Every-Thing Sports

Jeff Luhnow is frustratingly smart and frugal

Composite photo by Brandon Strange

Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow has done a tremendous job since being hired on December 8, 2011. That was a month and a few days after he helped the St. Louis Cardinals winning their eleventh title. He's used his analytic/Moneyball style of team building to build the Astros organization into a perennial contender. The crowning achievement was the World Series title in 2017. Not too bad for a guy who was hired into the Cardinals organization in 2003 without any prior experience in baseball besides playing in high school. He had previously worked for McKinsey & Company, a global strategy and management company.

He's made a career of analyzing data, making sense of it, and using what he's found through analyzing said data to give an advantage to whoever he's working for. This is a valuable skillset, whether in the business world, or in MLB. Luhnow has proven he can provide an extremely high level of efficiency and production with his work.It's the same qualities that make Luhnow a pain in the ass when it comes to making trades involving high ranking prospects.

He won't quit Kyle Tucker

As presently constructed, this team needs another arm in both the starting rotation, as well as in the bullpen. The Mets wanted a package centered around Tucker, the tall, lanky left-hand hitting outfield prospect for perhaps their best pitcher Noah Syndergaard. When I heard Luhnow was unwilling to send Tucker, I was upset. Tucker came up last season and couldn't cut it. Yordan Alvarez has more than proven himself in the opportunities that he's been given this season. So much so that manager AJ Hinch finds ways to get him into games, despite Alvarez being a defensive liability. If Tucker was deserving of the nickname "Ted" (as in Ted Williams because of his supposed sweet lefty swing), he'd be up taking the at-bats Alvarez currently occupies. Alas, Tucker is still in the minors while Alvarez is putting up rookie of the year numbers.

Ditto for Forrest Whitley

The same can be said for Forrest Whitley. Whitley is the organization's best pitching prospect. He was hurt this year and not able to be called up when Alvarez was called up. He was originally thought to be called up in June so the team would hold off another year of arbitration. However, his injury set back those plans. Not to mention he hasn't been as sharp as everyone would have liked for him to be. That being said, he could've been flipped into a big leaguer that can help this team now instead of hoping he develops into a top of the rotation guy later.

Hoarding prospects has its advantages

Remember when Alex Bregman was a hot prospect? Remember when it was thrown out there that the Astros should trade him for Chris Sale? Remember when last season Bregman finished top three in the AL MVP race and earned a five-year $100 million dollar extension? Sometimes Luhnow's stubbornness pays off. He's shown that he's made the right calls so far for this organization. Winning that World Series title gave him some equity. So did restocking the minor league system and building a stacked big league roster. Maybe this guy knows what he's doing after all?

Bottom line: Luhnow knows what he's doing. Whether we believe in his methods or not, he's rebuilt this franchise from the ground up. However, it is still quite frustrating to see guys out there that can help this team win another title and Luhnow not going after them for fear of having to part with prospects he holds in high regard. Where does the chase for another title outweigh the potential future of the franchise? In my opinion, the title chase now outweighs the future. Winning another title can seal your legacy, as well as the legacies of everyone involved. Luhnow needs to realize that the guys he's trading away aren't future Hall of Famers. They'll probably be really good, but that's not enough to turn down proven big league talent that can help you now. I truly hope this article is rendered inconsequential by Wednesday at 3PM. That's the hard trade deadline. That's when we'll know if Luhnow thinks this team is ready for a World Series run as constructed, or he's made a move to reinforce what he's already built. As hard as it is for me to say it, in Luhnow I trust.

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Astros advance to ALCS. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

It was the longest scoreless game in Major League Baseball history, but in the end it was shortstop Jeremy Peña that sealed the win and the series for Houston.

The Houston Astros advanced to their sixth straight American League Championship Series, beating the Mariners 1-0 in the elimination Game Three in the American League Division Series. The lone run came on a homer by Peña in the top of the 18th inning.

It was a pitchers’ clinic between Houston’s Lance McCullers Jr. and Seattle’s George Kirby to start the game, and it became a clinic for a lengthy list of relievers that also joined in. Both starters made it through six innings, Kirby made it through seven, without giving up a single run.

In total, the Astros and Mariners had a combined 18 pitchers throw a ball in Game Three. Houston’s eight pitchers allowed only seven hits, 0 earned runs and had 22 strikeouts. Seattle’s 10 combined to give up only 11 hits and had 20 strikeouts, but Penn Murfee for the Mariners gave up the lone run.

Houston pitcher Luis Garcia was huge for the Astros. He came into the game in the 14th inning, and essentially was Houston’s second starter. Garcia gave up only two hits and got six strikeouts against the Mariners, including the final out on a line drive to Julio Rodriguez.

Both teams were able to get traffic on the bases throughout the game, particularly early but neither could capitalize, which was the story of the entire game.

The Astros arguably had the best chance to break the stalemate early in the second inning when they had Yuli Gurriel and Kyle Tucker at second and third base. Seattle third baseman Eugenio Suárez did a great job scooping up a ball thrown by catcher Cal Raleigh when Tucker went to steal third base.

Raleigh’s throw was in the dirt and had it gotten past Suárez, it would have allowed Tucker to score on an error. Instead, he stayed at third and Kirby struck out Chas McCormick, which kept the game tied at 0.

McCullers got into a groove following the traffic by the Mariners in the second inning. He put together a strong performance, striking out seven batters and giving up only two hits on 88 pitches in Saturday’s game. Kirby was right behind McCullers with a strong performance of his own. He struck out five batters allowing six hits on 91 pitchers for the Mariners.

The relievers for both teams came into the game and continued the trend of shutout baseball. Dusty Baker went with Hector Neris and Rafael Montero after McCullers. Scott Servais went with Andrés Muñoz and Diego Castillo after Kirby in the seventh and eighth innings.

Neris, Montero and Muñoz were able to keep the scoreboard at 0. Castillo gave up a single to Gurriel and then hit Aledmys Díaz with a pitch. Díaz pinch hit for Trey Manchini. With runners at first and second and no outs, it allowed McCormick to bunt and move both runners to second and third.

Servais decided he had seen enough and went to Matt Brash. The decision for the skipper paid off as he struck out Christian Vázquez and Altuve, who had an abysmal outing against the Mariners in Game Three.

Looking ahead

When it comes to pitchers that did not see action against the Mariners, Baker did not use José Urquidy, who was the only pitcher left standing in the Astros bullpen. Houston did not use Cristian Javier either, who spent the game in the dugout.

Baker went with pitcher Hunter Brown in the 12th and 13th inning. Brown got another taste of postseason action after his debut in Game One. Brown allowed only one hit and also a strikeout in the high pressure situations.

Altuve’s struggles are a big concern heading into the ALCS. He was 0-for-16 against the Mariners in the ALDS, and he went 0-for-8 against Seattle in Game Three. His at-bats were brutal on Saturday. Not only could he not get a hit, but his swings seemed to be more like hacks most of the time.

It is obvious the Venezuela native is in a major slump, and while Baker should be confident his second baseman will eventually figure it out, the manager might need to tweak the lineup going forward and move Altuve down the batting order.

Alvarez, who was the hero for Houston in Games One and Two, went hitless in Game Three. For Astros fans, they will hope that it is an aberration and not the start of a slump.

Now the Astros will wait for the winner of the Cleveland Guardians and New York Yankees. Game One of the ALCS is Wednesday.

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