Some must haves, must do’s for Astros’ success in 2016


Prognosticators are out in full form as the baseball season is only a few days away. Some are predicting the Astros will win the AL West. Even Sports Illustrated calls the Astros the best team in the American League.

Either way, while the Astros caught everyone unaware in 2015, there will be no surprises in 2016.

There are a several things that the Astros will need in order to live up to those predictions. Here are just a few.

Good start.

Last season, the Astros were 15-7 in April en route to a second place finish. Yes, the season is often won in the long haul of a 162-game season, but it’s very hard to dig out of a hole. Witness the decade between the World Series season (2005) and 2014. Last season’s start was the first winning April since 2006.

Take note. While every team will use the month to tweak batting orders and ease some pitchers into the season, Houston doesn’t have the luxury it has had in recent years. A good start — meaning a winning month — is crucial.

Weak links and black holes.

Houston needs to avoid these en masse.  Yes, Tyler White you’re on the clock. Luis Valbuena, it’s time to step up. Carlos Gomez, let’s see what you really got. George Springer, just stay healthy.

Hey Colby Rasmus, can you move September/October into April/May? Mike Fiers, it’s your time baby. Scott Feldman, you’ll remember this year when it’s time to talk contract come the fall.

Any one of these guys can crawl out of the gate, but this group cannot stumble as a group and still produce a winning month.

Replacements.

Who are the Vincent Velasquezes and Lance McCullers Jrs. of 2016? At some point, Houston will need these guys. Colin Moran seems poised. Given the uncertanties of some positions and players, Moran will need to turn that poise into action soon.

Will A.J. Reed get a call sooner than later? Can Joe Musgrove finally tip the J.A. Happ trade in the Astros’ favor?

Avoiding the sophomore tag.

Carlos Correa doesn’t seem likely to fall back, but can he maintain the same level of play as his rookie year? Will McCullers avoid the sophomore jinx? And, remember, it’s A.J. Hinch‘s second season in Houston as well. Will he feel the pressure as a manager who now is expected to succeed in 2016?

To be sure, there are several things that need to click if the Astros are to win 90 games, take the AL West flag and become — as SI suggests — the best team in the American League. It won’t take a village, but it will take a team effort, starting next week in New York.

I’m sure you have a short list of must-do’s and must haves as well.

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53 comments on “Some must haves, must do’s for Astros’ success in 2016

  1. I think Fiers and Feldman are important. The Astros should have LMJ in there by May, but it is so important that the other two pitch well in their #4 and #5 roles throughout the year.
    The other thing they must do is get that run in. They can’t leave runs sitting out on the bases like they did last year.
    Finally, the Astros need at least two guys in the bullpen in Fresno who can be called up by the team when they need them. Two solid guys who are ready to come up when someone from the the Astros isn’t getting it done. They can’t afford to have weanie closers down there, that force the the club to have to pick up street scraps, or trade the future to get someone in the major league bullpen who can get outs.

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  2. The key is to have a couple or more winning streaks. Nothing crazy, just 5 or so in a row a couple or more times during the year. And conversely, have -0- losing streaks of over 3. The 2015 team with LMJ and CC added played .500 ball. We can not expect DK and CMc to carry the team alone. They also need to win the season series with every team in the West. That starts April 19th.

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  3. I would be a hole lot more comfortable if LMJ was staring the game next Thursday. The F boys are looking like 4-5 ERA’s’ right now and not getting to the 6th Ugh. I feel pretty confident K’s are down, OBP is up , and we score more runs. I think April will be the official try out for closer, or maybe they just rotate Gregerson and Giles. will see. Pretty easy right, just win one series at a time.

    I keep seeing a long term infield of Moran, CC, Altuve, Reed, makes me smile!

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  4. An important key for us to reach the potential everyone is seeing in us is for the team to strike a good balance between staying loose and staying on task. We still have a lot of very young players. Young players never do well in grudge matches against seasoned veterans – guys who have been here before, like several of the big names on the Rangers, the Angels, and the Mariners teams.

    The more seasoned players on our team need – Keuchel, Gregerson, Sipp, Rasmus, Gomez, Castro, Gattis, and even Altuve [who is all of 25 years old, but who is going on 40 in leadership ability] – really need to develop into calm, wisened leaders, not self-glorifying, drama-attracting young hot-heads. I think back to the Conger and Gomez messes last year and see where our guys – including a now hopefully much wiser Dallas Keuchel – let negative emotion take over instead of positive energy. Emotion is fine, as long as it is positive emotion, and does not become an act or routine. When it turns negative or becomes an act to get attention, it distracts from the task at hand and begins to unwind team dynamic. We can’t win by hating the Rangers. We have to win by loving the game, and each man doing his assignment well out of both personal pride and team synergy.

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      • April 7 [Fiers], April 8 [Feldman] and April 9 [Fister] – all against the Yankees in NY – will tell us a lot about the bottom of our rotation. Right now, there is no real confidence in any of those guys. They apparently have the FOs trust; they now need to go out, prove the FO right, and earn the trust of the fans.

        Right now I tend to expect a lot more from Feldman than the others. He is a pro. He’s done this before. Fiers is capable of good things – witness last year’s no-hitter, as well as the occasional total disaster. His last few outings of the spring have, hopefully, gotten the disaster mode out of his system. Fister? The combination of significantly under major-league average velocity with no command whatever sure looks like a sure recipe for catastrophe every time he takes the mound. If his signing was supposed to take away any of the sting of losing even the present impact, much less the potential greatness, of Vince Velasquez, it has certainly done nothing of the sort up to this point. Fister vs. Fausto – right now I’d take Fausto any day of the week. An ERA in the high 3s is a whole lot better than an ERA in the 8s.

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      • Mr. Bill,

        I believe April 8th and 9th are against the Brewers in Milwaukee. We only play a 3-game series against the Yankees as Tuesday is an off day.

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  5. The last thing I worried about this off season was the pitching. Now it appears to be the stumbling block to overcome. Not only the SP but also the bullpen.
    If the back end of the rotation has a good April we’ll be in good shape.

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    • Sandy, we once had Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and Roy Oswalt in the same rotation. It wasn’t enough. With due respect to Keuchel the Younger, our current staff compels me to curb my enthusiasm.

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  6. My must have is the Short Leash. It’s usually used when you own a big, powerful dog, who is too fiesty, and who may drag you down the street chasing a lead, ie wagging tails.

    In the Astros’ case, it’s downhome guys who wannabe big and powerful, among a notorious league where wives on the 5th floor, mistresses on the 6th. It’s guys who are playing for a big payday if they get their opportune moments this year. This one! Like the chance Singleton had!

    Alas, in varying degrees of success, here in a league where at least seven failures is the norm, where “what have ya done for me lately” is played out in drunken fans’ cat calls. Being austere and experienced, and above the fray means something – lookin’ like you own the place. Respect on the field, of your staff and the umpires is a really big deal.

    These guys feel the pressure, but seem so loose, Mr. Bill.

    The short leash candidates are people the national public think could be great. But we know they have chinks in the armour, and we want to trade them for value. We got to see under the hood of Folty, Vv, and Wojo…

    We have the talent & development staff to say, “ohh, I like that one [pluck], Ohhh, him too” [pluck]. We took McHugh to heights unknown, and we have cracker jack staff on the lookout for bargains to enhance the core.

    That short leash includes those who have arms and bats who are absolutely gunning for their playing “partners”. They say publically team, but every hour of every day Valbuena FEELS Moran. Guys who are ripe for the picking, who also may learn a lesson or two from Evan Gattis, per se?

    Scott Feldman could be a quick bust, or earn his keep. Gomez could remind us of 2013, or 2015. Valbuena could hit 200 in April. Fiers with an option could have a lousy April. White could be a glorified minor leaguer, and Tucker could lead the way for his not-so little brother to join a future fraternal outfield in 2017! That leash’s length, as in Einstein’s theory, is relative.

    We saw the soup simmer (injuries healed, rested offseason), added a little cayenne (brought in a Fister and Kratz etc.), hoping the new sprouts take in the broth (White Reed and so on), always getting that same robust flavor as last time (Keuchel Tuve), with prizes already to our credit (rookie of the year etc), we think this years mixture wins best in class. Time to chow down, Homers!

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  7. Sandy…DITTO girlfriend! So far this spring the only pitcher we can count on is Keuchel. The rest of the rotation is a big question mark, in not giving up a ton of runs, and going longer than 4 innings! If Fister, and Feldman can’t go any further than 4-5 innings the bullpen is gonna get hammered. Sipp has been shaky, Giles has been shaky, Neshek, and Fields have been shaky….see where I’m going with this?
    I don’t have as much concern about the position guys, because those guys feed off each other. I’m torn with keeping Hoyt, or Wandy in the bullpen. Wandy is a starter and can usually go 2-3 innings before he starts to melt down….Hoyt is a BIG question mark. All we can do is hope and pray these guys pick up where they left off last year….and pray a LOT!!

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    • It’s pretty normal for pitchers to throw short work, less innings, and have higher ERAs in the spring. A lot of the times they are working on particular pitches, throwing them over and over, new grips, etc. I don’t trust ST stats as far as I can throw them with pitchers. Hitters, I trust a little more, at least swing rates in and out of the zone.

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  8. That trade with the Phillies stings a little more now that we don’t have Vince Velasquez golden arm to fall back on….. ((( sigh ))

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  9. I don’t see a reason to panic. If teams were to panic it might be Texas. Hamels has thrown 4.1 innings this spring to a 10.85 era and Darvish won’t even start pitching until May at the earliest.
    If my memory serves me right, Giles and Gregerson have combined for one ninth inning appearance between them and that was a perfect save by Giles.
    Remember that last year the Astros made a clear decision to limit the players they would take to the major league camp, because Hinch wanted to see his core players for the first time.
    This year the Astros made a conscious decision to take a lot of players to camp because he knows his core and wanted to see the players who are coming up in the organization.
    Fister and Feldman have been working on their pitches after injuries set them back. They have been concentrating on being ready for next week, not last week.
    I am not going to fret about any pitching in spring training. This is a veteran group of good pitchers and they know what is expected of them when the bell rings on Monday. We expect them to perform, but their expectations for themselves are even higher than ours, so forget spring pitching stats and focus on the regular season.
    In spring training I look for tendencies: Batters striking out a lot or not, pitchers walking batters or not, fielders looking shaky or not, righties hitting righties or not, lefties getting righties out. I look at these things because when players are being interviewed, they tell us what they want to work on so you have to pay attention to how their doing on the stuff they are working on. If Nshek gives up three hits in a row, is it because he was throwing all fastballs and no slow stuff because thats what he went out there to do. Did Sipp go out there to watch his backup infielders look like stooges and his CF drop a pop fly? None of that would have happened if the Astro had left their starters out there and let Keuchel finish the game since he had only thrown 78 pitches. Or if Gregerson and Giles had come out to finish up a gem.
    If you want to think of spring, think of Gustave, White, Reed and Moran. They show real good tendencies.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I feel the same. I really have no concerns. Certainly, there will be a few guys in the initial batch of 25 that get injured, fail to perform or maybe even get traded along the way. We know that not everyone is going to get the job done. But we’ve got quite a bit of depth in the organization. The big key will be in how guys like Hinch and Luhnow react and adjust. For me, that’s one of the wonderful things about the marathon of 162 meaningful baseball games, hopefully followed up by 15 plus games in October. Bring it on!

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    • Dave, at least they got a look at him and he got a look at major league pitching. I still like him, but I didn’t see a player near as good as Marwin when I watched Joe.

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      • Agreed 1OP. Marwin has got some pop that Joe does not. Joe’s quicker, but we are relying less and less on a stolen base these days. If Joe ever approaches a .750/.800 OPS, it’ll be because he’ll walk more than he’ll strike out. I will follow with interest the 2016 seasons of both Joe and Nolan Fontana.

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    • I would have preferred another OFer tbh. I think Duffy is going to squarely take away ABs from White. I feel like we are about to see a bunch of games where we had wondered why White is on the bench today and not in the lineup. Maybe I am just being overly pessimistic about it.

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  11. Julia Morales tweets that the final roster spot is down to Hoyt, Wandy or Feliz.
    She also tweeted tonight’s lineup and Marwin is the starter at 1B.

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  12. Well I have a slight buzz from 9-1/2 hours of safety training today, but I will gladly log in with thoughts about musts…..
    – I think they must get 150+ games out of George Springer this season. They can’t be filling in 1/2 the season with ABs from Marisnick or fill in the blank.
    – They must get decent production out of the BOR, but remember they contended pretty well with a lot of games started by Asher W, Roberto Hernandez, Straily, Deduno, Peacock and others.
    – They must get improvement out of 2 of 3 from Valbuena, Castro and eventually Gattis when he returns
    – They can’t panic if there is a slow start and let Tyler White have as many ABs as a Carter to show his worth.
    – They must get solid production out of the ‘pen – blown leads will kill the morale of even a party club
    – They must sit back and watch Carlos Correa step up into the elite over a whole season

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  13. Driving in this morning before 6 AM I listened to a pre-recorded interview with Tyler White on 790 AM in Houston.
    They asked him to describe himself as a hitter. He said that even though he is a bigger guy – he concentrates more on contact (Yaay!) than on power. He also said his goal is to get an RBI every game (Yaay!).
    Then they did something cute – they asked him what his walk-up song would be. He said “Snow” from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. They then played it while Matt Thomas pretended to be the PA announcer (which he used to be) – then Lance Zierlein did a hilarious imitation of Steve Sparks announcing a Tyler White triple – voice cracking and everything.
    I’m pretty fired up about seeing this young man hitting the heck out of the ball this season.

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  14. I’m in a very good mood tonight, Matt Duffy made the team!! He got called up last year in the heat of the playoffs, only to sit on the bench. At least he got to feel the charge that this team had all the way to the end of the season. I hope he feels it for REAL this season, and will be in the thick of the celebrations in the club house! The next move will involve one of the three last men standing, and I gotta agree with Billy it’s probably gonna be Wandy! For those of you like me who can’t get Root Sports the game will be on 740 am tonight. Let’s play some baseball! Becky⚾

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    • Bill, I just got in from a road trip and watched the first 4 innings in about 20 minutes. McHugh’s fastball is 89-90 on the gun and Nelson’s is 93-94. The difference in the game is that Nelson’s knuckle curve is freezing the Astros and McHugh’s signature curve is starting very high and is lazily falling across the plate belt high. Mchugh got a bad break when Springer lost a looper in the lights and then broke a guy’s bat on a weak line single to left. The Brewers are swinging up at everything and hitting a lot of fly balls. 3-0 Brewers going into the fifth.

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  15. Springer was in a shift for a LH batter and was way around in right center field. Gomez was shallow and around toward left center field and the batter hit a deep fly ball to center and Springer ran all the way to CF and caught the fly at the warning track in front of Tal’s Hill for the third out in the fifth.

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  16. Sounds like this game is a wake-up call. Nobody’s is going to roll over and play dead because the Astros are in town. Let’s see what this team is made of.

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  17. I think Stearns is in danger of the MIL fans running him out of town for filling their roster with Astros cast offs in a year or two. Villar! Presley! Carter! I think Santana, Nottingham, and Phillips all have a chance to become something at least.

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  18. They must have about $40-60mil more payroll. That buys needed depth at CA, the rotation, and/or the corner IF positions. Good looking OF and middle IF, no doubt. Bullpen is decent too. But there just is not enough to hold it together.

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