Astros’ preview: The season we’ve all been waiting for?


Today Dan looks at the Astros themselves as they ready themselves for the first series of the season against the Seattle Mariners.

2016 Record. 84-78 – 3rd place in AL West – 11 GB of the Rangers

Last Playoff Appearance. 2015

World Series Appearances/Wins.  0 for 1 – 2005

Best Franchise Season. 102-60 in 1998

Worst Franchise Season. 51-111 in 2013

Manager.  A.J. Hinch – Entering his 3rd season with the Astros (170-154)

GM. Jeff Luhnow –  In his sixth season

2016 Payroll (from spotrac). $114.7 million (21st in MLB).

2017 Payroll (projected by spotrac). $123.2 million (18th).

2016 Offense. 724 Runs (8th in AL),  198 HRs (9th),  102 SB (3rd), . 247 BA (13th), .735 OPS (9th)

2016 Starting Pitching.  4.37 ERA (8th),  1.38 WHIP (10th),  300 BBs (10th), 779 Ks (8th), .271 BAA (12th),  .775 OPS against (11th)

2016 Bullpen.  3.56 ERA (T-5th),  1.14 WHIP (1st),  Saves 44 (6th),  Blown Saves 20 (6th worst), .230  BA against (2nd)  .672 OPS against (1st)

The Astros had a middle of the road offense in 2016 and pairing that with a starting rotation that had sunk from excellent to mediocre and a very good bullpen, they pulled off a fairly predictable slightly above average season on the field.

On the offensive side they are depending on more ABs from 1B Yulieski Gurriel and 3B Alex Bregman, who both joined towards the end of the season, plus solid contributions from veteran professional hitters in DH Carlos Beltran, C Brian McCann, RF Josh Reddick and LF Nori Aoki to bring that offense up from middle of the road to top 5 in the league.

The starting pitching is relying on a return to health of 2015 Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers Jr, a lot more of the flashes that Joseph Musgrove showed in his 10 starts last season and a bolt of lightning out of nowhere for new free agent Charlie Morton.

The Astros would like the bullpen to get off to a better start in 2016 and to move more of those blown saves into the successful save column. Oh and if they could find anyone who could pitch successfully from the left side in the ‘pen, that would be appreciated.

Infield. The Astros 2016 first base was a lot of Marwin Gonzalez sandwiched between unsuccessful debuts for Tyler White and A.J. Reed and resulted in one of the weaker combined 1Bs in the AL. The Astros will put Gurriel at 1B with MarGo as his backup in the hopes that he will bring a much more solid bat to the sack, if not a whole lot of power. Next up behind him could be Reed, White or even Colin Moran. 2B and SS are of course set with near MVP Jose Altuve and boy wonder Carlos Correa. If Altuve repeats his excellent 2016 (.338 BA/.928 OPS/ 108 R/ 24 HR/ 96 RBI/ 30 SB) and Correa has the breakout season expected of him (yes some insane folks complain about 22 y.o. SS with a .274 BA/.811 OPS/ 20 HR/ 96 RBI season), this will be the best hitting middle infield in the game. Bregman has been given the 3B spot based on a rookie performance that went from hopeless (2 for his first 38 ABS) to strong – (.312 BA, 30 R, 8 HR, 34 RBIs in his next 39 games). If he falters, Gurriel, J.D. Davis or Moran could be put at third base.

Outfield. Despite a solid season from George Springer (116 R / 29 HR/ 82 RBI), the Astros outfield was problematic with crummy offensive performances in CF (.210 BA /.625 OPS) and RF (.227 BA / .649 OPS). The Astros are addressing this by moving Springer to CF and bringing in Reddick (.281 / .749 in 2016) for RF and Aoki (.283 /.738 in 2016) for LF. They will all be backed up by super-D, sucky-O Jake Marisnick. There are some other options a phone call away, including Teoscar Hernandez and Tony Kemp who both debuted in 2016 and Derrick Fisher, who impressed in this season’s spring training. A big question is how many games will Carlos Beltran spend in LF.

DH and C. The 2016 Astros continued a tradition of just awful DH offense – coming in last in BA (.223) /OPS (.696)/HR (19) and RBIs (62) in the AL. The Astros are counting on elderly All Star Carlos Beltran (.295 BA/.850 OPS/ 29 HR/ 73 RBIs) to beat that with his eyes closed. It is expected that Evan Gattis will get some time at DH, along with many of the other starters on their days off.

Brian McCann brings veteran leadership and a bigger bat than Jason Castro showed to the catcher’s spot. It is probable that McCann will get 5 starts to every one by Gattis behind the plate. The question here is what effect this will have on Gattis whose bat came alive last season when he spent more games behind the plate.

The Bench. With 13 pitchers on the roster to start the season, the bench is small. They will start the season with backup C Gattis, Swiss Army knife Gonzalez and OF Marisnick in the dugout. It will be interesting if anyone in the minors will force the Astros’ hand some time during the season to make additional room on the roster.

Starting Rotation.  The bottom line with the pitching staff is that if they get a repeat of 2016 out of Keuchel (9-12, 4.55 ERA), McCullers (only 14 starts), Morton (only 4 starts), they are dead on arrival. They need at least 2 of the 3 to be very good starting pitchers this season. It is worrisome that Collin McHugh is starting the season on the DL,  but at least he has not been hiding his injury as Keuchel did last season. Joseph Musgrove has looked good in both his short stint in 2016 (4-4, 4.06 ERA) and a strong showing this spring. Mike Fiers is a middle of the road pitcher (11-8, 4.48 ERA) who would be just fine in the 5th spot or as a swing pitcher or even as a trade chip. Young arms that may be next in line include Chris Devenski (2.16 ERA/ 0.912 WHIP in 108 IP), Michael Feliz (8-1, 13.2 K/9 IP), and 21 y.o. phenom Francis Martes.

The ‘Pen. In 2016, the A.J. Hinch passed the closing baton between hot hands (or was it that he pried the baton out of cold hands), over and over as Ken Giles (15 Sv), Luke Gregerson (15 Sv) and Will Harris (12 Sv) all had extended shots at the 9th inning. The Astro would like Giles and his 14 K/9 IP arm to take this job, but his propensity to give up walks, hits and HRs at the wrong time has been raising the Rolaids quotient for the manager. Gregerson looked brilliant during the recent World Baseball Classic as their closer, but he looks great often except when he doesn’t. This baton may get handed about a lot more before it gets settled. Devenski, Feliz and Brad Peacock give the Astros a lot of flexibility in the ‘pen as they all can go multiple innings as needed. Tony Sipp is on the team because he is left handed and because his awful performance in 2016 (4.95 ERA, 1.603 ERA) and big contract ($12 million for 2017 and 2018) make him untradeable, yet difficult to release. Young big armed Jandel Gustave nudged out James Hoyt for the last spot in the bullpen. It is a good guess that Hoyt will be up some time during 2017.

Prognosis. This is potentially a very good lineup that unlike 2016 can turn itself over and give the top of the lineup a lot more ducks on the pond to bring home. The bullpen looks as good if not better than in 2016, which brings us to the critical part of the team, the rotation. It says here that the Astros only need two of Morton, Keuchel and LMJ to have big returns to thrive in 2017. If two or three of those guys falter or get injured it will be a long season or it will be a season remembered for trading away big time prospects for an arm.

Projection: 92-70 – The Astros will have a better season and return to the playoffs in 2017. Once in the playoffs….anything can happen.

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170 comments on “Astros’ preview: The season we’ve all been waiting for?

    • Gov, I’m one of the more cynical in this group, but I’m willing to give Bregman a bit more than 17 innings of work before sending Gurriel back there and Alex to left.

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    • Oh, good Lord, Gov. The Astros are 2-0 and you have to find something to complain about. What about our #2 beating their #2? What about our reserve super utility infielder hitting an opposite field home run to win the game.

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    • I missed the broadcast, but assumed Bregman missed a hit and run. Springer needs to talk to Beltran about base stealing, though.

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      • That’s exactly what happened. Bregman missed the sign bc Springer was watching the play instead of head down running. Having said that, I’m wrong about Springer – he’s lost a step on the bases. On his other CS, the catcher double clutched and still wasn’t that close. I’m no longer in favor of his base running “prowess”. He’s a linebacker, not a sprinter.

        Somehow they didn’t charge Alex with 2 E’s last night on the bobbled Valencia tapper in the 4th – otherwise he’d already lead the majors outright. I’m willing to watch the kid’s growing pains, but the hot corner is a tough place to learn on the job!

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  1. Well we are winning without our new fangled offense doing much. The pitching feels like 2015 which is a good thing. The fielding did not help Lance’s pitch count.

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  2. Awesome win, Lance and Marwin get the game ball! And the Rangers go down again.

    I admit Bregman frustrates me in the field. I forget he’s 23 and there’s time. It doesn’t help I’ve seen real 3rd basemen in my day, though.

    McCann getting a lot of credit by the pitchers for being a good energy guy. He brings that seriousness that kept Marisnick from dousing him, too. Loving the direction leadership of this team!

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  3. Tim, I have to give you some ribbing bc I’ve seen you’re much more subdued on chipa than on twitter about Marwin😋 Tonight the guy really came through again, and I’ve been a bigger critic of his this Spring. He just keeps proving Luhnow right about inserting him. The numbers don’t jump out at you, until he executes in the final hour.

    Speaking of that, Ken Giles impressed me tonight. He looks locked-in! Not fidgety but poised.

    In the pregame, McCann talked about how players view the Spring. Just trying to keep healthy, get muscles warmed up, but “when the lights come on”, the pros know what to do. Tonight, it showed!

    Also, when asked after the game about going opposite field he mentioned learning to beat the shift, “working very hard long hours to hit it that way.”

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    • Yes, MarGo is to me what Jake is to Dave. I definitely don’t want him starting on a regular basis and I think he’ll price himself out of the Astros utility guy next year. He serves a purpose as a super-utility player that can play multiple positions, but when he starts normally the team is weaker.

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  4. Heard McCann told Hinch to wait until the game starts, because he would be in for a surprise! I have always liked that guy, and man aren’t our pitchers glad he’s back there guiding them through a game! I really liked Jason Castro, and who knows maybe a new team, will give him new life…….but I’ll take Brian McCann behind the dish HANDS DOWN!
    Tim…..nothing would please me more than to see that other team looking up at us.
    I despise everyone on that team and their slimy worm of a manager, only exception is Beltre.

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  5. These are the type of must win games. Not an outstanding performance on defense nor offense. The bullpen made it uneasy. Yet, in the end 1 more run than the opposition will give you a win every time.

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  6. Next tests:

    1. Can the new improved line-up find a way to break out against a lefty?
    2. Can Mr. Saltman keep the Mariners at bay?

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      • Dang DB, Sandy, Gov, and of course Tim – slow down a little. 2-0. Plenty of time to ride Hinch and JL when they lose a couple. 😀

        On a more serious note I guess that most heard Blummer’s comments on Bergman and the wrong angles etc. But ended it by saying give him time, he will figure it out. Which really speaks well of Margo who gets bounced around everywhere and is at least average where he lands.

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  7. The Astros did not win two games in a row last season until May 3-4, and it was against the Twins, after Keuchel had been beaten by the Twins at home on May 2nd.
    McCullers only threw 88 pitches last night even though he walked 2 and struck out 7. The two big differences I saw in him last night was that he was not wild high in the zone and he threw a lot more breaking pitches than he used to. He tried painting the corners with his fastball early, but the umpire took the corners off the plate for both pitchers. McCullers was frustrated at first, but just started throwing curves and was getting the calls on that pitch.
    Ken Giles did not get his second save of 2016 until August 9th. That’s right, I said August 9th!
    The fly ball that Cano hit for a double, bounced three feet in front of the wall and Beltran was nowhere near it.
    RFer Springer was shifted to right center field on LH hitting Dyson in the ninth, and that resulted in a double. With Springer, Marisnick and Reddick in the outfield at the time, why would any team shift their outfield and leave an open spot? Those three guys can cover the entire outfield by playing straighaway, and only a shift gives the batter a hole to shoot for. Statistics screws up again.
    McCullers gave up four infield hits last night and had two more runners reach on infield errors.
    Mccullers was FANtastic!
    It’s weird that the Astros would have a day off before the season starts and then have to play 11 days in a row.
    McHugh starts on opening day for Fresno tomorrow. I wonder if he comes back to the team and pitches in the first road trip of the season at Safeco Field where he has been absolutely fabulous in his career? He is 6-0 at Safeco with fantastic numbers.
    Jon Singleton starts off the year in AA.

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    • I watched the Beltran play (Cano hit) and the one Reddick held up from diving that Valencia hit in the 6th, or especially Bregman playing so far back on the one he was late getting to, and then the Dyson double. I wasn’t real happy with ANY of their positioning but went back to the tape. Every one of those pitches missed where McCann had set up, Op!

      I admit Beltran looked sort of non chalant. I admit Aoki should be over there a bunch!

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  8. The Astros face Paxton tonight. He is the hardest throwing LH starting pitcher in baseball. He averages well over 96 mph on his fastball.

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  9. The top 5 in our order, all of which are right-handed hitters, and at least one of whoever else A.J. Hinch decides to throw out there tonight, need to make themselves felt offensively tonight. This line-up needs a break-out game.

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  10. Auld Lang Syne Post! Congratulations to Jason Castro on a good start with the Minnesota Twins. He has 4 plate appearances, resulting in 2 hits, 2 RBIs, 1 BB and 1 K. In contrast, Carlos Gomez has 9 PAs, but only 1 H [albeit a HR], 1 RBI, 1 BB, and 3 Ks. Looks like Neshek hasn’t pitched yet for the Phillies. Enrique [Kike] Hernandez has nothing but a walk to show for 3 PAs for the Dodgers this year.

    Oh, and Robbie Grossman? Yes, he’s still around. He has 5 PAs, no hits, 2 BBs and 3 Ks.

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  11. Gregerson and Giles both pitched the first two games of the series and Harris in the 2nd. So…..if it is a tight game tonight, how does the bullpen set up? Devenski and Feliz backed up by Harris? Would they trust Peacock in a tight one? Will Sipp pitch only if the Astros are 5 runs up or 5 runs down?

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    • Sipp will pitch only if he has compromising pix of A.J. Hinch hidden somewhere. Peacock will pitch only if we are 5 runs up or 5 runs down. I would guess if we are ahead and get 6 from the Salt Man, we’ll see Feliz or Devenski for 2 innings, then Harris to close.

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    • Don’t forget Gustave. They didn’t send Hoyt down just to sit Jandel on the bench. If you’re in the bullpen on a contender you have to hold up your end of the deal.

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      • I think Gustave will get shots in tight games, but probably not in his first time out (unless it is extra innings and he has to). But in the long run I would trust him over Sipp. I sure wish Sipp could figure it out – he was a good reliever for us for a couple years and I just do not believe he is dogging it now he has a contract – his mechanics are off or….he is trying to live up to the contract or….he is hiding something of an injury….or he is dogging it. (I am a baseball schizophrenic)

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    • Oh, I mean, this is the best pre-game discussion on any given night! Who knows the answer because maybe they already have a plan contingent on every other guys’ longevity?

      It’s so loaded and fun to think about. My “best of” from what I saw in the Spring til tonight are still some toss ups:

      Luke/Giles
      Gustave/Harris
      Feliz
      Peacock
      Devenski (a little shaky, needs to be The Dragon again)

      There’s one guy’s name that if you see him in there, the game will have already been decided.

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  12. I got a funny feeling it’s Jake’s night. Watching tape on Paxton, just remember some of the things State Farm worked on over the break (knowing he would start only v lefties until he beat out somebody), paired with his unique athleticism and Hinch’s weirdly unfounded confidence in him.. he’s only hitting in the #9 hole so we’ll see if he’s truly an afterthought tonight. The thing I like about Marisnick is he makes George better. They just have more fun out there.

    If you’d asked me four months ago, I was talking about Ramon Laureano and Teoscar cracking the OF. At this point, Jake’s livin’ on his defensive accolades. All eyes are on his chance to keep it going.

    Ok, all eyes are on Morton, but still… Go Charley Go!!

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  13. Brian McTaggart‏
    Fresno rotation to start season:
    McHugh
    Rodgers
    Holmes
    Frias [really?]
    Martes

    Thornton is OD starter in Corpus tomorrow, Devin.

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  14. Listening to the game on local 790 AM and at 9 PM they have accidentally let the Fox national sports talk override the broadcast. And no one is fixing it

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    • My big complaint of Hinch, is he uses Devo for 4 innings, and now he’s gonna be down for 3-4 days. I’m not sure if Gustave was just a bundle of nerves or what, but that was a real plate of worms he left for Peacock. And…..Brad did not dissapoint.
      This quick start is EXACTLY what these guys needed. It will put them in a good place to start the season.
      P.S. guess who lost again tonight.😁

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  15. Has anybody seen Hoyt? I’ve seen Gustave, although the strike zone hasn’t yet.

    Well, I *did* predict Seattle would take one from us, so there’s that.

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  16. Wait…we won?! OMG They changed the channel at work to some little basketball annoyance and, as such, I missed the end.

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    • Billy, with 2 strikes and 2 out, Aoki bumped a seeing eye grounder right down the 3B line. Springer ran the count to full. And then delivered the death knell!!

      I’m watching the TEX replay and the commentator is saying of Hamels he needs to “step up and stop the bleeding.” Lol! Good luck with that

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  17. Rookie pitcher hangs a curve ball and Springer’s huge swing gets it into the first row of the Juice Box.
    Great at bat by Aoki to keep the inning alive with a single and turn the lineup over to Springer.
    Peacock comes in, in an impossible situation, and walks in a run and then acts like a major league pitcher and pitches his way out of it, giving the team a huge lift.
    Charlie Morton was terrific and held up well. Threw one bad pitch and paid for it on a great swing by Segura.
    Devenski was toying with us this spring.
    Hinch didn’t give Sipp enough rope to hang himself tonight.
    Think Altuve’s in a slump?
    Musgrove faces another tough lefty tomorrow night. How about a little more magic.
    Gustave should be available Thursday because he used up no strikes on Wednesday night.

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    • DeJong and Gustave probably spent the night in the bar together arguing: “my night was worse than your night!’

      Chris Devenski is a beast. The look on Robinson Cano’s face when Devo struck him out was … PRICELESS.

      Aoki is a gem. Keep him in the line-up!

      Somebody check #2’s DNA. I think there’s an imposter in the clubhouse.

      Peacock is the winning pitcher? There needs to be a rule change to allow a guy who throws 4.0 innings allowing no runs, no hits, and racking up 7 Ks to get credit for being the ‘real winning pitcher’.

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  18. There were many heroes in this game tonight. Of course, the obvious is Springer with 5 RBIs and the walkoff dinger, but Aoki with a huge single to keep the inning alive and turn over the lineup. There was Gattis getting a walk to start the rally and Peacock getting out of a big inherited mess despite walking in the go ahead run. Finally, let’s not forget the amazing job done by Devo. 4 IPs, 0 Hits, 1 BB and 7 Ks. He was simply amazing and Seattle had no answer for that changeup.

    Now, let’s prove Billy wrong and finish off the sweep. 🙂

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  19. This is great! Three wins with little hitting. That will change. Pitching better than expectations, Heck, if Salty is for real then Luhnow is a genius. You get that Tim? Gustave had a load in his pants, but sure did get squeezed too. Mr. Bill, our erratic, highly talented third baseman comes from old Boston third base stock. He’s going to be long count, tough out at the plate and already exhibits on field intelligence that most guys don’t have. And while not the fastest guy around, very good on the bases. For an old guy, Beltran has kept himself in shape. When guys like him and Altuve start hitting, it will become contagious.

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  20. Lockdown Pitching

    Since 1990, Devenski joins Melido Perez and Randy Johnson as the only relievers to have two outings of at least four innings and seven strikeouts in their careers (Devenski struck out seven in 4 1/3 innings on Aug. 1, 2016).

    The Mariners were 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position and are 1-for-27 in their first three games.

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