What is the key to the Astros winning more than losing games this season? Will the left side defense make a huge difference in wins and loses? How big of a difference is Brad Mills? How about Brad Arnsberger? Can Roy Oswalt bounce back this season? Will the Astros look to make a splash this trading deadline to push towards a division title? I imagine there are many questions this season about the Houston Astros and I’m sure just as many opinions. The good thing is that if there are opinions, means that some people care enough about the team. Nothing worse than apathy for a fan, makes for a very long season of baseball. So what are the real chances for the 2010 Houston Astros?
Glad you asked
A winning season?
It’s not uncommon for fans of any MLB team to expect good things from the team they follow. It’s part of being a fan and I certainly count as one. In this case, I’m a huge fan of the Houston Astros and the same thing applies this spring as every spring since I’ve followed the club. Will this be a good club this year that can win games? My heart always says “yes” to that question regardless of what anyone else says. That is the fun part about being a fan and I, for one, will never let anyone take that away from me. Afterall, the heart of a fan always leads you to believe that all players are major leaguers capable of having break out years. Every single one of them. Sometimes it actually happens that way, leading the little heart of the fan to gloat a little as if we knew some secret only revealed to us from the portals of the Baseball Gods (that would be BBGs to some of you). So in that regard, congratulations to all of us, in our heart of hearts, this will be a winning season. Go ahead, own it, it’s not a bad thing at all. No? Want to walk around as some sort of “above it all” type who comes off as some negative nancy all the time? Well go ahead, I know the drill, if they do win you’ll say “I’m glad they proved me wrong” if the BBGs smile upon the local nine.
There is another part to being a fan though and that’s the knowledge of the game and how it should be played. That usually is lost to some fans either because they don’t know how that plays out in their fandom or they simply misguide themselves with other aspects of the game they lose a bit of focus. That’s okay though, in many ways it better to be a fan with heart more than anything else. So with this in mind, let’s take a mixture of heart and knowledge and look at the 2010 Houston Astros and of course the chances of winning this season.
There are things about the 2010 Houston Astros that give the heart some reason to believe. A quick look at the club this spring tells you that there is a new attitude in the clubhouse that sets the team off in the right foot this year. Attitudes, however, often get slammed with reality when a season is in full swing, especially during bad stretches. Every team goes through bad stretches, so this is where it will be interesting to see how new manager Brad Mills really proves the difference in terms of leadership and management skills. So right off the bat, if the Astros are to win, it most certainly falls on the manager to help them through the tough stretches. Any manager can strategically manage a game or a series, it’s the true effective managers who can provide leadership through an entire season. First place to look with heartfelt anticipation is whether you believe and of course the players believe that Brad Mills is the man.
Having said that about Mills, every manager must have talent from which to work from. This is usually when contention and rancor swells up in the heart of the fan. It’s either directed at the GM, in this case Ed Wade, and most certainly towards the owner. Uncle Draytie is not a name given in praise of the owner, but in spite and dislike. This is because the correlation between money and talent seems to be very strong in the heart of a fan. That the 2009 New York Yankees won the world championship last year only adds fuel to the fire.
So do the Astros lack talent to win?
That’s a very good question and the answer really has different aspects to it. This is not a sidestep of the question, it’s just that what is meant by talent and how does one measure good versus great versus pay a gazillion dollars for it? The answer should be simplified for a fan if only it’s acceptable and understandable. So here it is: Pitching is another way of saying “talent” in baseball. Teams like Minnesota, the Flordia Marlins teams that won championships and even the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox all know that money is not another way of saying “talent” in the MLB. Pitching, whether you pay for it or grow your own is what will equate to “talent enough to win”. So whether it is a veteran arm or a rookie with amazing stuff, you need the right manager to help them navigate through a whole season. And it takes a good pitching coach working with said manager to accent that work. Much as I hate to give credit to St. Louis, they’ve managed to have a consistent run of winning seasons with what seem to be castoff and ner’do well arms. I guess one has to understand that Tony LaRussa and Drinkin’ Dave Duncan know a little bit about protecting and getting the most of the “talent” in a team.
So where are we in terms of talent?
When you talk pitching and 2010 Houston Astros, you start with Roy Oswalt. As much as Wandy Rodriquez took his game to another level last year, the reality is that without Roy Oswalt as the anchor of this staff, the job Brad Mills can do in Houston this season is in jeopardy in terms of winning. The job that Myers, Paulino, Norris and/or Moehler can do to augment what Oswalt and Rodriquez could do (and really, you must emphasize “could”) is just icing on the cake. You basically want 15 wins or so from your #1 and #2 individually and innings from the rest of the staff. Myers might be able to provide those innings, so the work that could happen this year from the talent on the team is inspiring the heart to say “they have a chance”. That’s all that can be expected at this point, with Mills, Arnsberger and the pitching staff, this 2010 Houston Astros have a chance.
What makes a team better than a “chance to win”?
Whenever you want to judge a team as having a better than good chance to win, you start to look at what a team will do to supplement the pitching staff and their chances of success. As goes the pitching, so go the chances to win. Quite frankly, it surprises me sometimes to see major league organizations disavowing pitching and try to win with other aspects of the game in place, such as offense and lots of it. I won’t bore you with the explanation of the Angelos Effect, but there is one prime example of an organization gone horribly off track. The irony is that many a fan of that particular team had no problem with what management did to try and win, because they, the fans, saw money being spent so surely it invested in talent. Right? Well, yes, but not the right way. Investments should be made to support the pitching, not supplant it. You need a good catcher who knows how to navigate a game not only once but for an entire season. Yadier Molina hit a buck eighty three the year the Cardinals won the World Series, but the pitchers swore by the young man’s game that season, a turnaround from the previous season when he was considered selfish and only looking out for his own interest. Also investments in defense in key spots like shortstop and centerfield really do help. Give a pitching staff that sort of support and watch them turn from those average pitchers into world beaters because confidence is really high. Have a manager who knows how to use the same type of support to help a pitcher’s game and watch the confidence in the manager also swell to high proportions. Even when things get rough, the players, be it field or pitching, will still be on the same page as the skipper and thus they will be more apt to pull out of a tailspin than wallow in the misery therein.
Offense and a Bullpen and a bit of luck
I’m sure that many are looking forward to seeing both the young players like Hunter Pence, Tommy Manzella, JR Towles and Michael Bourn produce at the plate. There must be many looking forward to a semi-bounce back season from Berkman, a solid effort from Lee again and perhaps something a little more significant from Matsui or Keppinger. This usually where pundits and fans look first to judge a team. I don’t blame them, it is usually the part of the game that is easily evaluated through stats and metrics. So be it, but you can have good seasons from every man up and down the lineup and still not have a winning season without pitching and defense. But a good balance of pitching, defense and timely offense will win you more games than lose. That brings us back to another aspect of pitching that should concern every 2010 Astros fan. The bullpen is now without it’s closer and two setup men. The loss of Valverde, Hawkins and Brocail is no small thing. Here is the positive though, the bullpen might be the most potentially strong group in a very long time. The emphasis is potentially because it has some elements of quality that cannot be dismissed easily. The arms are certainly quality, but sometimes it takes a while for arms in a bullpen to come together. What is key is to establish roles early and stick to those roles. My fear is that time is running out this spring and still no real set roles have emerged. This gives Mills and Arnsberger some work to do fast else they will be looking at losing more game early in the season and having to work their ways towards much more wins at the back end. Here is where some concern should emerge for everyone, what is this bullpen going to look like in 2010? Hopefully the work a Chris Sampson can provide in terms of setup and leadership will establish itself soon enough. It will be vital to the success this year.
After all, isn’t success what we’re all wishing for from the bottom of our fan heart?
About this column: It’s a new season and a whole new team with a new manager. Some things change and some things don’t. So we’ve decided that maybe this column should not change and we should give Noe one more shot at writing for this site. Okay, who are we kidding, no one stepped up to offer us anything better. Sorry about that folks, real sorry.