Random Astros’ thoughts and sentence fragments

After the first walk-off home run of the season, the Astros have a better record now (31-37) than any other season after 68 games since 2010. If they aren’t careful, they could be approaching .500 at the halfway point of the season.

Here are some thoughts as the weekend gets underway.  Feel free to join in and add your comments and complete the sentences.

Too bad…

  • George Springer and Jon Singleton didn’t start the season in Houston. What a rookie of the year race that would have been!
  • Jeff Luhnow didn’t fire Bo Porter when he had the chance. Now, he’s stuck with him for the season (yes, sarcasm intended).
  • Lucas Harrell hasn’t been called up to pitch for the Diamondbacks while they’re playing the Astros.
  • Chris Carter is only good for the long ball. Otherwise, he’d be the consummate DH for Houston. Can you say Dave Kingman?
  • The Astros didn’t sign Jose Abreu in the off season! Imagine what a Springer-Singleton-Abreu middle of the order might have looked like.

If you would have told me…

  • Six weeks ago that we’d be talking about .500 and possibly buying at the break, I’d have asked you to step slowly away from the Koolaid pitcher.
  • Dallas Keuchel would be the staff ace by mid-June, it wouldn’t have totally surprised me. But if you’d said he’d also be on pace for 20 wins, now that’s a different story.
  • A month ago that Keuchel, Springer or Chad Qualls might be All Star candidates, I’d have scoffed and walked away.

If there’s one thing I’d like to see, it’s…

I know it’s a pipe dream, but…

  • Could the Astros actually be contenders to acquire major piece a la David Price or Adrian Beltre at the deadline? Nah.
  • Is it possible the Astros could live up to Jim Crane’s prediction and finish over .500 this season?
  • What are the chances the Astros reach 2 million in attendance?
  • Might Houston once again become a baseball town before the Texans find their way again?
  • Could this winter be the winter that the Astros are looking for that one player to get them to and over the top?
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George who? Astros have opening day down

Excuse me, but George who? Odd isn’t it, how a win on opening day can cause you to forget an entire pre-season of frustration? At least for an evening.

The Astros have this opening day stuff down! If everyday was opening day, Houston would never have another problem!

Yes, even Bo Porter can bask in the success with his all-time opening day record is 2-0.

Let’s remember, though, that the Astros were 8-2 winners last opening day over the Texas Rangers, then promptly scrambled back for two shutout losses en route to a six-game losing streak. Let’s don’t talk about Yu Darvish.

Some of you may have seen Tuesday’s game. Others of us struggled along on MLB Gameday. Still others may be just learning now about the 6-2 win in front of 42,117 fans.

Yeah, I noticed the Astros had 11 Ks and one BB. Yes, they were 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position. But forget that, at least for the next 24 hours.

How ’bout that pitching? Scott Feldman, Chad Qualls, Matt Albers. What was that you were saying about L.J. Hoes? Jesus Guzman? Not to mention Jose Altuve and Dexter Fowler.

Save your rants for another day, there’ll likely be plenty. For one day, though, celebrate with what went right for the 1-0 Astros.

 

Porter’s planning for future, but how much rope does he have?

Clearly, Bo Porter is making plans to manage the Houston Astros in 2014. He’s having season-ending conversations with players even before the season ends. He’s begun to whittle down the likely players who he’d like to write into his lineup next April.

Truth be known, he’s probably also planning some season-ending conversations with some of his coaches, conversations that could end their career in Houston.

If only we could peek behind the veil and be a fly on the wall for the real conversation. The one that Jeff Luhnow is having with Reid Ryan. About Bo Porter.

It would be a huge admission of failure if Porter were let go after only one year. And, while the Astros aren’t likely to fire the 41-year-old former outfielder, you have to wonder if Luhnow, Ryan and perhaps owner Jim Crane have had that discussion over a beer and nachos.

We all know that Luhnow wrote off 2013 a long time ago, but he probably didn’t plan on 110 losses either. Porter will be the first Astros’ manager to finish last in his division during the first year of his tenure. Obviously, he is the manager-of-record over the worst season in history record-wise: 108 and counting. And while he may be the numbers guy Luhnow was looking for, the more important relational tools required of managers may be somewhat lacking.

That said, most of us don’t know how he is behind closed doors, though we’ve heard some things publicly played out. Players such as Bud Norris and Lucas Harrell have been a bit vocal. Others have mumbled semi-privately.

Most of the players are young and won’t speak out as quickly. But Luhnow has undoubtedly been taking the pulse of the team with conversations of his own. Would that we knew the opinions of some players of the future like Jarred Cosart, Jason Castro, Brett Oberholtzer and others. You can bet Luhnow knows.

If Luhnow is second-guessing his not-even-year-old choice, you also have to wonder if he’s not keeping a close eye as the season ends for teams like the Yankees, Angels and perhaps Twins. There could be a scuffle to shuffle managers in November.

My prediction is that Luhnow takes the easy road. As many potholes as Porter has hit during the season, he hasn’t had much to work with and the revolving door of players hasn’t helped.

Porter stays, but some coaches go. At least that’s my take.

But the cloud will hang over Porter until he’s able to stabilize the ship. If Houston gets out of the gate slow in April, the buzzards could start to circle quickly.

If Mike Scioscia, Joe Girardi, Ron Gardenhire or others become available, would you make the move and go after a proven hand?

Three myths about the Astros

Everyone has an opinion about a team that loses 100 games for three straight seasons. Some of those opinions are based in frustration. Others are founded in rumors or lack of information. Still, some are based in truth — or at least some truth.

For the Astros, frustration, rumors and “at least some truth” abounds and will continue to abound for the foreseeable future.

Meanwhile, here are three myths. Myths, at least from where we stand in September 2013.

Jim Crane will not spend money.

  • Phooey! No one knows that. He’s said even recently that the Astros payroll would be in the top 5 or 10 teams in MLB. Do you know of any facts that will refute that? Is there something in his track record that indicates he won’t invest in his product? I look at the recent signing of Jose Altuve as not only a good faith down payment, but also a good business decision. Over the past couple of years, the Astros have invested more in the minor league system than at any other time in their history. You don’t add the roof to a house before you pour the foundation. Yes, you can point to the meager signings this season (Carlos Pena, Rick Ankiel et al) but hanging your hat on those decisions alone are short-sighted. Crane and Jeff Luhnow will spend the money. In due time. Honestly, I don’t ever see the Astros as a top 5 team in payroll, but top half would be nice eventually. As an example, Washington is #10 this season at $116 million.

The Astros don’t have any good players.

  • Poppycock! Are there any stars in the bunch? Now, that’s still debatable. But there are some good players in the bunch. It’s easy to tear apart players like Altuve or Jason Castro when they’re the “best” players on a poor team. Though they are All Stars, they may not be stars on an Astros’ team in 2016. Still, they could be strong, regular contributors. Imagine Altuve in the 9-hole or Castro hitting sixth. Right now, Bo Porter has no choice but to plug them in key roles (e.g. 3-hole, cleanup) because that’s all he’s got. Brett Oberholtzer, Jarred Cosart, even Jordan Lyles may not eventually be impact players, but they’ve already proven they can contribute at this level. On a good team, you have to wonder if players like Matt Dominguez, Brandon Barnes or Robbie Grossman might improve. It’s a myth the Astros don’t have good players. Do those players make a good team? Now that’s another subject.

Luhnow is a great GM, Luhnow is a horrible GM.

  • Balderdash! You don’t know yet. Yes, there are some remarkable moves and, indeed, there have been some faux pas along the way. You can tell where a man is going by looking to see where he has been. Luhnow’s track record is quite extraordinary and even the commitment to developing talent in Houston has been striking. If George Springer, Jonathan Singleton or any of the others currently in incubation turn out to be nearly as good as Cosart or Oberholtzer, the Astros will be in good hands for years to come. No, Luhnow may not have drafted or traded for all of these players, but he and his team have been key in their development. If fans had their way, Cosart would have been in the rotation out of spring training and Springer would have be in center field in May or June. His track record may portend greatness, but the product on the field in Houston (not OKC, Corpus Christi or some other foreign field) will tell the tale. As I’ve suggested often, look at what the man was given to work with. It’s hard to make lemonade when you don’t even have the lemons at your disposal.

For Pete’s sake — and Bo’s — it’s high time for stability

The patient has been in critical condition long enough. It’s high time to add “stable” to the diagnosis and “improving” to the prognosis.

Now that the trade deadline has passed, Bo Porter should set his lineup and his rotation. And be done with it.

Make up your mind on Lucas Harrell. What the heck are your plans for Dallas Keuchel? You know what you have in Erik Bedard, so make the best of it.

A quality team thrives on consistency, cohesiveness and, yes, stability, in the day-to-day routine. Lack of the same makes a bad team even worse. It’s one reason Jeff Luhnow likely gave Brad Mills every opportunity as manager in hopes he would provide some continuity in a tough rebuilding situation.

It’s the very reason that Tony DeFrancesco succeeded down the stretch in 2012. And it’s darn good reason for Porter to take note and provide stability for the next eight weeks.

  1. Define the rotation. Yes, injuries and number of innings could come into play, but let the guys know who’s starting and who’s going to be expected to pitch in relief.
  2. Adopt the tandem starter rule with Erik Bedard. It worked in the minors early on. We all know Bedard isn’t going much beyond 90-100 pitches, so match him with either Keuchel or Harrell. That way, the two latter pitchers have some certainty.
  3. Stop the juggling lineups. After 96 lineups in 110 games, you won’t find the right combination because there isn’t a right combination with this group. Just not enough pieces. Put the best guys out there and let ’em play.
  4. Stop the merry-go-round from OKC. Okay, this one is probably more for Luhnow than Porter, but by now, everyone knows what each of these players is going to bring to the table.  How many times does Jimmy Paredes have to ride that Southwest flight? Barring injury let ’em play, both in OKC and in Houston.
  5. The next guys up from OKC should be: Asher Wojciechowski, Jake Buchanan and George Springer. Not Paredes, Hector Ambriz or Marwin Gonzalez.

Unfortunately, Porter acts as though he’s managing for his job. Hopefully, that isn’t the case as it would signal desperation on the part of the Astros. Unless there’s something immoral, unethical or downright illegal, the Astros should give Porter his space through next season.

This isn’t a “vote of confidence” for Porter, but Luhnow’s less-than-year-old choice should have 2-3 years to make something happen.

The next step should be stability.

Is Luhnow’s reconstruction project off course?

The tradition continues! September in July in Houston. For the fourth consecutive year, the Astros have shuffled the deck, but it’s only the beginning. How many teams beat the deadline with trades and bring up top prospects, all in the space of a few weeks?

Top Astros’ prospects Jarred Cosart (#4) and Jonathan Villar (#12) have made the major league roster significantly younger after Carlos Pena and Ronny Cedeno were designated for assignment Sunday.

Is Jeff Luhnow’s reconstruction project off course? Or has it just taken some detours this season?

With every move under the microscope, Luhnow is bound to miss some. But frankly, it’s time he hits on a couple. Carlos Pena and Ronny Cedeno were gambles, Pena more so than Cedeno. Chris Carter, Erik Bedard, Rick Ankiel, Philip Humber, all risks. Even Lucas Harrell and Travis Blackley were somewhat of a gamble.

But, answer this: Which move this season was not a gamble? There were few sure bets. Sure, Luhnow perhaps could have minimized the liability, but there were only a handful of “sure things” when spring training started. Jose Altuve, Bud Norris and…  Well, Jose Altuve and Bud Norris.

Luhnow still has a shot to turn a couple of his gambles into wins for the Astros.

It would be shocking if Bedard isn’t traded this week or next. Same for Jose Veras, who’s proven to be a low-risk, high-yield gamble. Here are some Sunday evening questions to finish up a weekend in a season that seems to get bleaker and bleaker.

  • With Pena and Cedeno goners, who else should follow?
  • Assuming he can get major-league ready or upper echelon minor league talent in a trade, which position should Luhnow target?
  • Is Luhnow’s reconstruction project in trouble? Or just delayed?
  • Should Bo Porter be on the hot seat?
  • Why hasn’t anyone thought of playing Jason Castro either at first base or everyday DH?

Looking back at positives, bright spots and glimmers of hope

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Since the Astros have played 94 games, it’s hardly the halfway point of the season. And, when they return to play on Friday, it’s not exactly accurate to call it the start of the “second half”.

Whether it’s the first half, the second half or just the rest of the season, there’s a lot of water under the bridge as the Astros reflect on a 33-61 start to 2013. And, while the dam hasn’t burst with personalities, .220 batting averages and the reconstruction plan, there are a few places that have sprung leaks. Most people can point to dozens of negatives since games started on, ahem, that April Fool’s Day eve. But through all the darkness, there are some bright spots, some glimmers of hope.

Here are a few after the first 94 games.

  • The draft was solid. The first three picks were successful college pitchers and several members of this draft class will crack the Astros Top 20 prospect list soon.
  • Jarred Cosart. George Springer. Asher Wojciechowski. ‘Nuf said.
  • The coming of age of Jordan Lyles. He’s still only 22, you know.
  • The success of Jose Veras. Ain’t no one among us who predicted he would be 18-for-21 in saves.
  • Jeff Luhnow and Bo Porter giving players a chance to prove themselves: Brett Wallace, Jimmy Paredes, Brandon Barnes, J.D. Martinez, Chris Carter, Matt Dominguez and others are getting long looks and plenty of opportunity to show their stuff.
  • The George Postolos/Reid Ryan changing of the guard began the mending of fences with fans.
  • The Jose Altuve signing provided some stability and silenced naysayers — at least temporarily — who believe that Jim Crane isn’t financially committed to the long-term viability of the organization.

Remember any bright spots? Which was the brightest in the first 94 games?

Yes, there were some dark days and you don’t need me to cite those for you. But which one was the darkest, most glaring disappointment?

And, a few observations:

  • Biggest surprise of the “first half”: Jose Veras.
  • Biggest disappointment: Lucas Harrell. Really thought he was the epitome of consistency after 2012 and that he would be among the least of concerns for Porter.
  • Highlight of “second half”: Cosart, Springer, Singleton will catch the attention of fans.
  • Second half MVP: Your guess is as a good — or better — than mine.
  • Best September callup: The Astros seal the Comcast deal.
  • Next player Astros lock up: Castro (believe it or not, he reaches arbitration this winter).

Crane may be PR-challenged, but he’s not stupid

There are many lines of discussion for the Astros these days, but one of the hottest and long-lasting topics of the year is the commitment of owner Jim Crane to build a winner.  Here are some Monday thoughts on that subject and others.

Jim Crane.

  • Not a fan. There’s been much written, much said about Jim Crane. While he has made many mistakes along the way, most of those have been on the public relations front. Where it concerns the on-the-field product, the ship is headed in the right direction. We may never know the real story about the Astros’ move to the American League. Did Crane have any input? Was it the only way MLB would approve the sale? That’s really irrelevant, since it is what it is. The important question is: Has Crane laid the proper framework to return the organization to respectability and contention. There’s still an incomplete grade on that one, too. But there’s plenty — yes, plenty — of evidence that indicates he’s committed. We’ll know more in 2015.

The attitude.

  • What’s up with the attitudes? First, it’s Bud Norris. Now, it’s Lucas Harrell. Is it the first chink in the armor as the team strides headlong toward another 100-loss season? Will others follow? For most of the season, Bo Porter seems to have had the clubhouse in order. Harrell may be in the doghouse, but it’s unlikely the Astros will be able to trade him now. At this point in the season, he’s also too valuable to release outright, but the Astros have certainly provided him some quality time to think about his future with the club.

The rotation.

  • With Harrell already headed to the bullpen, the Astros’ rotation could be in for a shakeup after the break. Remember, last year, Jeff Luhnow traded Carlos Lee the week before the All Star Game. Now that the Ricky Nolasco domino has fallen, Norris is one of the leading pitchers on the trade front. That could force Porter’s hand, either by naming a current reliever as starter (Brett Oberholzter?) or could bring on the promotion of Jarred Cosart. Few fans would object to the latter.

Either way, here’s predicting that Jordan Lyles leads the Astros out of the gate in the second half.

Here’s your Monday kick-starter questions:

  • Is it time for a roster shakeup?
  • If answer to first question is “yes”, then who should go?
  • Are Norris and Harrell correct in saying the shifts Porter uses are hurting the team?
  • How would you rank the rotation (1 through 5) out of the All Star break?
  • If Carlos Pena is such a steadying influence in the clubhouse, what are the odds the Astros will trade him this month? Should they?

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