Astros front office having its commitment tested with early struggles

Bob Levey

Another bad sweep and a few more bad performances by starting pitchers leaves Houston near a breaking point.

These are the time that try men's baseball souls.

A weekend at Fenway could not have gone more disastrously for the Houston Astros.

Nothing went right. The starting pitching was bad. The bullpen was bad. The offense was bad. It all added up to four straight losses and Houston heading to New York searching for answers.

It's left Bo Porter searching for answers with his starting pitchers, as he publicly challenged them after Saturday's loss.

When is it time for the Astros to panic? When should Jeff Luhnow and Bo Porter take action about this roster, this starting rotation?

I don't have the answers to those questions. I suspect that Phillip Humber shouldn't be judged any more harshly for his last three starts than he was glowingly through his first two. Erik Bedard shouldn't be shunted to the bullpen now when he's just out of "extended spring training" and Brad Peacock deserves more time because of his good strikeout rate and promising minor league stats.

The same goes for the offense, as we can't assume Robbie Grossman will continue to slump or that Brandon Laird shouldn't have a shot to hit cleanup every now and then.

We don't know, but Jeff Luhnow and his front office do. They have a plan for this team.

It's never going to be put to the test any more than this week. If Luhnow has faith in his plan, he's going to have to show the courage of his convictions in the face of this losing. Things aren't working according to that plan. Does that mean he needs to give up on it?

Last season, it was easy to get past the losses, since his grand plan hadn't been implemented yet. Luhnow wasn't hired until the Winter Meetings and didn't have his staff completely in place until near the end of the season. He could blame losses on manager Brad Mills. He could blame minor league development failures on Fred Nelson.

Now? He's got his own manager, his own coaching staff and his own minor league developmental personnel. He's got his scouts, his free agents and his trade targets, all ready to contribute.

What, then, do we make of these early struggles? There's an element of bad luck involved, as plenty of pitchers have popped up on the injury report in the early going. There's also some sample size issues, as Luhnow could simply hope hitters and pitchers pull out of this tailspin with more time.

But, Luhnow and his talented front office can't foresee everything. Even the most sophisticated prediction models can't see how Houston would handle the change in leagues. What if that's what's really the undoing of this pitching staff? What if that's contributing to the insanely high strikeout rates from the everyday lineup?

We, as fans, can still have faith in Luhnow's plan. This season, after all, was a wash before it even started with the low payroll and the league shift. We also need to see some shifts in that plan, though. We have to see it as a living, breathing thing that changes as things don't work out. We've already gotten a hint of that with the quickness of Brett Wallace's demotion. More changes might come with the rotation soon.

But, we as fans aren't the important ones in the grand scheme. Ultimately, Jeff Luhnow has to run this team according to the plan to make it as competitive as possible in as little time as possible. If that means firing the pitching coach in April, so be it. But, it likely means sticking with the status quo for now and continuing to evaluate this roster.

Luhnow needs to stay committed to his plan. It won't be easy, but it will be necessary.

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