Thursday's Three Astros Things

Bob Levey

Talking about Astros improvement, the Futures Game and weed in baseball...

Some things to talk about while we read this brilliant piece on baseball's most famous speech...

1) Have the Astros improved?

As Brian Smith pointed out on Twitter, any improvements with the Astros in 2014 are baby steps at best. They are only five games above their pace from last season and have barely improved at multiple positions.

Yet, anyone who follows the team closely can see bigger differences than that. We touched on them earlier this week before our website got breached with Astros trade leak content. There are surprises all over the roster, but much of the lineup has been disappointing. Talented rookies are struggling, as talented rookies are wont to do.

But, the game of showing how close the Astros are to the pace of the 2013 or 2012 squads ignores one crucial difference. In both of the last two years, Houston has collapsed in the second half.

In 2012, the Astros went 3-24 in July after posting a record of 32-43 through June 27. In the second half, Houston posted a record of 22-54 and only won 10 games in July, August and October combined.

In 2013, Houston was 30-49 on June 26 before going 21-62 the rest of the way. That included a 6-18 month in July and a 7-20 record in September.

Much of that had to do with the trade deadline. Houston sold off major pieces in each of the last two years and had to compensate with that talent drain with players who weren't quite ready. This year, the Astros aren't likely to do the same. At least, all indications are that Houston won't be a major player on the trade market.

As it stands, Houston's still projected to win 70 games. If they keep up their current pace, they'll score about the same number of runs they did a year ago, but will only allow 738 runs for the season. That's the fewest Houston's pitchers have given up since 2010 (729) and the third-fewest runs the team has allowed since 2006.

It'd also mean a drop of 110 runs from last season. So, if you want to point to one area where Houston has absolutely improved from the 2013 squad, it's in the pitching.

2) Feliz added to World Team roster for Futures Game

Good news that we haven't been able to write about until now, but the Astros will have a second representative in the All-Star Futures Game after all. Astros prospect Michael Feliz was added to the roster after a White Sox player was removed due to injury.

Houston originally had two players on with slugging outfielder Domingo Santana and shortstop Carlos Correa both making the World Team. With Correa's leg injury, he wont' be able to play, leaving Houston with just one representative.

By MLB rules, each team is represented by one player, but can not send more than two. Of course, now that Santana is in the majors, the Astros may only have Feliz in the game.

But, good for Feliz. He'll make an exciting player to watch, as he's got a live arm and should see a little time in the game at some point.

3) More on MLB's relationship with marijuana

Jeff Passan has an article that's sort of relevant for Astros fans. He also has one of the more entertaining ledes I've read this week:

Inside a minor league clubhouse this year, a player who had tested positive for marijuana a second time informed teammates of the 50-game suspension he would serve because of it. The player wasn't concerned, according to a witness. He didn't plan on curtailing his marijuana use, either.

"I'll just smoke my way onto the 40-man," he said.

In the annals of drug use, this might be a first: an employee trying to get a promotion by getting high.

The piece examines many of the issues we discussed on TCB after Jon Singleton was suspended for 50 games before last season. It also makes a case that an addition to the 40-man roster also significantly increases a minor leaguers pay, and thus, could have an economic benefit as well as skirting the spirit of MLB's rules.

Meanwhile, Dirk Hayhurst also takes on the issue over at Sports on Earth. His piece is in response to Passan's and it's got all the insight you're used to getting for the Garfoose. For instance:

It's far better to paint the picture of a prospect's promotion as part of the natural progression of his career: He was always going to get called up. To say it was anything else would be to condone marijuana use -- which, in case you were wondering, Major League Baseball totally does condone. God, does it ever. One big-league team even had a "green room" where you could toke up while you were at the ballpark. Smokeless tobacco may be the trendy drug lately, but marijuana has its own presence in baseball, and it's growing.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that's probably not the Astros. If it were, Singleton would have a much, much tougher time with his sobriety. If you read the rules of the CBA, though, this is completely understandable. This giant loophole is right there and no one is interested in getting rid of it, either.

Read Hayhurst, too, just for the photo of Jon Singleton in all his unbottoned-uniform glory. Though, with the way he's hitting lately, maybe Gator should button it up for a few games until he gets back on a roll.

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