Springtime Storylines: Will the Astros ever rebuild?

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Colt .45s logo.gifBetween now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30
teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally
breaking down their chances for the 2010 season.  Next up: The ‘Stros. I’ll explain my use of the logo to the right in a moment.


The
big question: Will the Astros ever rebuild?

Houston has been treading water for a few years now, not good enough to compete and not bad enough to rebuild. Well, not bad enough to convince them to rebuild, anyway.  And not that they could effectively rebuild even if they wanted to given that the most marketable trade candidates — Roy Oswalt, Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee* — all have full no-trade clauses and none of those guys have shown the slightest inclination to waive them. And not that the Astros have really asked them to do so, because Drayton McLane has a famous fetish for veterans. It’s a loyalty that, while admirable on some level, has really hamstrung this team.

As have years and years of poor drafting and scouting, leaving their system near the bottom of everyone’s organizational rankings.  Law says that things are slowly on the upswing, but he still has them at 28.  As a result there is very little help on the way.

Because they still have Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman the team will still portray itself as trying to win now — thus the pickups of Pedro Feliz and Brandon Lyon, each of whom could be spare parts on a contender but do not themselves a winner make — but with their current talent (more below) they’re not going to come close to winning anything.  They should have torn this thing down two years ago and started again, but that’s just something the Astros never, ever seem to want to do.  

*Lee isn’t marketable as-is, but if the Astros picked up loads of that salary of his he could bring something in the way of prospects. 

So what
else is
going on?

  • While the talent is declining the mood of the place should improve. Gone is Cecil Cooper, who lost the clubhouse approximately seventeen minutes after being hired and in comes Brad Mills, who is enthusiastic and apparently quite popular so far. The Astros may be one of those rare teams that lose 90+ games and gets lauded for having good chemistry.
  • The rotation looks like so: Oswalt, Wandy Rodriguez, Brett Myers, Bud Norris
    and Felipe Paulino. I think Oswalt will bounce back after a poor 2009 and Wandy Rodriguez should be OK assuming is brutal spring was just one of those spring things and not evidence of an injury or something. Beyond that, ick. Myers is capable of excellence on one day and putridity the next. Norris is a power guy who strikes out a lot of guys but walks a lot of guys too. Paulino has an injury history and got beat up last season.  Whatever that amounts to, the rotation is the team’s strength, it would seem.

  • The offense is nothing if not ugly. The Astros were 14th in scoring in the NL last year and did basically nothing to get better offensively this year. Oh, and Lance Berkman is hurt. Given that they play in a hitters park, this is an attack that simply won’t play.
  • Check out the anniversary patches the Astros are wearing. Sweet! Except the franchise didn’t begin in 1965. It began in 1962 and played for three seasons as the Colt .45s. I realize we all hate gun violence and everything, but celebrating 1965 as the team’s anniversary is like my wife and I celebrating our wedding anniversary on the date she got her social security card with her new last name in the mail. Weak. Which is why I have decided to go with their old logo. Never forget, Colt .45s fans. Never forget.

So
how
are they gonna do?

It’s going to be an ugly season. If Berkman manages to get healthy there will come the time when it dawns on him that the team isn’t picking up his big option for 2011. If Oswalt bounces back he will be pestered to drop his no-trade clause. They won’t score, there aren’t many young players to get anyone excited and the only thing keeping them out of last place will be a terrible Pirates team which, perversely, will likely post a winning season before the Astros do.

Prediction: Fifth place, NL Central.

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And That Happened: Sunday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Reds 7, Cubs 5:  I realize anything can happen in any given game, but I’m not sure that “40-year-old soft-tosser two years removed from baseball due to all kinds of elbow problems will allow only two runs on three hits over six innings against the World Series champs” would be a bet I would’ve made before the season. That’s what Bronson Arroyo did, though. And get this quote from Miguel Montero:

“He’s a tough pitcher to face. Obviously he’s throwing below hitting speed right now.”

Slowness: the new inefficiency. Montero is obviously joking here, but sometimes I wonder if we’ll see something of a junkball revolution some day soon. Pitchers are ahead of the hitters for the most part these days due to all the hard stuff they throw. Makes you wonder if hitters adjusting to that won’t create a little bit of daylight for some crafty dudes to come in and flummox people.

Astros 6, Rays 4: Tampa Bay jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first inning. It would be the only runs the Rays would score, however, and the Astros clawed back. Evan Gattis tied it in the ninth with a sac fly and then Brian McCann and Yuli Gurriel each hit RBI singles.

Red Sox 6, Orioles 2: Boston jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first inning but the Orioles did not claw back. Obviously the game’s outcome was secondary to the storyline that began with Manny Machado‘s hard slide on Friday that hurt Dustin Pedroia and continued with Matt Barnes throwing a ball at Machado’s head here. That’s dumb, but it may be that the post-attempted-beanball was less dumb than the postgame chatter. First Pedroia apologizes to Machado on the field by saying “it’s not me,” which, OK, cool. But then after the game he says this:

“I had nothing to do with that. That’s not how you do that, man,” Pedroia said afterward. “I’m sorry to him and his team. If you’re going to protect guys, you do it right away.”

Does that mean that the problem to Pedroia, for which he apologized, was not that someone threw at Machado’s head, but that someone threw at Machado’s head on Sunday instead of on Friday or Saturday? I dunno. Still, that’s not as dumb as this:

Good to see we’re about to enter a new, era of unwritten rules and clubhouse politics. The “veterans are responsible for controlling relief pitchers” rule. I fully expect someone to get on Chris Davis or whoever now for not controlling Britton and keeping him from commenting on the dynamics of another team’s clubhouse. Because this idiocy never ends.

Phillies 5, Braves 2: It was tied 1-1 in the bottom of the eighth when Cesar Hernandez, Aaron Altherr and Odubel Herrera hit back-to-back-to-back homers. The first two came off of Arodys Vizcaino, the third off of Ian Krol. The Phillies sweep the Braves and win their fourth in a row overall. They’re 9-9 after 18 games. Which is the first time they’ve done that since . . . last year, when they were 9-9 after 18 games.

Pirates 2, Yankees 1: Ivan Nova outdueled Jordan Montgomery, allowing only one run on four hits over seven innings. He also, somehow, walked Montgomery, who had not batted in a game since he was in high school six years ago. It was Nova’s first walk issued all season.

White Sox 6, Indians 4: The Sox snap a three game skid thanks to a strong outing from Derek Holland and a few runs for a change. Cleveland had blanked them on Friday and Saturday, holding them to a total of six hits in those two games. Here Melky Cabrera drove in a couple. The Indians’ five-game winning streak ended.

Cardinals 6, Brewers 4: Mike Leake scored a run in the third inning and hit a two-run single with the bases loaded in a 2-2 game in the fourth. Oh, he pitched too, allowing two runs over six.

Tigers 13, Twins 4: The good news: Chris Gimenez didn’t allow any runs in his outing today. The bad news: Chris Gimenez is the Twins’ backup catcher, and when your backup catcher is pitching, something has gone wrong. Here what went wrong was Kyle Gibson allowing seven runs on eight hits before the third inning was even over. John Hicks, filling in for the injured Miguel Cabrera at first base, hit a three-run homer and a two run single. Just about everyone on the Tigers had a good day as they scored 13 runs on 13 hits. Tyler Collins went 0-for-5, though, which has to feel weird. Andrew Romine flew out to center against Gimenez, which has to feel weirder.

Rangers 5, Royals 2: The Rangers complete a four-game sweep of Kansas City behind eight strong innings from Yu Darvish. It was Darvish’s longest outing since elbow surgery two years ago. Homers from Joey Gallo and Robinson Chirinros.

Rockies 8, Giants 0: The Rockies swept the Giants in Coors for the first time in 15 years. Baseball seasons are long and a lot of stuff happens, but one feels like the Giants’ entire season went into the crapper the second their plane landed in Denver on Wednesday night. Since then they lost their ace for an extended period to a minibike accident and then they got outscored by the Rockies 26-8 in this series. That’s four losses in a row for San Francisco, and six losses in their last seven games.

Blue Jays 6, Angels 2: Marcus Stroman tosses a complete game, allowing two runs on seven hits. Devon Travis hit a go-ahead, two-run homer during a four-run eighth inning. Jays manager John Gibbons got ejected after Stroman was called for an illegal quick pitch and batter Kole Calhoun was awarded first base. That’s not a call you see every day.

Mariners 11, Athletics 1: Nelson Cruz homered an drove in five and Yovani Gallardo got his first win as a Mariner. Taylor Motter hit a grand slam. I’m angry that Motter played on Saturday too, though, because if he had had the day off I totally would’ve written “Welcome Back, Motter.” Now I can’t say such a hacky thing. Sigh.

Dodgers 6, Diamondbacks 2: L.A. avoids a three game sweep thanks to Brandon McCarthy‘s seven strong innings of work. The Dodgers scored all six of their runs in the fifth inning. That’s the inning Shelby Miller left due to tightness in his forearm, so they were likely facing some damaged goods, unfortunately. Two driven in a piece for Adrian Gonzalez and Yasmani Grandal, with the former doubling in two runs and the latter coming up next and driving in the former with a homer.

Marlins 7, Padres 3: Miami scored six runs in a single inning as well. That was the sixth, which was capped by a Justin Bour three-run homer. Up until that inning Padres’ starter Luis Perdomo had cruised. Then the first six Marlins batters reached in the sixth and it was Gas House Gorillas time:

Nationals 6, Mets 3: Daniel Murphy hit a grand slam against his old team. His career line against the Mets: .386/.421/.727, 8 homers and 25 RBI in 22 games. But I’m sure no one with the Mets or any Mets fans have taken the slightest bit of notice of that.

Hunter Pence appeared as guest on Bill Nye’s new show

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Bill Nye — yeah, “the science guy” — has a new show on Netflix called Bill Nye Saves the World. His show ties science to other areas such as politics, pop culture, and sports. Giants outfielder Hunter Pence was invited to appear as a guest.

Nye talked a bit about Pence and marveled at the dedication players must have to stay competitive in the sport. Nye called Pence “a cool guy” and “charming,” which is not surprising.