Fans of the 2018 Astros: What’s bugging us?

It’s kind of unfair. Fans wait forever – up to 56 seasons (depending on our age and when we began cheering for them) for their Houston Astros to win a World Championship and then after they do, in a blink of an eye, the celebration is over and the angst over the next season returns. Is this why Yankee fans are sometimes the most miserable human beings on the planet. The 27 championships are in the rear view mirror and here they are in misery because their team falls short of the apex. Nine-year drought! OMG!!!

Yet here we are. Despite the fact our favorite team has been at the head of the division for the majority of the season, the lead has been tenuous due to the better competition in the division this season. In 2017, the Astros cruised easily into the postseason. Yes, we had some doubts when the team slumped in August, but September brought a rebirth behind the Justin Verlander trade and the team put on a great run of clutch play throughout the playoffs.

On September 20th, the Astros are 95-57 and if they go 6-4 against the Angels, Orioles and Blue Jays, all of whom are playing out the string, they will match last year’s record.

So what’s bugging us about this team and should it?

  • The Astros offense is not as good as last season and seems to disappear at the drop of a hat
  • However……Please, be reminded of the ALCS against the Yanks. The team had let a 2-0 lead in the series drop to a 3-2 deficit. Even their two wins were both 2-1 squeakers. They had scored only 9 runs in the first five games and were coming off a 5-0 whitewashing headed into two – win or go home games. But they got enough offense and a ton of pitching and took those last two games.
  • The relievers meltdown at the wrong times
  • However……Please, remember that there is no good time for relievers to meltdown and that frankly, the core of this relieving corps has been very good in most situations. This bullpen is a lot deeper than the one that melted down a ton of times in the 2017 playoffs and there will be pitchers left off this playoff roster that would be in their competitor’s ‘pen if they had them.
  • The starters are older and after being lights out earlier in the season have shown holes in their game in the last month or so.
  • However……Last season heading into the playoffs the team did not know how pitchers like Charlie Morton or Lance McCullers would react in the playoffs. Even with some rough spots, those two helped win some of the biggest games during the playoffs. They have them plus veterans Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Dallas Keuchel and overall they should be in good shape in the starter area (most games).
  • In 2017, the Astros were the Kings of the Late Innings coming back over and over again even with large late deficits. That has not been happening this season.
  • No “Howevers” here……If a fan wants to worry about this team, this is the area where they should be concerned. In many of their greatest seasons, the Astros rode late-inning magic. There is something about those comebacks and walk-off wins that not only energized the club, but raised their own expectations that games were never over. In 2018, that has just not been happening nearly as often as in 2017.
  • The Astros no longer have the best SS/2B duo in the majors.
  • No “Howevers” here either…. Carlos Correa was not up to snuff before his stint on the DL and has been a negative offensive force since his return. Jose Altuve is down (for him) and not near the offensive catalyst he has been the last few years for the Astros. Having a great SS/2B combo was a big advantage over most teams. Not this year.
  • The Astros play dumb and can’t play small ball.
  • Partial However…… In 2017 they were running into outs too, just like this year, though it is still a bother. The number of double plays they are grounding into is also a concern. Old ball with bunts and move-overs maybe will not return wholesale, but there will be times in the playoffs where getting one run in may be the difference in a game.

So what is bugging you this year?

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Astros 2018: The week in review, the week ahead

The week of 9-10 through 9-16 in review

The Astros lead was a tenuous 2.5 games over the A’s heading into this big week. The Astros swept the Detroit Tigers on the road and came back from a first game loss to win a three-game series with the Arizona D’Backs.  The Astros in reversing a season-long trend took four of their five wins on the week by one-run margins. The A’s split the week 3-3 and the Astros finished Sunday with a 4.5 game lead over Oakland and now face the next week with a magic number to clinch the division of 9.

The week of 9-17 through 9-23 in a preview

The Astros finish their home schedule with six games against division rivals, three against the Mariners and three against the Angels at Minute Maid Park.

The M’s had their first winning week in a month. After a four-game sweep of the Astros (at Minute Maid) the second week of August they were 4 games back of the Astros and only 1.5 games back of the A’s for a playoff spot. They have steadily sunk out of the pennant race since then, coming to town 12 games back in the AL West and 7.5 games back in the Wild Card race.

The Angels beat the Rangers 2 out of 3 to begin last week and then lost 3 of 4 to the Mariners through the weekend. It is hard to remember that the Angels were tied for the division lead in mid-May. They then fell behind by 10 games by late June and now start the new week 20.5 games back of the division-leading Astros.

Player of the Week: Justin Verlander

The Astros had a very hopeful week as both Jose Altuve and George Springer began hitting like the 2018 MVP and 2018 WS MVP that they are. But the player of the week was Justin Verlander. JV struggled in August while he was working on earning his 200th career win. In September he has won all three of his starts including two this last week. For the week, Verlander was 2-0 in 14 innings with 9 hits, 3 runs, 21 Ks and 3 walks and looking a lot like the pitcher, who came to town last September and carved his way through all the teams he faced.

Stat focus: Home Sweet Home

After the Mariners completed their 4 game sweep of the Astros on August 12th, the Rockies followed that with a 5-1 beating of the good guys and Houston was an anemic 31-29 at home on the season. Since then the Astros with tremendous pressure on them to outrun the streaking A’s have put up a beyond solid 10-4 record in their last 14 home games. During those 14 games, the Astros have scored 79 runs (5.6 runs/game) which is much more in line with what has been expected from them this season. They will need to keep that home field play going as they race to and through the playoffs.

Pop Song That Should Have Been a Hit – “Three Roses” by America

Back in  1971, I was a freshman in high school and was just loving this new Neil Young song on the radio. However, that Neil Young song turned out to be “A Horse with No Name” from the debut album of the pop/rock group America. The group consisted of three US military brats who ironically formed their trio in the UK. The debut album also included the hit “I Need You.” One of the hidden gems on the album was the song “Three Roses”, on which the boys sounded a lot more like Crosby, Stills and Nash than Neil Young with lovely harmonies and even a Stephen Stills-ish guitar solo towards the end. The song never was released as a single, though at least one unpaid critic believes it should have been.

Anyways, back to baseball. By the end of this coming week, there is a chance the Astros will have wrapped up the division, a chance the A’s have closed the gap or a chance the Astros will have set the table to clinch in the last week of the season. What do you think the next week will bring?

Astros 2018: Weekend wonderings

This week’s discussion on whether the Astros would have drafted Alex Bregman if they had drafted Kris Bryant instead of Mark Appel brought to mind other “what if” questions.

What if…..

  1. The 2018 Astros did not have Alex Bregman? It is hard to picture the Astros being in first place without Bregman carrying this team both physically, plus the psychological boost of his “Stare” silliness.
  2. They had started the season with the following starting rotation….. Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton, Lance McCullers Jr., Collin McHugh and Brad Peacock after not trading for Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole?  They would certainly still have a good rotation, but it would not be the best in the league and the bullpen would not be as top notch as it has been.
  3. They had successfully traded for Zach Britton and/or Brad Hand instead of for Ryan Pressly and Roberto Osuna at the trade deadline? Hand (Cleveland), Pressly and Osuna have been very good for their new teams, while Britton has been meh for the Yanks and Hand and Britton would have cost the Astros a bunch more prospect-wise.
  4. OF Ramon Laureano had not fallen off the cliff in 2017 with AA Corpus Christi? He had been dominant at 3 minor league levels for the Astros in 2016, but after a nasty 2017, he was traded to the Oakland A’s for a so-so pitching prospect and now has sprung from the minors into a solid player with the A’s.
  5. The Astros could play at home like most top AL teams play at home? The other four likely playoff teams, Red Sox, Yanks, Indians and A’s have won a combined 65% of their games at home. If the Astros had done that they would be 99-47 and 10.5 games up in their division.
  6. Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Marwin Gonzalez and Josh Reddick were producing like 2017 (or even 90% of 2017)? It is pretty easy to picture a team that would have this division wrapped up already with them hitting somewhere between 2017 and 2018.

So… what are your answers to these questions? Do you have some “what ifs” to pose of your own?

Astros 2018 stat leaders: What a difference a year makes

Despite returning a big chunk of the 2018 World Champions – there is no denying that this year’s version is a far different club than the one that took home the trophy and rings.  This comes home very clearly when we review the players who led in individual categories in 2017 and the players who are leading those categories with 2-1/2 weeks left in the 2018 season.

Hitting (2018 stats are thru Sept. 11)

Category 2017 Leader 2017 Stat 2018 Current Leader 2018 Current Stat
Batting Average Jose Altuve .346 Altuve .318
On-Base Altuve .410 Alex Bregman .398
Slugging Carlos Correa .550 Bregman .555
OPS Altuve .957 Bregman .954
Runs Scored George Springer / Altuve 112 runs Bregman 99 runs
Hits Altuve 204 hits Bregman 160 hits
Doubles Yuli Gurriel 43 doubles Bregman 49 doubles
HRs Springer 34 HRs Bregman 30 HRs
RBIs Marwin Gonzalez 90 RBIs Bregman 97 RBIs
SBs Altuve 32 SBs Altuve 15 SBs
Walks Springer 64 Walks Bregman 85 Walks
WAR Altuve 8.3 Bregman 7.0
K% (best) Gurriel 11% Gurriel 11%
Walk % Correa 11.1% Bregman 13.3%
Extra Base Hit % Gonzalez 11.1% Bregman 12.5%

 

Pitching (2018 stats are thru Sept. 11)

Category 2017 Leader 2017 Stat 2018 Current Leader 2018 Current Stat
Win Charlie Morton / Dallas Keuchel 14 Wins Justin Verlander 15 Wins
ERA (starters) Keuchel 2.90 ERA Verlander 2.72 ERA
WHIP (starters) Keuchel 1.119 WHIP Verlander 0.944 WHIP
Innings Pitched Mike Fiers 153.1 IP Verlander 195 IP
Ks Morton 163 Ks Verlander 258 Ks
GO / AO* Keuchel 3.35 Keuchel 1.79
WAR Keuchel 3.9 WAR Verlander 5.0
ERA (reliever) Ken Giles 2.30 ERA Collin McHugh 1.92 ERA
WHIP (reliever) Chris Devenski 0.942 WHIP McHugh 0.883 WHIP
Saves Giles 34 Saves Hector Rondon 14 Saves
Inherited Runners Scored Devenski 22% Tony Sipp 12 % (4 of 33 inherited runners)
Holds Devenski 25 Holds Devenski 17 Holds
K % Giles 33.6% Brad Peacock 36.4%
Walk % (best) Joe Musgrove 6.1 Verlander 4.6%s

* Ground outs allowed divided by balls hit in the air allowed

Looking at the numbers the following jump out:

  • Offensively there is a new sheriff in town and his name is Alex Bregman, who dominates the stats like Jose Altuve did in 2018.
  • Starting pitching-wise there is a new mayor of H-town and his name is Justin Verlander (though his deputy mayor is Gerrit Cole and his mayor-pro tem is Charlie Morton) as he has taken the mantle from Dallas Keuchel.
  • Tony Sipp has been terrific in one of the most important stats for a reliever – preventing inherited runners from scoring.
  • Even with struggles and missed time, Chris Devenski still leads in the Holds category. Can anyone really explain what Holds are?
  • There are a few categories that might change between now and the end of the season….
    • Wins – Morton and Cole are within sight on JV
    • Saves – If Osuna keeps piling them up he could catch Rondon
    • K’s – Cole is breathing down JVs neck
    • Hits – Altuve is a hot week behind Bregman
    • OBP – That same hot week might let Altuve catch Bregman here too.

Anyway, what do you think of this exercise?

The Astros’ week in review and the week ahead

The week of 9-3 through 9-9 in review

Heading into this past week with the Astros playing a Twins team that was recently performing well and then playing the best team in the majors in the Red Sox on their home turf, holding serve with a 2.5 game lead over the Oakland A’s would have seemed acceptable. But after winning the first 5 games of the week and holding a 3.5 game lead headed into Sunday, it was a bit disappointing to end the week exactly where they started.

The Astros played well in easily sweeping the Twins at home and won two tough battles against the Red Sox in reaching a seven-game overall winning streak. The Sunday night game was reminiscent of many a 2017 playoff game as the Astros roared back from a 5-1 deficit to tie the game in the sixth inning. A very questionable play review helped the Red Sox take a tie into the late innings where they won it with a bloop to left field in front of the non-diving Marwin Gonzalez.

The week of 9-10 through 9-16 in a preview

The Astros will play six games in the next week, three on the road against the Detroit Tigers and 3 at home against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Despite losing Sunday to the Cards, the Tigers are coming in on a good roll having won 5 of their last 7 games. On the season, Motown has been bad (59-84) and are currently 13th in the AL in runs scored and 9th in ERA.

The D’Backs have been struggling lately having lost 7 of their last 10 games. They are 76-67 and rely a lot more on their pitching (2nd in ERA in NL) than offense (9th in runs scored).

The Tigers have nothing to play for, but also nothing to lose. The D’Backs are trying to come from behind in the Wild Card race.

Player of the Week: Alex Bregman – the Stare Master

Let’s see….

  • In Monday’s 4-1 win over the Twins he hit a solo home run in the first for a lead they never relinquished
  • In Tuesday’s 5-2 win, he had three doubles, knocked in the first run of the game and the last run of the game and scored the second run.
  • In Wednesday’s 9-1 rout of the Twins, he scored one run, and knocked in five with a double and a homer. He led off the scoring with a 2 run homer in the third and rounded it up with a bases-clearing double in the 8th.
  • In Friday’s big 6-3 win over the Red Sox, he had a double and scored two runs, the first and last of the day.
  • In Saturday’s tight 5-3 win over the Red Sox, he hit a solo homer to give the Astros a 3-1 lead at the time.
  • Sunday he had a walk and his 49th double of the season but was not involved in any of the scoring.
  • If you are keeping track in 6 games that is 6 runs, 6 doubles, 3 HRs and 9 RBIs.

Stat focus: Alex Almost 

The Astros’ club record for HRs and RBIs by a third baseman are held by Morgan Ensberg at 36 HR and 101 RBIs in the 2005 World Series run. Alex Bregman probably will not reach either of these numbers though he could have blown past the RBI stat, since he sits at 97 RBIs right now. But since he played SS in place of Carlos Correa during his DL stint, he has only 27 HRs and 85 RBIs as a 3B this season.

Classic Rock Song That Should Have Been a Hit – “The Promise” by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

If you have time, please check out this wonderful piece of writing by Joe Posnanski that ties his relationship with his father, his search for his future and the history behind this wonderful song into a single tapestry.

But if you don’t get a chance to read this article, the meat of it is how “The Promise” never had a chance to become a hit song, because Springsteen never could let go of it. It was too personal and he never released it until many years later as one of many other unreleased songs. It would have fit beautifully into his poignant album “Darkness on the Edge of Town”, and could have been a hit, but it is just a lovely song about promises unfulfilled.

What did you think about the week that was or the week that will be?

Astros’ ChipalattAwards for August

The Astros had a 14-12 record in August, which at one time was 6-8, so the final number is not the end of the world. The Astros’ starting pitching along with losing Lance McCullers came down to more human numbers. The revamped bullpen was overall good. The hitting was a mix of the terrific and the terrible. So there was a lot to consider in giving out the Chippy Awards for the month of August.

Starting Pitcher of the Month. Framber Valdez. None of the regular pitchers was that outstanding in August and Valdez came in and gave them a terrific shot in the arm. He only had two starts, but his third 4+ inning appearance was start-ish in effect. He was 2-1 for the month with a sterling 1.26 ERA and 0.907 WHIP. His strong and poised performance gave the front office something to think about as they head to an off-season with two starters becoming free agents.

Runner-up. Dallas Keuchel. He was the anchor for the month with a solid 2-1 record and a 3.49 ERA with 1.241 WHIP in a team-leading 38.2 IP.

In July – It was Dallas Keuchel followed by Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander.

Everyday Player of the Month. Your Pick. This month you get to choose the Everyday Player(s) of the month and his (their) Runner(s)-Up. There were three outstanding performances for the month that all deserve some recognition.

  • Alex (The Stare) Bregman put up a terrific .327 BA / .427 OBP / .938 OPS slash while scoring 18 times, knocking out 9 doubles, 3 HRs and 15 RBIs and oh yes, he walked 16 times and struck out only 10 times.
  • Marwin Gonzalez reversed his season trend with a .303 BA / .361 OBP / .967 OPS while scoring 19 times with 6 doubles, 8 HRs and 20 RBIs, but he did strike out 28 times vs. only 8 walks.
  • Tyler White was great with a .325 BA / .385 OBP / 1.095 OPS, 14 runs scored, 4 doubles, 8 HRs and 23 RBIs and he walked 8 times against 17 Ks (in 15 less ABs than the other two guys)

In different ways, all three of these players brought a lot to the table and all deserve to be recognized for their performance.

In July – It was Alex Bregman with Tyler White as the runner-up.

Relief Pitcher of the Month. Ryan Pressly. Pressly has been nails since the deadline trade with the Twins brought him to a contender. He posted a glittery 0.79 ERA and matching 0.441 WHIP while striking out 12.7 batters / 9 IPs and walking no one in 11.1 IPs in August. He has been a solid contributor in the late innings for the Astros.

Runner-up. Hector Rondon. Rondon did not fall apart when the Astros brought in another closer in Roberto Osuna. Hector had 4 saves along with a 1.46 ERA, 1.135 WHIP in 12.1 IP in August. He has helped give the Astros some choices in the 8th and 9th innings.

In July – This award belonged to Collin McHugh with Tony Sipp and Joe Smith as the runners-up.

Biggest Surprise (Positive). Tyler White. He has shown small snippets of good hitting in his previous stays with the big club, but since getting regular plate time in late July, he has pulled the DH job away from Evan Gattis and given himself a potential long-term position with the club.

Runner-up. Framber Valdez. The way most of the Astros’ hitting farm hands have floundered after their first call-ups, it was natural to be wary of the insertion of Valdez into the McCullers slot into the rotation. The kid has not disappointed in his first taste of major league ball.

In July – It was Tony Kemp followed by Tony Sipp and Joe Smith.

Biggest Surprise (Negative). Carlos Correa. It might not be an exaggeration to say that Carlos was worse than any sub they might have used for him when he was injured. In August, he was even worse than he was when he came off the DL in 2017 with a .169 BA / .235 OBP / .460 OPS. It was not surprising that he would be a bit rusty coming back, but this performance makes one wonder if his back is healed or not.

Runner-up. Justin Verlander. This comes under the category “we’ve been spoiled”. JV has been unbelievably good through an unbeaten September 2017, as a leader of the playoff push to the championship and through 2/3 of the 2018 season. He proved he would actually bleed if cut in a very pedestrian August with a 2-2 record, a 5.29 ERA and allowing 9 HRs in 32.1 IP, while pursuing his 200th career win. Yes – he deserves a mulligan of a month once in a while.

In July – Ken Giles followed by Kyle Tucker

The surprising stats award. Will Harris. His 0-0 record, 2.38 ERA and 0.882 WHIP in August do not seem to match the eyeball impression test where he is thought to be bound to be banished from the post-season roster.

Runner-up. Martin Maldonado. It was obvious he was hitting better in August than when he first came over from the Angels, but his .269 BA / .867 OPS / 12 runs / 9 RBIs month seemed higher than what was seen during the month.

Honorable Mention. Jose Altuve. This also comes under the category of “we’ve been spoiled”, but would you have guessed he was slashing .295 BA/ .356 OBP / .795 OPS in August? Good for mortals, but not good enough for Mr. MVP.

The stat that might have shown an injury was coming award. Charlie Morton. Every month he was averaging 11 or more strikeouts per 9 innings pitched until August where he dipped to 8.5 K/ 9 IP

Do you agree with these awards?

Want to propose awards of your own?

Astros 2018: Two for Tuesday on a Wednesday

Today the focus will be on two topics critical to the team as they tumble towards the finish line of a tougher than expected divisional tussle with the Oakland A’s.

1) Standing pat

As has been observed here by Sandy and other commenters, it is pretty obvious that the Astros’ Front Office decided at the Waiver trade deadline of August 31st to stand pat. Looking at their situation this almost seems like the only option they really had. Please explain that Dan P……

  • Starting pitching – In the playoffs the team needs a 4 man rotation. If they believe Charlie Morton is ready to go at the end of his 10 day DL, it does not matter that Lance McCullers may not come back or if he comes back he will not be in the rotation. Between Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel, Morton and Gerrit Cole they have an extremely strong 4 man rotation. If one of those four goes down, they probably have confidence they could use a Framber Valdez or perhaps a Josh James in that spot and be OK. Beyond that, they could cadge together a tandem start from Collin McHugh, Brad Peacock or perhaps even McCullers. It made no sense to pursue another starting pitcher.
  • Relief pitching – The team made their big moves at the non-waiver deadline with picking up Ryan Pressly, and Roberto Osuna. The fact that they have used these pitchers 15 times and 13 times respectively shows they want them to be main players at the end of games along with Hector Rondon. Chris Devenski has returned and mixing him in with McHugh and Peacock gives the bullpen a lot of late-inning options and flexibility headed into the playoffs.
  • Everyday lineup – Let the arguments begin. The catcher spot was one of the weaker spots, but the team went out and added Martin Maldonado and welcomed back Brian McCann from the DL. You don’t really need to do anything relative to 3B or DH with the way Bregman and Tyler White have played. Marwin Gonzalez and George Springer seem to be warming up a bit. Yuli Gurriel has slumped lately but is still a very consistent at bat especially with runners in scoring position. The two guys struggling the most in critical spots are Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa, but what are you going to do about that. There were no 2B’s or SS’s available that will give you better than those two can give you even when they are slumping. With Jake Marisnick back from the DL, there might have been a spot for someone between a middle of the road Josh Reddick, Marisnick, Springer and Tony Kemp. But would it be better than you had?
  • Everyday players who changed teams at the deadline. The main players who actually got through waivers and ended up with an acceptable trade included SS Adeiny Hechavarria and C Drew Buterea at positions that the Astros have no need. It included 1B/3B/DH Josh Donaldson and David Freese, who are again at positions that the Astros don’t have a need. It could be argued that 2015-2017 Josh Donaldson would find a fit in any lineup, but that JD has not appeared this season and after being traded he was immediately put on the DL by his new team, the Cleveland Indians. It could be argued that the Astros maybe should have had interest in OFs Andrew McCutchen or Curtis Granderson. But in reality – both of these players are average offensive players these days and are not as good defensively as the Astros have. They are players whose names promise more than they can provide.

So – from this writer’s standpoint, there was really not a player truly available that the Astros deeply needed to chase.

2) The Playoff Roster Considerations

Last year the Astros went with only 11 pitchers and 14 everyday players for the ALDS against the Red Sox. They left Collin McHugh off the roster while keeping Tyler White, who did not get an at bat, on the roster. They had 3 catchers with Juan Centeno behind Brian McCann and Evan Gattis and a bench that included White, Centeno, Carlos Beltran/Gattis (depending on who was DH’ing), Cameron Maybin and Derek Fisher. They used Verlander, Morton, Keuchel and Peacock as starters in the first round with McCullers in the bullpen.

In the second round, they added McHugh back in and moved White back out.

This time around how would they work a potential first round 11 pitcher / 14 everyday roster?

SPs (4) – Verlander, Cole, Keuchel, Morton

RPs (11) – Rondon, Osuna, Pressly, Devenski, McHugh, Peacock and…McCullers? This would leave Tony Sipp, Joe Smith and Will Harris on the outside looking in….

Every Days (9) – Gurriel, Altuve, Correa, Bregman, McCann, White, Springer, Reddick, Gonzalez

Bench – Tony Kemp, Evan Gattis, Martin Maldonado, Jake Marisnick, Max Stassi,

If they go to a second round would they sit Gattis and activate Sipp, Smith or Harris? Which one? And if McCullers is not ready to go, which one of the three would they activate for the first round? With Gattis on the roster would they consider him the third catcher and set Stassi aside instead?

There are a lot of options as they roll down the hill towards the end of the regular season.

So, what do you think of the “two for Tuesday”?

The week in review and the week ahead

The week of 8-27 through 9-2 in review

The Astros began the week at 80-50 with a one and a half game lead in the AL West over the Oakland A’s. They beat those same A’s in a 3 game series to begin the week. Monday they roared back from a 4-0 early deficit to tie the game and then pulled away to an 11-4 win. They followed that with a disappointing 4-3 loss and then a huge walk-off 5-4 win in the rubber game.

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