Takeaways from the Astros' 1-3 start

Some way-too-early Astros observations after Opening Weekend

Jose Altuve has a 3 home run game against the Red Sox in game one of the ALDS.
Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Even with the calendar just turning over to April, everyone has a series (or two in the case of the A's and Mariners) to over-analyze and overreact to. I thought the first series was going to be important for the Astros, but I'm by no means ready to start considering a panic after a few bad games of offense put them with a 1-3 record.

Do you know who else is sitting with just one win? The Yankees and Red Sox; and does anyone think that these teams aren't going to be around in September? Should we go ahead and crown the 5-1 Mariners as champions? That being said, there were some good (and not so good) observations to be made in these first four games:

Strong pitching performances

Granted, who knows if the Rays offense will prove to be any good this year, but nonetheless, Houston's pitching looked strong in the first series. Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole combined for 19 strikeouts and two earned runs (Cole did allow a few unearned) over their 13 innings in the first two games, both showing that they could easily match the numbers they put up last year. Collin McHugh looked terrific early in his start, which could mean that as he gets back into the rhythm of longer outings he could carryover his strong relief appearances from last year into quality starts. Wade Miley didn't wow anyone with his start on Sunday, but it was still a quality start, and he could easily get better as the year progresses. As for the bullpen, they gave up just one earned run in their nine innings of work, all looking sharp and prepared for the year.

New players making impacts

In addition to Miley mentioned above, Michael Brantley and Aledmys Diaz both have a few games under their belt with their new team, and have made their presence known, but not both in positive ways. Brantley has had a great impact so far, he went 5 for 13 and sits with a .385 average and was the owner of one of the homers against Blake Snell in the Opening Day win. Diaz, on the other hand, has had a rough start to his season, hitting an ugly .000 at the plate with an 0 for 9 including nine strikeouts, and made an error in Friday's game that extended an inning that resulted in the Rays scoring multiple runs. He'll have to turn things around quickly to be trusted as the new Astros utility player.

Early season offensive woes

After four games, Jose Altuve sits with a .214 average while Jake Marisnick leads the team at .429. Alex Bregman has gone 1 for 15, and Carlos Correa went 0 for 3 in his debut on Sunday. These are all things that have a very low chance of lasting to the end of this week, much less the end of April or beyond. Just like I don't think Blake Snell will be giving up five runs on three homers in his starts this year, I don't see the Astros being held to their poor performances this weekend in a long-term fashion. We've been here before, give them some time to ramp up and they're likely to never look back.

Everyone looks healthy

After the year of discomfort in 2018, and Carlos Correa finally getting into the lineup on Sunday after missing the first three games with said discomfort, we finally have a chance to look at a full lineup of healthy players. Jose Altuve showed no slowdown in his speed after his knee issues from last season, and even though he didn't earn a hit, Carlos Correa looked to have his usual drive behind his swing on Sunday. Alex Bregman made several strong throws all the way into foul territory across to first base, showing his elbow is in good shape as well. With the infield and the top of the batting order healthy and intact, there's just no way that this team doesn't work their way back to the top of the rankings.

158 games to go

That's right, 158. After just 4 of 162 games, there's simply no way to assume what any team truly is yet. Short of some serious injuries or trades, there's just simply no way this Houston team finishes with a .250 winning percentage, so let's not get too carried away after one series. That being said, a lot of the games this season have some series impact both for momentum and experience for possible playoff matchups. The Yankees are coming to town next week, then we'll get an ALDS rematch when the Indians come to Houston at the end of the month. While the Astros have time to figure things out and get going, they can't afford to wait too long or the other good teams who figure it out first may just use that to their advantage in the regular season and beyond.

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The Astros have their work cut out for them. Composite Getty Image.

Through 20 games, the Houston Astros have managed just six wins and are in last place in the AL West.

Their pitching staff trails only Colorado with a 5.24 ERA and big-money new closer Josh Hader has given up the same number of earned runs in 10 games as he did in 61 last year.

Despite this, these veteran Astros, who have reached the AL Championship Series seven consecutive times, have no doubt they’ll turn things around.

“If there’s a team that can do it, it’s this team,” shortstop Jeremy Peña said.

First-year manager Joe Espada, who was hired in January to replace the retired Dusty Baker, discussed his team’s early struggles.

“It’s not ideal,” he said. “It’s not what we expected, to come out of the shoot playing this type of baseball. But you know what, this is where we’re at and we’ve got to pick it up and play better. That’s just the bottom line.”

Many of Houston’s problems have stemmed from a poor performance by a rotation that has been decimated by injuries. Ace Justin Verlander and fellow starter José Urquidy haven’t pitched this season because of injuries and lefty Framber Valdez made just two starts before landing on the injured list with a sore elbow.

Ronel Blanco, who threw a no-hitter in his season debut April 1, has pitched well and is 2-0 with a 0.86 ERA in three starts this season. Cristian Javier is also off to a good start, going 2-0 with a 1.54 ERA in four starts, but the team has won just two games not started by those two pitchers.

However, Espada wouldn’t blame the rotation for Houston’s current position.

“It’s been a little bit of a roller coaster how we've played overall,” he said. “One day we get good starting pitching, some days we don’t. The middle relief has been better and sometimes it hasn’t been. So, we’ve just got to put it all together and then play more as a team. And once we start doing that, we’ll be in good shape.”

The good news for the Astros is that Verlander will make his season debut Friday night when they open a series at Washington and Valdez should return soon after him.

“Framber and Justin have been a great part of our success in the last few years,” second baseman Jose Altuve said. “So, it’s always good to have those two guys back helping the team. We trust them and I think it’s going to be good.”

Hader signed a five-year, $95 million contract this offseason to give the Astros a shutdown 7-8-9 combination at the back end of their bullpen with Bryan Abreu and Ryan Pressly. But the five-time All-Star is off to a bumpy start.

He allowed four runs in the ninth inning of a 6-1 loss to the Braves on Monday night and has yielded eight earned runs this season after giving up the same number in 56 1/3 innings for San Diego last year.

He was much better Wednesday when he struck out the side in the ninth before the Astros fell to Atlanta in 10 innings for their third straight loss.

Houston’s offense, led by Altuve, Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker, ranks third in the majors with a .268 batting average and is tied for third with 24 homers this season. But the Astros have struggled with runners in scoring position and often failed to get a big hit in close games.

While many of Houston’s hitters have thrived this season, one notable exception is first baseman José Abreu. The 37-year-old, who is in the second year of a three-year, $58.5 million contract, is hitting 0.78 with just one extra-base hit in 16 games, raising questions about why he remains in the lineup every day.

To make matters worse, his error on a routine ground ball in the eighth inning Wednesday helped the Braves tie the game before they won in extra innings.

Espada brushed off criticism of Abreu and said he knows the 2020 AL MVP can break out of his early slump.

“Because (of) history,” Espada said. “The back of his baseball card. He can do it.”

Though things haven’t gone well for the Astros so far, everyone insists there’s no panic in this team which won its second World Series in 2022.

Altuve added that he doesn’t have to say anything to his teammates during this tough time.

“I think they’ve played enough baseball to know how to control themselves and how to come back to the plan we have, which is winning games,” he said.

The clubhouse was quiet and somber Wednesday after the Astros suffered their third series sweep of the season and second at home. While not panicking about the slow start, this team, which has won at least 90 games in each of the last three seasons, is certainly not happy with its record.

“We need to do everything better,” third baseman Alex Bregman said. “I feel like we’re in a lot of games, but we just haven’t found a way to win them. And good teams find a way to win games. So we need to find a way to win games.”

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