KEEP THE FAITH

All the reasons you should still feel great about the Astros' chances

Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

I can read a box score. Jose Altuve, George Springer, Alex Bregman, Josh Reddick, heck, even utility man Myles Straw, are all hitting well below their career batting averages. Yordan Alvarez, the 2019 Rookie of the Year, hasn't made an appearance yet. Justin Verlander, last year's Cy Young winner, and Roberto Osuna, the American League's saves leader, are on the injured list, perhaps for the season. One starter, Lance McCullers, has an ERA over 9, while another starter, Josh James, already has been banished to the bullpen. The bullpen, with Osuna gone, is a giant, inexperienced question mark. And don't forget, last year's best pitcher in baseball, Gerrit Cole, left the Astros to sign with the Yankees.

Take Thursday night (please). Ryan Pressly was brought into the game in the ninth to protect a 1-run Astros lead. He closed it, all right. Pressley gave up a walk, single, single and double - game over, Astros lose. Pressley began the night with a 13.50 ERA, and left with a 40.50 ERA. I didn't know ERA could go that high.

Let's review: so far in 2020, more than half of the Astros top hitters are in a slump. The team lost, not its two best pitchers, but both of baseball's two best pitchers. Their starting rotation has been decimated. Their top reliever may be done. Their slugging DH has yet to swing the bat. New manager, new general manager. As the Beatles once sang, it can't get no worse. I'm not happy with the grammar.

Break it to me gently. Surely they're in last place, but how many games out of first? Don't tell me they've already been eliminated from the playoffs.

Wait, are you saying the Astros are 6-6 for the season, only a couple of games behind Oakland for first place in the American League West? And they have three games coming up against the A's, and if the Astros sweep, they'll be in first?

The first 20 percent of the season is gone in a blink. Things couldn't have gone more horrendously for the Astros, and they're still playing .500 ball. If the playoffs started today, the Astros, even with their cursed season, would be in the mix. Surely, Altuve, Bregman and Springer's bats will come alive. The Astros will find more pitching arms. The bullpen, riddled with injuries and rookies, will gain experience and confidence..

And that's why I'm sticking with my prediction that the Astros will win the American League West (for the fourth time in a row), repeat as American League champions, and beat the Dodgers for the World Series title. I don't know which would please me more, the Astros winning, or the Dodgers losing. Take that, pouty face Joe Kelly.

You know that Springer will start bashing home runs, assuming his wrist is okay. Bregman will be Bregman. Reddick will be fine. Michael Brantley will bat .300. If Carlos Correa stays hot and off the massage table, the Astros will be, maybe not a murderer's row, but a reduced charge of manslaughter. Despite the slumps, injuries and absences, the Astros lineup is leading the league in runs scored. When Alvarez returns, look out.

Remember, with this improbable, 60-game schedule, the Astros don't have to finish first, although they will, or even second in the AL West. This season is just about making the playoffs. Sixteen teams, more than half of all the teams, will qualify for the post-season tournament. That's crazy hockey talk.

If you're a good team, which the Astros certainly are, the real goal of the 2020 season is to get to October with your position players healthy and your pitching rotation rested for Game 1 of whatever MLB is calling the first round of playoffs.

Now all we need is general manager James Click to find us some starting pitchers and a reliever or two. And Alvarez to show up. And Altuve and Bregman and Springer to start raking. And just maybe, "do you believe in miracles" Verlander to come back. The Astros aren't giving up, and neither should we.

My biggest worry about the Astros 2020 season? How do you hold a World Series parade in downtown Houston with social distancing?

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Composite photo by Jack Brame

Former Astros manager Andrew Jay Hinch is on a short list of candidates to become manager of the Detroit Tigers in 2021.

The question is, after being suspended and later fired for his role in the Astros sign-stealing scandal, does A.J. Hinch deserve to manage again in baseball?

It's weird to think because so much has happened in 2020, but Hinch was suspended and fired only nine months ago. His banishment, however, ends in a matter of weeks with the final out of the upcoming World Series. At that point, he will be available to manage the Tigers or any other team. There's a possibility that the Mets are interested. Some were hoping it'd be the Astros, but the Astros are committed to manager Dusty Baker for next year. After that … never say never.

Shortly after getting the Astros ax, Hinch went on MLB TV and apologized for his role in the Astros cheating scandal. Although baseball's investigation said the garbage can banging scheme was "with the exception of (Astros coach Alex) Cora, player-driven and player-executed," Hinch took responsibility as manager and didn't challenge his punishment. No players were punished.

"I still feel responsible and will always feel responsible as the man out front," Hinch said. "As the leader, I was in charge of the team. I put out a statement to apologize. But there is something different to doing it on camera and putting a face to an apology, and saying I'm sorry to the league, to baseball, to fans, to players, to the coaches.

"It happened on my watch. I'm not proud of that. I'll never be proud of it. I didn't like it. But I have to own it. And the commissioner's office made very, very clear that the GM and the manager were in position to make sure that nothing like this happened. And we fell short."

In effect, while Hinch didn't authorize or participate in the sign-stealing scandal, he didn't do enough (really anything) to stop it. He is the rare case of being a guilty bystander.

To be clear, Hinch has not been offered the Detroit manager job. However, he has more experience and more wins under his belt than most of the other candidates being considered.

Hinch's reputation is blemished, but his credentials can't be disputed. During his five years as Astros manager, the team never had a losing season, won 100 or more games three times, including a team record 107 wins last year, made the playoffs three times and won a World Series.

Has baseball forgiven Hinch, and does he deserve another chance to manage in the big leagues? This is America, the land of forgiveness and second chances.

As Mahatma Gandhi said, "The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong."

Hinch knew his team was cheating and didn't do enough to stop it. There's no defense for that. But I think he's paid enough of a price to get back in baseball.

Mike Tyson raped a woman, went to jail, and now he's practically America's sweetheart. Hillary forgave Bill. We not only forgave Confederate leaders, we built schools and statues to honor them. Martha Stewart went to jail for insider trading, now she's back on TV baking crumpets. Ozzy Osbourne was arrested for pee'ing on a monument outside the Alamo, there is no more sacred place in Texas, and now he sells out concerts at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion.

Pee-wee Herman, well, let's not say what he was caught doing, but he's planning to tour the U.S. celebrating the 35th anniversary of Pee-wee's Big Adventure movie.

Remember, Hinch was suspended for a year. It could have been worse. Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred has the power to ban people for life. Since becoming the commish, Manfred has permanently banished two people: former St. Louis Cardinals scouting director Chris Correa for hacking into the Astros computer database, and former Atlanta Braves general manager, John Coppolella for signing international players illegally.

Manfred also has temporarily banned Astros assistant general manager Brandon Taubman for shouting inappropriate comments at female reporters last year. Taubman is eligible to apply for reinstatement after this year's World Series. However, if he commits one more violation of baseball rules, he will be banned for life.

Lifetime bans aren't as unusual as you might think. Since baseball's beginnings in the 1800s, dozens of players, managers and team owners have been banned, mostly, like Pete Rose and the Chicago Black Sox, for gambling-related offenses.

A.J. Hinch copped to his crime, suffered the consequences, now it's time for him to manage a baseball team again. It's not like he'd be landing a plum job with Detroit. The Tigers are out of this year's playoff picture. They lost 114 games last season. And were 64-98 the two years prior. Managing the Tigers will be punishment enough.

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