Some folks may think this writer is crazy, but the last time Astro fans were this uncertain about their team was leading into the 2017 Championship season.
Note to self: There are likely a lot of people who think this writer is crazy for all sorts of reasons.
It may seem counterintuitive considering that season was such a slam-bang success, but just remember where the team was heading out of 2016 into 2017. The 2016 season, even though a winning one, was a disappointment. The team had made a surprise appearance in the 2015 playoffs, knocking off the Yankees in a wild card matchup and taking the eventual World Champion Royals to the brink before losing in the ALDS. The thought was that this was a very young team and would springboard into a much improved and more experienced team in 2016.
Well, the team regressed in 2016, and the most significant question mark was the starting rotation heading into 2017. Dallas Keuchel had covered up an injury and was a mediocre pitcher in 2016. Collin McHugh got hurt in 2017 Spring Training and ended up missing most of the season. Lance McCullers (6-5, 3.22 ERA) was a 23-year-old who had pitched well in a portion of 2016. Mike Fiers (11-8, 4.48 ERA) had pitched so-so just like Keuchel (9-12, 4.55 ERA), McHugh (13-10, 4.34 ERA) and Doug Fister (12-13, 4.64 ERA – who was now gone) in 2016.
Heading into 2017, the Astros had made some moves to add some veteran leadership to the offense (one of which apparently led them to trash can banging) in Brian McCann, Josh Reddick and Carlos Beltran. Their big move on the pitching side was to pick up Charlie Morton, who had pitched only 17 innings in 2016 and who sported a career 46-71 record and an ERA far and away on the wrong side of 4.
At that point, the fans did not know that
- Keuchel would return to near Cy Young brilliance (14-5, 2.90 ERA).
- Brad Peacock would turn his career around with a terrific hybrid season out of the bullpen and in the rotation (13-2, 3.00 ERA).
- Morton would put in a strong season for the first time in his career (14-7, 3.62 ERA).
- And of course, no one would know that the team would make the big move that the front office did not make in 2016 and pick up an ace in Justin Verlander for the stretch run and the playoffs.
Of course, the offensive improvements that happened in 2017 (the team leading the world in almost every category) also helped the team to the ultimate win, but it was the pitching side improvements that were the bigger surprise. The uncertainty of the preseason evaporated during the long hard charge to the championship and really did not reappear during the 2018 ALCS run and the 2019 WS runner-up run.
Flash ahead to August 7th, 2020 and after a 6-6 start to a 60 game season, dotted by failing arms both in health and performance, fans would be silly to be certain about the fate of the 2020 Astros. How many items are disturbing us now?
- Ace Gerrit Cole, plus solid starter Wade Miley, and solid relievers Will Harris and Hector Rondon are gone
- Ace Justin Verlander is out injured after one start and fandom is waiting for some word – any word about whether he will pitch again this year
- Lance McCullers has been good for about 3 innings of good and one inning of horrible in his starts
- Josh James lost his grip on a starting spot after 2 starts of walk craziness
- Zack Greinke is a below average 5.00 ERA after 2 starts
- Closer Roberto Osuna is gone for the year with likely TJ surgery in his future
- Pitchers Brad Peacock, Jose Urquidy, and Ryan Pruitt have yet to throw a pitch for the big team
- Ryan Pressly, is pitching poorly and may be hurt
- Joe Smith is choosing to sit out
- Chris Devenski and Joe Biagini are on the IL (well maybe that one is not a negative)
Sure there have been some really positive contributions by some of the youngsters such as Cristian Javier, Brandon Bielek, Framber Valdez and Blake Taylor. But a team that is depending on a pitching core of newbies does not seem to be one that is on the path to a World Series run.
So what do you think about the premise of this piece? When were you last as uncertain about the Astros as you are now? And if you are not uncertain right now….why not?