Five reasons the Houston Astros are not going to go away
The biggest surprise of the 2015 Major League Baseball season has been the Houston Astros. Only 19 months removed from finishing their last game of a 51-111 season which concluded with a 15-game losing streak, the Astros have the most wins in MLB and don’t look like they’re slowing down. Some people say that the hot streak will pass. Others look at their quiver of arrows and say not so fast. Here are five reasons that the Houston Astros are in this for the long haul.
5. The key to a pennant is a dominant bullpen.
The two most important things in life are good friends and a strong bullpen.
– Bob Lemon (former manager and pitcher)
One of the Astros Achilles heels during the disastrous 2011 – 2013 seasons which saw the team lose 324 games over the stretch was an abysmal bullpen. In my estimation, it was literally AA talent. With a punchless lineup, it was difficult to even get a lead into the 6th or 7th, then you would watch veteran hitters pound obscure talent such as Hector Ambriz, Chia-Jen Lo, and Jorge DeLeon. Things are different in 2015. After a very effective 2014 campaign by closer Chad Qualls (19 saves, 3.33 ERA), the Astros acquired veterans Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek. They also have previous closer Josh Fields who may have the best stuff of any of them. And the best of the bunch has been southpaw Tony Sipp. And unknown Will Harris. If you’re asking, Harris (0.47) and Sipp (0.55) have the top ERAs. Gergerson the closer (for now) has the worst (4.08, 10 saves) Not that they will all hold this magic, but it’s indicative that when one goes cold, there are some guys who can step up. All of them are pitching like closers (except Gregerson)
4. They have the salary space to be big buyers at the trade deadline.
The Astros are one of the bottom 2 or 3 teams in MLB in salary around $70M. That’s below the top four players on the New York Yankees by themselves. As the season progresses and the pennant run becomes real, there is little salary impact that they can’t absorb. They will look for a front end rotation guy or two, and maybe a shortstop. But that’s about all they need.
3. Dallas Keuchel is as elite a pitcher as any in the American League
Dallas Keuchel leads the American League in ERA (1.67), Wins (6, tied with Felix Hernandez), WAR (2.6) and innings pitched (64.2). After the All-Star break in 2014, he only allowed more than 3 runs once. He’s a ground ball pitcher who makes it look effortless. And he’s won a Gold Glove. He’s as good as an ace as their is, nobody excluded.
2. Some of the Houston Astros biggest hitters have not got going yet
What if I told you that Houston Astros would be last in baseball in batting average (.227). And that opening day 3 through 5 hitters were all below the Mendoza line [George Springer (.195), Chris Carter (.167), and Evan Gattis (.196)]. And that opening day Shortstop Jed Lowrie would be on the 60-day DL and Jose Altuve was “only” batting .310. You probably wouldn’t think that the team would have a 5.5 game lead in the American League West. But you would be wrong. Those low numbers from their sluggers won’t hold. They’ll at least get near .250 (maybe .220 for Carter). And the wins will only keep coming.
1. There is help on the farm. A lot of help.
The Houston Astros have a great problem. Their entire AAA starting lineup could hold their own in the major leagues. It currently features former regulars for the Houston Astros like Matt Dominguez (led Astros in HRs in 2013), Jon Singleton (12 HR, 41 RBI this year), and a starting OF of Alex Presley, L.J. Hoes, and Robbie Grossman (282 games combined with Astros). Oh, and they have the 2012 top overall pick (Carlos Correa) and 2013 top overall pick (Mark Appel in AA) just biding time until their call up. There’s a number of other prospects (Max Stassi, Carlos Dominguez, and Colin Morin) who are future MLB players by just about every scout. And they also get two of the top five picks in this June’s draft. Depth.
The Achilles heel of the Astros is hitting futility. They’ve had two hits or fewer four times this year. on the flip side, they are undefeated when scoring 4 or more runs (see Keuchel and bullpen above). Their leader in home runs in Luis Valbuena, a guy we haven’t even mentioned yet. It seems like this team is built for the long haul. Like 5 or 6 years long haul.
– David Whitlock
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