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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Zack Greinke earned his 10th win of the season in Sunday's finale agains the Rangers. Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

With the first two wins of the series under their belt, the Astros entered Sunday looking to take care of business before heading on the road. Despite the Rangers taking the first lead of the day, the Astros responded on offense and defense to erase the deficit to get the victory.

Final Score: Astros 3, Rangers 1

Astros' Record: 61-39, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Zack Greinke (10-3)

Losing Pitcher: Dennis Santana (0-1)

Greinke, with some help, notches a quality start

Zack Greinke was doing well in the early goings of Sunday's finale. Despite allowing back-to-back singles to start the game, he stranded both runners to finish the top of the first. He followed that by erasing two more runners in the second, starting a stretch of eight straight batters which he would retire to make it through one out in the top of the fifth without allowing a run.

Texas finally added a blemish to his day at that point, getting a solo homer to grab their first lead in weeks. Greinke rebounded from it, sitting down the next two batters to finish the frame, then posted a 1-2-3 sixth. He returned for the top of the seventh, but would end his day with a struggle, loading the bases with no outs on a single, hit batter, and walk. That prompted Dusty Baker to bring in Cristian Javier, who saved Greinke's stat line by getting a strikeout and double play to keep the Rangers from scoring. Greinke's line: 6.0 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 1 HR, 86 P.

Houston grabs the lead

Houston's starter would leave in line for the win, thanks to the work of Cristian Javier, but also some timely offense in the two innings prior. With not much going for them in the first four innings, the Astros tried to take advantage of Chas McCormick being on base in the bottom of the fifth, sending him for a potential hit and run with Abraham Toro swinging.

That turned into two runs, with McCormick able to slow his run as Toro would launch a two-run go-ahead homer to erase the Rangers lead quickly. They extended the lead to two runs in the next inning, with Yordan Alvarez working a walk and then later scoring on an RBI single by Kyle Tucker, making it 3-1.

Astros finish the sweep

After cleaning up the inherited mess in the top of the seventh, Javier remained on the mound in the top of the eighth and made it through a 1-2-3 inning to give him six outs against five batters. With it still a two-run game in the top of the ninth, Ryan Pressly entered for the save opportunity. He notched it, sitting down the Rangers 1-2-3 to finish the sweep, handing Texas their twelfth straight loss.

Up Next: The Astros will head out west for an eight-game road trip starting with a three-game set with the Mariners kicking off at 9:10 PM Central on Monday. In the opener, Luis Garcia (7-5, 2.86 ERA) for Houston is slated to go opposite Darren McCaughan (0-0, 1.80 ERA), who will make his second career appearance and first start for Seattle.

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