitting lefties like they are supposed to the other teams would be thusly punished for doing it. As long as our entire team(other than Altuve) continues to not hit lefties, the other teams will throw their best righties and any lefty they can find. Houston is now last in the mlb in BA against LH pitchers and fourth in number of ABs against LH pitchers.

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    • Yes – I am absolutely floored when the other team brings in a righty from the bullpen – I would be throwing anyone and everyone from the “other” side.

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    • Becky –
      In 2013 the Astros were 8-24 and 12.5 games back in the division.
      In 2014 the Astros were 10-22 and 9 games back in the division.
      If I told anyone the Astros would be – say – 15-17 and 3 games back right now or something like that – they would have been happy. 20-12 and 5 games ahead may be fleeting – but it is a universe away from where the team was. Don’t panic – enjoy the heady air.

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  12. The only change I would make to your list above is moving Valbuena from the ‘meets expectations’ to the ‘needs improvement’. His OBP and, conversely, OPS are below his average. Also, since he appeared to be trending up in both of these I was hoping he would actually be slightly higher than his career average. We knew he had some power and the advanced metrics indicated he was a good defensive 3B, so we are getting what we expect there, but we need improvement from the OBP/OPS.

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    • Some of these calls were close – I felt bad putting McHugh on the Needs Improvement. I guess that I was only expecting Valbuena to be better than Matty D – low bar I know.

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      • I meant feeling bad putting McHugh on the Meets Expectations… but basically he is slightly regressed from last season (ERA-wise) which is what we expected.

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      • McHugh is a very good #2 for this club – he does not walk many and he will give up aair amount of solo shots when he is no giving in.

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  13. I see where Reed in Lancaster had a great week. It would be good if he could move through the system and be our answer at first. He reminds me of one of my favorite players from the old Milwaukee Braves: Joe Adcock from Coushatta, La.. Reed’s just as slow afoot as Joe, but has a rifle arm.

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    • Ahh – Joe Adcock who hit 4 dingers in a game. Joe Adcock who broke up the most ridiculous no-hit bid of all time. Harvey Haddix threw 12 perfect innings but the Pirates did not score for him. After an error, sacrifice and a walk to Hank Aaron, Adcock ended the game and the no-hitter with a home run. But it ended up a long run scoring single when Aaron left the base paths and Adcock passed him.

      (My parents were huge Milwaukee Brave fans).

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    • Wow, Larry!. My dad knew Joe Adcock and because of that, I got to meet him several times when I was a yout. Adcock was one of the reasons my dad was a big Braves fan, that is until the Astros came to town.
      Of course, my dad was also a huge Rusty Staub fan because of our Cajun connections and that was one of the reasons my father ended up being an Astros’ guy and leaving the Braves behind. Memories!

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  15. Thanks Dan and Old Pro. Like you guys, my introduction as a fan adhering to a team was the Milwaukee Braves, Then they left for Atlanta and the 45’s came to Houston. I was a 9th grader when my folks took me to my first MLB game, (Braves versus 45s) Adcock hit one seemingly a mile high to left field that cleared the fences for a homer. Aaron later hit one that was against the centerfield wall. This was a couple of years before the dome was built. Being from La and Texas, I slowly converted to being an Astros fan. When I watched the braves on TV in those days, I was always disappointed when they would platoon Frank Torre at 1st instead of Joe.

    Getting back to Reed, I watch a few college baseball games a year and follow LSU on television. Last year Reed was fun to watch. I truly expect him to be a major league player one day.

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    • Reed has been very solid since signing with the Astros – not a high BA, but very good OBP and power numbers. His 79 RBIs in 98 minor league games stand out and he is not a product of big numbers at Lancaster out of line with Tri or Quad cities…

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      • I agree totally, Dan. The problem Hinch has is that with both Lowrie and Springer out, we just don’t have a legitimate #3 – or #4 – or #5. The most likely candidate on this roster for any of those positions is probably Preston Tucker. He’s got the pedigree. He’s got the MiLB history. But nobody’s ready to throw him out there and make him sink or swim [shades of Singleton-ian disaster scenarios, Batman!]. Heck, could Preston really be worse than Valbuena has been there so far? Worse than Gattis? Worse than Carter? I think not. But after the disasters with Singleton and Domingo Santana, I understand why the brass is reluctant to put too much pressure on the young man – even if this one does happen to be 24-year old.

        Heck, I also like Gattis – but not at #4. And I can’t say I like Carter at this point, but I can say I would NEVER pencil in Carter above 7 – unless he suddenly gets hot and stays hot for a three or more games.

        But it seems somebody has to hit in every slot, and hopefully Collin McHugh will be Mc-Back in McSpades tonight, and all we will need will be Altuve/Marisnick and one big lucky swing from those also played the games we have penciled in between 3 and 9.

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      • Frankly, if you put your best hitter at #3 – you would normally put Altuve there – but then you have no one decent for #2 and you want Altuve to get as many bats as possible.
        It is tough to construct a lineup with so many under achievers.

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  16. Springer in the lineup in Corpus tonight…..he’s the DH. My hope is he is REALLY
    healthy when he returns to Houston….too many “I’m ok coach” guys that are NOT
    ok.

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  17. Springer is now 0-3. At least he finally made contact.

    All Astros’ affiliates are having trouble today. Even the Quad Cities River Bandits experienced one of their rare losses.

    Lance McCullers is the back half of the tandem for Corpus tonight. The Hooks trail 2-1 as he enters in the sixth. Hopefully somebody will step up and stage a comeback for him.

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    • 4 Ks already for Lance in 2 IP. No hits, no BBs. Only one to reach was on an error by Tyler White. But nobody is hitting.

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  18. McCullers pitched four shutout innings w/ NO WALKS! Struck out six. Got a two run homer from Teoscar, who has hit four of those in the last week as he comes out of a horrendous slump. CC wins 3-1
    Correa gets a hit in four trips as Fresno leads in the ninth. Singleton w/ another dinger. Maybe Captain Correa can steer Singleton’s ship into a cool breeze.

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  19. Just got back from the game. McHugh was awful out of the box, even pitching out of the stretch with no one on base. Instead of ground outs and Ks he was giving up fly balls and line drives.

    I could definitely perceive some frustration from Altuve, and not just because he was 0-4. I think the weight of carrying this team offensively is wearing him down. The guy has a terrific competitive fire and NO ONE ELSE is stepping up. Castro made good contact every at bat. Why is he batting behind Cartis? About the only thing more depressing than the home team BA is the home team RBI totals. Gattis with 18 and Altuve with 20 are the only respectable numbers. Castro has 6! Of course where he has been batting in the order he’s not had anybody on base.

    Disappointed I didn’t get to see Tucker in person. I suspect he is on the way back to Fresno but I almost wish he was staying and somehow taking at bats from Carter, Rasmus and Gattis. Grossman was completely unimpressive tonight; another guy like Carter who doesn’t know how to play baseball in April and May.

    Was also completely uninspired by Chapman. When Obie comes up why not send him down? Don’t see why we need three lefties in the pen. My hope for tomorrow when Springer comes back is for Grossman and Chapman to be sent down. And if Springer doesn’t have the athletic ability to start making contact then give Tucker a shot and let George be the late inning defensive replacement.

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  20. McHugh was all over the place tonight, but he battled. Without either one of those errors in the 5th, it’s still 3 to 1 going into the bottom half of the inning. The sign of a good pitcher is one that can keep you in it, even when he’s got nothing. As the offense continues to sputter, our pitchers feel more the need to throw a shutout. Then everyone is tight. Not a gpod combination. We’re not as good as our record. This club still has quite a few holes in it.

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    • Even in the 2nd – the first hit was a sofly hit liner to left that Rasmus might have had, but no chance with Grossman out there. And then the next hit was a chopper that went to the hole in the extreme shift. The 3 run double was well hit, but nothing else that inning.
      I agree that the starters might start pressing and that is never good.

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