This time last year, we raved about the product that the Houston Astros were putting on the field. How could we not? At 4.5 games above the Los Angeles Angels for first place in the AL West and at 24-13 (as of May 16, 2015), who could blame us for thinking that the grueling rebuild had finally paid off?
Well, one year later, we’re starting to have our doubts.
As of May 16, 2016, the ‘Stros sit in the cellar of an unimpressive bunch out there in the wild AL West at 15-24. They just dropped three of four to the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park and seem to be spiraling out of control. They’re .500 in their last 10 games and .500 when playing at home. But on the road, they’re a measly 5-14.
Not too good for a team that was supposedly on the up-and-up after going from 70 wins in 2014 to 86 wins and a postseason berth in 2015.
Right now, things aren’t looking too bright in Houston.
Their starting pitching’s ERA ranks in the bottom four of the league at 5.09, thanks in large part to Mr. Cy Young of 2015 himself, Dallas Keuchel, pitching to a record of 2-5 with a 5.58 ERA thus far.
Also adding fuel to the garbage fire that is the 2016 Astros is their horrid team batting average that ranks in the bottom four of the league at .233. It’s only that high due to Jose Altuve‘s whopping .340 BA.
And yes, they hit a lot of home runs, as they currently rank sixth-best in the Majors with 48 round-trippers. But that doesn’t help if there isn’t anyone on base, which is in large part due to their mediocre on-base percentage, which sits at .320.
The question then becomes is this team for a real?
It’s a pretty daunting question, I know.
I, like many other baseball fans, thought that the ‘Stros were for real last year. I went as far as to call them the “Model Franchise”.
But in retrospect, there’s a very good chance that 2015 was just lightning in a bottle for them. The Astros started the year 15-7 in the month of April, feasting on many slow-starting teams. Over the final 140 games of the year, Houston managed to be just two games above .500.
For Keuchel, last year was only his third full year as a starter in the big leagues. Yes, he’s improved since 2013, as he’s gone from a 5.15 ERA to a 2.93 in 2014 to a 2.48 in 2015. So the trend has been upwards, but there’s still not enough evidence to show that he’s a true ace. If he can come back and make some good out of this year than all the power to him: maybe he is truly an ace. But until then, I’m not sold. Keuchel has been somewhat victimized by bad luck on balls in play, with a .351 BAbip this season, but his struggles on the road continue, as he has posted an ERA over 7.00 so far this season when away from Houston.
The Astros gave up a hefty sum of prospects last summer to land Carlos Gomez in an attempt to solidify their outfield for years to come.
It hasn’t exactly gone as planned.
Gomez is currently batting .182 alongside a miserable zero home runs and five RBI.
The other option in center field, Jake Marisnick, is doing even worse, as he currently bats .100 with three total hits.
Chris Devenski has been a glimmer of hope for an otherwise dreary ball club. But part of that hope was crushed after his most recent start in which he went two innings and gave up six runs against the gigantic offense-only monster that is the Red Sox.
Ken Giles was supposed to be the glue that brought the bullpen together but instead has been just the opposite due to his 7.20 ERA in 18 appearances. Putting even more salt in the Giles-size wound is that the Astros sent away a former No. 1 overall pick in Mark Appel and Vincent Velasquez who’s currently lighting it up for the Philadelphia Phillies with a record of 4-1 and a 2.70 ERA.
The Phillies are 22-16 and in second place in the NL East. And they’re supposed to be in rebuild mode.
With regard to this season, it’s hard to call a team out on May 16. On the contrary, it’s also hard to turn a 15-24 season around before it becomes too late.
Perhaps Keuchel can make a full recovery, but his performance in the face of adversity is still yet to be proven. The offense is good, and can hit home runs over that short wall in left field at Minute Maid Park, but that’s not going to consistently be enough to win you games with a bad pitching staff.
The Astros have until mid-June to turn this ship around or else they’re sunk. The front office could fire manager AJ Hinch in an attempt to revitalize the team, but they would look silly pulling the plug so quickly on a manager who accomplished so much just last year.
For now, it’s up to the players.
With regard to the future of the franchise, there are definitely a lot of elephants in the room.
Keuchel and the starting pitching staff, Gomez, younger guys not hitting for average, and the bullpen are without a doubt the biggest.
As we all began to believe that the Astros were about to embark on a Texas-sized powerhouse, they stopped us short and lead us to think otherwise.
So, genie: what does the magic crystal ball say for the Houston boys who play ball? Do they have lift-off, or do they fall?