Astros Falter in April
After a surprisingly strong showing in 2015, expectations for the Astros were even higher in 2016. It didn’t happen in April as the team finished the month with a record of 7-17. The only major league team with a worse record was the Atlanta Braves at 5-18. The Astros did not win 2 games in a row all month
What went wrong in April after spring training went so well? Almost everything. They have just not been playing good baseball. Both the starting pitching and the relief pitching, strong points in 2015, have been way below expectations, ranking last in the American League in ERA at 4.97. Opposing batters have hit .284 against the Astro staff and have scored 5.12 runs per game. The Astro batters have hit only .235 and scored 3.5 runs per game, not nearly enough to offset the poor pitching performance.
The numbers don’t tell the whole story. The defense has been shaky at times and they have made numerous base-running mistakes. Situational hitting has been poor and they have not been hitting well with men on base. The last two games of the month in Oakland illustrate some of the problems. The Astros carried a 4-2 lead after 7 innings in the first game, started by an A’s pitcher making his first major league appearance. However, the Astros bullpen gave up 2 runs in the eighth inning and 3 more in the ninth inning, including a walk-off home run to lose 7-4. In the next game, also started by an A’s pitcher just brought up from the minors, the Astros trailed 2-0 in the ninth inning when they loaded the bases with one out. Evan Gattis then grounded into a double play to end the game.
Individually, there were few bright spots in April. Jose Altuve is hitting the ball harder than ever and had six home runs while batting .305 with an on-base average of .400. He also leads the major leagues in stolen bases with 9. Colby Rasmus also has a .400 on-base average along with 7 home runs and 19 runs batted in. George Springer (.278 average, 4 home runs) and Carlos Correa (.271 and 3) have hit reasonably well but not at the superstar level that was expected. Rookie first baseman, Tyler White, started strong but tailed off later in the month as his batting average dropped to .250. None of the remaining players had a batting average higher than .239 or an on-base average over .290. Center fielder, Carlos Gomez (.213 batting average), catcher, Jason Castro (.140) and third baseman, Luis Valbuena (.183) have been especially disappointing. None of the three has hit a home run
The Astros lead the major leagues in striking out with 238, including seven players having 20 or more. At this pace, they will break the major league record of 1535, set by the forgettable 2013 Astros. And they are doing it without Chris Carter. On a more positive note, the Astros have 29 home runs which ties them for seventh place in the major leagues and they have 18 stolen bases which ties them for third. However, they have been caught stealing 10 times, resulting in an unacceptable 64% success rate.
Now to the pitching. The five man starting rotation has ERA’s of 3.97, 4.41, 4.97, 5.56 and 6.65 and has combined for only 8 quality starts (six innings and no more than 3 earned runs). Ace, Dallas Keuchel has only 2 good games in his 5 starts. Unfortunately, only one start has been in a home game where he has been unbeatable since 2014. Rookie, Chris Devenski replaced winless, Scott Feldman, in the starting rotation in the final game of the month and should remain there.
Luke Gregerson has performed well as the closer converting all four of his save opportunities with an ERA of 2.00. However, Ken Giles, obtained in a trade with Philadelphia has been a major disappointment, allowing 4 home runs in 10 innings with an ERA of 9.00. The bullpen ERA was 4.75.
Can the Astros turn it around and get into contention? It’s certainly possible but they need to get started quickly. The May schedule appears less daunting with 16 of the 29 games at home. If things don’t improve in the next two weeks, expect some changes to be made. If it is any consolation, the Texas Rangers began the 2015 season at 7-15 and rallied to win the AL West Division.