Sunday update: McCullers, stretch run, playoffs and offensive offense

Even when Dallas Keuchel is the losing pitcher in a game, he does it in best-pitcher-in-the-league form. It’s just part of the enigma of an unusual season, not quite Steve Carlton‘s 1972, but another reminder nonetheless that Keuchel has established himself as one of the premier pitchers in the majors.

Unfortunately, the Astros feel like a team struggling to hang onto the end of  rope of a tug-of-war contest than a team that is prepared to take the bull by the horns and run away and hide from the rest of the division. Here are some concerns.

Now, onto the stretch run.

With 20 games to go, the biggest threat to the Astros is not the Rangers, who are now only a game and a half back. Here’s the way I look at it. The Astros could falter over the next few weeks and fall out of first place. But the bigger concern is the Twins and Angels, who are next in line for the Wild Card. If Houston does suffer a set back and plays just .500 (or less) between now and the end of the season, this playoff drive could develop into an all-or-nothing proposition.

Either win the division or stay home. Yes, of course, the Astros could just as easily sneak in the back door with the Wild Card, but a slide could also mean a final record with only 85 (or less) wins, which just might not be good enough.

How far can the Astros push McCullers.

Lance McCullers Jr. has now pitched 131 innings in 2015 (between Corpus Christi and Houston), far exceeding his previous high. With Scott Feldman now out for the year — and even the playoffs — Jeff Luhnow and A.J. Hinch face a daunting decision: Push the envelope or slow down his IP and perhaps shut him down as the playoffs near.

Of course, playoffs may not matter if Houston doesn’t push the envelope in the regular season. With 3-4 starts remaining, McCullers will likely end up near the 150 IP mark, not a ton of innings, but 150% more than his highest previous pro numbers. Would he then be moved to the bullpen in the playoffs? Could the Astros seriously afford to leave him out of the rotation in a seven game series?

Will the offense be good or just offensive?

There’s no doubt the Astros’ offense can be flat-out dominating. There’s also no doubt it can score two runs and finish on the short end of a 3-2 game. Which offense shows up down the stretch — more importantly, which players show up — may be the most important factor to the playoff run. Pitching aside.

The Astros have scored three or fewer runs five times in the last 10 games. Five times. Yes, the team is still averaging among the top five in the league over that stretch thanks to an 11-5 win and three games in which it scored eight runs each. But it’s those 3-2 losses that could be the most devastating.

Who will “show up” down the stretch. Marwin Gonzalez leads all regulars with a .321 average while Carlos Correa (.231), Jose Altuve (.256) and George Springer (.179) haven’t gotten hot yet. Carlos Gomez (.306/.381/.611), meanwhile, has heated up.

Which hitters will show up?

Sunday afternoon driver questions.

  • Straight up: Do the Astros win the division? Make the playoffs?
  • Should/will McCullers continue to start and throw 100+ pitches every outing?
  • Your biggest concern for the last 20 games?
  • Who is more important to the stretch run: Correa, Altuve, Keuchel or someone else?

76 comments on “Sunday update: McCullers, stretch run, playoffs and offensive offense

  1. I have tempered my expectations over the past several weeks. I’m still a bit confused as to why Luhnow would make the big trade with the Brewers, but then continue to ignore first base. If we had a chance to do over again, I’d rather the trade did not get done, because I think we’re going to fall short of post season play in 2015. We gave up significant talent, guys that could have had an impact as soon as 2016. And of course, one of my favorite former prospects has settled very nicely in Milwaukee. Could we have used his .290 BA, .403 OBP and .999 OPS? Have we let another J.D. Martinez get away? Santana is already helping Bucks fans forget about Gomez.

    I sure would not push McCullers much further. Even if the risk is minimal, he’s far too valuable a long term investment to mess with. And we’re in the same boat with Keuchel too. Unchartered territory.

    Concerns? It’s almost too late to start getting concerned now. I’d like to see the offense get hot all at once and carry this team into October. There is no indication of that though. If I have a concern, it’s that I think our pitching staff has given us all they’ve got and are close to being tapped out.

    I think guys like Altuve, Correa and Keuchel will continue to give us what they consistently have. We need Carter to give us one hot streak. We need Jake to get on base at a much better clip than .270. It’s going to take significant contributions from places where we have not had much help to date.


    • It’s hard for me to imagine that Domingo Santana is going to be successful over the long term with a 31% K rate. He has hit .269 this year sitting on a .344 BABIP. I’m even skeptical that his K rate will improve given his minor league K rates looking similar. He has never had a BABIP below .300 in his baseball life though, so there is no doubt he hits the ball with authority, and that he can take a walk. I’m not sure that a Gomez/CF, Springer/RF is going to be any different in the win/loss column than Springer/CF, Santana/RF will be over a season, but it would have been a LOT cheaper and given years of team control, so that’s disappointing.

      Not addressing 1B definitely stings. Carter is just too slow. Watching him chase those foul balls at 1B made me think that he is about 15 lbs heavier than this time last year. His at bats just look like his brain is in slow motion. He will always be able to run into a few and hit his homeruns, but he is always going to be a .200 hitter (or worse). I have to think that Luhnow held onto him (and still does) because he thinks he has some value.

      I think we win the division – not because we will deserve too but because no one else does either. This next 4 games will say a lot. I think if one of the teams comes away with a 3 out of 4, that will gain momentum and start the engine that finishes the season. The Rangers will probably be playing with more desperation – losing 3 out of 4 for them will signal the end of division hopes likely. It will be difficult for a young team to have the killer instinct, but I think you will see some good results from that 9th inning win yesterday that carries over.


  2. I still feel as if the Astros will win the division. The club has 7 games left against the Rangers and 4 against the Angels. The Rangers just have the Astros’ number. They are the elephant in the room now. On the positive side, after this road trip, the team will have 9 home games, where they have been dominant, and 6 road games against Punch and Judy teams. So, again, the Rangers play here for three games and the Astros must, MUST, win that series to win the division.

    Keep McCullers in the rotation. He has the entire winter to recoup.

    My biggest concern is the bullpen now. There were a couple of handful of games where Hinch threw the entire bullpen for a game. It seems as if the bullpen is getting tired now. Maybe bring in a stopper from the minors now?

    Two other players are important to the run now… Neshek and Gregerson. The back end of the bullpen MUST step up and shut the other team down to close out the games! We have seen too many wins get away lately because the pen has faltered.

    As the minor league playoffs end, the Astros can bring a big stick to the club to play first base…

    Go Astros!


  3. This road trip is going to be the death knell for this team. They are looking at 2-8 or 3-7, at best, and that just won’t get it done. For me, the keys are Lowrie and Springer. If they can return to the hitters they were before their respective injuries it could be a huge boost to a struggling and pressing offense. I don’t think they will win the division, but I will continue watching and hoping the offense finally gets going. I’m a diehard fan so what are my options other than hope?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The rotation has waded in uncharted water, not only with Mccullars but McHugh , AND Keuchel. We have no choice at this point than to keep on keeping on. Do I have concerns with these guys? HECK YEAH….but unless we have a couple of fresh arms tucked away in the minors, I don’t see where we have any choice. We all knew it was going to come down to the last month of the season if these guys were going to show up, and it looks very much like they are not. The bullpen is tired the starters are in jeopardy of having dead arms and the debacle at first base is beyond bad.
    These one run losses are getting on everybody’s nerves, but I’ve said it before… can not live and die by the long ball. The way Kansas City has won so many games is by playing SMALL ball. Bunt, steal get on anyway you can. And…don’t get me started on the pick offs. Keuchel would lie down on a rain road track to get to the post season, and that’s what worries me. His arm is pivotal to this team, I don’t want him to go down with an ingury, and be out all of next year because of it…..same goes for Mccullars.
    I don’t know the answers to your questions, all I do know is I’m so dang proud of these guys!! We had no expectations when the season started, and getting Correa in this line up was the frosting on the cake we needed. The Rangers are just a better team, they have been to the big show and know what it takes. I just hope we can finish the year healthy, and come back next year a much improved team.
    Oh by the way….you know “who” is playing 3rd base today….((sigh))

    Liked by 1 person

    • WOOOOW HOOOO!!! I just saw that!! Can’t come fast enough for me! The guy can HIT and he’s a solid 1st and 3rd baseman! His natural position is 3rd, but can play an excellent 1st base!! Can you tell I’m just giddy about this news??!! The only hick up on this move, is if by chance this team DOES get to the post season he won’t be able to play.


  5. Posted in the wrong place earlier…

    My thoughts on today’s lineup….

    No Stassi, and VILLAR GETS THE START AT 3B?! Are we even TRYING at this point?



    • Billy……Tucker has a hard time playing left at MM, the Angels have a H U G E outfield, Tucker just couldn’t get to those balls. Marisnick was almost eaten up last night running down balls out there! Hence, the reason he is not in the lineup today.
      PLUS…..he has a hard time hitting left handed pitching. Conger? Because he hit ONE homerun yesterday. That’s why. AND…….DO *NOT* get me started on the Villerror at 3rd today.GRRRRRRRRRRRR.


      • Becky, I agree Tucker shouldn’t be in there against lefties but how many games have we faced a right handed pitcher and Tucker sat? And if they feel Conger is in a groove he could DH. I know having two catchers in the game is frowned on but Gattis could catch in a pinch. Putting Villar on third is suicidal.
        Somebody has a problem using the new kids. Duffy may get the same treatment.


  6. I’m gonna have to hurt someone, if these guys don’t start doing something to scratch a run across. WHY can’t this team BUNT a guy over?
    WHY???? Two innings in a row you get a guy on with NO OUTS and you can’t get him in.
    The Rangers are winning and we are losing…..
    Sound familiar????

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thoughts on a Sunday when my Texans stunk it up and then woke up in the last 5 minutes of the game.
    – I have the same concern that bringing up Duffy does not help if he is sitting on the bench.
    – Why does a 2-0 deficit seem so huge on the road.
    – Yes our pitchers are probably getting tired. It is September – rest during the winter because everyone is tired.
    – At this point might as well ride the arms and pray it does not result in an injury??
    – I would sure love to see someone heat up and carry this team – I mean bat .450 with 5 HR in a week hot.
    – I am afraid that the bullpen and the rotation will collapse under the strain of not enough run scoring on a consistent basis.


    • In fairness, if we hadn’t traded him away and he made it through the Rule V, he would be sitting on the bench in our minor leagues as dictated by the spreadsheet that would show he is not ready for a promotion.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Springer got picked off……again. I’ve asked forgiveness from my husband and the Lord for all the tantrums I’ve had today. My husband has to keep reminding me…”it’s just a game”.
    I’m near tears because there is sooo much talent on this team, to play this badly. For the first time since 2005 we have a good team, and it is so mentally frustrating as a fan to see them go down at the last week’s of the season. And now the dagger…another homerun. I’m done.


  9. Cron is killing us this series.

    The Astros are like a guy hanging off a cliff holding on by some roots until help arrives. But noone is comng so they need to climb out on their own or fall into the abyss.


  10. Perhaps the toughest thing to comprehend is how they have hung on this long. They had the one early streak and have been dog paddling ever since.


  11. The lack of a singe veteran proven run producer in the lineup is the Achilles heel of this offense. I love Springer and Correa but neither have the MLB ABs to be counted on. Gomez is heating up but is not the stud the team can count on. Meanwhile the Angels have Trout and Pujols with a supporting cast of Calhoun, Freese and Cron.

    Getting two more starts out of McCullers before the off day on the 24th will be dicey. I’m especially concerned about his return to Arlington. I would skip his start after the off day rather than give everyone an extra day of rest. I’m less concerned about Keuchel who is older, more efficient and smarter. I would like to see Kazmir step up and outduel Hammels tomorrow night. That would be a HUGE boost. The bullpen is fraying though with Sipp unavailable, Harris looking shakier and Neshek having a couple of meltdowns on the last homestand.

    And as I write this we score 5 runs in the ninth. HOLY veteran run producer Jed Lowrie. Gregerson MUST, MUST MUST CLOSE THIS GAME OUT!


  12. You know the old saying. Everyone but the fat lady was singing Sometimes a whacky, down to the last strike rally lights a fire under a team. Now we just need to get three outs in the bottom of the 9th. Hold breath.


  13. Wow! Finally, all my negativity has bitten me in the butt. If this win doesn’t turn this team around nothing will. Maybe the baseball gods are with us with that ball getting stuck in Featherstone’s glove allowing Lowrie to be the hero. My boys and I were screaming and high-fiving each other after the 3-run HR. What an unbelievable win!


  14. You know you are not a good fan when you can’t stand to watch the game. You keep checking in on MLB and you just want to cry. You don’t want to read this blog because it just reminds you that they are losing.

    Then you check in and all of the sudden it’s 5-3. The good guys are winning but you still can’t watch the end of the game. You might jinxed them. You wait 10 more minutes and by golly they won!
    What’s the first thing you do, you come read this blog.
    Baseball! America’s game!

    Liked by 4 people

  15. Back to one of todays subjects. We need a guy to provide a spark. It’s time to put Tucker and his .850 OPS against righties out there unless a lefty is starting. Yeah, we’ll lose the defense that Jake provides, but we have to get the lineup reignited. And as long as Duffy is here, give him a shot too.

    Tonight’s flight will be a much happier trip. I’ll sleep better too.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. If my guy Tucker wasn’t up I would have turned it off and missed an amazing ending. Hats off to the Angels 2nd baseman (can’t say I’ve seen quite that before) and thank goodness the RF had the glove on his right hand. Wow. Looked like one of us! (Literally).
    OK, new city, new team and i am expecting we win at least 3 out of 4, maybe all 4. Crazy? Probably, but we ain’t dead and momentum counts. Go Kazmir, Go Gomez! And sorry, Becky, but go Villar too. He will do something good, and by seasons end you may actually like him. I know—- nuts.


  17. I am on such an emotional high from that game that I am watching the replay on ROOT Sports instead of the Cowboys game on NBC. I can get enough of this improbable, remarkable victory. I sure hope the emotion from this win carries over to Arlington.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. I thought it was another disappointing loss when the 2B had the ball stick in his webbing on Correa and then Lowrie barely knocked it out. Luck finally turned for us.


  19. I just rewatched it on the Root Sport replay. I loved the reaction in the dugout. Gattis who was pinch hit for by Lowrie was so genuinely excited and happy for Lowrie – all the guys jumping around. What a game!

    Liked by 2 people

    • After hitting the ball hard into outs all weekend we finally caught some breaks of our own. First, before Springer tripled he barely fouled off a ball that would have been strike 3. Then he hits a liner that was almost caught by Calhoun. With Altuve up the OF was playing ‘no doubles’ defense that allowed his hit to fall. Of course, that hard ground ball hit by Correa gets stuck in Featherston’s glove allowing him to reach on an IF single. During Lowrie’s AB the 3rd pitch was a strike, but called a ball by the home plate umpire. A 2-1 count changes the whole complexion as it doesn’t allow Street to nibble on the next pitch. Finally, Lowrie’s HR could have been caught by Calhoun, but it appears he got too close to the wall and he was unable to reach in far enough as his leg got stuck on the wall. Baseball is such a funny game and it is amazing how every bad break goes against a team and then, all of a sudden, that team catches all the breaks. You have got to love this great game!

      Liked by 1 person

  20. Man, I hope Castro is well enough to play in this last four games. We need him to keep the Rangers from running all over the place on our pitchers…..and you KNOW they are counting on him to be sitting in the dugout. The Rangers put a beat down on the A’S this afternoon….with Beltre hitting two homeruns. We HAVE to win two outta four of these games. Hamels used to be a real tough lefty, but other teams have gotten to him, so if there’s one thing these guys need to do is jump on him early, because you know that’s what the Rangers plan is going to be with our guys. I have a friend whose husband is fighting cancer, and I was on the phone with her when the boys put up a five run inning on Street. I turned on the radio, and you could have knocked me over when I heard we were ahead!! We (I) needed to hear that. I was just about over the edge along with Tim!! Seriously….these guys know what they need to do, and I have faith that they will do just that. I’ll say another prayer that they stay healthy, and they play their best!!
    By the way, Tuesdays game will be on ESPN, and fox sports net.the usual channel that shows the Rangers games. Becky⚾⚾

    Liked by 1 person

  21. You have to think by bringing up Matt Duffy, that spells the end of Khris Karter. Duffy won’t be able to play in the playoffs, but until we make the post season, I think we need to see what Duffy brings to the game. If they bring him up just to sit on the bench, would be counter productive. I realize he was going to be exposed to rule5, but he could have been added the last week of the regular season to accomplish that. I want to see him play, don’t you? If your looking for a *-wow* minute….go check out Musgrove’S final line for 2015!! The more I read about these guys in Corpus the more excited I get for next year.! There are some seriously good players down in South Texas!!


  22. That was the most amazing inning of baseball I have ever seen.
    I remember listening to a game way back in the sixties where the Astros scored 8-9 runs in the ninth inning to come from behind and win a game. Cant remember who it was against, I want to say the Mets or the Reds. But I couldn’t see that game. This one, I watched.
    The entire inning I had the word BABIP screaming in my head!


    • On the reverse side do you remember the game against the Pirates, which I think was in 2001, when Pittsburgh scored 7 runs in the bottom of the 9th to beat the Astros? The rally, like yesterday, started with 2 outs and nobody on and culminated in a Brian Giles grand slam off Billy Wagner. I remember listening to it on the internet and pounding my fist on the table after the grand slam. It was the first game of a doubleheader that day. That is the beauty (or agony) of baseball. There is no clock and you can’t take a knee or dribble out to the final buzzer. Eventually, you have to get that 3rd out to win the game.


      • Unfortunately, I was actually at that Pirate comeback victory. My older son, a Pirate fan, put his arm around me and offered to come back for the evening part of the DH. I declined, but did call in to a Pgh sports talk show to try to discuss the outcome from the point of view of an Astros fan.
        It was the first time since the 1950’s that a team down by 6 runs with two outs and no one on base in the 9th inning came back to win. Yesterday was a bit of a reverse, but not quite as unbelievable. But close.
        BTW the Astros came back and won the nightcap against Pittsburgh, with Tony McKnight the victor, in one of his only good Astro starts.


  23. Preston Tucker finally was given a chance. George Springer finally went with a pitch on the outside corner. Jose Altuve . . . well, that was just Jose being Jose. Jed Lowery finally proved that it is he, not Evan Gattis, Carlos Gomez, Luis Valbuena, or Chris Chronicle, who should be penciled in the clean-up spot in the 2016 team’s batting order every day.

    And as we head into Arlington, TX, I think I hear Sir Paul McCartney singing over us:

    ‘ With a little luck we can clear it up.
    We can bring it in for a landing,
    With a little luck, we can turn it on.
    There can be no misunderstanding.

    There is no end to what we can do together.
    The willow turns his back on inclement weather;
    We can do it, just me and you.

    With a little push, we could set it off.
    We can send it rocketing skywards.
    With a little love, we could shake it up.
    Don’t you feel the comet exploding?

    Good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are.

    Liked by 2 people

  24. For 8 innings yesterday, everyone was swinging to hard, upper cutting the ball, popping out, striking out, leaving guys on base.
    I don’t know what more Tucker can do to get a regular spot in this lineup. If Hinch didn’t get the message yesterday he never will.
    If he keeps throwing the same guys out there expect more of the same.


  25. Preston Tucker is like most hitters, in that he develops a rhythm with consistency. In college and in the minors he was in the lineup every day and I watched his climb closely. He is a batter who learns something in every at bat and brings that to the plate the next time.
    At every level of the minors, he adjusted to the pitching and was able to improve himself and catch on to the pitchers.
    He has not had that chance in Houston. He will struggle in a game and find himself on the bench and not be able to work it out. I don’t look for him to get a regular role this year because there are no loyalties to him. I hope it happens next spring


    • Shouldn’t a manager/GM be unbiased? They should give everyone a chance to succeed or fail.
      I’ve the same mistakes repeatedly. With the exception of Correa, they bring kids up and they sit while Carter, Conger, Valbuna, and even Gattis keep getting chance after chance.

      I see a management that is afraid of change. I’m the opposite. It’s very frustrating.


    • I’m sure that the Astros had no intention of having to protect Matt Duffy from the Rule 5 draft this coming winter when this year started. He had hit in the .240s at AAA last season and went unprotected.
      Then he hit over .300 for most of this year with some power and big RBIs, and walked more and struck out less, while Singleton did not improve while facing the same pitchers.
      Remember that they both face many more righties than lefties, but still, Duffy out- performed Singleton.
      Then Duffy wins the MVP and Luhnow realizes the hiding game is not going to work on Duffy. So, now, he comes up because, why not? He’s going to have to protect or trade Duffy this winter anyway.
      The only thing Duffy forces Luhnow to do is take somebody off of the 40-man, right now. Who’s it gonna be? My best guess is somebody in Fresno, but there is no knowing ahead of time.


  26. Definitely keep McCullers in the rotation. They’re in sink or swim mode anyway. Give him the ball every 5 days. They gave him rest. It’s go time now.


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