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As second half looms, don’t expect the cavalry to come


The Astros spent months atop the American League West before falling a half game behind the Angles on the final day before the All-Star break. Is the inevitable end of the 2015 dream now upon us? Was that lead the Astros built just a mirage doomed to fade?

Well, here are a few interesting facts as Houston looks forward to its second-half run.

1. A big part of Houston’s lead in the first half came from that 14-1 stretch from the end of April to early May. During that run, the Astros averaged 6.6 runs per game. Meanwhile, as the Astros have been going 3-8 thus far in July, the offense has been scoring at a 3.55 runs per game clip. June, a game over .500, saw the Astros scoring 4.72 runs per game. Suffice it to say, the Astros need to start crossing the plate at a higher rate.

2. Meanwhile, the Astros have been giving up 4.21 runs per game in July, nearly three-fourths of a run more than they’ve been scoring. Meanwhile, the ERA in June was 3.34. May was 4.03 and April was 3.04, which was tops in the AL. So, keeping the team ERA under 4.00 looks like the benchmark for keeping the Astros’ winning ways.

3. Another part of winning has been playing above .500 each month thus far. 15-7 in April, . But if you go to the Astros’ one World Series season, the team didn’t win each month then either. April was 9-13, May 10-19. It wasn’t until after June (16-9) and July (22-7) that the Astros topped .500. So maybe one bad month won’t kill the Astros, though month after month of mediocrity doesn’t look helpful.

4. Part of sustaining that .500 record each month has been getting an infusion of talent. There was Preston Tucker with his .733 OPS and 104 OPS+. Tucker debuted on May 7, and was with the Astros for a big part of its winning. Then on May 18, Lance McCullers came up and has pitched to a 2.62 ERA and a 1.6 WAR thus far. Then Carlos Correa came up and has hit for an .820 OPS and a 1.6 WAR.

5. But those three are just about the only help from the farm that the Astros can reasonably expect. What’s left in the minors are players not likely to be major contributors such as Mark Appel (top prospect as of now), Domingo Santana (No. 2 and not exactly looking like the next Lance Berkman), Vincent Velasquez (No.3 and most likely to help, but will have his innings watched) and Michael Feliz (No. 4 and likely bullpen help at best). After that, Tony Kemp could be super-sub help, and Colin Moran might be a September call up.

6. That leaves trades. Yeah, yeah, Johnny Cueto and maybe another outfielder, blah, blah, blah. I’ll believe it when I see someone new in a Houston hat.

7. So, that leaves guys coming back from the DL. Scott Feldman likely will be first. Next, we’ll see if Jed Lowrie‘s repaired thumb will hinder his hitting. Then, finally, we’ll welcome back George Springer in about five more weeks … just in time for the stretch drive.

So here’s some questions to consider:

1. Will the Astros have the ability to amp up their scoring over the anemic pace of July?

2. Are you looking more forward to a trade arrival or Lowrie and Springer returning?

3. Is the pitching staff a little too thin to keep up that early pace?

4. Is one losing month the death knell of the Astros’ playoff hopes?

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About BrianT

Brian Todd is a freelance writer working and living in Rochester, Minn.

31 comments on “As second half looms, don’t expect the cavalry to come

  1. 1oldpro
    July 16, 2015

    1. Yes, they do, but they probably won’t.
    2. Looking more forward to Springer and Lowrie.
    3. No I don’t think the pitching is too thin to keep up the pace
    4. Yes a losing month is the playoff death knell of a .500 team.

    Like

  2. Tim
    July 16, 2015

    2 things have to happen for the scoring to pick up. First, we need the Jose Altuve of last year, or at least a close facsimile of him. Second, we need the Chris Carter we saw in June and July of last year, or, again, a close facsimile of him. With Springer likely out another 5 weeks and Lowrie not likely to return for 2 more weeks the Astros need those 2 players to pick it up. I am looking forward more to any potential trade that might happen. I will be interested to see who we get, but probably more interested to see who we give up. I am comfortable with our starting rotation, but would like a flame-thrower for the bullpen.

    Like

  3. Devin_
    July 16, 2015

    1. Of course…difficult to be worse
    2. Springer. There are only a couple guys in baseball I’d rather have on the field than Springer. Actually, this morning I would say Mike Trout and then be pushed to add another…but I would have to think long about even him. Despite the flaws thus far, Springer is too much fun to watch!
    3. No. The bullpen is deep enough despite the hiccups. Offense needs to protect the starting pitchers.
    4. No. 2 wild cards gives much hope to many.

    Like

  4. Larry Leach
    July 16, 2015

    2. If the Astros are still hanging around in five weeks, Springer just might help the Astros give the Angels a race. In two weeks, I would like it if Lowrie replaced Carter at first. In the meantime, I would bring up Kemp and put him batting 1st and Altuve 2nd. Kemp can play one of the outfield positions, give Altuve a day off or DH. I think Feldman will give us some quality starts.

    Like

  5. Mr. Bill
    July 16, 2015

    *those three [Tucker, Correa, and McCullers] are just about the only help from the farm that the Astros can reasonably expect.*

    If the term ‘reasonably’ is defined to mean ‘in light of sunk costs and commitments to guys like Carter, Conger, MarGo, Marisnick, Valbuena, Qualls, Sipp, and Thatcher despite their lack of production when we need it most’, you have nailed it.

    But what if ‘reasonably’ was redefined to mean what is most likely to result in a winning team both now and in the future? It that were to happen in the eyes of the F.O. there are several folks in the minors quite frankly who are ready to step up and do at least as well as, if not better, our underperformers. Let’s start with Kemp, but not forget Sclafani, Tyler White, Heineman, Matt Duffy, Chris Devenski, Tommy Shirley, Tyson Perez, and Richard Rodriguez.

    Like

    • Mr. Bill
      July 16, 2015

      In other words, the only real benefit we could get from a trade right now would come if the trade allowed us to jettison one or two of our woefully under-performing, just a matter of time until they are DFA’d guys at the MLB level – and that is not likely to happen.

      Like

    • Steven
      July 16, 2015

      You have much more confidence in prospects than most people do.

      Like

      • Mr. Bill
        July 16, 2015

        That is possibly true, Steven. I do tend to place a high value on the ballplayers I have mentioned by name above. But there is a reason for that. These ‘prospects’ – as you disparagingly insist on calling them – are not some green guys off the street somebody watched throw in a high school or American Legion baseball tournament and were signed with hopes they might one day become ballplayers. They are guys who have played and performed well throughout a rigorous minor league career, proving themselves at each level to be seasoned baseball players with really good track records. The ones we are talking about have been playing very well at the same levels at which all future Major Leaguers [except the occasional Ichiro from Japan] are tested. I am all for giving guys who excel throughout their tenure a chance to see what they can do. We already know what the underperforming guys on the 25 man can – the guys who are dragging us down this year – can NOT do.

        Like

      • Steven
        July 16, 2015

        I agree, I don’t think prospects is disparaging, they all start that way, but its realistic. JR Towles had a great minor league career. Lots of guys do that never perform in the majors. Heck, Chris Carter’s minor league career looks better than most everyone on your list.

        My only point is you don’t KNOW anything about what they will do. You can try to extrapolate, but it doesn’t always work. Why is Robbie Grossman able to draw tons of walks and still hit with a decent BABIP in the minors (this short sample season so far excluded) but when he gets to the majors, he can’t do anything? Singleton tore up AAA this year, like MVP level tearing up, and appears to be the same guy in the majors as last year. I mean, you never know until they do it.

        Like

      • Steven
        July 16, 2015

        We can also agree that there are a small handful of major leaguers, Carter, Marisnick, Castro, that appear ready to hand that opportunity to those minor leaguers.

        Like

  6. Mr. Bill
    July 16, 2015

    * Will the Astros have the ability to amp up their scoring over the anemic pace of July? *

    Where would the increased run production come from, do you think? Opposing catchers’ passed balls and opposing pitchers’ wild pitches? No, it would have to come from improved performance at the plate by some of our guys. That ain’t coming from Chris [who appears to have gone under for the third and final time] or from Evan [who has given us all Evan can be expected to give]. It ain’t coming from Rasmus – who can’t do any more than he’s done. It probably ain’t coming from hard-luck Jose Altuve [although a few less pick-offs and caught-stealings might help our chances]. If we are to get more runs per game, they realistically will come from an improving Preston Tucker, an adjusting Carlos Correa, a recovered Jed Lowrie, and having Jake from State Farm experience a resurrection from the dead.

    Like

  7. Dan P
    July 16, 2015

    – Yes they can amp up the offense – but it is relying on people to improve or be replaced.
    Carter in July is .072 BA / .156 OBP / .335 OPS
    Valbuena 0 HR 1 RBI in July
    Castro 0 HR 1 RBI in July
    Rasmus .167 BA / .494 OPS in July
    JFSF .176 BA / .176 OBP / .353 OPS in July
    Singleton .105 / .190 / .296 in July

    And while Correa, Altuve and Tucker were all decent so far in July – no one is hot and there are so many rally killers behind them that very little is happening.
    Just by life evening out – something has to happen good. But I would sure love to see a few enhancements to the lineup if these guys don’t improve.

    -The problem with waiting for Lowrie / Springer is that guys who are out a while rarely come back flying. But yes we need them back bad. And I think they are moe likely to help us than a trade piece will.

    – If Feldman comes back solid like he did last season from injury – that would be a big help. The biggest problem is that the bullpen was pitching out of their minds early in the season carrying the team and they have been more human in the last month.

    – One losing month is not a problem – however they are 3-8 currently in July. with 13 games to go. There is a big difference ending July 11-13 vs. ending it 6-18.
    I think they need to win more than they lose the balance of July to not let this hole get too deep for them. I don’t think they can overcome a 7 game lead like the Angels have done.

    Like

  8. Becky
    July 16, 2015

    I don’t expect jed lowrie to be anywhere near the guy he was before his injury. The thumb is very import to hold the bat, and hitting might cause him to be overly careful trying not to have it hurt……hope I’m wrong.

    Like

  9. daveb
    July 16, 2015

    “But these three are just about the only help from the farm that the Astros can reasonably expect”.

    It would be unfair to compare Domingo Santana to Lance Berkman, but I’m certainly prepared to compare him to Preston Tucker. Tucker has been a significant help with the big club, but I’m not convinced Santana can’t also be. First of all, I’d rather have him in right field than Tucker. He’s also a much better runner.

    But looking at Fresno stats from both of them this year, to me anyway, makes eacxh of them excellent candidates for advancement to the big club.

    .320/.378/.650/1.028
    .314/.433/.570/1.003

    I sure like that .433 OBP by Santana. Tucker has the edge in the power department, but it’s minimal.

    Then we have the stats for each guy when playing with the Astros.

    .256/.316/.417/.733
    .256/.310/.462/.771

    Admittedly, Santana’s numbers are a much smaller sample, but his .771 OPS is a bit more attractive. I’ve said this already. Jake should go to Fresno and try to find out how to hit. Domingo deserves a real shot, and now.

    The only real significant difference I see between Tucker and Santana is that Tucker got a real shot.

    Like

    • Devin_
      July 16, 2015

      Hoes may also provide a bump. He was bad in 120 Houston at bats last year, but previously had been a reliable hitter at AAA (Norfolk). We don’t need him to hit HR, we need him to bring a .270/.320ish/.400+ bat to the lineup while Springer is out and JFSF is being exploited. I don’t think any of those targets are unreasonable.

      Like

      • daveb
        July 16, 2015

        Right now, I would go with Tucker, Rasmus, Santana, Hoes.

        Like

    • Mr. Bill
      July 16, 2015

      I agree in seeing Santana as a potential contributor, Dave. I would like to see either Carter or Singleton gone and Santana given another shot. Of course, when Lowrie comes back, who goes down then? Hoes? Marisnick?

      As far as the comparison between Tucker and Santana goes, it might help the analysis to include a comparison of RBIs and Ks. At Fresno, Santana has struck out 80 times in the 62 games, and he has driven in 44 runs. Tucker’s 25 games resulted in only 18 Ks but 32 RBIs [yes, that’s 7 more RBIs than games played!].

      They are both players who can contribute; one is an RBI machine who stems the strikeout tide. The other is a high K guy who, when he hits, makes good things happen. There is room for both – but who plays CF? Rasmus, Hoes, or Marisnick?

      Like

      • daveb
        July 16, 2015

        Rasmus plays center until Springer gets back. Jake goes to Fresno. He is our worst hitter right now and has been since the end of April.

        Like

    • Steven
      July 16, 2015

      There are just too many statistical indicators to me that say Marisnick is never going to be able to hit major league pitching enough to keep his job as a starter. He swings out of the zone way too much, he doesn’t make good contact (high BABIP) on pitches in the zone, he just has an inadequate skill set probably related to hand/eye time to ever hit.

      He is a big, strong kid, who can run, which will always lead him to being able to have a hot month where his confidence is up and he is seeing beach balls, but he will spend the majority of his major league career being a piddly hitter with a little power and a stellar glove (that he hasn’t always shown this year). His best years will probably be around .260 which won’t even net him a .300 OBP. If he wants to survive at those numbers he better start making enough contact in those 26% at bats where he clubs 20+ HR, which he is probaby capable of with a few adjustments, but he will never be in line for a silver slugger.

      Like

  10. Mr. Bill
    July 16, 2015

    *A big part of Houston’s lead in the first half came from that 14-1 stretch from the end of April to early May. *

    At the end of the 10-game winning streak we were 18-7 on the year. Now we are 49-42. In the 66 games we have played since the win streak, therefore, we have won 31 and lost 35 [i.e. we are playing at a 3 games under .500 pace]. Our record is a lot more mundane than just ‘one month losing’. I personally think it is pretty obvious that the 66 games we have played since the streak ended are a whole lot more representative of our talent level than the 10 games we played during that streak. We are not an 10-0 team [our record over ‘the streak’]. Nor are we an 0-6 team [our record over the last six games]. We are a 31-35 team. We flew out of the starting blocks, then gradually settled into a much more mundane pace more consistent with our weaknesses. Injuries have hurt us, but what has hurt us more – and continues to hurt us – is the weak links of the team that we just keep sending out to fail one more time.

    Like

    • Steven
      July 16, 2015

      Check this though Bill – alot of teams in the AL fit that description, including our entire division. We don’t have to be great team to win this division – just a good team with a few streaks. Thats all it will take to win THIS AL West.

      Like

  11. rj
    July 16, 2015

    from an article about each teams least valuable player:
    BALTIMORE ORIOLES: BUD NORRIS
    There’s genuinely no contest for the Orioles’ goat of 2015’s first half. Starting pitcher Bud Norris, who compiled a 15-8 record with a 3.65 ERA last season, has completely fallen apart.
    In just 14 appearances for Baltimore, Norris is 2-9 with a whopping 6.86 ERA. His WAR of -1.8 ranks dead last out of 636 MLB pitchers. He might provide some value out of the bullpen moving forward, but it’s clear the O’s can’t afford to keep running him out to the mound every fifth game.

    NOTE: for the astros it was chris carter, for the rangers it was shin soo choo

    Like

    • Devin_
      July 16, 2015

      Nice…three guys who have garnered supportive voices from some of us over the years. At least Coasrt wasn’t the guy for Miami though, I hope, right?

      Like

      • rj
        July 16, 2015

        devin, i couldn’t remember who it was and when i went back to look it surprised me:

        MIAMI MARLINS: ICHIRO SUZUKI
        It pains us to say it, because Ichiro Suzuki is a living legend and one of the best baseball players to ever lace up the cleats, but Father Time claims everyone’s career in the end.
        The 41-year-old Japanese outfielder has a lifetime on-base percentage of .359, but his OBP in 2015 is a lackluster .307. He’s a 10-time Gold Glove award winner, but the advanced stats haven’t been kind to him as he’s gotten up there in age.
        It will be a sad day when Ichiro eventually decides to call it quits, and that moment appears to be creeping up rather quickly.

        Like

  12. rj
    July 16, 2015

    1. yes
    2. yes
    3. yes
    4. no

    Like

  13. Mr. Bill
    July 16, 2015

    There are some pretty fair prospects playing ball tonight. Here’s to ya, guys!

    Like

  14. astrocolt45
    July 16, 2015

    I want to be clear that I am not picking on anyone especially DaveB, but sometimes I look at the Astros games or the stat sheet and I just don’t see what others see. It makes neither wrong, but just different. Carter right now .185/.300/.380/ K-115 Marisnick .239/.274/.373/K-58 (in fewer games). One covers a lot of the OF. Now we do have options in the OF but Marisnick is a bottom of the order hitter (at best) with defensive abilities but not a great arm. Until Springer returns, somebody needs to go get the ball. Not opposed to Kemp coming up but we need a good defensive team because our pitchers continue to be hit.

    Like

  15. daveb
    July 16, 2015

    Hey, don’t pick on me! Indeed 45′, your Marisnick stats are YTD accurate. I have tried to be pretty clear in my claim that he is our worst hitter since the end of April, to the extent that I noted his month by month numbers. Can we keep a guy in centerfield for his defensive ability when his OPS is well under .500 since the beginning of May? Two and a half months? I can’t justify it. Rasmus is no chump out there and he has hit. That said, I think they’re going to give Jake at least a couple of more weeks. Damn.

    Like

    • astrocolt45
      July 16, 2015

      I agree with everything you said. But if we have to tolerate Carter, then I think for defense only and batting 9th – we need JFSF until Springer returns. But long term, Marisnick has to learn (or re-learn) to hit or he can’t stay.

      Like

      • Becky
        July 16, 2015

        Agree 100% !!!!!

        Like

      • daveb
        July 17, 2015

        Heck, I would not “tolerate” Carter either. If this team is trying to stay in a race, nobody should be “tolerated”. I’d be actively looking for a Carter solution too. But because Carter is still at first today, that’s no reason to keep another guy in the line up too.

        Like

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