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2014 Preview: Houston Astros


Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2014 season. Next up: The Houston Astros.

The Big Question: One hundred losses again, right?

Depends on how long the Astros keep their prospects on the farm.

While every fan likes to think of their team’s prospects as the answers to all of the team’s problems, they usually aren’t. The guys in the bigs are better and they’re there for a reason. That isn’t quite so cut-and-dried with the Astros. Yes, adding Dexter Fowler and Scott Feldman improve this club, as does revamping the worst bullpen in all of baseball. But it really is the case that the team’s top prospects could not only provide hope for the future, but cold make the team better than it would otherwise be without them.

This is partially a function of the major leaguers beyond Fowler, Feldman, Jose Altuve and Jason Castro not being any great shakes, but it’s also because there is some quality about to come of age for the Astros. George Springer, Jonathan Singleton and Mark Appel could all see time in the bigs this year, and all of them could improve this team. Brett Wallace could possibly help out. Behind those guys are Delino DeShields, Max Stassi and others. If the guys in the majors aren’t cutting it and some of these guys are given time to play, it could be a lot of fun. If instead the Astros are more concerned with service time than 2014 wins — a defensible position for a team like this to take, I should add — then, yeah, they could lose 100 games for the fourth straight year. This is the very essence of rebuilding, and with Houston the rebuild was bigger and more extreme than most.

No matter the case, the Astros are still going to lose a lot of games, so a fixation on 100 losses is probably a bad idea. Especially given that, no matter how bad the product is on the field this year, there is hope for the future.

What else is going on?

The Astros lost their last 15 games of the 2013 season. Granted people come and people go and they’re not technically the same team, but if they lost their first six of 2014 — which can totally happen — they’ll tie that 21-game losing streak from the 1988 Orioles, which is the longest such streak since the turn of the 20th century. Eleven losses and they break the 1889 Louisville Colonels all-time record. Good times!

The Astros’ 1-2 in the rotation might be decent. Feldman we know about: he pitched 180+ quality innings for the Cubs and Orioles and if he can do that again it’ll help everyone. Jarred Cosart is interesting too, but not necessarily “solid.” He had a 1.95 ERA in ten starts last season, but he also walked 35 guys and only struck out 33 in 60 innings, so don’t count on that ERA holding up, even if he could be good.

Fowler is the big offseason acquisition, but it’s probably worth noting that, for his career, he has hit .298/.395/.485 in Coors Field, .241/.333/.361 everyplace else. Minute Maid Park is part of the Greater Everyplace Else metro area.

A 100-loss team doesn’t really have a huge use for a closer, but the Astros have a couple of guys who could close. Chad Qualls, who they signed for the job and who will hold it out of camp and, possibly, Jesse Crain, assuming he’s healthy. One thing a 100-loss team can do with a closer? Flip him at the deadline to a contender when relief pitchers tend to bring their highest prices. I’d be shocked if Houston doesn’t do this with one or both of these cats.

Prediction: No surprises here: Fifth place, AL West.

Video: Justin Turner gives Dodgers early Game 4 lead with two-run double

AP Photo/Julie Jacobson
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Clayton Kershaw has looked sharp on the mound and at the plate so far in this must-win NLDS Game 4 at New York’s Citi Field.

After no-hitting the Mets in the first two frames, Kershaw smacked a one-out single to left-center field in the top of third inning. Howie Kendrick followed soon after with a two-out single to left and then Adrian Gonzalez blooped a ball to shallow center that drove in Enrique Hernandez, who had reached earlier on a fielder’s choice grounder to second base.

That all set up this Justin Turner two-run double down the left field line that put Los Angeles up 3-0

That’s now four doubles this postseason for Turner, which is a Dodgers franchise record for the Division Series. Los Angeles is trying to force a Game 5.

Video: Hector Rondon closes it out, Cubs advance past Cardinals to NLCS

Hector Rondon
AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

In the first postseason meeting between the two longtime archrivals, the Chicago Cubs prevailed over the St. Louis Cardinals.

Watch as Cubs closer Hector Rondon whiffs Cardinals outfielder Stephen Piscotty with a nasty 0-2 breaking ball to clinch a Division Series victory and send Wrigley Field into a frenzy (this is actually the first time in franchise history the Cubs have won a playoff series at home) …

Chicago dropped Game 1 but took three straight to finish off St. Louis. Next up is a matchup against either the Dodgers or Mets in the National League Championship Series.

Cardinals miss Martinez even more than Molina

Carlos Martinez

After taking Game 1 of the NLDS in an outstanding performance from John Lackey, the Cardinals dropped three straight to the Cubs by scores of 6-3, 8-6 and 6-4. It’s not difficult at all to imagine a healthy Carlos Martinez swinging one of those games.

Martinez wasn’t the Cardinals’ best starter this year, but he was the one who could shut a team down by himself, with little help from the defense needed. Martinez struck out 184 batters in 179 2/3 innings while going 14-7 with a 3.01 ERA. He left his next-to-last regular season start with a shoulder strain that was going to cost him the entirety of the postseason no matter how far the Cardinals advanced. It was a killer blow for a team whose offense had already been slowed by injuries.

October just came at the wrong time for the Cardinals, what with Martinez down, Yadier Molina nursing a significant thumb injury, Matt Holliday and Randal Grichuk far from 100 percent and Adam Wainwright still weeks short of potentially pulling off a Marcus Stroman-like return to the rotation.

It’s Molina absence Thursday and lack of effectiveness otherwise that serve as a popular explanation/excuse for the Cardinals’ loss. And the downgrade from him to Tony Cruz behind the plate was huge, even if Molina is no longer the hitter he was a couple of years back.

Martinez, though, had the potential to even up the NLDS just by doing what he did in the regular season. And had Martinez been in the rotation, the Cardinals wouldn’t have moved up Lackey to start Game 4 on three days’ rest. They’d have been the clear favorites in a Game 5 Jon Lester-Lackey rematch back in St. Louis, though we’ll never know how that might have worked out.