The Astros are three games from the mid-point of the 2015 season and only 13 games away from the All Star break. Still in first place in the American League West by four games over the Angels and five over the Rangers. Still on target for 91 wins and a playoff berth. In fact, if the season ended today, they would have a bye.
Brett Oberholtzer is gone, Jon Singleton is in Houston, Chad Qualls to the disable list and now Michael Feliz is back for a second tour. A.J. Hinch says other roster moves may occur before the All Star break. Houston is said to be interested in rental starter Johnny Cueto rather than Cole Hamels.
So what really matters on this Monday?
The taste test.
The Astros have enough young and untested players on the roster and need to find out what they have and which ones can be effective down the stretch of a long second half. Carlos Correa and Lance McCullers Jr have obviously already proven his worth, but Singleton, Vincent Velasquez, Preston Tucker, Feliz, Domingo Santana will be on stage front and center between now and the break.
Meanwhile, Jake Marisnick, Jed Lowrie, Scott Feldman, Sam Deduno and perhaps Brad Peacock will return from the DL soon, vying for a spot on the roster. That will require continued shuffling, trades or slick, creative maneuvering, but moves nonetheless.
Velasquez, Feliz and Santana could well end up back in the minors, but Singleton and Tucker, who has played more games in left field than any other player, will likely get longer looks.
The big question for the rotation, outside of picking up another starter, is how to manage the innings for McCullers and Velasquez, if he stays in Houston.
The $64,000 question.
If reports are accurate, Luhnow is still banking on 2017 as the money year. The Astros are apparently in search of a rent-a-pitcher for the remainder of the season, one who could bolt to free agency when the season is over. That would mean a player like Johnny Cueto, Kyle Lohse, Jeff Samardzjia, Mike Leake might have 10-15 starts for Houston depending on when they were acquired much like Randy Johnson in 1998.
It’s important to note that if the Astros do acquire a pitcher of that caliber, Houston could not extend a qualifying offer and could simply lose him to another club. Luhnow and the Astros would have no recourse in that scenario.
However, if the Astros do trade with a team like Milwaukee, Cincinnati or Oakland (interesting to note which teams/players the Astros are focusing on), you can bet that Luhnow will want their competitive balance picks as part of the return of taking on the player’s salary and giving up any prospects.
That has been a boon for Houston in recent drafts (can you say Lance McCullers Jr) and Luhnow has used that strategy well..and successfully thus far.
Some random numbers…
- Since April 26, DH Evan Gattis has hit .260 with 10 doubles, 12 home runs and 45 RBI in his 59 games…during that time, he first in the American League in RBI and tied for eighth in home runs.
- The Astros are 25-16 at home…they have gone 17-7 in their last 24 home games and 24-12 in their last 36 contests at Minute Maid Park.
- The Astros have hit multiple home runs in 10 of their last 15 games.Houston has also hit multiple home runs in 32 games this season (29-3) and the 32 multi-homer games are the most in the big leagues.
- The Astros have scored first in 12 of their last 15 games, including first-inning runs in 8 of those 13 contests…When they score first, the Astros are 31-9.
- And they can play the Cardiac Kids’ card as well. The Astros have scored 123 runs in the seventh inning or later, which ranks tied for second in the major. Only Oakland (125) has scored more in that window.