HOUSTON - APRIL 07: The Houston Astros celebrate after defeating the Colorado Rockies 7-3 at Minute Maid Park on April 7, 2012 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Let's talk some winning baseball, shall we?
1) A look at the 2011 Cleveland Indians - Again, I don't want to overreact. But, the Astros team we've seen in the last four games doesn't look like the team that lost 106 games, does it? The biggest improvement so far has been the starting pitching, but there has been plenty of offensive support to go along with it.Oh, and plenty of walks from guys like Jose Altuve, which always helps.
What I'm interested in is the breaking point. When do we stop caveat'ing Houston's hot start and say, yeah, they might be better than we thought? Well, we have a great example of a team that overachieved last season from an expected 90-loss season in the Cleveland Indians.
Cleveland was the biggest story in baseball for much of the first two months, improbably leading the AL Central as most experts wrote them off. How did they start out? Well, the Indians won 12 of their first 16 games, including an eight game winning streak after an 0-2 start.
The Indians also did it with a combination of pitchers who performed much better than expectations and a few key offensive breakouts. Sound familiar?
So, let's say Josh Tomlin is Lucas Harrell in this analogy. Kyle Weiland can fit the Justin Masterson role as the Red Sox starter traded in the recent past. Jed Lowrie fits nicely as the Asdrubal Cabrera comparable while Carlos Lee and Travis Hafner have the past their prime slugger roles tied up.
Cleveland also played much better at home than they did on the road. Sometimes that can be the mark of a young team, and Houston certainly fits that bill.
What does all this mean? Well, I think there's a chance Houston can pull off a shock-the-world setup like Cleveland, but I need to see an eight-game win streak first...(kidding, kidding). I don't even think the Astros need to shock anyone. If they continue to play well, with the young guys doing good things like drawing walks and hitting for power, I'll be happy no matter the record.
It sure is nice to see wins, though, isn't it?
2) Travis Buck's start - Lots of people seemed to take issue with Travis Buck getting the start last night for J.D. Martinez. Since our favorite left fielder came up with a big RBI single in his pinch-hit cameo, it's safe to say there may have been a point.
However, I liked the idea of getting Buck into the lineup occasionally. He hadn't done more than pinch hit in three previous games and a start here and there can keep hitters sharp. Plus, Buck had been red hot, with three extra-base hits in his first three appearances with Houston.
He looked pretty bad in his next four at-bats, getting fooled on some breaking pitches down low. But, that's also to be expected with the slugging outfielder. He struck out pretty consistently in the minors and his previous major-league experience, right around 20 percent of the time.
For the cost, though? Buck has been terrific and will make a great spot starter on the corners for Houston. Add in Jason Maxwell's prodigious power (which made me almost giggle last night when he showed it off), and Houston now has two of its best reserve outfielders since...Daryl Ward and Orlando Merced in 2001?
3) The attendance kerfuffle - If you were watching last night's game broadcast, you might have heard Bill Brown clarify something from the Houston Astros end about Sunday's attendance. The club said that the announced attendance on Sunday, which was 14,195 wasn't the number of tickets sold (which was actually up over 20,000), but actually the number of butts in the seats, as it were.
This was a change from the previous administration's policy of announcing just tickets sold for games. When they announced the attendance on Sunday, the press box announcer specifically said "paid attendance," which is certainly open for interpretation.
I wonder, though, what prompted the change. I like the transparency for this new policy, but is it good for the team? Since not every team reports this way, will we see an even sharper fall for Houston's attendance relative to the league? That'll make the inevitable bounce once the team starts winning consistently more dramatic, but it can't be good in the short term. Just a curious decision.