For the first time since 2017, the Astros enter Spring Training coming off a regular season that was less than a triumph. In 2017 through 2019, the Astros came in over the magic 100-win mark each season, highlighted by the club record of 107 wins in 2019.
This included of course the team’s only World Series win in 2017, a loss in the 2018 ALCS and a loss in the 2019 WS. Last season, the Astros, after having their pitching staff devastated by injury and illness and their positional players devastated by the trash can flu, stumbled to a 29-31 record in the COVID shortened regular season and then righted the ship enough to get to the 7th game of the ALCS. Still, it was unsettling to know that the Astros were only in the playoffs because of the MLBs decision to expand the playoff field by 60% and that they were the last team that nudged into the postseason on the AL side.
The team has then followed up a so-so showing in the 2020 regular season with a (through March 22) MLB worst 4-12 record in Spring Training. The team is not pitching well, hitting well and seems to have lost the George Springer spring in their step. Today we will look at both sides of the coin and give Astro fans reasons to despair and reasons to be hopeful based on these developments.
Reason for Despair – That 4-12 record
The Astros are not only the worst record in all of baseball at this point in spring training, they are behind a team like the world’s worst Baltimore Orioles. Their inability to beat anyone is disheartening and the team may ride that downshift to a terrible regular-season record. In 2018 (21-9) and 2019 (18-12) they had one of the best spring training records in the MLB and followed that up with excellent seasons. Their 2020 ST record (9-11) foreshadowed the bleh regular season to follow.
Reason for Hope – Does a Spring Training record mean anything?
In 2013 they had a decent 15-16 record in Spring Training and followed that up with the worst season in franchise history (51-111). A few years later in 2017, they were a mediocre 15-15 in ST and then went 101-61 which led to the only World Series victory in franchise history. Was the 2017 team only ½ game better than the 2013 team as shown by their relative pre-season records? Uhhhh-No.
Reason for Despair – No Springer – no fire
There is concern that the loss of George Springer is more than just the loss of one of the best leadoff hitters and outfielders in the majors. There is concern that he was the heart of the team and without him, there will be no joy and celebrations for the team. This would then result in a team that might be going through the motions.
Reason for Hope – How excited do you want to see them for games that don’t matter?
There are a lot of things happening here. It is Spring Training. They are mostly a veteran club. They don’t have their head dancer and fun instigator in Springer. Did I say it is Spring Training?
Bottom line I sometimes have felt the team was a little too much into “rub your nose in it” celebration. As one of my favorite sports philosophers, Vince Lombardi, said to his RB and Kick returner Travis Williams after a touchdown celebration, “When you go into the end zone, act like you’ve been there before.”
Reason for Despair – Boy, some of those Spring Training numbers really look bad
The Astros are 26th in the MLB in BA (.222) and 29th in OPS (.657). And…they are last in runs scored (30 runs). Their pitching is a little better than the hitting, but still on the wrong side of 4 with an ERA of 4.30.
Reason for Hope – You have to check where those numbers are coming from
On the pitching side, their 8 worst ERAs are from pitchers who will likely not be with the club when they break camp. This includes Seth Martinez, Hunter Brown, Jairo Solis, Shawn Dubin, Blair Henley, Riley Ferrell, Jojanse Torres and Luis Garcia, with Garcia being the only one mentioned for a possible spot heading out of Spring Training. Ryan Pressly (0.00 ERA), Cristian Javier (0.00), Brooks Raley (1.69), Zack Greinke (2.16), Lance McCullers (2.57), Ryne Stanek (3.00), Steve Cishek (3.52 but no runs since his first outing) and Brian Abreu (3.68) have all been solid.
The hitting has been more of a mixed bag, but Myles Straw (.343 BA), Aledmys Diaz (.313), Kyle Tucker (.300), and Carlos Correa (.300) have been good and others like Altuve, Bregman and Brantley have been hitting the ball well in the last few games.
Reason for Despair – They just don’t look like they are ready for the season to begin
They are not playing well in Spring Training. There are questions about who will be in the rotation to start the season and they play the A’s seven times in the first eleven games. They need to come out of the box hot.
Reason for Hope – It’s a long season
Unlike the partial race of 2020, this is a full marathon. Sure, if they lose all seven against the A’s that would be bad, but just look back to 2019 when the Mariners took off to a 13-2 start to the season and ended up in fifth place 39 games behind. It might take a few weeks for the team to hit their stride, but at some point, they will get there. According to this article – despite the early games against the A’s they have an early-season competitive advantage.
So, what gives you the reason for despair and/or hope?