Happy Sunday morning friends! The sun has risen, the Astros are in first place and the stretch run is in high gear.
The questions that plagued the organization only a year ago are gone. The negative attention the Astros received from the national media and fans alike is history. Debate the success, failure or mediocre tenure of Jeff Luhnow if you wish, but the turn around has been nothing short of miraculous, if not spectacular.
Put this in perspective. Last August 23, just one year ago, Robbie Grossman started in left field, Gregorio Petit started at third base and Jesus Guzman was at first base. Yes, Dexter Fowler was in center and Kevin Chapman, Jose Veras and Jake Buchanan all pitched in relief in the 3-2 loss that day. Oh, and did I mention Bo Porter was managing the Astros?
What a difference a year makes.
No one would have bet good money the Astros would be where they are today. No one. Not good money!
Now that they are four games up, though, there is lots of good money, but the big question isn’t whether they will make the playoffs, but how deep can they go in 2015. Right?
Here’s a quick synopsis.
The Astros are 2-2 against the Yankees in 2015, 4-2 versus the Royals, 8-5 against the Angels. Unfortunately, the team that could cause the most problem is the nemisis Rangers. Can the Astros hold their own in a tight series against any of these teams? Of course.
Best case scenario. Houston wins the division and home field advantage through at least the first round or so of the playoffs. Since the Astros obviously play better in Minute Maid, the home field advantage would be key.
Worst case scenario. Houston backs into the playoffs, is forced to play that one-game “playoff” and waste Dallas Keuchel.
Pitching and defense wins games. Ask the old school Orioles and most any other successful team. If the cards fall the Astros’ way, a team could do worse than to have to start Keuchel, Scott Kazmir and Collin McHugh — and maybe Scott Feldman in a pinch — with Vincent Velasquez and Lance McCullers Jr. out of the pen in front of Tony Sipp, Will Harris and Luke Gregerson.
Best case scenario. The Astros are able to line up the rotation in their favor, get a couple of days off and save enough innings for Velasquez and McCullers to be effective this time next month.
Worst case scenario. An injury occurs, the Astros fall off the pace and back into the playoffs (see above) or one — or both — of the kids doesn’t have the gas to finish the run.
You don’t need me to tell you the holes that are in the lineup and on this roster. It may simply come down to who gets hot and who does not. Or, how many get hot or do not get hot. Clearly, there are more “givens” on this team than even a few months ago. Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, George Springer when he’s healthy. And, there is a more solid list of, ummm, contributors that we could argue about.
But yes, there are names similar to Guzman, Petit and Grossman who won’t be around this time next year.
The key to the lineup isn’t anyone on this roster. It won’t be anyone added in the next few days or weeks. It may not be who gets hot and who does not. The key to the lineup will be — as it has all season — by A.J. Hinch and how he stacks it up. To date, Hinch has used 116 different lineups in 124 games. You can’t/won’t get much “different” than that. And, yes, some of those lineups will include Chris Carter, Luis Valbuena, Evan Gattis and Colby Rasmus. Or it’s possible some of those or others could be gone come the playoffs (or just left off a particular playoff roster).
Worst case scenario. Obviously, an injury to Altuve, Correa or a setback for Springer could be devesatating to the team. If no one else steps up, it could also be a death knell to the 2015 hopes of going deep.
As a fan or onlooker of this team, it would be easy to sit back and say this season has been successful with a winning season or if the Astros simply make the playoffs. If those things happen, then yes, you could say that.
However, at this point, with 116 days in first place, no losing month, a better record in the second half than the first half and much more positive notes, the Astros should want more.
Yes, 2017 may be the World Series year, but 2015 is The Year of the surprise!
Questions for your Sunday morning consideration.
- Does it matter if the Astros go deep into the playoffs? Or is just making the playoffs enough for 2015?
- What is the single, most important key to the Astros’ playoff success?
- Off subject question: Has Luhnow set up the organization for future failure with this roster? In other words, can he fix the Gattis trade, find a catcher better than Castro, is Lowrie a long-term answer at the corner, what will the outfield look like next season, etc?
- If Hinch isn’t manager of the year, they should discontinue the award. Still, how much credit does the first-year manager get toward the 2015 success?
- How would you set up the Astros’ outfield for the playoffs?