Friday's game against San Diego marked the 81st game on the Astros' 2010 schedule. They are now officially halfway through the season. What have we learned?
Brad Mills is pretty good at his job...well, he's better than Cecil Cooper...I think: He's inherited a bad roster, but has made the most of the situation. He kept the team together when both Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman came out with trade demands, which is not an easy task. We saw last season how quickly a locker room can devolve and sabotage a team's success. Cooper and Mills both consistently outperformed his Pythagorean record, though Mills' record is significantly lower than Coop's first season. On the plus side, the Astros have made fewer base running mistakes, though the defense is still bad. I think it's fair to say Mills is doing a good job, in spite of his record.
Roy Oswalt and Brett Myers are having great years: Oswalt and Myers have formed one of the best 1-2 punches in the National League. Oswalt claims he's pitched better in the first half of this season than any time in his career. Myers has not only proven that he can stay healthy, but that he can save the bullpen. Myers has pitched at least 6 innings in each of his starts this season. He gives up a lot of hits, but keeps the ball on the ground enough to limit the damage. If there's a downside to this pair's performance, it's that they don't figure to remain on the same team for the rest of the summer.
Felipe Paulino can be very good: It's always nice to see a guy make good on his potential and Paulino seems on target to do just that. After winning the competition for the fifth starter's role in spring training, Paulino has shown flashes of front-of-the-rotation stuff. His fastball sits comfortably in the mid-90's and touches 98. He still needs to work with his consistency, as he's gotten shelled too often this season. He's also shut down right now with tendinitis, in a move that will help limit his innings.
The entire offense has been horrible: I thought about taking Berkman, Carlos Lee and the rest of the disappointing offensive players separately, but lumping them together makes more sense. The Astros were on pace to score less than 500 runs this season, but have nudged over that divider line since then. Lee's power has bounced back, but he's still not hitting over .250. Neither is Berkman, for that matter, two months after returning from that knee 'scope in spring training. Hunter Pence is hitting better, but is still not taking the leap forward we all hoped for. Kaz Matsui was so bad he was released while Pedro Feliz has been just as bad, but hasn't been released...yet.
There are still a lot of question marks to be answered. What do we need more information on?
How will Jason Castro play in the majors? - As much as he was the best prospect in the system, Castro had more question marks than the usual rookie. The two main ones are regarding his defense and his bat. I've never really questioned his defensive abilities and am firmly in the camp that says he could be a Gold Glover in time. However, scouts have brought up questions, thinking he'll be just average in the pros. His bat also carries big questions on whether he'll hit at all, whether he'll hit for power and if he'll wear down again like last season. Only time will answer all these questions, so the second half of the season will be critical to evaluating Castro's future potential.
Will Bud Norris stick as a starter? We just don't know at this point. He's shown flashes of brilliance, especially with his strikeout rate, but he hasn't been able to pitch deep into games and has trouble with his control. The second half of this season should be critical in determining whether he's destined for the bullpen or the starting rotation.
Can Chris Johnson hit for power? I'm talking home runs and not just doubles. That's always been the question with him; will his raw power ever translate onto the field. He's shown flashes of it in the minors the past two seasons, but hasn't had enough at-bats to really see anything definitively. He hasn't hit for power in limited playing time this season in the majors. While it's not imperative for him to hit home runs to stick with the Astros, it definitely increases his value considerably.
Who will get traded? - Whether it's Roy Oswalt, Lance Berkman, Brett Myers or even Michael Bourn, until July 31 passes, there will be serious questions on what this team will look like going forward. What kind of prospects might we get back? Who will take said traded player's place in the lineup? There are a ton of questions that this activity answer pretty quickly. Until then, though, we're left to wonder and speculate.
Finally, let's wrap up with some predictions for the second half:
At least one more player will make his debut with the Astros in 2010 - My money is on a reliever, but there will be at least one more rookie that sees time with the Astros this season. Depending on trades and injuries, it could be Brian Bogusevic as well, but Danny Meszaros or Sergio Perez are also intriguing possibilities. With the injury situation in the bullpen currently and the continued home of Brain Moehler in the starting rotation, relievers will continue to be taxed. That makes a perfect situation for a hot rookie to make his bones down the stretch.
Jeff Keppinger will not play this well in the second half - I'm not saying he'll lose his starting job, but I do think some regression is in order. We're already seeing some of that with his lukewarm play in the past month (.286 wOBA, 76 wRC), but the real regression is happening against right-handers. His slugging percentage is almost 100 points higher against lefties and his on-base percentage is around 30 points higher. The main thing that's sustaining his early success is a pretty high line drive rate. If that dips down from the 20 percent it's at right now against right-handers (and it will), look for Kepp to start falling quickly.
Michael Bourn will win another Gold Glove - He's fast, he's having some success at the plate and he won last season. If there's one thing GG voters love, it's voting for the same person each season. Bourn is sure to get some much-deserved love from the stats community as well. There aren't many center fielders that can make the plays he does as effortlessly. I'm not sure if an Astros player has ever won back-to-back Gold Gloves, so it'd be quite the accomplishment.
The Astros will not lose 100 games - They are on pace for 98 losses currently, but that's a tad too high. There will be bounce-backs from guys like Wandy Rodriguez, Hunter Pence and Carlos Lee. If Lance Berkman gets traded, the Astros should be able to replace his production with someone in the minors, especially since he hasn't exactly lit the world on fire this season. Yes, the Astros Pythagorean record is worse than their actual record, but they've been scoring more runs with Chris Johnson and Jason Castro, which is another reason why it's unlikely they actually lose 100 games.