WORLD SERIES GAME 7 POST-MORTEM
Astros 5, Dodgers 1
Thank you, Astros.
I’ll be the first to admit – after the Astros got swept in the New York games, and especially due to the way in which they lost, I didn’t think they had another comeback in them.
I won’t make that mistake again.
Behind ballsy pitching efforts from Morton and McCullers, dazzling defensive plays by Bregman, McCann, and Springer, and a pretty decent offensive showing, the Houston Astros are American League champs and are headed to their second World Series. What a neat deal!
And now our attention turns to the 104-win Dodgers as the World Series starts on Tuesday night. Look for a preview of the Series and Game 1 by Monday afternoon. Go Astros!
Starting Rotation: B- (B+ with the curve)
In a month when Keuchel, McCullers, Morton, Musgrove, and McHugh combined for only eight starts in 26 games, an uptick in the ERA was bound to happen. A hell of a lot is credit is due to one Mike Fiers, whose June 2.32 ERA and 0.968 WHIP with zero homers allowed really helped shore up the rotation when the team needed it most. This level of production from Fiers is not likely to continue but it sure is nice while it lasts. Keuchel and McCullers were characteristically excellent in their injury-limited work. Peacock was more than serviceable with his 3.72 ERA for the month. Martes showed some promise despite his control issues (nine walks in three starts).
I wouldn’t have taken Paulino for a 6.84 ERA in June; maybe it’s because he never factored into a loss, but he did lead the team with seven home runs allowed. Then there’s Musgrove, who pitched himself out of a major league gig with a 10.28 ERA and 1.929 WHIP. He’ll be back eventually, but with McCullers already off the DL and Keuchel, Morton, and McHugh due back within the month, Musgrove may have to wait until September callups (unless the injury bug bites again).
Overall, Astros starters went 12-6 with a 4.62 ERA and a 1.292 WHIP. It could’ve been much worse. However, a greater concern is that the rotation only averaged just slightly over five innings per game. This absolutely must improve.
I played a lot of RBI Baseball ‘93 for the Sega Genesis back in the day. One of the things about that game that stuck with me the most (besides Jeff Bagwell’s completely upright batting stance) was how the faceless, generic-looking pitchers would visibly start breathing heavily on the mound when they were tiring.
This is what comes to mind when I think about the Astros bullpen in the month of June. Houston has crept into 6th in MLB in bullpen innings (281); of contending teams, only the Orioles have more (292.2). Additionally, Devenski is tied for the MLB lead in relief innings (48.1) and Feliz is tied for 27th (37). Obviously the bullpen doesn’t decide how many innings it’s going to throw on a given day, but this remains a looming problem nonetheless.
The top performers of the month were Devenski, Harris, and Gregerson, all of whom posted sub-2 ERAs and WHIPs around 1 or less. Hinch also started working Gregerson into some higher-leverage situations, so it wasn’t all garbage time like it was in May. Giles faced the minimum in precisely 30% of his appearances, and the blown-save-plus-loss in Kansas City to snap the 11-game win streak was maddening, but he converted four out of five save opportunities in a month where the Astros only had eight total save opportunities.
This is where things really take a turn. Feliz (6.59), Hoyt (9.00), Diaz (11.18), and Guduan (11.57) all posted objectively bad ERAs. Hoyt was third place on the team (including starters) in home runs allowed with four. Guduan’s WHIP was 2.143, albeit in a relatively small sample size.
In June, the entire bullpen (including Aoki’s 9th inning outing against the Yankees) went 4-5 with five saves, three blown saves, and a 5.35 ERA.
Overall, the Houston staff posted a 4.79 ERA in June, 19th in MLB. McCullers is already back, Morton’s return is imminent, McHugh’s rehab assignment is imminent, and Keuchel will be back soon enough after the break. We should see a sea change if everyone gets healthy and stays healthy.
Offensive production was down some from May, but not by much. In June the Astros scored 157 runs (T-4th in MLB), banged 46 home runs (6th), and posted an MLB-best .294 average, .516 slugging, and .869 OPS, and missed having the best OBP by a thousandth of a point (.353). That OPS was even better than their May mark and 40 points better than the next-best Yankees. Double plays continued trending down as well: after 34 in April and 24 in May, they only hit into 18 in June (7th best in MLB).
On the individual side of things, six players (Reddick, Altuve, Marwin, Springer, Gurriel, Aoki) hit .300 or better, with Correa and McCann missing that mark by less than 10 points. Eight players had at least an .800 OPS, five were .900 or better, and Three players broke 1.000 OPS (Springer, Reddick, Altuve), Correa two broke .900, and four others were over .800 (Gurriel, McCann, Marwin, Marisnick). Springer gave All-Star voters every reason to send him to Miami, hitting .333 and slugging .733.
Outside of some high LOB numbers here and there, the offense is not a problem.
Bringing this down a notch this month, largely because other teams ran with impunity on the Astros, who allowed 21 stolen bases in 23 attempts. That’s second-worst in the majors; only the White Sox were worse at 25 of 26.
After such an unbelievable May it’s easy to be disappointed about the Astros’ June performance. However, after 80% of their Opening Day rotation went on the DL they still went 16-11 on the month; only three teams (Dodgers at 21, Royals and Diamondbacks at 17) won more games. At the exact halfway point of the season the Astros are 54-27. Their division lead actually saw a net gain of 2.5 games. If they merely play .500 ball from here on out they’ll win 94 games.
Plus, after all those big comebacks we’ve been treated to this year, we’ve been reminded a few times of how it feels to have that happen to you.
Before the break the Astros wrap up the Yankees series, then head to Atlanta for two games and Toronto for four. After the break, they host the Twins and Mariners for three games each, then start a nine-game road trip that takes them to Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Detroit. On the last day of the month they come home to start a homestand against the Rays. As of the time of this writing those teams have a combined 341-374 record, with only the Yankees (43-35), Twins (40-39), and Rays (42-40) above .500.
Starting Rotation: A-
It feels to me like the rotation took three steps forward and maybe 1-1½ steps backward. Keuchel’s May numbers are inflated largely because of that big 9th inning in Anaheim, and aside from that and missing one start he was usually excellent. McCullers was an absolute monster on the mound, allowing just four earned runs in the entire month. Morton was slightly improved over April, although his walks almost doubled. Peacock showed some promise with 16 K’s in his two starts, and was cruising in Minneapolis until he ran into a buzzsaw in the 5th inning. Overall, Astros starters allowed two earned runs or less in 19 of 29 games. While the team didn’t win all of those games, more often than not the starters did a really good job of setting the table for a W.
Musgrove was basically the same pitcher in May that he was in April, with nearly identical numbers across the board.
Although it may not have felt like it at times, Fiers was actually slightly improved in May, throwing two quality starts and nudging his ERA under 5 for the first time since his first start of the season. He allowed two more home runs than he did in April (albeit in two more starts) and nearly doubled his strikeouts. If he can get down to, and hover in, the 4.50-4.75 range – basically averaging a minimum quality start – I think the Astros would happily take that every five days.
The problem is that nothing happens in a vacuum, and the injuries to Morton (likely prolonged) and Musgrove (hopefully minor and non-recurring) put additional pressure on Fiers, to say nothing of the arms that will be taking Morton’s and Musgrove’s places. The team’s success to this point has been fantastic and they have built themselves a nice cushion, but even with a generally light June schedule (see below) it remains to be seen whether this level of success is sustainable when Fiers is effectively your #3. And while we can cling to the hope that McHugh and Morton can eventually come back and contribute at a #3-#4 level, their returns – much less that level of performance – are hardly guaranteed.
If I were Jeff Luhnow I’d be keeping my cell phone charged.
The Astros got some really good contributions from the bullpen in the month of May. Giles, Harris, Peacock, Feliz, and Hoyt all had pretty good months with only one or two mostly inconsequential bumps in the road for each. Unfortunately for Devenski, his bumps in the road were game-changers, taking two losses and a blown save. Harris, Giles, and Devenski have combined for just six innings since May 25.
Sipp improved quite a bit, although 34 of the 36 batters he faced were in low leverage situations. Gregerson’s ERA was mostly skewed by his bad outings against the Rangers; he only allowed two runs for the rest of the month, although, like Sipp, many of the batters he faced were in low leverage situations.
The Astros have climbed from 3rd to 2nd in ERA in MLB, although the team ERA for the season went up just a couple of notches (3.37 to 3.49). In the month of May they pitched three shutouts, led the majors in strikeouts (299) and saves (14), and are in the top 5 or better in many other categories. To quote myself from April’s post-mortem, “It’s been a pretty good month.” Again.
I really don’t see any other grade to give here.
The Astros scored a whopping 180 runs in May, 21 more than the closest team and 68 more than they scored in April. Marwin and Correa went on an absolute tear. Altuve didn’t do too badly for himself either. Seven regulars topped an .800 OPS for the month and Beltran at .795 narrowly missed being the 8th. Only Aoki and Gurriel had what could be considered “bad” months.
The Astros grounded into ten fewer double plays than in April, allowing several other teams to catch up to them. Boston is now MLB’s worst in that department with 59 (Astros have 58), and they have some company not far behind.
Not much new to write here this month. The outfield defense is up to ten assists on the year. The infield is still prone to the occasional head-scratcher but is solid overall. They gunned down six runners on the basepaths (three more than in April) which is fairly average for the month.
I remain unconvinced about defensive statistics, as I refuse to believe the Astros are the 6th-worst defense in baseball. When your left fielders lead MLB in assists at that position (7), yet all of your left fielders have a negative DEF, something is terribly wrong.
Houston went 22-7 in May, a blistering .759 win percentage that is tops in baseball for the month and the best month in Astros history. This fact is made even more impressive considering that a good chunk of it was done against contending teams (12-2 against the Yankees, Tigers, Orioles, and Twins). At 38-16 they own baseball’s best record and a double-digit lead in the AL West. Their 103-win pace from April has improved to 114 wins, an end-of-May pace that has not been accomplished since the 2001 Mariners, who went on to win 117 games. Getting swept by the Indians at home is maybe the only blemish on what was an otherwise outstanding month of baseball, and the only thing preventing me from giving an A+.
However, I don’t think I’m overstating things when I say that the health and performance of the starting rotation beyond Keuchel and McCullers is a huge concern for the team’s postseason prospects and beyond.
The next 60 days will be very interesting to watch, both on the field and in the transaction list.
After spending much of May playing teams outside their division, June brings a return to many AL West opponents: they get the Rangers for six games, the A’s for seven, and three apiece against the Angels and Mariners. Thus far Houston has thrashed its division foes to the tune of a 17-6 record with a +41 run differential. They also get four games against the Royals, who have (at the time of this writing) the worst record in the AL.
The Red Sox also come to town for a three-game set. Except for a series with the Yankees that starts on June 30, the Sawks are the only team currently over .500 the Astros will see in June.
Starting Rotation: B+
Rest of rotation: C+
Many of the talking heads questioned whether the Astros were coming into the season with a true ace. This is not really up for debate anymore: at least for this month, Keuchel (5-0, 1.21) is back to his 2014-2015 form and there is a reasonable expectation that the team can win anytime he’s on the mound. This alone is a major improvement from 2016.
But what else do the Astros have? With McHugh on the shelf the rest of the rotation has been inconsistent. Starters not named Keuchel have combined for a 4.67 ERA, and only half a run separate the #4 from the #2 (and not in the good way). However, at varying times they’ve been able to recover from early struggles and give the offense a chance to get back in the game, and McCullers, Morton, and Musgrove all show a lot of promise and an ability to eat innings (Houston starters have combined for the 6th-highest innings total in MLB). I also have to keep reminding myself that McCullers and Musgrove are still very young.
Then there’s Mike Fiers. Of all MLB starters with at least four starts, only five pitchers have pitched fewer innings than Fiers. His eight home runs allowed is 4th most in MLB. If McHugh came back today Fiers would be the least deserving of keeping his spot in the rotation (e.g. his 1.60 WHIP is by far the worst in the rotation). However, the scenario by which he keeps his job is not too outlandish: with a crowded bullpen and Fiers out of options, Musgrove might be the odd man out. It’s probably more likely that Fiers would move to the pen, but that would be at the expense of someone who is performing well (Peacock, Hoyt).
There’s a lot of baseball to play between now and the trade deadline, but I have a hard time picturing any scenario where the Astros aren’t shopping for the Archer/Quintana-type starter they passed on during the offseason.
The Astros bullpen has done a pretty decent job of holding leads and keeping the team within striking distance when behind. They’ve converted 2/3 of their save opportunities (roughly MLB average) and own the 6th-best bullpen ERA (2.85), 3rd-best WHIP (1.08), and 2nd-most bullpen strikeouts (99) in baseball. There are some areas that need improvement, though (38% of inherited runners have scored, 6th-worst in MLB).
There are plenty of standout individual performances. Devenski has a smooth 32:2 K:BB ratio, is third on the club in strikeouts (behind only Keuchel and McCullers), and looked virtually untouchable until Lindor took him deep in Cleveland. Harris is typical pre-ASB Harris. Feliz and Peacock have been bright spots, with the latter owning a zero ERA until the last day of the month. For all of his dick-around-ery in non-save situations, Giles has converted all of his save opportunities.
Sipp’s .962 opponent OPS from the left side is a Problem with a capital P. Get your shit together, Tony. You have one job.
The Astros have the 3rd-best staff ERA in MLB, they have pitched two shutouts, and they are comfortably in the top third in strikeouts, WHIP, and BAA, to name a few stats. It’s been a pretty good month.
This lineup is so alien after watching the 2015-2016 offenses. Although they have a thoroughly average run total (105, 14th in MLB) they are tied for the 3rd-best team batting average and have the 7th-lowest strikeout total. Talk about flipping the script from last season.
Baserunning has left a lot to be desired. The Astros have run themselves out of many scoring opportunities, whether it’s stealing bases (their 57% stolen base percentage is 5th-worst in MLB) or getting thrown out trying to take an extra base on a hit.
Situational hitting has been a mixed bag. On the one hand, with two outs and RISP Houston is at or near the top in many statistical categories. They are also routinely coming from behind to take (or retake) leads and win games. On the other hand, they have grounded into an MLB-worst 33 double plays, a pace that will shatter both the AL and MLB season records if kept up. Their numbers with RISP and less than two outs are also much more pedestrian. Without some modicum of situational hitting ability the Astros don’t, for example, come from behind twice against the Mariners to win in 13 innings, or come from five runs down against both the M’s and A’s, or come from four runs down against the Rays; however, with just slightly better situational hitting they would have, for example, swept the Indians and A’s this past week. No team ever capitalizes on every single scoring opportunity, but there is no question they are still leaving some wins in the batter’s box.
The good news is that the lineup is still probably underachieving overall. Between slow starts by Correa, Beltran, and Bregman, Springer’s fall-off after a blazing first week, Altuve not yet quite up to his standard, and some nagging injury issues (Correa’s hand, Springer’s hamstring, Marisnick’s concussion) we can reasonably hope that what we’ve seen won’t be the norm.
The team lacks any glaring defensive concerns as long as Beltran isn’t wearing a glove. The infield could stand to turn more double plays. The outfield lacks the range of the Rasmus-Marisnick-Springer alignment from 2015-2016 but is still capable. McCann has been valuable behind the plate and Gattis’s catching seems improved early on. Keuchel was deserving of another Gold Glove after just one start.
The team ends April at 16-9, good enough for the 3rd-best winning percentage in baseball. They lead their division by three games, thanks in part to their 12-4 record against division opponents. Their longest losing streak is three games and they have only done that once. They are rarely getting blown out of games, especially since the first week, and their .500 record in one-run games is better than MLB average. They are undefeated in extra innings. Nearly all of these are tremendous improvements over the 2016 Astros in the month of April.
It’s the kind of start upon which a successful season is built, but like any other team, they have plenty of areas that need improvement if they want to keep up a 103-win pace. They need better results from 2-3 starter slots, better production from the middle of the order, better timely hitting (especially against good teams), better/smarter baserunning, and a little better relief work with inherited runners. Perhaps most importantly, if they want the AL West crown then they desperately need better results against the Rangers, and we won’t have to wait long to see if there’s any progress there.
Who Am I?
Height: 6′ 2″
Throws right, Bats right
How did I get here?
McHugh was originally drafted by the Mets in the 18th round in 2008. In 2013, he was traded to Colorado in exchange for Eric Young. Colorado thought so highly of this deal that they waived McHugh following the 2013 season, when he was promptly claimed by Houston.
Contract status: McHugh was a rarity in recent years as he actually went to his arbitration hearing and won, receiving a 1 year $3.85M contract. He has two years of arbitration eligibility remaining.
Why am I here?
Collin is the veteran presence in the rotation and is certain to be the #3 starter heading into the season.
What are my strengths?
McHugh throws a wide assortment of pitches, but his bread-and-butter is his curve. It’s not in the class of McCullers’ curve, or Giles’ slider, but it’s a plus pitch. 2016 hitters managed only a .350 SLG against the curve, and that was lower the previous two seasons.
What are my weaknesses?
McHugh lacks velocity on his fastball, and hitters are increasingly sitting on the pitch – and crushing it. He throws both a four-seam and cut fastball, and gave up 16 homers on those pitches last year.
What is my future with the Astros?
Not every pitcher needs to be an ace. McHugh should be a reliable mid-to-back of the rotation starter for at the next few years. Beyond that – I wouldn’t expect an effort to keep him once he reaches free agency.
What is my projected 2017 performance?
Jose Lima – without the personality.