Tag Archives: George Springer

The Astros Blueprint For Rebuilding

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Six years ago things were looking bleak for the Houston Astros. The Astros were losing money which led to their team owner Drayton McLane selling the team. In 2011, Jim Crane would purchase the Astros for $680 million while also taking on debt as well as accepting the fact that Houston would switch from the National League to the American League in 2013. Crane knew that it would not be a quick turnaround for his Astros as they lost at least 100 games in each season from 2011-2013.

Jeff Luhnow

Upon taking over the Astros, Crane hired Jeff Luhnow to be the team’s general manager. Luhnow understood that the Astros were starting over from scratch and focused on drafting, while also developing those players in Houston’s minor-league system.

Upon taking over in Houston, Luhnow inherited starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel and second baseman Jose Altuve who would develop into cornerstones for the Astros. Keuchel would be drafted by the Astros in 2009, and he’d make his Major League Baseball debut in 2012. By 2015, Keuchel would win 20 games and in the process he would be named as the American League Cy Young Award winner.

For Altuve, he had to work his way onto the big stage through a tougher route. Altuve tried out for the Astros in his native Venezuela, but he didn’t received a contract as he was dubbed to be too short at 5’6″. Altuve would not give up and came back for another tryout with the Astros and this time he was signed by the team in 2007.

Jose Altuve

Like Keuchel, Altuve worked his way up through the Astros system and he was ready for his debut with the big club in 2011. Altuve was the only bright spot for the Astros during their lean years due to his prowess for being a solid contact hitter. In each of Altuve’s full seasons with the Astros, he has led the club hits, while he has exceeded the 200 mark in hits in each of the last four years as he has led the American League in that category.

But Keuchel and Altuve alone could not make the Astros respectable as Luhnow would continue to come away from the Major League Baseball Draft smelling like a rose.

In 2012, Luhnow’s first draft choice was used on shortstop Carlos Correa who rose through the Astros system with outfielder George Springer who was selected in the first round in 2011. Springer would make his debut with the Astros in 2014, while Correa would follow suit in 2015 as things were beginning to come together in Houston.

By 2015, the Astros were playoff bound for the first time since 2005, and in the postseason they fell one victory shy of knocking off the eventual World Series Champion Kansas City Royals in the American League Divisional Series.

The Astros failed to make the playoffs in 2016 as things never came together for them, but with their core set, it was now time to just add a few pieces in order to make a run at a championship in 2017.

After an 84-78 campaign in 2016, Luhnow sought out to get Houston back to the postseason and his big moves last winter were to acquire catcher Brian McCann from the New York Yankees as well as signing designated hitter Carlos Beltran. McCann became expendable with the Yankees due to the emergence of Gary Sanchez, but he immediately found a home with Houston. Throughout McCann’s 13-year Major League Baseball career he has been known for his ability behind the plate to work with a pitching staff. In comparison to 2016, the Astros team earned run average did slightly increase during the regular season, but their opponents batting average dipped by 16 points. And most importantly, the Astros pitchers felt comfortable with McCann behind the plate.

The 2017 Major League Baseball season was the 20th one for Beltran who is a borderline Hall of Famer. At 40-years of age, Beltran is no longer going to hit 30 homers in a season or steal 25 bases, but what he gave the young Astros this year was a veteran bat off of the bench as well as being a shoulder to lean on in the clubhouse due to his experience.

The Astros began 2017 with the right blend as they finished the month of April with a record of 16-9. Houston would keep that momentum going as by the time that the month of May finished, their record was 38-16, and in the process they were running away with the American League West. The Astros would never look back as by the time that the All-Star break rolled around, their record was 60-29 and it was now time for them to think about the postseason.

As the summer progressed, the Astros maintained their firm grip on first place in the American League West, and now it was time for them to solidify their chances to do some damage in October. This led Luhnow to pull off a huge deal just minutes away from the waiver trade deadline on August 31 when the Astros were able to acquire starting pitcher Justin Verlander from the Detroit Tigers.

Justin Verlander

When you think of Verlander, one of the first words to come to mind is professionalism. Verlander is one of the best pitchers of this era which included him being named as the American League’s MVP in 2011 when he won 24 games as well as leading in earned run average (2.40), strikeouts (250) to win pitching’s version of the Triple Crown. And aside from bringing a wealth of experience with him to Houston, Verlander also provided the Astros with some depth in their starting rotation behind Keuchel.

By the time that the regular season had ended, the Astros had won 101 games for their second best record in franchise history, while it was also a far cry from a team that had just lost 111 games in 2013. The Boston Red Sox may have won the American League East here in 2017, but they proved to be no match for the Astros in the American League Divisional Series as they fell in four games. The Astros would then tango with the Yanks in the American League Championship Series who took the field with house money after they had knocked off the Cleveland Indians in the ALDS after they were expected to reach the World Series for a second consecutive year.

Houston would maintain home-field advantage after winning the first two games of the series at home, but when the series shifted to the Bronx, the Astros offense didn’t make the trip as they were limited to a combined 5 runs in the road games versus the Yankees which were all losses. The Astros would then return home facing elimination, but they would outscore New York over the final two games of the series 11-1 to advance to the World Series for the second time in franchise history, while becoming the only team in Major League Baseball history to appear in the Fall Classic in both the National and American Leagues.

In the World Series, the Astros would meet the Los Angeles Dodgers who like them were faced with an ownership change several years ago which threatened to cripple the franchise’s finances. The Astros and Dodgers were evenly matched which resulted in a back and forth series that was a classic. And like a good boxing match, both the Astros and Dodgers showed that they had what it took to go the distance, but since Houston could not win via the knockout, they had to settle for winning on points.

The Astros defeated the Dodgers for their first World Series Championship and they did it by seizing the moment. Just like it was when the Astros faced the Red Sox and the Yankees, Houston was not fazed by the rich tradition of the Dodgers. The Astros were able to get to the Dodgers bullpen which up until the World Series had been tough to score runs against. But Houston found away to crack the spell and importantly Dodgers relief pitcher Kenley Jansen as they would rally for key victories in Games 2 and 5 as each win would be a turning point in the series for the Astros.

The Astros have spent the past few years picking early in the draft and their stars came to the forefront when it mattered the most. In the World Series, Springer batted .379 to go along with 5 home runs and 7 runs batted in to be named as the World Series MVP. And Springer would save his biggest hit for Game 7 when he belted a two-run homer off of Dodgers starting pitcher Yu Darvish in the second inning to put Houston ahead 5-0 which all but made their victory a formality.

Alex Bregman

Third baseman Alex Bregman was the second overall pick of the 2015 Major League Baseball Draft and ever since he joined the big club in 2016, he has provided some slick fielding at the hot corner which was on display throughout the World Series as he consistently made key plays with his glove that prevented the Dodgers from scoring runs.

During the regular season Altuve led the American League in batting for the third time in the last four years, but he struggled at the plate during the World Series as he only batted .194. However when it mattered the most Altuve came up with big hits which included a game-tying three-run homer off of Dodgers pitcher Kenta Maeda in the fifth inning of Game 5.

The Astros bullpen had been shaky in the American League Championship Series versus the Yankees which carried over to the World Series as relief pitcher Ken Giles finished the Fall Classic with an earned run average of 27.00. But for Astros manager A.J. Hinch he was able to lean on a pair of the team’s starting pitchers to be a force coming out of the bullpen in October.

Starting pitchers Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers combined to win 21 games for the Astros during the regular season, but when the postseason rolls around the philosophy changes as it is simply “whatever it takes”. In Game 7 of the American League Championship Series, Morton limited the Yankees to just a pair of hits over five innings, while McCullers would finish them off by going the final four innings without surrendering a run. In Game 7 of the World Series, McCullers was shaky through 2 1/3 innings as the starter for Astros which led to Hinch pulling him. But it was Morton who sealed the deal by shutting down the Dodgers lineup over the final four innings of the contest. And as the majority of the 56,000 fans that filed into Dodger Stadium on Wednesday night anticipated a championship for the home team, it was the Astros who foiled those plans.

So now things have come full circle for an Astros organization that just five years ago was an afterthought. The Astros didn’t do it by having press conferences in order to announce the signings of marquee free agents as they simply went under the radar and focused on building from within. Having early picks is one thing, but it comes down to making the most of those selections which is exactly what the Astros did. Each championship team has the support of the respective city that they call home, but it meant a little bit more to the Astros this year as the City of Houston is still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Harvey over the summer. And although that there are those who lost their lives as well as those who lost most or all of their personal belongings, the Astros have given the ones who survived something to put a smile on their faces.

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2015 American League West Projections

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X-Los Angeles Angels 89-73

Last season was a tremendous one for the Los Angeles Angels. The Halos won 98 games in the regular season which was tops in Major League Baseball, but they had an October to forget as they were swept in the American League Divisional Series by the Kansas City Royals. Now the Angels are ready to put the playoffs behind them with an eye on bigger things in 2015.

Mike Trout

The expectations for the Angels start and end with their outfielder Mike Trout. Trout is only 23-years of age and he is set to embark on his fourth full MLB season. Trout will begin 2015 as the reigning AL MVP and I anticipate him improving on his numbers from a year ago where he batted .287 with 36 home runs and 111 runs batted in. There are some tremendous five-tool players in MLB currently and Trout is just a step above all of them. Trout’s emergence for the Angels has somewhat been able to offset the disappoint of outfielder Josh Hamilton. After receiving a five-year deal worth $125 million from the Angels, Hamilton has been a box office flop in the shadows of Hollywood. In two seasons with the Angels, Hamilton has only batted .255 with 31 home runs and 123 runs batted in. This a far cry from the player that Hamilton was when he won the AL MVP Award in 2010 as a member of the Texas Rangers. The Angels have proven that they can win in the regular season without big contributions from Hamilton, and baseball is secondary for him now as he had another relapse in his problems with drug and alcohol addictions which makes his status for this season uncertain.

At 35-years of age, Angels first baseman Albert Pujols is no longer going to hit for average like he did when he won three National League MVP Awards as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals. But Pujols who has hit 520 home runs during his MLB career still has thunder in his bat and that alone can provide protection in the Angels lineup for Trout. In a surprise move this off-season, the Angels traded longtime second baseman Howie Kendrick to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Kendrick was a slick fielder who’s absence will leave a void at second base that Angels manager Mike Scioscia is hopeful that youngster Josh Rutledge can fill.

The Angels pitching staff was a middle of the pack unit in the American League last season. Starting pitcher Jered Weaver will once again be in the mix to win the AL Cy Young Award this season as he has won at least 18 games in three of the last four seasons, but there are questions behind him in the Halos starting rotation. After suffering a torn patella tendon last August, the Angels are hopeful that starting pitcher Garrett Richards will not miss too much of the upcoming season, but they are not holding their breath on the matter while starting pitcher C.J. Wilson has been a bit of a disappoint as he is set to enter his fourth season with the Halos.

Angels relief pitcher Huston Street saved a career-high 41 games last season as he split time between Los Angeles and with the San Diego Padres. More that ever Street appears to be comfortable with the Angels which should make the ninth inning a little bit easier for Scioscia.

19 of the Angels first 22 games this season are within the division and like everyone else they will be looking for a quick start.

Y-Seattle Mariners 88-74

It’s hard to believe that 2001 was the last time that the Seattle Mariners were in the Major League Baseball Playoffs, but that is the case. The Mariners will enter the upcoming Major League Baseball season very optimistic as they won 87 games last season for the first time since 2003. The M’s missed the playoffs by one game last season and they were left to ponder this off-season what could have been as another wild card team in the Kansas City Royals were within one game of winning the World Series last fall. But it has been awhile since the Mariners have had the kind of expectations that they will have going into 2015.

Robinson Cano

Things changed in Seattle last season when Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik signed second baseman Robinson Cano. Cano batted .314 last season, but his power numbers were down as he only hit 14 homers while having 82 runs batted in. That was to be expected from Cano since he now calls Safeco Field home which is not a dynamic hitters park. The Mariners lineup around Cano wasn’t the best which is something that has been addressed this off-season. Zduriencik has put some more pop behind Cano in the Mariners lineup as he signed designated hitter Nelson Cruz this off-season. After leading Major League Baseball in home runs last season with 40 as a member of the Baltimore Orioles, the M’s signed Cruz to a four-year contract worth $57 million. Cruz is 34-years old and the Mariners are hopeful that he’ll be able to hit at least 30 homers while protecting Cano in their lineup and giving Seattle a spark as they were 10th in the American League in home runs last season with 136 and 11th in runs batted in with 600. Mariners first baseman Logan Morrison has yet to come close to the production that he had in 2011 with the Florida Marlins when he hit 23 home runs and for Seattle to think about the postseason this year, he will need to have a bigger impact. Center fielder Austin Jackson was acquired from the Detroit Tigers last season and he has the ability to be a good leadoff hitter for the M’s if he is able to cut down on his strikeouts. In five MLB seasons, Jackson is averaging 170 strikeouts per year and in 54 games with the Mariners in 2014, he only managed to have a .267 on-base percentage.

Felix Hernandez

But the aspect of the of the Mariners team that will give them the best opportunity to participate in October baseball this fall will be their starting pitching. Last season the Mariners team earned run average of 3.17 was tops in the AL as they are led by one of the best starting pitchers in MLB. Mariners starting pitcher Felix Hernandez is coming off of a season in which he led the AL in earned run average (2.14). Hernandez has thrown at least 200 innings and struck out at least 200 batters in each of the last six seasons as he defines the term ace. Since coming over from Japan, starting pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma has accumulated 38 wins in three seasons with the M’s and he gives the team a serviceable number two in the starting rotation behind Hernandez. The Mariners are also high on their young 22-year old starting pitcher Taijuan Walker. Walker was the M’s first-round selection in 2010 and the sky is the limit for him and his nasty curve ball.

Mariners relief pitcher Fernando Rodney set a club record in saves last season with 48. Rodney can keep fans on the edge of their seats because he can be erratic at times, but he still has the skills to get the job done.

Lloyd McClendon

For Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon, he knows that he has a team that can contend for a postseason spot this season; it’ll just be a matter of them doing it for 162 games this spring and summer. With 25 of the Mariners first 31 games against their brethren in the American League West, it’s the perfect chance for them to put everyone else in the division into chase mode as they look to end their playoff drought.

Oakland Athletics 82-80

In the world of sports, momentum can be cruel as it can turn on you faster than you can bat your eye. Last summer the Oakland Athletics had the team that was ready for a deep postseason run. The A’s had a record of 72-44 which was the best in Major League Baseball. But the A’s would stumble down the stretch which culminated in them losing in the American League Wild Card Game to the Kansas City Royals. And the 2015 Athletics will look totally different from the that we saw exit the playoffs last October.

The Athletics acquired starting pitcher Jon Lester from the Boston Red Sox just prior to last season’s trade deadline. Heading into the off-season Lester would be the most sought after starting pitcher. The small-market Athletics would not be able to afford him as he signed with the Chicago Cubs on a six-year, $155 million deal. Last season Athletics general manager Billy Beane acquired starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija from the Cubs. In 16 starts with the A’s last season, Samardzija was 5-6 with a 3.14 earned run average. With Samardzija set to become an unrestricted free agent in 2016, the A’s traded him back to the Windy City as he is now a member of the Chicago White Sox. The past two seasons saw third baseman Josh Donaldson emerge as one the leaders of the A’s, but he was surprisingly traded to the Toronto Blue Jays during the winter. And just like it is with a college team after a few years, the Athletics have a new look squad as they are prepared for an uphill battle this season in the AL West.

Recently the A’s bread has been buttered by their starting pitching and for them to hang around in the division race this season they will need more of the same. A’s starting pitcher Sonny Gray won 14 games last season and he is trying to emerge as the team’s ace. After arm injuries derailed his Major League Baseball career, Scott Kazmir once again found his groove last season with the Athletics as he won 15 games. Kazmir is only 30-years of age, but he has learned how to reinvent himself on the pitching mound as he has become more of a location pitcher.

Over the past four seasons, Tyler Clippard developed into one of the best relief pitchers in baseball as a member of the Washington Nationals. The Athletics acquired Clippard from the Nats this off-season and what they got was a two-time National League All-Star that has had an earned run average under 2.50 over the last two seasons while striking out 155 batters during that span as well.

When Beane traded Donaldson to the Blue Jays, he gave up a player that led the team in home runs (29), runs batted in (94), hits (155), and on-base percentage (342). The Donaldson trade sent third baseman Brett Lawrie back to Oakland. Lawrie is nowhere to being the offensive threat that Donaldson has been, but he is serviceable which is something that Beane covets. After hitting 32 home runs in 2012 as a member of the New York Mets, first baseman Ike Davis has only hit 20 long balls since. The A’s acquired Davis from the Pittsburgh Pirates as they are hopeful that he can rekindle some of his magic from 2012. But Beane’s best acquisition off the winter was getting utility man Ben Zobrist from the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays have been wheeling and dealing as much as the A’s and what Oakland gets in Zobrist is a player that is an excellent defender at multiple positions along with having a career on-base percentage of .354.

The Athletics will more than likely stumble out of the gate, but under manager Bob Melvin they will scrap and claw for the entire season.

Houston Astros 70-92

The Houston Astros had a break thorugh of sorts last season as it marked the first time since 2010 that they didn’t lose 100 games. The Astros will once again have one of the youngest teams in Major League Baseball as the rebuilding continues for them.

A.J. Hinch

In a surprise move, Bo Porter was fired as the manager late last season as he appeared to be getting the most out of the talent that he had. For 2015, Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow has decided to go with former Arizona Diamondbacks skipper A.J. Hinch to be the manager in Houston. Hinch is the sixth manager that Luhnow has employed ever since he became the Astros general manager in 2011. In parts of two seasons with the Diamondbacks, Hinch’s record was 89-123 which doesn’t spark a ton of optimism.

George Springer

The Astros have high hopes for outfielder George Springer in 2015. Last year as a rookie, Springer didn’t disappoint by hitting 20 home runs and 51 runs batted in just 78 games. The Astros will look to get a full season from Springer in 2015 while designated hitter Chris Carter could flirt with becoming the first Astros player since Lance Berkman in 2006 to hit 40 home runs in a season. Astros second baseman Jose Altuve is coming off of a season in which he led Major League Baseball in batting average (.341) and if he were on a better team he would be a household name while the acquisition of utility man Evan Gattis will make Houston tougher as a team.

Last season the Astros pitching staff had an earned run average of 4.11 which was 12 in the American League and they will more than likely once again be one of the bottom feeders in the category for 2015 as the talent simply isn’t there.

If the Astros are somehow able to find a way to win 75 games in 2015 it would be a huge shot in the arm for their organization.

Texas Rangers 68-94

After four straight 90-plus win seasons, the Texas Rangers took a huge step backwards as they only won 67 games in 2014 for their first last place finish in the American League West since 2007. The Rangers were hit heavily by the injury bug as well last season along with the departure of manager Ron Washington who was the most successful skipper in franchise history. For Rangers general manager Jon Daniels, he must put his thinking cap on in order for his team to contend once again this season.

After spending the last four seasons as an assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Jeff Banister is now the skipper for the Rangers and he will bring with him some fresh ideas that he is hopeful will once again make Texas a contender. Banister’s first order of business must be to make the Rangers more competitive in 2015 as they were outscored last year by 136 runs which was the worst in Major League Baseball.

Yu Darvish

The Rangers organization has always had hitting, but a quick turnaround for them will rely on their starting pitching. Last season the Rangers only had 62 quality starts which was last in the AL and starting pitchers Colby Lewis and Yu Darvish combined to lead the club in wins last season with just 10. Lewis was returning from an injury in 2014 while Darvish spent some of the season on the disabled list. Lewis is 35-years of age and the Rangers should be thankful if they are able to get 150 quality innings from him this season. Darvish on the other hand was expected to be the Rangers ace, but that won’t be the case in 2015. Darvish was shut down last season due to inflammation in his pitching elbow and the Rangers will be without him as he has elected to undergo Tommy John surgery. During spring training the Rangers were thrown a curveball as there is a big possibility that Darvish could require Tommy John surgery which will cripple the chances for Texas to make the playoffs before the season even starts. The Rangers were able to acquire starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo this off-season from the Milwaukee Brewers. Gallardo grew up in the Dallas-Forth Worth Metroplex and the Rangers are hopeful that some home cooking will be just what the doctor ordered for him and their starting rotation. After missing the majority of 2013 after undergoing Tommy John surgery, relief pitcher Neftali Feliz returned last season to save 13 ballgames for the Rangers. The Rangers are hopeful that Feliz will be able to turn it loose this season and regain the form that saw him save 40 games in 2010.

Prince Fielder

A change of address and a new uniform didn’t help first baseman Prince Fielder last season with the Rangers. Fielder’s first season with the Rangers was cut short as a bulging disk in his neck limited him to just 42 games and like the Texas pitching staff, Fielder must get back to the form that has made him a five-time Major League Baseball All-Star. Like Fielder, Rangers outfielder Shin-Soo Choo was disappointing in his first season with the Rangers as he needs to be one of the table setters for this club at the top of their lineup. And the same can be said for Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus who has not been the same player since signing an eight-year extension with Texas in 2013.

This should be a year of transition for the Rangers as they will be finding their footing under Banister.

X-Division Champion

Y-Wild Card

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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