The Astros came dashing out of the gate winning 3 out of 4 to the likely, lowly Mariners at the friendly and quiet confines of Minute Maid Park. They then took it on the chin (and almost in the side of the head) from the Dodgers in a tension-filled 5-2 loss Tuesday night. Already there is a lot to think and talk about with the Astros – some good and some not so good.
Young Blood. The Astros have already set a record (for the expansion ERA) by having 8 players make their major league debut in the first week of the season. Granted it is a different season with the 30 man rosters and the 60 man pool to select from, but no one saw this coming. Taylor Jones was the lone position player to make a debut, while 7 pitchers (Cristian Javier, Brandon Bailey, Brandon Bielak, Blake Taylor, Enoli Paredes, Andre Scrubb and Nivaldo Rodriguez) also debuted. Jones had a K and grounded into a DP in his two ABs, but the pitchers have faired better allowing 3 earned runs in a total of 14 innings (1.93 ERA) and only Bielak and Paredes have been charged with any earned runs.
By Necessity or By Design. In some ways, the Astros use of so many youngsters making their debut was by necessity. Having Justin Verlander, Jose Urquidy, Brad Peacock, Joe Biagini, Cionel Perez, Austin Pruitt and Rogelio Armenteros all on the IL, along with arm problems slowing down Ryan Pressly and Chris Devenski has forced the Astros to dip into their minor league pitching depth – the depth the press has been ignoring or downplaying.
But some of this is by design. For a number of seasons, the Astros have not been inviting veteran players to camp on minor league deal. This had to be considered a little unusual this season with all the uncertainty of the pandemic and the expanded rosters and pools in place. But GM James Click continued what Jeff Luhnow started and so the answers to the pitching needs have been from within…..well until we heard that the Astros were close to signing 43-year-old Fernando Rodney, who had a mixed bag of results in 2019, pitching poorly for the A’s (9.42 ERA in 14.1 innings), and then decently for the World Champion Nationals (4.05 ERA in 33.1 innings). The Astros may keep their eyes open for other possibilities (former Astro James Hoyt just released by the Indians?) or they may stick to mostly filling from within with their young guns.
MLB Policing the Astros? It was in this writer’s mind that the policing of the Astros could take a couple of forms in the new season. One would be retaliation by pitchers as we saw with Joe Kelly last night. Joe – if you are that bad with your control you should be sent immediately to minor league camp to work on it….yeah I didn’t think so. And if you need to send a message – make it below the shoulders. We don’t need any Dickie Thon or Tony Conigliaro career-ending moments.
But the second part of the response to the Astros cheating scandal could be how the umpires treat them. Let’s face it. The umpires whole job is tied to integrity and following the rules. Whether consciously or unconsciously, they have to be thinking that what the Astro did was wrong and may deserve a bit more than the punishment doled out by the MLB offices. The Astros’ pitchers, and not just the youngsters, have been squeezed hard by the umps to this point in the season. Beyond that, last night what Kelly did in the 6th inning should have been handled differently, especially with MLB’s warnings on the subject. When he threw behind Alex Bregman‘s head on a 3-0 pitch, Kelly should have been warned. It would have been amazing how much better his control would have been after that.
The Offense. It is rather amazing the Astros are averaging more than 6 runs a game when they have so many players under-producing. Michael Brantley ( .421 BA/ 6 RBIs), Martin Maldonado (.357 BA / 6 RBIs) and Carlos Correa (.412 BA / 4 RBIs) have all been carrying their load and more. But the rest of the starting lineup has gotten off to a mostly slow roll with George Springer ( 1 for 20) the slowest of the slow. Alex Bregman does have 5 RBIs along with a crappy .222 BA, but Jose Altuve (.222 BA), Josh Reddick (.200 BA), Yuli Gurriel (.188 BA) and Kyle Tucker (.200 BA) all need to get it going. Oh, and adding Yordan Alvarez back into the mix at some point would be nice.
Just some thoughts for today as we wait anxiously for Cristian Javier’s first MLB start in place of ace Justin Verlander. This should continue to be an interesting time for the team.