Before we begin this post on the frivolities of baseball, let’s pause a minute and honor those innocent men and women, who lost their lives 19 years ago today in a vicious attack on the heart and soul of America.
Today the Astros are taking a re-grouping day off in Los Angeles before playing a two-game series against the Dodgers. Two weeks from Sunday will mark the end of the regular season if everything comes off as scheduled and we know this season hardly anything comes off as scheduled. The Astros have played exactly 3/4 of their games and stand at a disappointing, but likely deserved 22-23. Barring an undeserved baseball miracle they are not making up 6.5 games on the best in the AL, Oakland A’s and will have to play a lot better to hold off the 2 games behind Seattle Mariners for the AL West second-place playoff spot.
So this seems time for a Q&A with myself…..
Do Astro fans even care at this point?
Dan P is the eternal optimist, so despite the slings and arrows of COVID and hurricanes and player protests and rule changes and shortened seasons and shortened games, I believe that deep, deep, deep down inside, fans still care whether their team wins or not. Except for those that don’t.
How legitimate would a championship be under these circumstances?
Well – let’s see. Is the season anywhere close to 162 games? No, it is less than 40% of a regular season. Will all the teams that make the playoffs be deserving of making the playoffs? Based on the Astros currently being on the inside of the playoffs right now, probably not. And the fact that there will be 60% more teams making the playoffs than normal – probably not. Will the revised playoffs result in the very best team grabbing the crown? The three-game early series and the extra round of playoffs point to a good chance that top teams may struggle to make it to the championship. We can hope the Dodgers win it and then shut up about what happened in 2017. Bottom line is that it is hard to say this will be a legitimate championship this year, but don’t try to tell that to the fans of the winning team.
What is wrong with the Astros?
A good question Dan P! When we compare this team to last year’s team the contrast is pretty evident.
- Last year the Astros were led by GM Jeff Luhnow and Manager A.J. Hinch. While we might say that new GM James Click and Manager Dusty Baker may be more ethical sports than their predecessors, you really cannot say that either of them is better than the two highest-performing GM and manager in team history.
- The Astros starting pitching last season down the stretch were led by the two men who came in 1st and 2nd in the Cy Young Award voting, Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. Behind him was a man, Zack Greinke, who may well have been in the top 10 of Cy Young voting if he had been in either the NL or AL for the whole season, the 14-6 Wade Miley and either Brad Peacock or Jose Urquidy. This season the five guys who have started the most games are Greinke (9), Lance McCullers (8), Cristian Javier (8), Framber Valdez (7) and Brandon Bielak (6). Now McCullers is injured and might not return and both Javier and Bielak have never pitched in the majors before. That is a huge drop in experience and while the youngsters have done OK, the other thing that has happened is that this has weakened the bullpen. Yes, Urquidy is back and Verlander may return, but the starting pitching has produced quite well-considering everything.
- The bullpen has been the biggest difference between last season and this season. And that ties to the losses of Will Harris and Hector Rondon before the season, the sitting out of Joe Smith, the injuries to Roberto Osuna, Brad Peacock, Austin Pruitt, Chris Devenski and Ryan Pressly has decimated the bullpen and the fact that some of the next men up have had to start instead of help in the bullpen. The pitchers with the most appearances from the bullpen are Blake Taylor, Pressly, Enoli Paredes, Andre Scrubb and Cy Sneed. There is a good chance that four of those five (three of which made their MLB debuts) would not normally have been on this roster to start the season or maybe one of them stuck in the back corner of the bullpen. Last year the Astros bullpen was 2nd in the AL in ERA (3.75), 1st in WHIP (1.20) and 3rd best at allowing walks (only 197). This season the pen is 10th in ERA (4.58) and 14th in WHIP (1.62) and walks (106). Of course, they are only better than the Red Sox in walks because the Sox have one more walk in 45 more innings.
- The whole offense basically came back intact from 2019 to 2020. But….. Rookie of the Year Yordan Alvarez made a cameo and was out for the season, former MVP Jose Altuve struggled at the plate, finally started hitting and went out with a knee injury, the team’s best hitter Alex Bregman started slowly, heated up and then pulled a hammy, George Springer has been on a very slow climb from a very slow start, and Michael Brantley had an injury cut deeply into his fine season. What has happened this season is with all the injuries, almost 20% of the at bats are being taken up by a very poor performing bench of Abraham Toro, Garrett Stubbs, Dustin Garneau, Jack Mayfield, Myles Straw and Aledmys Diaz. Despite this, the team has scored runs at a solid 5.02 runs/game 2nd in the AL. However, the team has not been scoring well late in games or especially in extra innings. A lot of this may be tied to the inconsistency in the lineup.
In the end, the Astros who were solid last season in one-run games (24-19) and in extra-inning games (10-4) are 7-11 in one-run games and 2-6 in extra frames this season.
Oh well, I wanted to ask more questions, but lunchtime is over and I can hold those for another time. So, how would you answer those questions?