Sunday update: Are Astros just tiring from a long season?

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.

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180 comments on “Sunday update: Are Astros just tiring from a long season?

  1. We started the season with several new players and and a new manager. We had surprising success in the beginning but as the season progressed the team gradually started to win less. At this point in September we have a losing record.

    I’m simply a fan, definitely not an expert, but I think about this a lot. Is it possible the rest of the league didn’t know what to expect in the beginning? As each team saw more of the Astros did they see a pattern? Are the Astros so predictable the opposing team knows what to expect?
    When we shift to the left they hit to the right. When we throw a fastball strike, they’re right there waiting for it.
    Seems like all these AL west teams have our number. Especially the hated Rangers.
    And Hinch has to start trusting the guys like Stassi and Duffy. I really hoped to see Duffy at first today.

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    • Sandy, when a Sports Illustrated cover declares the Astros the 2017 World Series champs, which it did, you know you’re in trouble. I am surprised and of course delighted they stayed on top as long as they did. What that mag did is definitely not baseball protocol. Let me be the champ before I’m declared the champ.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Chip, thanks for the post. I think each of us on here on a regular basis, and you three, are all tired. It has been a long season. But this speaks to team depth. I don’t want to get into minutiae but no Astros fan felt sorry for the Rangers when they had a mass of injuries last year, nor this year with two starting pitchers and a CF going down. They are playing their 3rd and 4th string catcher. It takes all 25 plus some from the 40 man to make the entire year.

    For the first time in almost a decade, we can field a decent 25 man roster. But when one of them goes down, we really have some dead weight on the 40 man.

    As to 1st base, I believe that Hinch calls a club house meeting before every game and asks “If you want to play 1st today, hold up your hand. Carter, please put your hand down.” We thought in ST that we had versatility but it never materialized. We thought we had a backup catcher, and he is WAY BACK. And Yes, the kids have performed and been the backbone of the team. We are a young team but not a deep team, yet.

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  3. Chip: Fortunately we haven’t lost a key guy to season ending injury this year. That’s HUGE when talking about a Springer, or Correa or Altuve! The nagging boo-boos are the ones that drive us crazy! Yes, Keuchel and McHugh are now in uncharted water, but I think they both will come out of this season ok. My concern is Mccullars. He’s VERY young and being used so much up here might put a real strain on that million dollar arm. By the way Wojo has had a few quality starts in Fresno, so I would assume he might get a call up when their season is over. WHO would have thought how important Marwin has been this year?! Without him, this team would have been hurt BIG time. Like Sandy…..I’m not an expert, but when you bring guys up, why not at least give them a fighting chance? Let Duffy play 3rd for a few starts, to give Lowrie a breather, or at 1st for Marwin. The guy was the MVP of the Pacific Coast leauge! At least Hinch is feeling better about Stassi by putting him in to catch McHugh today…..

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  4. If someone would have told McHugh he would have 17 wins on Sept 20th of this season, he would have told them to quit smoking Loco weed!! MAN…..does it feel great to have *two* pitchers in our rotation with 17 wins!! And…..Keuchel will be looking for #18 tomorrow night!!! Couldn’t see the game, but it sounded like Stassi did GREAT behind the plate PLUS got himself two hits today!! I. LOVE. IT.!!!!!!

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  5. Good game today. With a win, we are guaranteed to gain on either the Angels or Twins, and either the Rangers or Mariners. Of course, we only care about the Rangers. All boils down to these last few games – how many wins.

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  6. I don’t know what the FO seeks in a defensive catcher. But the choice of Conger or Stassi appears to me to be very easy. I would select Stassi even if his arm was as poor as Conger (which right now is the Mendoza Line of catching stats).

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      • Yes he is! Players who were on the 40 man roster before the August 31st cutoff are eligible for postseason play. Stassi was added to the 40-man 2 years ago. His eligibility is the result of a quiet rule change last year during the winter meetings and was approved by the MLBPA.
        A team may also request for an commissioner’s exemption for a minor league player to be allowed to play in the postseason, even if he is not on the 40-man, if they need him because of an injury to a player that was on the 25 man, but can’t play due to that injury.
        Stassi and Tucker are eligible for postseason right now. Duffy is not.

        Liked by 1 person

    • No, if we do get there, and I think it will be us or the Angels with the last slot, Luhnow will be obligated to use same guys we’ve been complaining about all season.

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  7. Mark Appel has given up 1 run on four hits through five innings and Tyler White and Tony Kemp have two rbis each as Fresno leads in the PCL Championship game this afternoon. Kemp doubled and White homered in the first, after Appel gave up a run.
    Appel has walked 2 and struck out 8 through five.

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  8. Wow, what a jinx I am. Appel struck out the first two batters in the sixth, had two strikes on the next batter and walked him and had two strikes on Drew Robinson before giving up a two run homer. 4-3 in the top of the sixth and Appel is out.

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  9. Chip,

    I’m wrong. I misunderstood the rules. I would hope to goodness that Luhnow would not leave Stassi off a post season roster for the reason you note. That would finish me with him!

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    • I think that six run eighth inning with Conger coming in to catch may have opened some eyes. The subsequent comments about Conger’s arm, coming from Arlington will have every team looking at running on him. If Stassi continues to look like he did today, who knows.
      You might remember that a couple of months ago I mentioned that Stassi appeared to me to be a better major leaguer than a minor leaguer, because his minor league motor was drained. Now he’s up here and he looks to have had what we OTBGs refer to as a tuneup. Plus, he is rested because of Heineman sharing the catcher duties in Fresno.
      Stassi has the body of a 24 year old and Conger has the body of a 44 year old. Did you see Stassi come out and grab that squibber in front of the plate and gun that guy out at first today. He’s fresh!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Stassi looked like a professional catcher the first time I saw him down in Corpus I think two years ago now. He is a huge upgrade behind the plate right now over Conger, at a time when our weary pitchers need every little bit of help from their battery mates.

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  10. I might be wrong but that jostling of the line up speaks volumes. It says we don’t have a core group of players that we can depend upon day in and out. Yes there have been injuries but I’d wonder how other top tier teams change their starting lineups. Yes there are injuries and sometimes guys need a day off but I don’t like the idea of the computer telling us who to put in day to day because player 1 hits 20 points higher than player 2. Or I’m still not convinced about the constant lefty righty match ups. How often are we right or wrong for that matter?
    The other more important issue is the mind set of the players. Player 1 is ripping the cover off the ball but he has to sit because player 2 has a better track record against a particular pitcher. Unless I’m wrong we sure didn’t do this back in the Bagwell/Biggio days. Either we have a flawed plan or no confidence in our players.
    On a positive note, great win today.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Z Man: Not sure why all the line up changes. But some are dictated with one dimensional players. Just to use an example, Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez can both DH and play 1st. Or Chron and Pujols. So both bats can stay in the lineup. The DH can not be Correa, Springer, or Altuve and unless you sit Gattis. And God knows you don’t want him in the field. So most teams can rest a position player at DH. That is not a luxury that this team as composed can do. As to the righty lefty — the fangraph stats show a lot of flaws in various players and their results against one side or the other. Trust me, whoever is making out the lineup is NOT using those numbers.

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  11. Alex Presley homered to open the bottom of the seventh and Grossman delivered a huge two out, two run double and Fresno leads Round Rock 7-3 going to the eighth.
    Texas loses and Twins beat the Angels. Astros trail Rangers by 1.5 and lead Angels and twins by 2.5 in wild card.

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  12. If you think Luhnow is gonna admit he made a MAJOR mistake by trading for Hank Conger, and keeping Kris Karter……you got rocks in yet head. Max Stassi won’t even SNIFF the post season, if Luhnow has anything to say about it. And no, Chip.I didn’t know of the rule change about the 40 man roster.

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    • Hope you’re wrong….of course, Conger could develop a ‘mysterious knee injury’ that would require him to go to the DL and Stassi taking his place, in order for Luhnow to save face…

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    • If a GM had to stand up every time he is wrong to a fanbase, he might as well resign. That’s the trick to baseball, they ALL miss alot. The key is missing less than the other guy.

      Liked by 1 person

    • PCL Champions! Appel is the winning pitcher. Grossman wins player of the game.
      Fresno has one more game. They play a one game winner take all AAA Championship game against the Columbus Clippers to see who is the top AAA team in the minors. That game is in a couple of days and is in El Paso, a neutral site.
      I wonder if Straily gets that start. He’s rested and was lights out his last outing.

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  13. Heckuva good post Chip. A lot to chew on and ponder. Thanks for the 40 man rule change info old pro. I learn something all the time here.
    I think there is a little fatigue going on here. The guys need to tough through it and McHugh did that today. I am more worried about McCullers due to his young age. More likely I think to result in an injury.
    Nice wins the last two days. Today especially felt like the blueprint of how they have won all year at home. Very good pitching good defense clutch power hitting and close out by the bullpen.
    Come on Astros – get closer to the Rangers before they come to town.

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    • I am wishing that Dallas K does better than his last start and we hit Weaver. Win Monday and then talk about the next one. If we get swept by LAA, we will be in 3rd place. Right now it is all about winning. As they say, you control your own destiny. Don’t expect another team to beat somebody for you.

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  14. my daughter texted me a joke while I was on break…

    “What do you call Carlos Correa at a farmer’s market? Strawberry Shortstop!’

    In all fairness, she’s only 8.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. My advice for Keuchel: Look out for uncle Albert, and his little brother Mikey Trout.
    Those two guys can, and WILL be looking to knock you outta the game! Good thing Albert foot problem is back, and he can’t run!! Get that number *18* tomorrow!

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  16. Oldpro: Dan Straily was called up as soon as the Grizzlies game was over today, so he’s here in Houston. Who will start the game for the Grizzlies on Tuesday, I have no idea. They might try to patch up several guys, just to get through the game. Wishing them the ery BEST of luck!! Who knows…..Tyler White might make an appearance up with the Astros!!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. It must just be me, but I have little patience for the pitcher coddling that goes on these days. Lance McCullers looks pretty healthy to me. He grew up in Tampa, so I’m sure he has been playing ball year-round for years. He has 107 MLB innings and 32 minor league innings. In the last 30 seasons there have been 99 pitchers with more than 50 IP in their year 21 season (counting only ML innings), and at 107 IP McCullers is 38th on the list. Even if you count his minor league innings he would be 26th on the list. And if you project him as a starter in the playoff rotation (unlikely) he’s looking at maybe 170 IP on the season (counting minor league)? That would put him at 19th on the list. And the other 18 guys ahead are not exactly guys that flamed out after getting “overworked” at the tender age of 21 (e.g. Gooden, Avery, Sabathia, BUmgarner, even Kazmir, Greinke and Kershaw). Look, he’s young, energetic and has been training to do this for years. If he ain’t complaining, run him out there!

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    • The current theories revolve around young kids throwing too much, year round as they are growing. This creates wear and tear, specifically micro-tears, in areas that can’t regenerate. Eventually, those tears may grow and result in the dreaded trip to Dr. James Andrews. That’s the primary concern. The secondary concern is that minor pain (just pitch through it) causes a guy to alter something in his mechanics. This creates an Inefficiency that causes him to injure another, seemingly unrelated to the pain, area of the body. LMJ had good weather to play all he and his father would allow growing up in Tampa.

      For me it’s the secondary concern to watch with the young guys. If they are laboring, you need to treat those pitches and innings as if they count double. A ten pitch inning? Well that one might be negligible. We need finer grained tracking on pitching workloads to try to better predict this. Hopefully the geek cave is crunching the numbers now, but given the weight apparently applied to pitch framing importance I have no idea whether to be confident in their ability to think creatively or not.

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  18. “That is a beautiful boat. It looks brand new. Would you take 50 grand for it?
    Oh no, I would never sell it. It’s my pride and joy. I hardly ever use it
    Why not? It’s great.
    I’m afraid it will break.
    But if you don’t use it, and won’t sell it, what good is it.
    It’s a great boat but if it breaks it won’t be great anymore.
    If you don’t use it, it won’t ever be great.
    I don’t want to take a chance. I’d rather have it sit there, than use it.
    I think I understand you perfectly now. You’re stupid!”

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  19. On September 22, 1993 Nolan Ryan blew out his arm in his last game at age 46. Had he skipped the 1987 (270 innings), 1988 (228 Innings), 1989 (301 innings), and 1990 (232 Innings) seasons, he might have been able to pitch into his 50’s. Again, Might have. Each arm is different.

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  20. Nolan had such great mechanics, he used his legs to the maximum like a Tom Seaver, so that his arm never took the strain. Lance is hopefully along those lines.

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    • DanP: Interesting you posted this. When Nolan Ryan was in his prime and I got to see him pitch in Houston and in Arlington, I made the comment then that with his mechanics, he could throw 90 mph with the ball on his shoulder.

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  21. To answer the questions of the post, is the team really tired?
    I would think the pitchers are tired of not getting run support. The Blue Jays’ pitchers might be physically tired, but they can’t be as mentally exhausted, because each pitch they throw isn’t the most important of their careers, because their team has them ahead. Our pitchers don’t have that luxury.
    I don’t think our position players are tired because our good young players don’t play enough and our older players either walk back to the dugout after making an out or trot around the bases after homering. Our players don’t actually run the bases enough to get tired. Conger is probably the most tired, because he hops like a frog just before every pitch is delivered and has to chase so many balls back to the backstop.
    I think Zanuda addressed the lineup changes very well in a post above.

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    • I’ll just say Hinch has done a good job covering up with smoke and mirrors when it comes to the offense. He has so many players that are not 162 game type talents that he has to mix and match. There have been singular times that have made me wonder – i.e. why he put Carter in at 1B against Walker in Seattle when Carter is hitting like .050 with a 50% K rate against righties that throw over 93 is beyond me, but overall I think he has done decent in pulling something from the rabbits hat most nights. I would agree that has worn on the pitching staff though, when they don’t know if a rabbit is coming their night.

      The team is much better. I think if we all had a look at the crystal ball in February and someone said you would be 79-71 and 1.5 games out, we would take it. It’s disappointing because a few weeks ago we had a fluctuating 3-5 game lead.

      This offense has to be improved in the offseason. They need to address 1B, badly. Maybe they didn’t during the course of the season because Luhnow doesn’t want to plug it for Reed, or maybe he kept thinking Carter would have eventually break through. I’m fine going with Gomez and Springer in CF/RF, but LF has to be addressed with better than Marisnick or Rasmus, and I don’t know why they would want to convert White to C this late in his minor league career when you don’t have a 3B that can’t strikeout, not to mention converting him means he is sentenced to at least another full season at AA or AAA, if not two seasons, learning that craft.

      Does anyone deserve a bigger pay raise than Marwin? Where would we be without MarGo?

      If I went outside the box, I might suggest Lowrie as a full time DH. Maybe it will help keep him on the field. Given 500 ABs I would think he has more upside than Gattis, but he has to get to 500 ABs. Gattis is a cheap player that can get you 20-25 HR and 80-85 RBI, but he is one of the worst in baseball statistically at “chasing” despite some improvement in the second half. Lumberjack is up there hacking, but he doesn’t have Altuve’s bat control, to the point that it’s getting to be detrimental. He is the event horizon of what is wrong with this offense, sample A, original carrier of the virus, however you want to look at it. Gattis, Carter, Rasmus, Valbuena, all have value individually sprinkled into other lineups without strikeout kings, but put them all together, and you can see how other clubs let them go.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, Lowrie as a DH makes sense to me too. And to have a DH with the skills to play a multiple defensive positions in a need situation gives a manager so much more flexibility than Hinch has with Gattis.

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  22. Tim, Evan Drellich (Chronicle) reports same story about Stearns going to Brewers.
    Also talks about abundance of intellect in FO background, which they’ve been too vocal about.

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  23. Becky, Chris Devenski will be starting that one game playoff for Fresno on Tuesday. I wonder what the Astros plan for Luis Cruz. He has had a couple of brilliant long relief appearances for Fresno in the last couple of weeks.

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  24. This series with the Angels is the biggest series of the year. If they take this series they have a chance to catch the Rangers this weekend. If they don’t win this series, the Rangers’ lead could be too much.
    Tonight is a playoff game. A win gains the Astros ground on all three teams we are competing against.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Weaver is a magician….his fast ball is around 89-90mph, but he can also throw up a ephusball at 66mph. That’s what had these guys all tied up the last time we played them. If the hitting coach has any brains, he’s got to show the video of last time they played the Angel’s. I’ve never seen a pitcher make absolute fools outta this team. I’m praying the Dallas Keuchel we have seen all year shows up at the ball park tonight because like I said above….Weaver is one tough pitcher. He kinda reminds me of Roy Oswalt, back in the day!

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Unless they change their mind about Wednesday’s starter the Angel’s are not going to pitch Heaney on short rest, instead they are going to start *Nick Tropeano*!! Wow this should be interesting, since it will be the first time Tropeano has come to Houston to pitch against us, since he was traded for the loser we call our back-up catcher. By the way thought I’d share with you that Folty. Is in a hospital in Atlanta with blood clots in his arm.
    That is VERY scary. I hope he gets better soon. Can you tell I have a soft spot in my heart for players we’ve traded away!!

    Liked by 1 person

  27. I don’t believe a computer spit out this lineup against Weaver.
    I’m beginning to believe we have a manager that’s afraid to mess with the chemistry on a team that’s been free falling for several weeks.
    He spoke about that in late August when asked about September call ups.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Conger was in the lineup last time we faced Weaver. Today it is Castro. The last time we faced Weaver was the game that Dallas’s error cost him three runs.

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  28. Folks, I hope Chip forgives me for telling you this but….Chip’s dad is in the hospital and he needs your prayers for a speedy recovery. So let’s go prayer warriors.

    Liked by 1 person

  29. Question for all of you:

    Keuchel is on schedule to pitch the last Saturday of the season against the DBacks. If they are 1 or 2 games behind Texas at that time do you pitch Keuchel knowing he won’t be available to pitch in the AL Wild Card game or do you hold him back and, essentially, concede the division to Texas?

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