Thursday notes: Vulnerable summer areas for Astros

It’s the end of May y’all! Jeff Luhnow is watching players in Fresno and the Astros are in first place. Still. Now, if Houston is still in first place over the long July 4 holiday and the Labor Day weekend, there’s a story friends.

Until those mile markers, though, many will be waiting for the Astros to fall apart and come crashing back to earth. Face it, there isn’t anyone who predicted this 30-18 start with a six game lead in the AL West. No you didn’t either!

So, as fragile as this team may appear with its winning ways, here are the three areas the Astros may be most vulnerable this summer.


There’s a reason for the rash of recent promotions that usually don’t take place until June or so. GM Jeff Luhnow realizes his roster in Houston is razor thin and he’s hurrying along the process to provide a finger in the dam in case the breach (injuries, performance, etc.) gets larger. The problem was initially exposed when Jed Lowrie went down and the Astros were forced to replace him with Marwin Gonzalez and Jonathan Villar.

Preston Tucker and Lance McCullers Jr. are already in Houston and there is no reason to suspect they are going back to Fresno. Soon, Carlos Correa and even Jon Singleton could join the big club, and that could help the major league club, but the depth problem still exists. There just isn’t enough quality, MLB-ready talent at the top of the system.

The Bullpen.

Huh, you say? Yes, the Astros are approaching the one-third season mark and manager A.J. Hinch is already needing to get creative with guys to give his bullpen rest. No doubt, it’s still the strongest part of this team, but if problems continue to plague the rotation, the bullpen will carry the brunt of the work and wear down quickly this summer. You may suggest that the real solution is to shore up the rotation and there is some truth to that, but even the current pitchers not named Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh must pick up their share of innings as the summer heats up.

Despite having four pitchers on pace to pitch 184+ innings, the bullpen is still often working overtime, especially in spurts. The pen has worked largely without any significant injuries and with several moving parts, it’s obvious that one pitcher can pick up for another in a jam.

For the rotation, the two keys heading into summer will be Scott Feldman and Roberto Hernandez. If Feldman can solidify his approach and provide 6+ IP per outing and if Hernandez stays on track with his performance, Houston could have a solid summer.

Youngsters in the stretch.

If Correa and Singleton do join the club this summer, it will mean the Astros will have as many as 5-6 young players that are key to its success. Preston Tucker and Lance McCullers Jr. recently joined George Springer on a team that is still defining its character and chemistry makeup. Take away perhaps other veterans when they arrive and Lowrie returns, and the team is decidedly younger when trying to make a stretch run and fend off potential challengers.

The key will be how well those players — making up perhaps more than one fifth of the roster — hold up in the heat of what could be a playoff run. All could not only be involved, but could be integral parts of the leadership. Springer and Tucker already hit in the top of the order. Correa and Singleton would be expected to improve the team at their positions as well.

This particular “weakness” could actually be a strength, but it will bear watching this summer.

And a few questions to start the conversation.

  • Which player will be more integral to the team’s playoff run: Correa, Springer, Tucker, McCullers or someone else?
  • Barring injuries, will the bullpen remain the strength of the team all season?
  • What is the most suspect area of this team heading into summer? What should the Astros do about it?
  • Which player acquired in the off season is most likely to be traded, released or demoted by the All Star break: Chris Carter, Evan Gattis, Luis Valbuena, or Colby Rasmus?
  • And…the $64,000 question: Are the Astros legitimate playoff contenders for the entire season?



34 comments on “Thursday notes: Vulnerable summer areas for Astros

  1. *Which player will be more integral to the team’s playoff run: Correa, Springer, Tucker, McCullers or someone else?*

    The most integral players overall will be our starting pitchers. If they average 6.2 innings a start and keep the other team averaging no more than 3.25 runs during that period we have a good chance to make the play-offs. If they average 5.1 innings per start, and average more than 3.25 runs during those innings, we are going to have major problems.

    Offensively, the one player who is most integral to play-off contention is Chris Carter. I hear a collective gasp of disbelief going out over the airwaves. But hear me out. If Carter catches fire this homestand, fine – he Gattis, and Tucker can carry this team until Jose, Springer and Correa give those three a break by getting scorching hot. But Carter’s time must be NOW – or I think his continued struggles can single-handedly sink our play-off hopes no matter what our starting pitchers do. If Carter does not catch fire this upcoming series, we can only hope the Cardinals [who just lost Matt Adams] or some other team are so desperate right now for a MLB ready 1st baseman with potential power to give us another starting pitcher [I’d love Wacha (from my city of Texarkana) or John Lackey!] and an A or above catching prospect for Mr. Carter and some valuable prospects like Aplin, Meredith or Sclafani, and/or either B. Holmes or C. Devenski].


  2. Chip, I don’t mean to pick on you, but, depth-wise, the Astros were not forced to replace Lowrie with Villar and Gonzalez. They chose to do that, even when they had a much better choice in Correa in AA.
    The McCullers saga points out very distinctly that superior players, even real young players with huge talent exist in the Astros minor leagues.
    All the excuses about Correa not being ready look pretty ridiculous when you bring up a guy who has 30 innings in AA ball and put him in your starting rotation.
    They kept Hoes and Presley and Dominguez in AAA and blocked young talent with them and kept Grossman in Houston instead of Tucker. They have four or five guys who are hitting around .200 in the majors and everybody says that is fine if they hit a home run every once in a while. The Astros had tons of chances to win that game yesterday but constantly had .200 hitters fail with men on third base.
    I tell you, it’s frustrating to see the crap pitching we have at Fresno, while Velasquez starts a game in CC and pitches five innings and is taken out so that Feliz can come in relief and only pitch four innings and then has to wait five days for another chance.
    Those guys are our top pitching prospects and are on the 40-man roster, but stuck in AA pitching in a tandem system while Alex White blocks them, and pitches like crap. If you tell me they aren’t ready then I will ask how come a guy ranked below them in the rankings and also pitching in AA , all of a sudden was ready.
    There was no way Aplin should have been sent back to AA. He was never given a chance in Fresno because they were playing Tucker, Grossman, Hoes, and Santana and Presley.


    • Not expecting great things in this lifetime from Grossman, Hoes, and Presley [the GHP], or Alex White, OP1? Me neither, obviously. I say keep one of the GHP for insurance [I’d vote for Presley], bring Aplin, Meredith, and Kemp up to Fresno, DFA White, and let Velasquez have a shot at a real rotation spot at Fresno.

      Oh, by the way, Mark Appel gets the top-of-the-tandem start for CC tonight at Northwest Arkansas. I have learned not to check in on Appel’s games as they are going on – for frustration reasons – but just to wait until he’s done and check his stats. Sure wish he’d get whatever he’s working on [speed to the plate?] worked out.


      • If I was wanting to keep one stashed to use as a guy to write in 4 out of 5 games a week because of injury, I would keep Grossman. If I wanted a guy that would play 2 times a week and be available to pinch hit, defensive sub, pinch run, or cheer lead, I would choose Presley (who might be highest paid minor leaguer in our system). If I needed a guy to carry the balls out to the practice pitcher for the batting cage, I would choose Hoes.


      • Just for grins, think about this. Grossman is presently hitting a whopping .224 at Fresno. Presley is better, at .287. Somehow Hoes is mashing AAA pitching and is hitting an other-worldly .336. But if we have learned anything about these guys over the past couple of years, it is that none of them can be counted on at the MLB level.

        Oh, and by the way, I think Jon Singleton is by our highest paid minor leaguer. Alex Presley is far, far behind him.


  3. Depth: Although this is a problem, having watched many MLB games this year, it is a major problem for most if not all teams. I am surprised at the difference between the better players and the also-rans all across the league. However, I don’t care about those issues except on the Astros. Bullpen: They can pitch. They will not have a 0.50 WHIP as a group so there will be some blow saves – but appear to be as good if not better than most other teams we have played so far. Suspect: Man, I am not sold on the starting rotation. McHugh was up and very hittable this last game. DK pitched in bad luck but still was a loss. Feldman and Fausto are not TOR in any organization. We need for LM and at least one other to come through this Summer. As to trades, I have no idea what JL will do or not do. And finally, two men on and no outs and then 3 outs with them standing on the same base – that is NOT a winning strategy.


  4. As Chip said, no one – and I mean NO ONE – ever dreamed the Astros would be sitting in first place with a 6 game lead and a 30-18 record after Memorial Day. I think because no one (read: front office) expected this kind of start, several AAAA- type players were stashed at Fresno, and players with more up-side were assigned to lower levels in order to develop more slowly.

    I don’t think there is anything wrong with this approach, given the state of the organizational goals (winning record this year, contend next year, go for the gold in ’17) developed this off-season.

    But the fast start this spring has (or should have) changed the equation. That’s why Preston Tucker was promoted ahead of Presley, Hoes, Grossman and Santana. Those guys are not more than placeholders for when better talent becomes ready. The same thing can be said for McCullers over Wojo, White, Shirley and maybe one or two already in Houston (Deduno?)

    Bottom line, the game has changed, and the front office has to change tactics and strategies on the fly now to keep up. Is this the reason for some of the recent transactions in the minors (Lee to Baltimore, Torreyes to Toronto, Nash released)?
    Have the wheels begun to turn?


  5. 1) I think the player most integral to the Astros playoff run is Altuve. We have to have that .330-.340 hitter in our lineup that pitchers get frustrated about because they can’t get him out. When he’s on base he ends up stealing bases. One reason we have slowed down immensely in steals recently is because Altuve is not getting on base. It hurts the entire lineup when Altuve is not hitting.
    2) I agree about the bullpen being the strength of the team.
    3) The thing that has to change in order for the team to remain competitive is voluntarily giving up 10-12 at bats a game to the strikeout.
    4) I am thinking Rasmus is most likely to be traded of the four listed.
    5) I think the Astros are likely playoff contenders if they call up Correa at SS, put Lowrie at 1B and acquire another good starting pitcher.


  6. 1. Integral – Springer. We have replacement options for everyone else, except perhaps Altuve. I’m not sure the FO can make those replacements happen though…
    2. Strength – yes, I see the bullpen as being the most consistent (positive) aspect of the club.
    3. Suspect – ability to convert PA to runs. Look, we are a little suspect getting on base. Add in an inability to get hits with RISP and some Dave Clark-level base running decisions of late…
    4. Traded – none of the above. Unless the team falls apart, Rasmus is invited to a BBQ at casa de Luhnow on Labor Day. Valbuena and Carter would be tough to trade. Gattis could be moved…but I don’t see it happening as his cost/control to performance ratio is more valuable than likely returns.
    5. Yes. There are two wild cards and a division championship in play. The bullpen keeps them in games. They can remain in contention.


  7. *Are the Astros legitimate playoff contenders for the entire season?*

    If the starting pitching holds or improves, our Astros will be ‘contenders’. Your use of the modifying adjective ‘legitimate’ bothers me a little, though. To me, a LEGITIMATE playoff contender has to have a reasonable shot at winning it all. Looking at our team as presently configured vis-a-vis the cream of the crop of the MLB [the Cardinals, Dodgers, Giants, Nats, Tigers, Royals, and Yankees], I don’t think anyone in their right mind would believe we presently have a reasonable shot at winning it all. We could make it to the wild card round, and if the stars align just right we might squeak ahead one step further. But further than that – against real play-off quality teams with three consistently excellent pitchers and 5-6 consistently quality hitters? I don’t see it. So, no, in 2015 – at least as the team is configured right now, without Jed Lowrie – we do not look like ‘legitimate’ playoff contenders to me. That could change if we find a TOR guy [or Lance McCullers becomes one] and if we get Correa up to the big club, settled in, and producing at big time levels, and if we find someone consistently excellent to play 1B. That means Carter has to step it up big time – and fast – or get traded, and that someone like Lowrie, upon his return, or Tucker, or maybe the ‘new improved version of Jon Singleton – is allowed to take over the 1B position and actually give us 1B-quality offensive production from that spot.


  8. I agree with 1OP that Altuve is the most integral player on this team. I don’t think it is a coincidence that his slump has coincided with the team treading water since the 10-game winning streak. When he is hitting and putting pressure on the base paths the Astros score more runs and win more games.


    • I don’t suppose Jeff Luhnow was still in Fresno today to see Joe Sclafani go three for four with a walk and the game-winning walk off hit – all from the #9 spot in the order. When is this guy either going get some credit for what he does so well – or get set free to do it for somebody else who will appreciate his scrappy, make-it-happen, never-say-die approach to the game?


      • I would just like to see Joe get the chance to play everyday again like he did last year in AAA and hit .339 with an OBP of .420 something.


  9. Which player is most integral – McCullers -.the rotation is critical to keeping this team on top.
    Bullpen? I expect some reduction in effectiveness but I still think it will be a highlight not a glaring weakness.
    Suspect area? Feldman and Hernandez – be ready to trade for help if necessary.
    Most likely to be traded? Well he was not picked up in the off-season – but I choose Carter.
    Legitimate? Based on the fact that more minor league help is coming and some guys are bound to bust out hitting – yes they are legitimate.


  10. It’s frustrating to watch these guys come up to bases loaded and one out………STRIKE out. Then the next guy flys out, and you go back to the dugout holding your hat in your hand. It’s ALREADY showing on Keuchel’s shoulders
    that if McHugh can’t find his magic from last year, Dallas will have to carry the rotation. I’m glad they had a day off today……..every single one of them needed it.
    Altuve must be looking around at the guys who are SUPPOSED to knock him in, and seeing him get left on second base… must be maddening. Luhnow has GOT to get another arm for this team…….it’s not a matter of the end of July, it’s NOW. The match up for tomorrow’s game will be unbelievable…..The White Sox have Rodon (2014 #1 pick) going up to LMJ. Historic…….woulda…shoulda….


    • It is a fascinating matchup Becky. LMJ is almost a year younger and has pitched a bit better in his cup of coffee so far.


      • I’m going to our favorite watering hole tomorrow night, and I’ll be able to actually WATCH them play! LORD…….how good is this kid gonna be??!! Can’t wait!!

        Liked by 1 person

  11. Was watching the Braves/Giants game tonight. One announcer says “Chris Heston has a 2.77 ERA at home and 5.79 on the road. Yet his record at home is 1-2 and away 3-1. Can you explain that?” The other announcer says “That’s baseball.” And then with a laugh he added, “He knows how to pitch at home, but he knows how to win on the road.”


  12. Oh Lord………did any of you get to see some of the Red Sox Rangers game tonight? The Red Sox pitcher was making his major league debut………and
    this kid had EYE popping stuff! Remember this name Edwardo Rodriquez.
    He’s a lefty and he’s GOOD. WOW!!!!!!!!


    • Becky, I have discussed it with the board of directors, and I regret to inform you that you have been assessed a fine of $1.25 for violating unspoken Chip-a-latta rules prohibiting the knowing watching of Texas Rangers Games. The usual fine for this offense is $2.50, but I argued successfully in your behalf that this was your first reported offense, and that the harsh penalty really should be ameliorated in your case since our Astros weren’t playing, because Fresno had a day game, because Mark Appel of all people was starting for CC, and that as a result of all these mitigating factors you really had no reasonable alternative, did you? After all, what would they have preferred, that you watch the Angels [not Charlie’s, I mean]?

      Psst. From now on, just remember: ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell”


      • Would have LOVED to see the Hooks game, or ANY other game, but remember…….
        I cannot see ANY Astros game, because my provider won’t pay to pick them up!!
        BUT… sister lives in Ft. Worth and she and her husband went to last nights game, so I felt obligated to at least check in on it! We had better pay attention to this kid that pitched for the Red Sox last night…………he is *AWESOME*.
        You make me laugh everyday!!


  13. The Astros have signed Cuban Pitcher Yoanis Quiala to a minor league deal pending a physical. Anyone ever heard about this guy? He has three pitches, and most think he would be better out of the pen, versus a starter. ?????????



    I just re-read this article in an unknown publication. When I read JL’s comments, not only does it not make any sense, but it actually makes me wonder if he really believes what he is saying. This sounds like a Mother that never lets her child play outside because he/she might get dirty or hurt. So he comes up and only hits .199. Then he bats clean-up.


    • The reason Luhnow’s comments don’t make sense is that he is talking out of one side of his mouth. The money side.
      It’s about the money. It is, it was, it will be. Correa is in AAA because of the money. When the money date passes, Carlos will finally be good enough.


  15. To me, Springer is the integral guy. He needs to be the player we all expect he can be. When I see a .410 OBP and a .932 OPS in May, those are the kind of numbers I envision for him. Those are the kind of numbers we’ll need. I already know what to expect from Altuve. He’ll get back to that place.

    My jury is still out on the pen. Logic says it can’t remain as effective as it has been, unless at least one other guy comes along and has a real positive impact. Gregerson has not been automatic, when you look beyond his saves. He’ll need to save more one run games down the road. Is Sipp coming back to earth? I always wonder if Qualls will stop being effective all at once.

    Of course, the questionable rotation! We need to find more help from somewhere. Overall, they have done a better job than expected, but really, every guy but Keuchel is cause for some concern. Even if the new kid is lights out, we’ll only get 120 or so innings out of him.

    Valbuena really can’t get traded until Lowrie is healthy again. You want to put Villar or Gonzalez there? I would certainly not trade Rasmus right now, based on the way Marisnick is not hitting. I have seen enough of Grossman, Presley and Hoes and would rather not see more. Rasmus, Tucker and Springer could end up being the everyday guys going forward. I suppose Carter is the most likely, assuming the experts think Singleton can do the job at this point. I wish we didn’t have to talk about Gattis. The big galoot gets some pretty big hits, but heck, there is abolutely nothing else he can do.

    Can’t answer the 64K question. Too many teams have made big moves or disappeared even after the All Star break. I’m happy as can be taking it a week at a time right now.


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