The time is now for the Houston Astros to make one last dramatic push to make the post-season for the second year in a row. After 10 years of futility caused by unstable ownership, bad management, unwanted league changes, and aging stars, the Astros (very unexpectedly) made the playoffs last year and took the eventual World Series Champion KC Royals to the brink of elimination. After some long, dark years, this H-Town boy was just happy to be there.
Of course, after making the post-season last year, a stressful word began being uttered around town: “expectations.” Egged on by Sports Illustrated’s cover showing the Astros winning the 2017 World Series, expectations for 2016 involved at least a deep playoff run, or World Series appearance. Here is why it’s not happening this year…
The Astros batting order 1 through 4 (Springer, Bregman, Altuve, Correa) is dynamite, the rest of the lineup is just not producing. Last year, Colby Rasmus, Evan Gattis, and Luis Valbuena added punch at the bottom of the lineup. This year, Colby hasn’t been the same, battling an inner ear disorder that has thrown his balance off all season, and Gattis has been streaky, with more valleys than peaks. It’s no coincidence that when Valbuena got hot in late May through July, the Astros completely took off, catapulting themselves to the best Win/Loss record in the MLB in that time frame – now Valbuena is out for the season with a hamstring injury, and the Astros momentum died with his visit to the disabled list. With only the top of the lineup producing, you just can’t win ballgames when you only have 2 to 3 real opportunities to score per game.
Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow decided that instead of trading prospects to address immediate needs, he was going to call up players from the minors to see if they can perform instead. Management does not seem willing to trade future for present anymore, and I have to agree with this approach. Luhnow and Co. did a superb job rebuilding a franchise that was thin at the minor league level, and it’s time to let these boys take it as far as they can for the next 5 – 6 years. Plus, last year’s deadline and offseason deals did not turn out too well (Scott Kazmir, Carlos Gomez, Ken Giles), and some of the home grown guys that were traded (Vince Velasquez, Jonathan Villar) to make those acquisitions are performing extremely well. At this point, Luhnow is basically saying “I like my guys that I drafted and groomed myself much more than anyone else I can get from some other team.” I like it – Alex Bregman, Teoscar Hernandez, Joe Musgrove, and Tony Kemp were all called up at the time of the trade deadline to help for the stretch run.
The Astros current 25 man roster has 10 rookies….TEN. Some of these rookies have produced (Alex Bregman, Chris Devenski, Teoscar Hernandez), others not so much (A.J. Reed, Tyler White, Michael Feliz). When Altuve, Springer, and Correa got their call to the Show, they immediately produced. Maybe I’m a little impatient, but I believe if a kid is truly cut out for the major leagues, he makes an impact, quickly. True, some guys need to develop and what not, but if they can’t figure it out within 20 to 30 games, they’re probably not major league material. Take Alex Bregman for example, 1 for 34 to start his major league career, but has hit about .300 since then, is flashing an exceptional defensive glove at third base, and has had some clutch RBIs. Clearly, there was an adjustment period of a couple of weeks, then the kid figured it out, he’s ready. A.J. Reed and Tyler White are platooning at first base and are taking turns batting sub .200 for each other. That’s not showing up to the Show, and the Astros will have a hard time making a run this year, or next year, with that kind of production.
I think the Astros will come up just short of a wild card this year, and that’s ok. This isn’t the NBA, it’s hard to make the playoffs in baseball. But the Astros have the right approach, and are providing competitive baseball for the folks of Houston, which is a true blessing. I feasted 1997 – 2005, then famined from 2006 – 2014 (with the exception of 2008, when Hurricane Ike and Bud Selig sabotaged our run).
Let’s talk about Jose Altuve for just a moment, who I believe deserves to win MVP this season. Actually, I think he should’ve won it two years ago when he had the unorthodox triple crown (Hits, Average, Stolen Bases), and he has a shot to win that same triple crown again this season. Regardless of what rubric you use (best player in the league vs. most valuable to his team, etc.), Altuve fits the bill. There just isn’t anybody playing better ball than him this season, and if team results matter, the Astros aren’t bottom feeders, they’re competitive and in the thick of the playoff race. Do the right thing, give it to the little man.