It would be easy to lament what has happened since the Royals came to bat in the 8th inning of Game 4. The last game-plus has been 11 innings of suck.
But that’s not what I’m here to talk about.
I want to look at a few things that went right this season, and why each one is a positive sign for 2016 and 2017 when the Astros, you know, win the World Series. (Not that winning in 2017 means Houston can’t win in 2016 as well.)
So, without any further adieu, here are a few things that went right in 2016.
1. Jed Lowrie slides home on a single from Colby Rasmus and tears a ligament in his thumb.
Yes, it doesn’t sound like a great moment in Astros history, but when Jonathan Villar proves not to be up to the task over the next five weeks, the Astros decide to promote Carlos Correa.
Before the season started, most people on this blog were looking forward to Correa at the trade deadline, or for a cup of September coffee. Instead, we Astros fans were able to enjoy the start of possibly the best rookie season in Astros history, and certainly the auspicious start of what is likely a fantastic career.
2. Of course Correa was just one of several rookies who made a huge impact in Houston this season. On May 7, rookie outfielder Preston Tucker went 1-for-3 with an RBI in a Houston 3-2 win over the Angels of some LA Suburb. He ended the season with a .734 OPS and 13 HRs.
Eleven days later, Lance McCullers showed up, pitched 4.2 innings in a game the Astros eventually lost and went 6-7 while basically suffering through some horrid run support (3.74 runs/game). That said, his peripherals (9.2 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 0.7 HR/Ga).
Forget Springer and Altuve, this is a group that could be together for many years.
3. With the second pick of the draft, the Houston Astros select Alex Bregman, a good shortstop who managed to amass a .781 OPS between Quad Cities and Lancaster. Three picks later on June 8, Houston selected Kyle Tucker then managed to nab Daz Cameron in a supplemental round. All three played well in their levels, and the trio is part of a massive number of Astros signees. Keeping the pipeline full is important. Also, picking the kinds of hitters who make contact (see how well it worked for KC?) instead of the whiffers who were a big part of 2015 will be important.
4. By singling in the ninth inning of the final game, Oct. 4, Jose Altuve collects his 200th hit, the second season in a row we’ve seen that feat. With the fear of getting a down year out of Altuve, a second 200-hit year really made a statement that Altuve is going to be very very good for the long haul.
5. Dallas Keuchel, 20 wins. Collin McHugh, 19 wins. OK, wins are not a great stat. Run support, the moment when runs are actually scored. Heck, wins make ERA look like a Moneyball stat.
But winning 20 games isn’t easy. Heck, winning 19 is hard. Don’t believe me? Ask any pitcher in the AL not named McHugh or Keuchel.
Wins mean pitchers are going deep into games. Wins mean pitchers are outliving their poor run support on bad days. Wins mean quality starts, and that’s actually a pretty important stat.
6. On July 30, Houston traded four farmhands including Domingo Santana (a guy without much of a future in Houston) Brett Phillips (the piece that hurts), Josh Hader and Adrian Houser for Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers. Gomez is a two-time All-Star heading into his pre-free agent year, and Fiers is under team control through 2019. Oh, and he’s got a career FIP of 3.73, so I’m liking the look of Houston’s rotation going forward.
As for 2015, this trade didn’t work out quite as planned, but consider this: Go-Go is signed through 2016, so next season’s outfield probably looks like George Springer, Go-Go, and a platooned mix of Preston Tucker and Jake Marisnick. Tucker against righties had an .807 OPS in 2015, while JFSF against lefties had a .669 OPS. Not great, but I’ll take it over Tucker’s mid-.400s OPS vs. lefties.
7. For most of the season, Houston led the division. Eventually the Astros snuck into the post-season. Still, if they can do it with half a season of Springer and only 2/3 of a season, imagine what will happen if Houston plays with its best players for most of the season.
Don’t get me wrong, there was a lot wrong with the 2015 Astros. The bullpen was not as lock-down on the back-end as it should have been. All those strike outs mean Houston wasn’t moving runners over. Scott Feldman continued — for the most part — to be a very replaceable pitcher.
So, what was a big moment for you? Signing Will Harris? Seeing Springer catch fire? I’m not looking for the moments to come (trading Carter or not signing Valbuena over the offseason). I want to hear what made you say, “This makes me think positively about the future.”