Falcon Points

After the off-season from hell, what do the Astros look like on the field in 2020?

Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

The Astros apparently have a new manager in Dusty Baker. They soon will have a new GM. They have the same basic lineup as last year.

So with all the off-field turmoil, suspensions that became firings and high profile scandals, how will things play out on the field where it matters most?

One outlet had the Astros as the SEVENTH best team in baseball heading into the season. We will spare you the need to click on the story, and just tell you they had the Yankees, Dodgers, Braves, Rays, Nationals and Twins ahead of Houston.

Still a potent lineup

Unless you believe the only reason the Astros hitters were any good was the cheating scandal (and hey, there are those who think that), this is still one of the best lineups in all of baseball. While decisions will have to be made after the season on several key pieces (George Springer, Carlos Correa, Yuli Gurriel and Michael Brantley most notably) for 2020 they are still loaded with Springer, Altuve, Bregman, Carlos Correa, Yordan Alvarez, Gurriel, Brantley, Josh Reddick and Kyle Tucker all returning. No team outside of LA or New York can boast that kind of lineup. Jake Marisnick is gone, but presumably that opens up innings for Myles Straw, an exciting prospect with terrific speed, something the Astros do not have at that level in the lineup.

The bigger issue

The article's main issue is with the Astros starting pitching. Behind ace Justin Verlander and Zach Greinke are a lot of question marks. But few teams can match the Astros 1-2 punch. The names behind them though hardly inspire confidence. Lance McCullers will be on a pitch count coming off Tommy John surgery. Jose Urquidy has too small of a sample size. Forrest Whitley remains a myth. Austin Pruitt could be a sneaky good addition, however, and the Astros can always add someone at the trade deadline. More on that in a moment.

What about the bullpen?

The Astros lost Will Harris, but bring back Ryan Pressley, who was dominant until getting hurt, the controversial Roberto Osuna and Joe Smith on the back end. Josh James might be a contender to start, along with Brad Peacock. If not, they will help in relief. Harris was great for them last year, but the Astros in the past have done a terrific job of finding pitchers like that. Which brings us to the final question...

Loss of Luhnow

While the loss of A.J. Hinch can be mitigated - managers are not all that difficult to replace - life after GM Jeff Luhnow is a major question mark. Luhnow could be trusted to add players at the deadline (Verlander in 2017, Greinke in 2019), find some hidden gems (Charlie Morton) and add players that fit the Astros analytics approach. Will they still be that kind of team? Will Baker buy in if they are? Pitching coach Brent Strom remains, and should continue to work his magic. But will Luhknow's replacement be able to find the right kind of arms for him? Will the new analytics team be as effective?

These are all valid questions.

However...

Putting them seventh seems more like wishful thinking from a bitter media. The 2021 Astros will have serious questions and in fact might plummet out of contention entirely, depending on what moves happen in the next 12 months. But for 2020? Sure, Verlander and Greinke could both fall off the map, the other starters fail to stabilize and the team simply does not get it done. But that is a lot to go wrong. More likely, the lineup continues to pound the ball, Verlander and Greinke carry them and someone else emerges as decent 2-3 rotation pieces. That being the case, the only team that enters the season in the AL better on paper is the Yankees, who were almost as good as the Astros last season and poached one of their best weapons, and figure to be healthier in 2020.

Distractions?

Yes it has been wild off-season. But other than Luhnow, does it have any real impact on what happens on the field? Probably not. There could be some regressions - Alvarez most notably - but the offense has more than enough weapons. Straw could wind up being a sneaky good weapon. Tucker could finally emerge. If that happens, the so-called distractions will have minimal if any impact on the product on the field.

So yes, seventh seems a but silly, but fortunately, baseball scribes with their biases don't determine what happens on the field. The players do.

And the Astros still have plenty of those.

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Houston loses to end the road trip

Dodgers get best of Odorizzi to split series with Astros

Jake Odorizzi allowed four home runs over three innings against the Dodgers on Wednesday. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

After spoiling the night of many Dodgers fans in the opener of this two-game series in Los Angeles the night prior, the Astros returned to the stadium to a fresh set of hostile fans, looking to get the mini-sweep. This one went much more in favor of the home team, though, as the Dodgers would ride three big innings to start the game to the win for the series split.

Final Score: Dodgers 7, Astros 5

Astros' Record: 65-43, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Max Scherzer (9-4)

Losing Pitcher: Jake Odorizzi (4-6)

Odorizzi gets shelled

After a Michael Brantley solo home in the top of the first run against Max Scherzer, making his Dodger debut, it looked like the Astros may continue their momentum from the night before to grab hold of this game as well. However, that all changed in the bottom of the inning, as the Dodgers would tee off against Jake Odorizzi.

In that inning, he allowed four runs, a leadoff solo shot by Mookie Betts, then later a three-run blast by Will Smith. Betts made it 2-for-2 with solo homers in the bottom of the second, extending the lead to 5-1. Things went from bad to worse in the third, with Los Angeles getting their fourth home run, this one for two runs to make it a 7-1 game. Odorizzi would finish the third but go no further.

Scherzer K's 10 over seven innings in his Dodger debut

Houston tried to start clawing back into it in the top of the fourth, getting a second run against Scherzer with a two-out RBI-single by Kyle Tucker, trimming the lead to five runs at 5-2. First out of Houston's bullpen was Yimi Garcia in the bottom of the fourth, and he tossed the first 1-2-3 inning for Houston. Rafael Montero was next in the bottom of the fifth, working around a leadoff double followed by a walk for a scoreless inning.

Montero remained in the game in the bottom of the sixth, still 7-2, and would get another scoreless inning, this time sitting down the Dodgers in order. Scherzer finished his quality debut for his new team in the top of the seventh, erasing a leadoff walk to complete seven innings while allowing two runs.

Astros lose to split the series with Dodgers

Brooks Raley was Houston's next reliever, and he, too, would get through a scoreless inning by erasing a two-out single. In the game-within-the-game, the Dodgers brought in Joe Kelly for the top of the eighth, who notched two strikeouts to bring none other than Carlos Correa to the plate, setting up a rematch of the well-known incident that led to the "pouty face" clip from 2020. Carlos Correa won this round, launching a 405-foot homer off of Kelly to make it a four-run game at 7-3.

Phil Maton kept the score there, stranding two runners in the bottom of the eighth to send the 7-3 game to the top of the ninth, where the Dodgers would bring in Kenley Jansen. After a leadoff single, Kyle Tucker would get the Astros within two runs on a two-run homer, making it 7-5. That's as close as they would get, as Jansen would regroup to get the next three batters out to wrap up the loss for Houston.

Up Next: With this road trip completed, the Astros will have a quick turnaround as they catch a late flight back to Houston then turn around with a game Thursday at 7:10 PM Central to open a four-game series with the Twins. Framber Valdez (7-2, 3.01 ERA) will take the mound for Houston in the opener, while Minnesota will counter with Griffin Jax (1-1, 6.41 ERA).

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