Different View

There are more questions than answers right now for this Astros team

You won't make a living arguing sports with Charlie Pallilo but I had an issue with an article he wrote last week on this very website. He didn't write the headline but it said that the Astros were heading into spring training with very few questions to answer.

I beg to differ.

True, there aren't a lot of roster spots up for grabs and the Astros are a heavy favorite to win the A.L. West again but there are a lot more storylines than the fifth starter and Carlos Correa's back.

I'm not nearly as bullish on this team as I was the past two years. Again, they will win the A.L. West and be back in the postseason but that's not the standard anymore. I'm not sure this team has done enough this offseason to catch the Red Sox and they were probably passed by the Yankees who have been extremely busy.

Let's start with the Yankees. They lost starter Sonny Gray who was a disaster for them and replaced him with James Paxton who is one of the best lefties in baseball and an Astro killer. They also re-signed J.A. Happ who was 7-0 since they picked him up last year from the Blue Jays. They lost David Robertson from their bullpen but added Adam Ottavino who was dominant in Colorado. He should be lights out in New York. They also added D.J. LeMahieu and Troy Tulowitzki to fill in while Didi Gregorius heals from Tommy John surgery. He should be back before August.

That was a 100 win team. They are better, possibly much better.

The Red Sox didn't do much this offseason. They didn't have to. They won 108 games and the world title. They re-signed Nathan Eovaldi, which was huge. They lost closer Craig Kimbrel but I'm not sure they won't be better off. If Ryan Brasier can't handle it Matt Barnes can. They have both got closer stuff.

The Astros solved their closer dilemma last trade deadline. Roberto Osuna is firmly planted in that role. That's the only sure thing in a bullpen that was a disaster again last postseason. Ryan Pressly is solid and will be counted on in big late game situations. Otherwise it's a crap shoot. Hector Rondon wasn't even on the LDS roster and wasn't happy about it. Brad Peacock and Chris Devenski weren't invited to the party either. Will Harris was awful for three months last year but righted the ship and made the playoff roster only to see that go poorly once he was there. Josh James may or may not be counted on to give them bullpen innings. He could be a starter. Either way the longer he stayed in the game last year the worse it got but he was young and going through it all for the first time. He will hopefully be better. Lord knows he has the "stuff." Cionel Perez will take Tony Sipp's spot as the token lefty.

Meanwhile 3/5 of the rotation is gone. Verlander and Cole are the only ones back. They're arguably the best one-two punch in baseball but they only start 40% of the games. The other 60% is very much up in the air.

One thing we know for sure, Collin McHugh will be the third starter to begin the season. That's a two-fold problem. One, it takes him out of a role where he excelled, middle relief. Two, it puts more pressure on a bullpen that will be taxed this season. McHugh will have to build up plenty of stamina to go more than 6 innings. Last year he went 3 innings twice. In '16, his last year as a starter he averaged less than 5 2/3 innings per start.

Wade Miley is your fouth starter. He'd been sturdy up until last year but he made only 16 starts and threw 80 innings. Hopefully he will be able to make all his starts but that doesn't mean he will be effective. He's a below .500 pitcher in his career but he's never worked with Brent Strom before. That seems to be magical for most guys.

Brad Peacock and Josh James will fight for the last spot. The other will head to the pen. In '16 Peacock averaged less than 5 1/3 innings per start. If Josh James is the fifth starter who knows how patient AJ will be with him when he struggles into the 4th, 5th and 6th innings.

All of this means that the bullpen will play an even bigger role than ever. By the postseason you can bet that it'll be overworked. You'll need the bullpen for some 500 innings. That's about what they gave you last year. We've already seen what that means in all three of these recent postseasons. There has been very little left in the tank. Even when they won it all it was only because the starters came in and saved the day.

Offensively the Astros will probably be one of baseball's best. It fell off last year with injuries to Altuve and Correa. Hopefully those two will be back to '17 form. You can bet on Altuve but Correa isn't a sure thing. Backs are tricky and I'm not not so sure some of it wasn't in his head. He looked tentative and overmatched at times. That can't happen this year.

Other than that you'll have to live with a dead spot in the lineup from the catchers but I'll be interested to see what Tyler White can do with more at bats. Michael Brantley will be a welcome addition. Kyle Tucker will get another shot. Hopefully he makes more of it. He actually hit into some poor luck. Tony Kemp deserves more time. Maybe he'll platoon at DH. Aledmys Diaz has a lot to prove if he's going to replace Marwin. Alex Bregman had a huge offseason. He needs to validate his breakout year with another big one this season.

Again, this team will be back in the postseason. The A.L. West got weaker with Seattle's fire sale. But that's not enough. Not anymore. It's parade or bust. To get back there Jeff Luhnow is going to have to make a lot more noise at the trade deadline than he did this offseason.

TEAM COMES TO JAKE'S DEFENSE AND BRINGS SQUAD CLOSER TOGETHER

Marisnick collision and aftermath could be turning point in season

Photo via: Astros/Facebook

Every season has a turning point and a moment or two that becomes a catalyst as to whether or not the team makes a long run and has playoff success or fails to live up to expectations and goes home early. There is still plenty of the season still to be played, but this year's version of that defining moment could very well be the collision at home plate between Jake Marisinick and Angel's catcher Jonathan Lucroy and the aftermath both on the field and on social media. From the minute it happened the court of public opinion had plenty to say and lots of venom to spew Jake's way. From members of the media to current players like Yadier Molina and plenty of cowardly keyboard warriors on Twitter and Instagram, everyone took the time to rip Marisnick and detail the punishment they felt like he deserved. Through it all Jake handled it all with remorse and honest commentary as he tried to explain his thought process and what he planned to do going forward. Never once did he lash out or get into a war of words with his critics as he answered the numerous questions from the media and expressed his deep regret to Lucroy. Jake handled everything with class and in the process, we found out just how tight a bunch this Astros team really is.

AJ Hinch, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The greatest thing to come out of this horrible situation was the support Jake received from his teammates and the way his manager and some of the biggest names on the roster were outspoken in defending him and vouching for his character. From Lance McCullers and Justin Verlander, Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve, everyone had Jake's back as they told anyone that would listen what a great person Jake was and how he would never purposely try and hurt another player in any game situation. George Springer was telling the TV audience right after the game ended and that was the first of many examples of a team that would not let one of their own be hung out to dry and left to fend for himself. A lot of players in the same situation would rather run and hide for fear of damaging their own image and yet here were the Astros providing strength in numbers as they protected their brother. Manager AJ Hinch, a former catcher, was quick to explain the split second a player has to decide his path and route to the plate while attempting to avoid the defender. He added that Jake was not a dirty player, the contact was not intentional and that Marisnick felt awful and was deeply concerned for Lucroy. It was a very unexpected outcome stemming from a very unfortunate situation.

With all that unfolded surrounding the collision, there was more adversity to come and it would get worse before it got better. Marisnick received word from the office of Major League Baseball that he would be suspended for two games for his role in the play. He quickly said he would appeal, but that would mean that he would have to play in Anaheim, against Lucroy's Angels with all of their fans chomping at the bit to give Jake a piece of their mind. They didn't hold back and certainly got more than their money's worth as the attacks were relentless and most had no boundaries or filter. Eventually, the Angles themselves would look for payback as pitcher Noe Ramirez would not only hit Jake but come dangerously close to his head and neck, drawing the ire of many of the Astros who witnessed it from the dugout. That would spur heated dialog between first baseman Albert Pujols and the Houston bench, so much so, that both benches would clear. Throughout it all, the one player that played peacemaker and attempted to get order restored was none other than Jake. He waved his guys back into the dugout as he calmly discussed everything with Pujols. He never once looked to fight or stir the pot, he only wanted to put everything behind him so he and the team could move on and move forward. The team was off to a slow start after the all-star break and they really needed to re-focus and get back to baseball.

Yuli Gurriel Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

It's funny how things work out and how a team can get closer and play better when faced with its darkest moments in the middle of a swarm of adversity. Turmoil and stressful situations can splinter a team and tear it apart if not handled correctly. On the flip side, a group that stays together no matter how bad a particular incident may seem can actually benefit from it and gain momentum from having stuck together in the face of the negativity. The latter has been the case for the Astros who seem to have used the Marisnick incident to get even tighter, closer together and focussed on moving forward winning as many games as possible to get closer to their ultimate goal of another World Series title. The team won the final 2 games in Anaheim after rallying around Jake and haven't looked back or lost since. They just swept the hated Texas Rangers in a 4 game series and broke out the heavy lumber in opening up a double-digit lead on their way to taking the first game of a huge series against the A's at Minute Maid Park Monday night. They have won 7 in a row and are getting healthier with each passing day as they are playing some of their best baseball of the year. The results speak for themselves as they have taken a licking and just keep on ticking. They say winning is contagious and together everyone achieves more, but this team found out the hard way that character is a powerful tool and if used by an entire team in unison, it can move mountains and build a culture. Jake has always been a fan favorite and one of the most beloved players in the Astros clubhouse, but he may be even more entrenched in this Houston lovefest after how he handled a very difficult situation and came out of it a better man for having gone through it. Let's hope that when the season is over and we look back on its biggest moments and turning points we can point a finger at those moments in mid-July that started with a collision and ended with a bang.

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