Friday countdown: After 159 games, the end is in sight


It is an odd feeling Thursday leading into a final Friday of the season as Astros’ fans are forced to pull for the North Texas Rangers. This is about as satisfying as kissing your sister or pulling for the Yankees, Cowboys or Bill Gates.  The Rangers are up 4-2 in the seventh and the Astros may get to start this weekend with a one game lead over the Angels for the 2nd wild card spot.

There are many analogies to be made with  the length of a baseball season. Normally, the word “marathon” comes to mind. If this were a marathon, the Astros would be that unknown runner who got out in front of the pack early running at a pace that he or she could not sustain. The last few miles of the race, the runner has been struggling more than running and feeling the heat as the pack has caught up with them. Will the Astros/runner collapse within sight of the finish line or will they gut it out and hold on for the playoffs?

It is a bit reminiscent of the classic underdog movie, “Rocky”. Rocky, like the Astros did not belong in contention. Rocky was given a shot at the title when the challenger broke his hand and seemingly had no business vying for the title. The Astros had an improbable early season 10 game winning streak and stayed in contention mainly due to the fact that no one was playing very well in their division. You can almost picture opposing managers echoing Apollo Creed’s trainer when talking about the Astros, “They don’t know it’s a damn show. They think it’s a damn fight.”

Yes, Rocky fell short in that title shot, giving all he had and perhaps the Astros will do that too. Or perhaps they will do like Rocky did and win it on a second chance. After 159 rip-roaring games, the end is in sight, but the view is a bit blurry.

A few questions heading into the final three games of the season:

  • Will Chris Carter continue to be the surprising offensive force that he has shown since practically disappearing from the lineup? (Last 14 days, 6 HR, 8 RBI, .381 BA and 1.744 OPS)
  • Will the Three Amigos — Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh and Lance McCullers Jr. — lead the team to a wild card spot?
  • Will Hank Conger see the field again this season? Pat Neshek?
  • Who will be an unlikely hero for the Astros this weekend – Jason Castro, Colby Rasmus, Carter, Luis Valbuena, other?
  • Will the day off help a tired bullpen pull it together?
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63 comments on “Friday countdown: After 159 games, the end is in sight

  1. This year’s Astros reminds me of the Tour de France back when Lance did not use drugs. You knew the guy(s) out front would be caught at the finish line. But they could still finish 3rd or 4th but not win. But they got a lot of TV time. And the next day, they were at the back of the Peloton.

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  2. Thinking a little more about this, the Astros hitters are a bit like Rocky, swinging from the heels and more likely to miss than hit….
    And obviously, the Angels did lose last night so the Astros do have a 1 game lead on the Twins and the Angels. There are so many scenarios now, ranging from the highly unlikely Astros tying the Rangers for the division to the Astros or Angels or Twins winning the Wild card to a one game play-in game if teams are tied for the Wild Card.
    A one game play-in means Kazmir would be starting that game on Monday, which means there might not be a wild card game with the Yanks on Tuesday…..

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  3. *As far as question #1, Chris Carter has been paid $4.1 million dollars this season to suck for five months while the team carried him, and then when the ship is sinking and everyone else is getting in the lifeboats, he shows up with a mop and a bucket
    *Those three pitchers have, along with Gregerson and Altuve, been the foundation of the building this season so if anyone is going to carry us, it will be those guys.
    *If Conger sees the field it will be because the team needs someone to come in and really control the game or to be a designated stud behind the plate.
    * Feliz and Velasquez are well rested in the bullpen.

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    • I think Jeff Luhnow is wrong to say that the fans were wrong about Carter and first base (over the first 90% of the season). That said – he has hit a crucial home run in each of the Astros last 4 wins this season and they would not have won all 4 of those games without his help.

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      • And there have probably been dozens of times this season where the Astros might have won a game if Chris Carter had delivered a single or a fly ball or a grounder, and he struck out instead.

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      • Two years ago I was Carter’s biggest critic. This year, the pendulum swung so far on him that I became one of his biggest supporters…and I don’t feel like I’ve changed my stance on him much.

        Here are my thoughts on him:
        – much better with runners on base, but fewer HR
        – does not chase outside zone much (despite what knucklehead analysts say)
        – much better at DH
        – historically better away from MMP, but not this year
        – salary outrageous compared to mine, bargain compared to many MLB contracts

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      • Dozens is probably over stating it, but he has probably made us 5 games worse in the loss column trying to continue to trot big slow out there.

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      • Devin – he doesn’t chase out of the zone much because he doesn’t swing much. His chase rate out of the zone is 25%, so it isn’t bad. The major league average this year is 31%.

        The thing that got him is the Zswing. He only makes contact 72% of the time he swings at pitches in the strike zone. The major league average is 87%. He only makes contact 44% of the time he swings out of the zone, you might be thankful for that since the major league average is 65%, but some of those become hits too even if they are the “pitchers pitch.” Bottom line, the guy doesn’t do well with contact. He doesn’t swing as much out of the zone because I would argue that he just doesn’t swing enough.

        His motor is too slow. It could be the wiring in the head, it could be getting a little out of shape and the swing slowing down, it could just be that he is playing the walk game too hard and not being aggressive enough. It could also be that he just simply isn’t a very good hitter. It really doesn’t matter how big a guy is, how strong a guy is, if he can’t tell a ball from a strike out of the hand, and he is guessing more often than better hitters, or not swinging because he can’t tell, it will eventually show.

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  4. I think the team need to just keep it simple if we can score 5 runs every game we will sweep the series. So does Gattis get an at bat?

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  5. Watched the game with my sister and family last night. You have NO IDEA how much I hated rooting for them……even if it did mean our survival!! I had to watch what I said, but I didn’t mince words about how much I despise od-or. I think my brother in law wanted to smack me, but I can run faster than he can!!! Good luck tonight Mr. Keuchel get that 20th game in your back pocket!!!

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  6. With Arizona throwing RHP in the first two games will Carter even be in the lineup? I think he should, especially with Lowrie banged up and Valbuena likely to play third and Marwin still having some trouble hitting left handed. I like Gattis on the bench and Rasmus, Gomez and Springer in the outfield. I’m looking for Gomez to be a big factor but it is time for Altuve to step up. If he gets to 200 hits this weekend it would be huge for him but even better for the team. Conger plays the last day of the season if the game is meaningless one way or the other. Arizona has a good running game so Castro needs to be there as long as we are in contention. Harris, Sipp, Fields and Gregerson need to carry the load. If we’re up by ten or more then give Neshek an inning but keep a short leash on him.

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    • At 194 hits, he is tied with Boegarts for AL lead and trails Dee Gordon by 4 for MLB lead. It sure would be nice to watch him pass Gordon with a huge three games at ARI.

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  7. I don’t see the Angels or Twins sweeping their last 3 games. Thus, going 2-1 against AZ with our top 3 SPs scheduled should get the Astros into the playoffs. I still feel so much better if we win tonight. It takes away much of the pressure. If Keuchel goes out and shuts down the DBacks and the Astros win it may get him the Cy Young.

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  8. I convinced myself back at the beginning of the month not to have any expectations of this club for the remainder of 2015. As a result, my stomach has not been the mess it typically would be by now, and I know I’ve had less rum to drink. Maybe a correlation there?

    I think Carter will continue to hit this weekend, if they pitch to him. But I sure hope it remains a parting gift to us. I don’t want to see him on our roster in 2016.

    I expect Keuchel, McHugh and McCullers to all pitch well this weekend, but they can’t win on their own. We need well played games, no bad base running and other mental errors. And we need hits. I think they will come.

    Unfortunately, I think we’ll see more of Hank Conger behind the plate. And he’s bound to impact a game somehow. I still can’t fathom why he gets put back there. But again, no expectations, one way or the other.

    I think our weekend hero(s) will be Carter or our young guys. Our future!

    And the pen will be lifted up by VV and Feliz. Our future!

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  9. i would love for us to get in beat the yanks (spit) in the one game and travel to KC to pay back those $#&)@&(#^& for some hit batsmen and run them out of the playoffs.

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  10. I see us getting to the wild card, with Tucker playing a role. I am guessing the bullpen will be somewhat better—as for Carter—I’m not sure, but I think he will contribute a bit. However, I suspect it will be someone else, maybe someone not mentioned, who will provide a major, unexpected, positive surprise.

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  11. Too bad we don’t have a guy behind the plate who can throw like that guy on the Angels. He just threw out that spark plug, what’s his name on the Rangers.

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  12. Astros lookin’ pretty good tonight.
    I just got back from my first high school football game in 48 years. There were 62 points scored in the first 15 minutes. That 15 minutes lasted 1.5 hours. We left. My granddaughters have a homecoming memory with Grampa. Thank goodness for the little cold front making the kids freeze, or we might have been there all night.
    Go Astros. Peter O’Brien has incredible power.

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  13. Forgot to mention the bats are going crazy. Some monster HR’s and other solid hits. Great play by Tucker/Correa/Castro to get Goldsmith in the 3rd.

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  14. I was more nervous about the Twins as they are playing at home. I feel fairly confident the Rangers will beat the Angels tomorrow. That loss pretty much does it for the Twins, assuming the Astros don’t blow this 11-2 lead.

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  15. Great game. Calling it a night. We’re in a flash flood watch and my buddy Noah is coming over to help me build a boat. Hoping for good things tomorrow and Sunday.

    Liked by 2 people

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