“IT” will be brought up this season. But it feels like when it does, it will be with a more forced tone.
The cheating scandal’s time and distance allow the Astros’ fandom to get up each day without it being the first thing that pops up in their brain every day. There will be booing at times, there will be some tough questions and some tough announcers on out of town games, but it is not the same as last season, when “IT” weighed heavy on fans’ hearts and, judging from their performances, weighed heavily on many of the players.
So, as the Astros start working through the early days of Spring Training, how many other things have changed since last year?
- A year ago, most of us were skeptical of manager Dusty Baker’s hiring (for some reasons, I almost typed Springfield). He did a terrific job considering how a combination of “IT” and a ton of injuries to the pitching staff had affected the team. He kept them afloat and seems to have settled in nicely for a second season.
- A year ago, we did not know what the team had in the new General Manager James Click. He basically had inherited the team as-is when he was hired last January and took Jeff Luhnow’s team to Spring Training. Fans have seen him show he would not panic in 2020 as he stuck with in-house resources to fill the pitching voids. He showed that he would spend money judiciously in the off-season as he brought Michael Brantley back but passed (or lost) when it came to George Springer. He filled the backup catcher spot (Jason Castro), bucked up the bullpen (Pedro Baez, Ryne Stanek, Steve Cishek) and worked to address the three-man hole in the outfield (Brantley, Steven Souza Jr., Jose Siri, Pedro Leon). We may not agree with all the moves, but we cannot say he has not been working to address obvious need areas.
- A year ago, we did not know whether a lot of young arms were prospects or suspects. We did not get the answer on all our young pitchers (Forrest Whitley, Brian Abreu), but we filled the starting rotation with Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier and Jose Urquidy, all young and mostly unproven. The team also filled out the bullpen with rookies like Blake Taylor, Enoli Paredes, Andre Scrubb and Brooks Raley. The feeling is that they know a bit more about their young pitchers heading into 2021.
- A year ago, we did not know if Kyle Tucker would live up to his high draft choice and untouchable position in the organization promised. After a strong 2020, he has moved from a question mark to an exclamation mark.
- A year ago, we had no idea what was to come mere weeks later as far as a virus derailing the start of the season and almost the whole season. This year the sport is expected to go forward as close to normal as possible under the circumstances. There will be some fans in the stands. They will play 162 games or somewhere close. Things will likely be better this season than last.
What are the top changes that have happened since last season, and how do you feel about it?