Top of the Week: It’s only one series, but …


The Houston Astros won the weekend series with the Texas Rangers on Sunday with a 10-0 tail paddling of the Arlington bunch. This was a follow-up to Friday’s 3-2 win that they could have lost and Saturday’s 7-6 loss that they could have won. It is only one series. It is only winning two games out of three. But it was an important series win for many reasons.

  • Coming into the series the Astros before the All Star break had lost three consecutive series and six games in a row. They were bleeding like Rocky and Rambo put together.
  • They had not won a series against another AL West team since the middle of June against the Mariners.
  • They showed some toughness and moxie in coming back from 5-1 in the eighth inning of the middle game to make a contest out of a snoozer. They also stood up to the Rangers in a bench clearing shoving and leaning match and A.J. Hinch of all people showed fire for his team going nose to nose with the Rangers’ manager Jeff Bannister.
  • The bats came to life over the weekend, which was a necessity after they went into the deep freeze leading into the All Star game.
  • McHugh gutted it out without his best stuff Friday, and Keuchel dominated with his best stuff Sunday. These two have to be the leaders of a second half charge.
  • Carlos Correa continues to be a precocious leader of this team, sparking it on offense again and again while playing a strong defensive SS. After struggling with inside pitches before the break, he seemed to have figured things out a bit better in this weekend series.
  • Luis Valbuena‘s bat returned from MIA territory, Preston Tucker continued to do a solid job and Evan Gattis and Colby Rasmus helped out along the way.

The questions for you this Monday morning are….

  • Is this series more of a reflection of the Rangers poor pitching staff and bullpen than the Astros slumbering bats awakening?
  • Is the bleeding officially stopped? Are the Astros ready to go on a run?
  • If the Astros get hot for a couple of weeks is that just concealing the real problems the team faces?
  • Can they hold on in contention until help (Lowrie, Springer and ???) arrives?
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40 comments on “Top of the Week: It’s only one series, but …

  1. Dan, if the Stros get hot, it would be great, but I don’t think it would conceal anything from us at this point. We’ve been dissecting this team from April. It’s an imperfect group with character.

    The Rangers have holes. And their pen is flat out bad. Let’s see how our rotation, and more importantly, how our own relievers hold up over the next couple of weeks. I think that’s our biggest key right now.

    But yes, I think they’ll hang around.

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  2. 6, 8, 5. Those are the Ks for these 3 games. That means the Astros are at least making contact. It was the Rangers pitching they were facing but I will take contact over strikeouts every game – and take my chances on winning.

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  3. 1. The Rangers got good starting pitching in two of the three games. The third game was by their #1, Gallardo and he did not have anything, but the Astros were very patient hitters against him and he fell apart. I thinks the bats are starting to wake up.
    2. I think the Astros may be poised to go back playing like an over .500 team, and I think that because of #3.
    3. If the Astros get hot for a couple of weeks it is not because they are concealing real problems. It will be because players are regressing upward to their norms. What I mean is: Rasmus, Altuve, Gattis Valbuena, Castro, and Carter all have batting averages that are below their career averages and most of them, correspondingly, also have OBPs that are below their career averages, too. Something has to give. Most of these guys are better hitters than they have been hitting and that bodes well, not poorly for the next two weeks. Saturday night could very well have been the spark that ignites this team to start hitting their career averages. Or, at least, several of them. Combine that with Correa and Tucker starting to make their normal adjustments and we could also see those two start getting hot. Combine that with a Lowrie return and we could see a team starting to hit.
    4. Could they hold on till help arrives? If they can split the six games against the Red Sox and the Royals, I think they have a really good chance to hold on until help arrives.

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  4. * Is this series more of a reflection of the Rangers poor pitching staff and bullpen than the Astros’ slumbering bats awakening?*

    We hit anemically in both the first two games – both against the Rangers’ starters and their relievers. We won the first game only because we got a couple of timely hits in the early going against a pitcher coming back from TJ surgery. Then he – and two Ranger relievers – settled in and dominated us.

    What happened in the 3rd game? I think it was just adrenalin – the lift we got from a foul Odor in the batter’s box one day and Kid Keuchy being Kid Keuchy the next.

    The keys to watch to see if this is real are:
    1. Preston Tucker – he has to get his average, OBP, and RBI per game rate up to near his AAA levels to make this offense work consistently
    2. Jose Altuve – he has to get his average and OBP up another .20 points, and keep his caught stealing and picked off base rates down to minimal numbers, for us to score runs in multiple innings, throughout the game, instead of in one-inning spurts;
    3. Carlos Correa – he has to unleash the beast;
    4. Evan Gattis – he has to hit five more triples this month [just kidding];
    5. Luis Valbuena – he’s now back above the Mendoza line. Can he get above.225 before the end of August?
    6. Jon Singleton – it’s now or never, Jon. We at least need productive outs. If you want to stay, we need you to show some signs of offensive talent at this level.

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  5. Very interesting takes, folks.
    I wanted to say one thing about the second game Mr. Bill, since that was the game that I attended. It felt like they were starting to come around hitting in that game, but as batters do when they are coming out of a slump, we saw some bad luck / hard hit outs before they started falling in later in the game.

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  6. After listening to a couple of interviews with Lunhow over the weekend I get the impression the only important consideration for the front office is going to be player performance. If so I think Valbuena, Sipp, and Qualls have gotten the message. Lunhow was openly optimistic about Lowrie’s return and specifically stated he would be playing a lot of 3B. Of course if Valbuena does recover offensively then Lowrie would spell needed relief at 1B. Those who don’t get the message ought to be gone. Thatcher has become completely ineffective. Time to give him the DFA and try Chapman or give Cruz a shot. While Chapman has made me nervous in the past he can at least throw hard enough to break glass. Singleton still seems lost and it dismays me that a guy who has played 1B his entire career fields and positions himself so poorly. Carter is an incomplete but it is clearly put up or shut up time. At least Carter and Castro have been solid defensive contributors but Conger deserves to be playing a lot more against RHP. His .306 BA against RHP needs to be in the lineup. As I mentioned in another thread Castro actually hits better against LHP than Conger so why not employ an unconventional platoon? Marisnick made some decent contact this weekend but still swings at way too many pitches outside the strike zone. Why not at least cameo Kemp in CF and the 9 hole? Perhaps we lose a little defensively but eliminating a high K guy and getting much better OBP out of that spot in the lineup seems like a no brainer. Give Marisnick a month in Fresno with specific instructions on learning the strike zone.

    I expect Correa and Tucker to steadily improve but it is telling that our 2 and 3 hitters are rookies, albeit talented ones. Other teams in our division have much more proven run producers in those spots. Even when Springer comes back we have to remember that he has himself played less than a full season’s worth of games. It places more pressure on the one proven talent we have in Altuve. If Jose can significantly improve his OBP and his running efficiency we may be competent enough to score sufficiently to support our pitching which I think is the strength of this team along with the defense.

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    • Bill, we’ve got a guy already on the 40 man hitting the crap out of the ball at Fresno. Rasmus is a very capable centerfielder. Santana can go to right.

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      • Dave: Agree on Santana hitting well but he fits in that high K mode. Of course if you swap him for Marisnick there is a chance you will get a significantly better OBP. I just think the OBP and low K profile of Kemp would help alter the balance toward more contact.

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      • I agree with Dr. Bill. The only way you choose Santana over Kemp is if you get rid of at least three of our extremely high strikeout guys – Carter, Rasmus, Gattis, Valbuena, Castro, Marisnick, and Singleton. [Note I did not mention the other high-K guy we have, who presently on the DL, and who i do not want to part with under any circumstances I can envision]. Putting Santana into a lineup with three or more other exceptionally high strikeout guys is just asking for trouble. We need not only need somebody on base, we need somebody who knows how to make productive outs – not strike out – when they don’t get on base.

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    • From what I read Valbuena has been taking grounders at 1B. Luhnow said Carter was on the clock. They are expecting a repeat of last years second half. I am not that optimistic, but I think he is capable. I am glad that leash will be short though. Having a middle of the order hitter hit .230 with RISP, and even worse with RISP and two outs, with a K rate in the mid 30’s, is just flat out scary. It’s not hard to see why they struggle to score runs at times.

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  7. The Angels had a home game rained out for the first time in 20 years last night. Talk about a drought!
    What that means is that the Red Sox get to play a day/night doubleheader today and then hop on the redeye and arrive in Houston, having lost two hours on the flight east.
    Then they get to play an Astros team that has had two days rest and are coming off the biggest win of their season.
    Show no mercy!

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    • I’ve always thought the introduction of the day-night doubleheader was one of the cheesiest ML inventions. And I think the BoSox led the way with that concept. Serves them right!

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      • Seems like we had this situation once before this year – we come off an off day, our opponent flies in after a long doubleheader. It did not turn out well for us last time – they [White Sox] were in play mode after winning the 2nd half of a double-header in riot torn Baltimore; we were in snooze mode. Carlos Rodon bent but did not break against our offense, and the Pale Leggings whipped up on our well-rested bullpen [Fields and Sipp] to beat us 6-3.

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  8. Let me throw out some disjointed thoughts:
    – Score could have been about 15-0 yesterday. Bad base running and some lost opportunities by back of the order.
    – JFSF and Castro need to start going the other way or both will finish under the Mendoza line.
    – Tucker was hitting it hard to LF. Big gain in his avg/OBP if this continues
    – Rasmus is better defensive weapon than JFSF.
    – I still like Singleton, but think he needs some Bagwell coaching. He is unprepared and one bad or borderline strike call guarantees he will strike out. He and Villar likely play very well for another club someday…like JDM and Parades.
    – Keuchel looked bored out there
    – Valbuena got on top of the ball and had great results. Has he reduced the uppercut?

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  9. The Rangers’ pitching is bad, but there’s bad pitching on most teams.

    I think it’s a little soon to declare our long Astros nightmare over. That said, this offense is due for an upward course correction.

    A couple of good weeks would be nice, but hitters hitting or making productive outs is all we need.

    Can’t wait for Lowrie to return.

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  10. *If the Astros get hot for a couple of weeks is that just concealing the real problems the team faces?*

    Still laughing. The problems this team faces – at least for the rest of 2015 – are open and obvious to everyone. No one can hide the fact that, for this year:
    1. We are one reliable, under 3.75 ERA, under 1.30 WHIP, starting pitcher short of any hope to make it beyond round 1 of any playoffs we might reach;
    2. We need a complete overhaul of our corner infield situation; we need a 3B and a 1B who can provide reliable offense, some power, and a lot of RBIs;
    3. We are getting no offensive help at all from our 1st string catcher; we have a deep, ugly black hole at whatever spot in the lineup Hinch pencils him in;
    4. We need at least one more reliable hand in the bullpen – replacing Thatcher; and
    5. We need a whole new offensive game plan, a main feature of which is plate discipline.

    Otherwise, we really need Roughed Odor to keep showing out wherever we go, mouthing off, and ticking off our whole team to the point they actually have a motive to play smart and play tough.

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    • I do agree with you on all the problems we face.

      The rest of the AL faces many of those same problems. You sound worried about a playoff series – say McCullers gets used as a game 3 starter – but look around the AL he will probably face worse. The Dodgers, Cardinals, and Nationals are all better than any AL team. If the playoffs started today we would get the play in game with the Twins, and after Keuchel wins it we have a series with the Royals. The Royals probably have the edge on offense – small ball and defense become accentuated in a short series – but we match up better starter to starter. That series is winnable.

      It’s really not until you get the WS when you either face the Nationals rotation or the Dodgers rotation that we will get skunked.

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      • I’m not worried about McCullers. He’s as good a #2 as anybody in the AL has – and better than most. Everybody on this blog – and in the Astros organization – seems convinced, however, that he will be shut down before we get anywhere close to the playoffs. If you shut a pitcher off, you can’t just automatically fire him back up and expect the results he was having when he was in a 5-day pitching rhythm. The ones I don’t think match up well against another team’s 2 and 3 are the ones who are expected to really be there – McHugh and Feldman. McHugh has not had good stuff, and while he has been bailed out on his mediocre to bad starts by luck and sudden bursts of offense, he has not been good. And neither Feldman’s rehab starts nor his first start after the return from the DL were exactly encouraging.

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  11. Thoughts after reading your thoughts….
    – Am I the only one thinking that maybe Qualls problem was trying to throw through his injury and that now that he is healed he will be solid again?
    – Conger showed a little bit of fire and a good bit of bat Satruday night. The only time Castro shows fire is when he is griping with the umps.
    – I’m liking that Tucker has rediscovered hitting the other way. It is helping his overall approach.
    – There is never a sure thing in any sport, but especially in baseball. In the AL this year 14 of the 15 teams are winning between 45 and 55% of the time. That is not much of a differential. You won’t get rich betting on those types of matchups.
    – Keuchel is so Glavinish… he puts the ball where he wants it, mixes the location, mixes the speed and darn they can’t get that ball in the air off him. If he is bored Devin it is because the Rangers were making things easy for him.
    – If the Astros could rip off another 8-10 game win streak I think that would keep them in contention for the whole second half of the season.
    – Mr. Bill – just like this team is a better scoring team than last season just by taking ABs away from Dominguez, Grossman, Guzman, Krauss and Presley – maybe this team can pick up the offense by taking ABs away from some of the under performers and giving them to Springer, Lowrie and Kemp down the stretch.

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    • Right on, Dan. Regarding Conger, I have mixed feelings. His offensive performance has been so much better than Jason’s that I have begun to see him as a potential contributor when before I saw him only as a defensive liability. And with regard to what happened Saturday with Odor, again I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, at least somebody got fired up. On the other hand, it is not the catcher’s job to make a hitter quit stalling or grandstanding and get in the box. That’s the umpire’s job – and Conger just about started a riot, and possibly got somebody hurt by Prince Fielder’s menacing bat antics – over something that was none of his business. The right call on Odor was ‘just a little inside at the upper thighs’ on the next pitch – not condescendingly calling the guy out publicly for acting like an unprofessional jerk. And for all the macho good feelings we showed Sunday, the immediate aftermath of the call-out by Conger – without the brush back – was the offender getting a triple and starting a game-winning rally, and A.J. Hinch getting shoved around first by a monster with a bat in his hands and then by the opposing manager.

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      • I’m a little torn on this one Mr. Bill. I was not happy about the results Saturday night, but after seeing a guy tossed from a game and sent to the minors for throwing and missing A-Rod, I am not totally sold on the “send a message with a purpose pitch” scenario.
        Yes, Conger’s job is not to try and straighten out Mr. Odor, but Mr. Odor had been asking for it most of the night. Oh horrors, the little diva got shown up in public for the brat that he is. I was just surprised that it escalated the way it did and that was not due to Conger, that was due to Fielder.
        Anyways, if the hang over from this is that the Astros rightly or wrongly have a little chip on their shoulders and a little attitude in their swagger – I am fine with that. It is about time for a little fire out there.

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      • I’m with you on the mixed feelings/being torn. I will say this, though. Obie didn’t get sent down because he brushed A-Rod back. He got sent down because he couldn’t get anybody out for two innings and totally showed his rear. Had he been on his game, or shown some composure, and brushed A-Rod or anyone else back with a legitimate pitch that didn’t have an angry dagger in the eyes along with it, he would at worst have gotten a warning.

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      • This would be an interesting question for a major leaguer (or any of the folks on the blog who have played competitively). Would you rather get hit in the hip by a Josh Fields 95 mph fastball or be shown up by a large Asian catcher with a bit of a yappy mouth?

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      • My answer to that question, Dan, mighty depend upon [a] whether or not the guy batting after me was named Prince Fielder, and [b] was in the on-deck circle with a bat in his hands when the event went down.

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  12. I think Kemp is going to be a solid ML ball player someday. But he’s only had 34 games of AAA ball and has produced a .340 OBP and a .704 .OPS. You bring him up now and chances are that he won’t even provide those numbers. Give the guy some time.

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    • Look at the difference between Kemp’s AA numbers this year compared to his AA numbers last year. He’ll adjust to AAA, too.

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      • OK……………………! There, that’s long enough. Put him in LF and lead him off in front of Correa!

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      • I’m with you, OP1, but I wonder where you would plan on putting Preston Tucker? I think he is eventually our DH, but I don’t see Evan Gattis sitting for anybody. And Preston’s presence is key to our offensive production. For that reason, I would probably give Kemp a trial in CF, and see how good or bad his arm really is.

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      • That .335 OBP and (now) .690 OPS is not going to jump start our anemic offense. But I am curious OP1, if you stick Kemp in left, what happens to the other guys playing outfield and at DH?

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  13. I love the way it came out. Conger put the turd in his place and told him what he needed to be told. Fielder looked like a tough guy but he didn’t hurt anyone. Hinch and Bannister come across as guys who will take up for their team, but don’t carry a grudge and the Astros came back and kicked their butts like a team who knows how to use their inspiration and channel it.
    We need this rivalry. This is good for both teams and their players. These two teams have had many years of tough times and have been isolated in our state and from each other for too long. It’s good for baseball. It’s good for the American league because the AL needs another good rivalry to sway the media concentration from the Yanks and Bosox.
    As long as the rivalry remains within the confines of the rules and the civilty of the players, I absolutely love having a fierce rivalry and I truly long for the day when Ranger’s fans can’t buy many tickets to Houston games because not many are available and vice versa.
    You know, if you put the Rays and Marlins in the same division they might have more interest in their teams. Seattle and Portland would be a good rivalry.
    Put KC and St Louis in the same division and let them play each other 19 times a year!

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    • Agree, OP1. I went to a Royals/Cardinals game a couple of years ago and it was the most boring game I have ever seen. Nobody on either team played with any intensity. It was like an exhibition game – in the middle of the season.

      If the truth be known, I don’t really care at this point if Conger was right or wrong. All I hope is that the fire we say Sunday afternoon doesn’t go out just because we have an off-day and Texas has their foul Odor back.

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    • OP, you’re right – I like the idea of having real rivalry, even though I still don’t like the idea of the Astros in the AL and never will, I suspect.

      I said last week I was happy to see Strom get after the umpire in Tampa Bay for the inexcusable missing of Keuchel’s strike three to Elmore. This team needs a little more chip-on-the-shoulder kind of attitude. And even if it wasn’t Conger’s place to get Odor in the box (and it wasn’t), he was standing up for his pitcher when the ump wasn’t moving things along. A little blood-pumping excitement might overcome the lethargy this offense has shown too many times this season.

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  14. I see LAA is about to sweep the series from the RedSox. They are a last place team and we’re playing them here. At worst we should take 2/3 or 3/3 in this series. Anything less is a big disappointment. It looks like the Angels are heating up and we can’t afford to fall behind anymore than the 2 games currently. Time to see what we’re made of.
    The upcoming KC series and then the LA series are crucial to our success this year.

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