PLAY BALL!

Everything you wanted to know and more about the new-look 2021 Astros

Baseball is right around the corner. Composite photo by Jack Brame.

Beat the drum and hold the phone, the sun came out today. Baseball is back!

Pending COVID-19 tests and everything else that could possibly go wrong – and probably will – the “new-look" Houston Astros are scheduled to hold their first spring training workout today in West Palm Beach.

New-look indeed. Let's jump in the wayback machine all the way to Nov. 1, 2017, when Corey Seager grounded out Jose Altuve to Yuli Gurriel to wrap up the Astros' one and only World Series title. That was only 3-1/2 years ago, still so fresh in our minds. We still remember shortstop Carlos Correa popping the question to Miss Texas USA Daniella Rodriguez, and oh what a victory parade downtown, right? Seems like yesterday.

Yesterday, so long ago. The Astros have invited 72 players to spring training this year. Even in this era of free agency, opting out and multi-team trades, the Astros have turned their roster upside down and inside out. You can't tell the players … even with a scorecard.

There are 39 pitchers on the Astros spring training roster. Only two of them, Lance McCullers Jr. and Francis Martes were on the 2017 World Series team, and Martes is off limits on MLB's restricted list for performance enhancing substances.

This is a greater turnover than Three Brothers Bakery on South Braeswood.

Let's stick with the pitchers, we'll get to the hitters later.

The Astros won 101 games in wondrous, trashcan-banging 2017. McCullers won 7 games, Martes won 5, and Justin Verlander won 5. Verlander will miss most, possibly all, of 2021 recovering from Tommy John surgery. Who knows what's what with Martes? So in reality, McCullers will be the only pitching holdover from “that championship season" (great Broadway play, won the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award for Best Drama).

That leaves 84 wins from 2017 gone from 2021's hopes and dreams. Fifteen different pitchers who won games for the Astros in 2017 are now plying their trade elsewhere, including: Charlie Morton, Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh, Chris Devenski, and Joe Musgrove. From the “Where Are They Now" file, Jordan Jankowski notched a W for the Astros in 2017. Whatever happened to that Mike Fiers fellow, anyway?

The starting lineup for the Astros in Game 7 of the 2017 World Series was: George Springer (CF), Alex Bregman (3B), Jose Altuve (2B), Carlos Correa (SS), Yuli Gurriel (1B), Brian McCann (C), Marwin Gonzalez (LF), and Josh Riddick (RF). Half of them are gone. The winning pitcher was Charlie Morton, gone. The two pinch hitters that night, Evan Gattis and Cameron Maybin, gone. Fifteen players saw action in Game 7 – two-thirds of them are former Astros just four seasons later. That's 10 players gone, I forgot that I promised there wouldn't be any math.

Manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow are no longer with us. I mean they're not with the Astros. They're still alive. The chastened and forgiven Hinch now manages the Detroit Tigers who will visit Minute Maid Park on April 12-13-14. Tickets available at mlb.com/astros.

The Astros were 48-33 at home games in Minute Maid Park and Tropicana Field in 2017. Did you forget that the Astros hosted the Rangers for three games in Florida because of flooding from Hurricane Harvey? Doesn't matter, none of the pitchers of record that series, Fiers (lost), Keuchel (lost) and Devenski (winner!), are still an Astro.

Eight catchers are in West Palm for Astros spring training. Nary a one found it necessary to report downtown for the World Series parade in 2017.

Thirteen outfielders are at spring training, none was with the title team. Heck, only four of them were with the Astros last season, including Yordan Alvarez who barely provided a physical presence (8 at bats).

You know, maybe this season, instead of numbers on the back of their jerseys, the Astros should wear “Hello, my name is _____" stickers.

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Kyle Tucker had a big day at the plate on Sunday. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

After splitting the first two games of the series, with one team or the other putting on a solid offensive performance in each, the Astros tried to win their fourth series in their last five by taking the rubber game on Sunday against the Blue Jays. Thanks in part to a big day from Kyle Tucker, who played a significant role in the early offense they used to power to the win, they would accomplish their mission.

Final Score: Astros 7, Blue Jays 4

Astros' Record: 18-16, second in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Bryan Abreu (2-1)

Losing Pitcher: Nate Pearson (0-1)

Kyle Tucker helps lead the offense to seven unanswered runs

Houston did not go easy on Nate Pearson in his 2021 debut. After a scoreless first, the Astros loaded the bases on two walks and a single, then brought the first run of the day home on an RBI walk by Michael Brantley. Another walk opened the door in the bottom of the third, and Kyle Tucker capitalized with an RBI triple to make it 2-0, followed by an RBI single by Robel Garcia to make it a three-run lead, ending Pearson's day one out into the bottom of the third.

Things didn't get easier for Toronto's pitching in the next inning, as Jose Altuve would lead off the bottom of the fourth with a solo homer. A single and a walk then set up another big hit for Kyle Tucker, a three-run dinger to make it seven unanswered runs and giving Tucker four RBI on the day.

Blue Jays pound Greinke in the fifth

After four shutout innings to start his day on the mound, working around a few hits along the way, Zack Greinke tried to cash in on his team's offense to get another win on his record. He wouldn't be able to get it done, though, as Toronto would get after him in the top of the fifth. They would score four times amongst five batters that came to the plate, with a solo homer by Rowdy Tellez, a two-RBI double by Bo Bichette, and an RBI single by Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

That made it a 7-4 game, and with Greinke still not having recorded an out in the frame, Dusty Baker would lift him at 88 pitches in favor of Bryan Abreu, who would get a pop out and a double play to end the inning and keep the lead at three runs. Greinke's final line: 4.0 IP, 9 H, 4 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 1 HR, 88 P.

Houston takes the series

No more runs would come on either side the rest of the way, with Kent Emanuel working around a single for a scoreless sixth, Ryne Stanek getting a 1-2-3 seventh, and Andre Scrubb doing the same in the eighth to set up Ryan Pressly for the save. Pressly would get the job done, sending the Blue Jays down in order, including two strikeouts to wrap up the win and giving Houston the series victory.

Up Next: The Astros will stay at home to continue this homestand, welcoming in the Angels for three games starting Monday at 7:10 PM Central. The opener will feature a pitching matchup of Alex Cobb (1-2, 5.48 ERA) for Los Angeles and Luis Garcia (0-3, 3.28 ERA) for Houston.

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