A few random thoughts this Sunday as the Astros still struggle to reach pre-season goals for the team many thought would do good to hit .500 or just above.
Is the team just tired?
Several players — including pitchers — have hit career highs in many categories, faced injuries all season or have had inconsistent playing time for one reason or another. Too much, too little or too inconsistent time will certainly present potential draw backs for a player and a team. For example:
- Dallas Keuchel has already exceeded his IP career total and will likely add another 20+ IP to that, playoffs notwithstanding.
- Same for Collin McHugh, who is already 30 IP (182) above his career high (154) and will likely join Keuchel in the 200 IP club.
- And that Lance McCullers Jr. guy is so far above his nor (140IP to 104), his 21-year-old frame is bound to notice.
- Evan Gattis had never played more than 108 games in a season until the 141 this year. His batting and slugging percentage are below career norms and his OPS is at a low for his career as well.
That list goes on, but the rotation and even the bullpen have reached a point where they need a second wind to push through the next few weeks and perhaps the next month.
A major league season is a grinder and even Carlos Correa, Preston Tucker and others are playing baseball in a part of the year they haven’t in a long time, if ever.
Those dang lineups!
It’s been a battle for A.J. Hinch all season, one that has plagued previous Astros’ managers as well. The first-year manager has used 141 different batting orders and even started 114 different defensive lineups. That’s what happens when players don’t perform or miss considerable time with injury. Consider.
- Ten different players have hit second in the batting order. This is generally one of the most consistent areas of your lineup, especially for playoff contending teams.
- As for third in the order? Now that Carlos Correa has settled in (is he the right guy long term?), it’s better, but six different players preceded him in that role this year. SIX!
- Ten different players have started in left field and Houston is still searching for the answers at the two corner infield positions, supposedly anchors for a contending team.
- Any idea who has the most starts at third base at left field this season?
Not to mention the injuries…
You can argue that some of these aren’t significant losses, but each had been plugged into roles in April and caused Jeff Luhnow and Hinch to alter plans on the fly. It’s just another area that causes an engine to not purr as smoothly as it should.
- Brett Oberholtzer and Brad Peacock — thought to be key potential key rotation pieces only several short months ago — have been virtually non-existent in 2015.
- Lowrie missed 82 games to the disabled list.
- George Springer was out 60 games.
- Sam Deduno has been out and, Scott Feldman is now out for the season.
- Jason Castro (17), Jake Marisnick (15) and Josh Fields (15, plus a strange minor league demotion) also missed time due to injuries.
Yes, every team has its own battles, but Houston has had little chance to get in a groove. Some of it is self-inflicted (e.g. trades, depending on players like Jonathan Villar et al), but part of the success of a playoff team is how well (read: St. Louis) adjusts during the course of a season and stretch run.
And, yes, this season was not won or lost in June or July, it will be won or lost in the next two weeks. Sounds simple, but IP, games played, injuries and lineups will become more critical now.