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Baseball Notes: The Astros Question

Last season the Astros had a break out season after six straight losing seasons, three of which saw more than 100 losses. Those losing seasons added up to a lot of high draft picks, many of whom had very quick and successful ascents to the majors. This year, their pitching is having a very rough start and their hitting hasn't been quite hot enough to compensate.

Nick Ahmed foul ball from Arizona Fall League.

There wasn't much change from last year to this year in the Astros' roster. They added Doug Fister, Ken Giles and rookie Tyler White was promoted, the pitching has just had a terrible start and they are at or near the bottom of the league in ERA and home runs given up. Last year's Cy Young award winner Dallas Keuchel's ERA has jumped from 2.48 to 4.41 although the worst of it has been from his last two starts. He has the lowest ERA in the rotation and hasn't been afflicted with home run problems like the rest of the staff.

Ken Giles was acquired in a trade with the Phillies to be the closer, but in his 10 innings of work so far, he has given up 4 home runs and lost the closing job to Luke Gregerson. Fister and Collin McHugh have had especially bad ERA's and Mike Fiers has given up 7 home runs in five starts.

The Astros have planned their catching position around Jason Castro the last 5 years but he hasn't had a decent batting average since 2013 and he hasn't sustained any power to go along with it. Their starting 3B Luis Valbuena has had some good stretching of hitting in his career but still hasn't hit .250 or better since 2009. Carlos Gomez is the power and speed jump starter of the Astros but has yet to hit a home run this year. Tyler White had a hot start but he is back to hitting .260.

The core of the Astros future of George Springer, Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve are giving the Astros hope by staying consistent. Correa still has room to improve this year but he is in the young class of short stop stars (an aftershock of the wave of shortstops Omar Vizquel was a member of with ARod, Jeter, and Nomar Garciaparra) and he is expected to continue to be impressive.

Springer is a favorite of mine being a UConn alum but he is also fun to watch. He is a hustle player with speed, power and enthusiasm. His two weaknesses could be getting over eager and striking out and hustling too much and getting himself hurt in the outfield. The first time I ever saw him, he was actually playing in college. I'm pretty sure it was before I moved from Storrs to New Britain and was still going to UConn games. It was right before UConn had their best Big East and NCAA baseball runs and Mike Olt was the star of the team. But I do remember that I happened to see Nick Ahmed (who I later caught a foul ball in the Arizona Fall League), Matt Barnes, and George Springer. All four of them made it to the majors and all but Olt, the first to hit the show, are still active and doing fairly well.

I had been going to UConn baseball games since I was in middle school and I have so many memories of seeing those players whose careers have long since been forgotten by the baseball community. Before that last game I had only seen one other player I had seen that went on to the Majors was Jason Grabowski. Even for the most successful UConn player since Charles Nagy, Pete Walker, and Roberto Hernandez, his major league career was soon forgotten after batting under .200 through parts of 4 seasons as a pinch hitter. He was a guy I couldn't forget for setting the UConn home run record, and for playing catcher, shortstop and in the outfield. Nagy and Walker are current pitching coaches in the majors and Hernandez finished his career with 326 saves. I have a lot of fond memories of seeing the UConn team struggle in the cold for years until they finally had a team that caught fire and won a few games.

Altuve is amazing. He is like a clone of Dustin Pedroia who came out shorter but faster. He is listed at 5'6" but might be closer to 5'4" and could be shorter. When he was called up he wasn't on any prospects lists but hit .389 his last full season in the minors and had a stretch hitting over .400 before being called up. In his first four seasons he had 167, 177, 225, and 200 hits, more than 30 SB's each year and last year he got up to 15 home runs. He is already a three time All-Star and two time Silver Slugger. He is early in his 6th season and already has 859 hits. He seems to be well on his way to 3000 hits as long as he keeps his little body uninjured.

These Astros might be at the bottom of the standings right now, but they are hardly the lowly 'Stros of years past and at least they have updated their uniforms from the disgusting messes they used to wear when they were in the National League. It's hard to remember them being in the national league because they seemed to always be at the bottom of the NL Central. There seems to be something about having a DH that has been appealing to the players in Houston that they have gone from the bottom of one of the weaker divisions to being a threat in the AL West, one of the more exciting divisions.

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