6 Things the Houston Astros Must Fix Before They Can Contend
What Are the Astros Primary Concerns?
The Houston Astros are headed to their third 100-loss season and third No. 1 overall draft pick in a row. To say they need to fix some things may be an understatement. However, the first step in fixing problems is acknowledging them.
It has been a rough couple of years for Astros fans, who had been accustomed to seeing their team take first or second place in the NL Central throughout the past decade, making it all the way to their first World Series in 2005.
Now, not only are the Astros struggling, but they are doing so in a foreign league, the American League.
When Jim Crane purchased the Astros, he was forced by Bud Selig and MLB to move the 50-year-old National League team away from decades of history in the NL and set up permanent residence in the junior circuit. It’s a move that still has many fans shaking their heads.
This year has provided some useful insight, however.
First of all, the Astros will contend again. They have a farm system stacked full of prospects brought in by new GM Jeff Luhnow; it’s just a matter of time.
But waves of young talent are not enough to guarantee a successful future. Player development and cutting out mistakes are among the list, and there are a few other vital aspects of Astros baseball that desperately need to be fixed if they are going to capitalize on their young talent. Here are those crucial aspects that need to be fixed soon:
No. 6: Strikeouts
The Astros have made it to 1,000 strikeouts faster than any team in the history of the MLB, and they show no signs of slowing up. Despite cutting ties with strikeout kingpins like Carlos Pena and Justin Maxwell and adding the disciplined batting eyes of Robbie Grossman and L.J. Hoes, the Astros still put up double-digit strikeouts on a regular basis. It’s hard to pinpoint who to blame.
Originally, hitting coach John Mallee seemed the culprit, but upon delving into his resume, he hasn’t had an adverse affect on his team’s strikeouts in years past. As Miami Marlins hitting coach from 2010-11, his Marlins put up 2,619 strikeouts, compared to 2,597 the previous two years without him.
While the Astros strikeout numbers have spiked under Mallee, it may be unfair to blame him, given the young player base and the players they added in the offseason, most of whom had high strikeout numbers throughout their careers. Regardless of who is responsible for the glaring strikeout number, it is Mallee’s responsibility as hitting coach to find a solution.
No. 5: Consistency
Day in and day out, the players who dress in Astros colors have no idea where they will be hitting in the lineup or playing in the field -- if they play at all. It’s a part of the growing process. But before they can contend, players need to know their roles, accept them and know on a daily basis where they stand in the team’s pecking order.
No. 4: First Baseman
Jon Singleton had a rough go of Triple-A level baseball this year. He was predicted to be the starting third baseman by the end of this season, but after a 50-day drug suspension and a sputtering minor league season, he’s clearly not ready yet.
Brett Wallace is not the answer. He has had more chances than any other player in baseball to establish himself as a major league hitter; he just isn’t one. Chris Carter’s strikeouts are a huge problem in the lineup and need to be confronted immediately.
Aside from those three, there is not a first base product in the Astros system who could be ready to produce in MLB in the next couple years.
No. 3: Errors
The Astros are tied for the second-worst fielding percentage in the league, as well as being tied for second in errors committed.
Committing an error gives life to a situation that should have been a routine out. But errors will always be a part of the game as long as humans play it. Luckily, errors are easily fixable -- with practice. It’s just a matter of putting in the time and building confidence.
No. 2: Pitching Ace
The ace of a staff is a huge position and responsibility. He's the guy the team can rely on to put out a quality start. With the recent trade of Bud Norris, the Astros vacated their ace spot.
Now, Erik Bedard serves as a placeholder until a young arm can step up to the ace position. Jarred Cosart has put up four consecutive quality starts and shows great potential, but he’s not ace-ready yet. It’s a big responsibility with added pressure.
Within the next couple of years, hopefully Cosart or another young pitcher can rise to the call and become the anchor of a potentially dominant rotation.
No. 1: Bullpen
One thing a young team desperately needs is a consistent closer who can be relied upon to shut down a game and secure a win. With young arms coming out and throwing quality start after quality start, and young bats building leads, big or small, it is crucial for the bullpen to be able to hold the lead the offense built.
The Astros have a league-leading 18 blown saves this season. Their bullpen has given up more home runs (65) than the next closest team (44), and their ERA (5.16) sits atop the league list as well. This does a toll on the morale of young players, and confidence is as much a key to a player’s performance as skill is.