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's losing streak extended to five games

With key Astros missing, Detroit completes the series sweep

An overall bad day for the Astros on Wednesday. Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

On Wednesday afternoon, the Astros received a big blow to their chances in the series finale against Detroit and potentially longer. Five players: Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez, Martin Maldonado, and Robel Garcia would all be moved to the IL due to health and safety protocols, leaving them scrambling to get a whole team together for the game against the Tigers.

The Astros would not be able to overcome both the loss of players and the onslaught of another strong start by Detroit in Wednesday's game which put them too far out front for Houston to come back from to avoid a series sweep.

Final Score: Tigers 6, Astros 4

Astros' Record: 6-6, third in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Michael Fulmer (1-0)

Losing Pitcher: Lance McCullers Jr. (1-1)

Tigers knock out another starter early

Detroit continued their success of making Houston's starter work hard in early innings, getting after Lance McCullers Jr., and giving him an early exit. After a lengthy fist, they broke through in the second getting two hits, a walk, a hit batter, and an RBI groundout to put up three runs on 34 pitches.

He would have a quicker 1-2-3 third, but after giving up a single, a walk, and hitting another batter to load the bases and reach 87 pitches, he would be removed in favor of Joe Smith. Smith would allow all three of the inherited runners to score, adding those runs to McCullers Jr.'s final line: 3.2 IP, 4 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 3 BB, 3 K, 87 P.

Astros try to claw back into it

After Smith would go on to load the bases again in the inning, still with two outs, Houston made another pitching change to bring in Brandon Bielak to get the third out and stop the bleeding at 6-0. The Astros would get on the board in the fifth, getting a runner on base to set up a two-run homer by Jason Castro to cut the lead to 6-2.



Bielak remained in the game to try and eat up as many innings as possible. While he continued to hold the Tigers to their six runs through the six innings, the Astros clawed back into the game. In the bottom of the sixth, Houston put their first two batters on base with a walk and single before an RBI-single by Yuli Gurriel to make it 6-3. They would threaten for more but be held there for the time being.

Astros can't cash in, Tigers complete sweep

Ryne Stanek was Houston's next reliever in the top of the seventh, getting a 1-2-3 frame to keep it a three-run game, as did Brooks Raley in the eighth. In the home part of the inning, the Astros put their first two runners on base on an error and a walk, then loaded them with a one-out single by Carlos Correa. They'd waste their chance to make something happen, though, with an inning-ending double-play.

Ryan Pressly, who had no save opportunities in recent games, entered to get some work in the top of the ninth. He worked around a leadoff double for a scoreless inning, sending the 6-3 game to the bottom of the ninth. The Astros had yet another chance to make something happen, loading the bases with no outs to bring the go-ahead run to the plate. After two outs, Yuli Gurriel would bring one run in with a walk, but that's as close as they'd come, extending their losing streak to five games and getting swept by the Tigers.

Up Next: Houston will get a much-needed day off tomorrow to try and leave this poor homestand behind them. They'll pick things up in Seattle on Friday, with first pitch of the opener of three games at 9:10 PM Central. The expected pitching matchup is Jose Urquidy (0-1, 5.23 ERA) for the Astros and Yusei Kikuchi (0-0, 3.75 ERA) for the Mariners.

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