The Astros plan on being buyers for some reason

Leave a comment

Following yesterday’s news that the White Sox were scouting Roy Oswalt — and that he was having none of it — comes two hope-springs-eternal stories from Houston.

First comes all sorts of optimistic rumblings from the Astros over at MLB.com:

As the Astros head into June on the heels of an 11-15 May, the
scuffling team conjures up memories of 2004, when Houston sat 20 1/2
games back on August 22. Or perhaps this year’s slow start is more
equatable to the 2005 squad, which went 19-32 out of the gate. Both of
those Astros teams dug themselves out of the hole — posting respective
runs of 36-10 and 74-33 — to punch a playoff ticket in the seasons’
final days. And while this year’s beleaguered squad has been beset with
injury and has underperformed, the Astros aren’t counting on their
history of second-half surges to guarantee October baseball.

Second, ESPN’s Bruce Levine quotes an anonymous insider who claims that that Astros’ owner Drayton McClane would rather add than subtract:

According to one of the top executives and most respected men in
baseball, the Astros are not in the mode to trade any of their players,
most notably Roy Oswalt. “The Astros owner, Drayton McLane, has always
been steadfast on his direction of the Astros,” the executive told me.
“Mr. McLane will be more prone to adding to his team rather than
trading his present players away.”

I’m of two minds here. I’m 85% that the Astros actually adding players
to make a run is lunacy. They’re eight games out and in last place
already, and that’s with Miguel Tejada playing way over his head, and
Carlos Lee, Ivan Rodriguez and Hunter Pence playing about as well as
they can expect to play. Lance Berkman could certainly do better than
he is, but even if he picks it up, those gains will likely be offset by
the losses when those other guys fall back to Earth. Same goes for the
pitching. Roy Oswalt is better than he has shown thus far, but Wandy
Rodriguez is probably not a 2.26 ERA pitcher. The rest of the rotation
is pretty much what one would expect them to be. The upshot is that
there isn’t any real upside to this team in 2009, and short of adding
several top players — which Houston couldn’t do even if it wanted to
given the poor state of its farm system — there can’t be any serious
expectation of competitiveness this year, can there?

The other 15% of my mind thinks like this: Lee, Berkman, Oswalt,
Tejada and Rodriguez are either old or getting there quickly. There is
nothing to replace them on the farm. In light of that, once the Astros
give up on the current core and actually try and rebuild, the fallow
period is going to be an extended one. So, if McClane doesn’t mind
wasting a bunch of money, why not trade whatever dreck can be scrounged
up for guys with big, unwieldy contracts and see if they can’t catch
lightning in a bottle? Odds of success if such a path were taken: very,
very low, though probably not technically zero. And unless you’re an
Astros fan, it would be really, really fun to watch, wouldn’t it?

The spectacle, I mean, not the actual baseball.

Astros vs. Dodgers is a match made in heaven

Getty Images
8 Comments

A lot of people who work at the league office or who take paychecks from the Fox network probably wanted to see the Yankees and the Cubs in the World Series. They won’t admit it, of course, but I suspect that many did, as the ratings for a Cubs-Yankees Series might’ve broken modern records. If they are at all disappointed by the Astros and Dodgers winning the pennant, however, they should let that go because they’ve been gifted by a wonderful matchup from a purely baseball perspective. Indeed, it’s one of the best on-paper matchups we’ve had in the Fall Classic in many years.

Before the Dodgers went on their late-August, early-September swoon, this was the potential World Series pairing most folks who know a thing or two wanted to see. At least I did, and I don’t think I was alone. It was certainly the matchup which represented the teams with the two best regular season records and storylines at the time. While Cleveland ended up winning more games than Houston did, for the first time since 1970 we have a World Series pitting two 100-win teams against each other.

Like that Orioles-Reds series in 1970, which featured Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Tony Perez, Jim Palmer, Brooks Robinson and a host of other All-Stars, the Dodgers-Astros provide us with an embarrassment of big names and future Hall of Famers. Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw and Astros DH/OF Carlos Beltran are destined for induction already. Astros ace Justin Verlander may very well join them, especially if his late 2017 surge is evidence of a second career peak. Houston second baseman Jose Altuve‘s first seven years and Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen‘s first eight are the stuff upon which Cooperstown resumes are made as well. People will be arguing Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley‘s Hall of Fame case for years once he retires.

Youth is served as well in this matchup, with each club featuring a handful of the game’s best young players to accompany their big name veteran stars.

The Dodgers will bat their no-doubt N.L. Rookie of the Year first baseman Cody Bellinger second or third in the lineup every game. 2016 Rookie of the Year Corey Seager, who sat out the NLCS with a bad back, is expected to be activated for the Series where he’ll be the Dodgers shortstop. The Astros are actually an old team on paper — Verlander, catcher Brian McCann, starter Charlie Morton, first baseman Yuli Gurriel, outfielder Josh Reddick and DH Evan Gattis are all over 30 while Beltran is 40 — but young players are essential to their attack as well. Shortstop Carlos Correa just turned 23 and he’s one of the game’s brightest stars. Third baseman Alex Bregman, also 23, made the play that may very well have broken the Yankees’ back during Saturday night’s pennant clincher. Age aside, the Astros are the product of a major, multi-year rebuild and many of their players are making their first national splash this postseason.

Beyond just the names and resumes, though, the Dodgers and Astros represent a fantastic strategic matchup. The Dodgers attack this postseason has featured admirable plate discipline, with third baseman Justin Turner, right fielder Yasiel Puig and center fielder Chris Taylor all letting balls out of the zone pass them by while abusing pitches left out over the plate. Astros pitchers not named Justin Verlander, however, have lived by getting the opposition to chase bad balls. Game one starter Dallas Keuchel did this by relying on his very fast sinker. Lance McCullers pitched well starting Game 4 of the ALCS and pitched spectacularly closing out the final four innings of Game 7 mostly by virtue of his curveball, which Yankees pitchers could simply not lay off. Indeed, his final 24 pitches of Game 7 were all curves, many of them low and away. Who will give in first in this series?

On the side of things, Dodgers relievers have made a living by pumping in strikes. Particularly strikes high in the zone from Jansen and Brandon Morrow. There may be no better fastball hitter in all of baseball than Jose Altuve, however, and the team as a whole was one of the best in the bigs in dealing with gas in the zone. This was a big reason why the Astros struck out less than any team in baseball this year while simultaneously boasting the best offense in the game. The Dodgers throw strikes. The Astros make you pay when you throw them strikes. Again, something’s gotta give.

Maybe the suits in New York wanted the Yankees and Cubs. But everyone else is getting exactly what we want: a matchup of the two best teams in the game. A matchup of strength against strength. What is, from a purely baseball perspective, the best World Series we could’ve possibly hoped for.