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The Astros Heading into Regular Season

Spring Training is over. Here’s the good and bad about Spring Training as the Astros head into the season.

MLB: Washington Nationals at Houston Astros Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Standard disclaimer: Spring Training performance does not predict regular-season results.

Good, that’s out of the way.

Good thing too, because if Spring Training performance predicted future results, the Astros would be the worst team in baseball. Their record of 6 - 14 -4 was the worst in MLB. The team OPS of .667 was 29th in baseball, the same ranking they had at the halfway point of the Spring. If these 24 games counted, fans would already be saying that the season was all but over.

Luckily, the season hasn’t begun.

There were many questions coming into Spring Training. The Spring season has given us encouraging answers to a few of them, and leaves us concerned about some of the others.

Here’s some of the good things:

  1. Lance McCullers: He looked like a breakout candidate this Spring in what will be his first full season back from Tommy John. He only pitched seven innings but allowed two runs with eleven strikeouts. More importantly, he flashed a new arsenal of breaking balls with fastball velocity reported in the mid-nineties and impressive command.
  2. Young Pitching Depth. There appears to be some young depth behind the starting bullpen. In five + innings of work each, Kent Emanuel, Ralph Garza, Ryan Hartman, Tyler Ivey, and Austin Hansen all had ERA’s below 2.57. Sure, small samples, but maybe a few of these could come through when the need arises. And it will.

Furthermore, after slow starts, both Brandon Bielak and Luis Garcia looked ready to occupy the fifth starter spot.

Unfortunately, some of the negative indications from Spring Training outweigh the good.

For example:

  1. Hitting Slumps. Last year left us with lingering doubts about the futures of three position players, Jose Altuve and Yuli Gurriel, due to vastly diminished performances, and Yordan Alvarez, due to surgery to both knees. None of the above have alleviated our doubts, Altuve hitting .212, Gurriel .179, and Alvarez .172 this Spring. Of course, a bad Spring doesn’t mean they will have a bad season. and a good Spring doesn’t mean they will have a good one, but I’d rather have seen the three of them going into opening day with their timing down and their bats hot than vice versa.
  2. Starting Pitching Depth. This is a problem for most teams as the season progresses, but it’s a problem for the Astros as the season opens. The staff ace (not Justin Verlander, out with Tommy John), Framber Valdez, is out indefinitely with a broken finger. Newly acquired Jake Odorizzi has only pitched about four innings this Spring, and ostensible third/fourth starter Cristian Javier has only pitched three since coming back from COVID Protocol. I guess Dusty Baker is going to have to learn the opener gambit, but the bullpen is a little thin too, as Pedro Baez hasn’t pitched at all this Spring due to COVID, and Andre Scrubb is out with a sore shoulder.
  3. Third/Fourth Outfielder. Center fielder Myles Straw, replacing the irreplaceable George Springer, was originally one of the bright spots of Spring Training, hitting .310. Of course, he had to go down just before the season begins as part of a second round of COVID protocols that have hit the team. His replacement, Chas McCormick, hit only .077 for the Spring. Maybe Aldemys Diaz can do a Marwin Gonzalez and convert to outfield. He may have to. Taylor Jones played left field in the last game of Spring Training, and Jose Siri got a good look this Spring too. However, none of these options seem like legit major league outfielders at this time.

Well, overall the Astros don’t go into the regular season with great momentum. But on Opening Day, as the saying goes, “hope Springs eternal.”