5 Positives From Another Seemingly Abysmal Houston Astros Season
Finding The Positives
Third straight 100-loss season, a payroll that’s less than 64 MLB players, and more strikeouts than any team in modern memory. On the surface, it hasn’t been a pretty 2013 for the Houston Astros, the Hapless Astros, the Lastros, or whatever cheesy nickname you want to go with.
But beneath the surface there are innumerable positives to grasp and hold onto while looking forward to a potentially turn-around 2014 season.
General Manager Jeff Luhnow has put his plan into action, rebuilding a team that was gutted from its playoff days from nearly a decade ago.
Luhnow took over a team that had once traded five top prospects for an aged Miguel Tejada, a team that hadn’t had a prospect in the top-100 in years. It was a big job, and he was the right man for it.
The season started horribly, as the Astros set the record for most strikeouts in an opening series with 45, including a near-perfect game from Texas Rangers’ Yu Darvish.
From there, it hadn’t gotten much better until the call-ups started coming. For the majority of the season, the Astros only had one guy, Jose Altuve, hitting over .250. Now, with the young guys populating the lineup, they have five, barring any injuries.
Astros fans have been up in arms all year, complaining about their team, which was at the bottom of the league again. But again, it’s what’s beneath the surface that is really important. It’s impossible to turn a team like the Astros around over night.
Here they are, the top-5 positive things to take away from the Astros' third straight 100-loss season.
5. Jose Altuve Signing
After gutting nearly the entire Major League roster, Astros fans were wondering if they were going to be one of those teams that cuts payroll for a decade and makes no effort to actually build a team for success. Those worries were put to rest when the Astros signed fan-favorite Jose Altuve to a four-year, $12.5 million contract. Not only did they financially commit, but they moved top-prospect Delino Deshields Jr. to the outfield to ensure that Altuve was the second baseman that this team would be built around.
This move shows that the Astros are preparing to compete. They aren't wholesaling the entire team to make a profit. They are just grabbing the pieces they want and cutting those that they don't.
4. Bullpen Commitment
One thing of the Astros that has shown needs immense help is the bullpen. With a 5.00 ERA, good for last in the league (even though it's a whole .60 down from where it used to be), the bullpen has been responsible for 15 losses after the seventh inning. That does take a toll on a team's psyche. The youth movement was not as successful in the bullpen, with only Kevin Chapman (2.00 ERA in 18 innings) showing some consistency.
The Astros have acknowledged this problem and actually made a verbal commitment to bolstering a terrible bullpen for the 2014 season. Like the Altuve signing, this shows that the Astros want to compete now, rather than later.
3. Minor League Success
The top-6 minor league clubs of the Houston Astros made the playoffs. That's a big deal. And while not all won their respective playoff races, three did. The three lowest level squads, including the Quad City River Bandits, home of former first round pick Carlos Correa, took home their respective league championships.
It's the minor leagues, so what?
No Major League player goes straight to the majors. Everyone passes through the minor league system. If you start breeding success at the early levels in the minors, those players that built that success will come to the Majors looking to bring home more success. And that's how champions are made.
2. The Young Guys
It's crazy what the recent call-ups have done for the Astros' psyche, demeanor and numbers. This new Astros lineup has hit the 10th best average in September. Jonathan Villar and Robbie Grossman have filled the leadoff and nine spots in the lineup and hit between .270 and .280 in those spots. Matt Dominguez has started to put up offensive numbers that no scout ever anticipated. When healthy, Jason Castro has grown into the player the Astros drafted him to be.
With all the new call ups and guys coming into form, it's easy to forget Jose Altuve, who has been as consistent as they come for an Astros team that sorely lacks consistency. As the first guy to get a commitment from the Astros, Altuve is going to be a big shot for years to come.
1. Pitching Rotation
A team can't win without an effective rotation. Well, the Astros have the groundwork for one heck of a starting rotation. No one can doubt the numbers of Jarred Cosart, Brett Oberholtzer and Brad Peacock since his return to the rotation. They've put up quality start after quality start, and while their wins may not reflect it, they have been some of the best starting pitchers in the league.
But let's not forget Paul Clemens as well, who in three starts has put up a 3.24 ERA in 16.2 innings.
With plenty of starters waiting in the minor leagues, the Astros' 2014 rotation is not going to be one to scoff at.