The Houston Astros lost 4-3 to the Tampa Bay Rays yesterday. It was the team’s sixth straight loss, and the eighth loss in the last 10 games. The Astros are 3-8 for July, were 15-14 in June, and just 18-22 for the last 40 games. And after being far out in front of the AL West for most of the season, the Astros find themselves in second place as the All Star Game break descends upon baseball.
The Astros as currently assembled are a team built for surges, but also built for slumps. It’s a team that depends on home runs to score runs, and the team generally hits the homers in bunches, and right now, the bunches aren’t coming. It’s not a very fundamentally sound team, and watching some of the guys run the bases can trigger nightmares that last for months.
Many thought the Astros would be a much improved team this season, though there was some speculation that the team’s record wouldn’t show that improvement. That speculation has been spectacularly wrong, of course, and now a fanbase that has sat through bad season after bad season after bad season while Jeff Luhnow has attempted to rebuild the team are now angry that the team’s slumping instead of winning every game.
It’s all a matter of perspective, of course. This Astros team is fun to watch, but it needs to be remembered that it’s always been the conventional wisdom that the Astros were pushing for a competitive squad this season with the team fulfilling the Sports Illustrated prophecy of winning the World Series in 2017. So while fans might now be disappointed in the team, it really needs to be remembered that this team is ahead of the curve, and that maybe, instead of being upset by the team’s recent play, fans should be enjoying the product on the field.
I wasn’t thrilled when A.J. Hinch was named as the replacement for Bo Porter. Hinch hadn’t impressed me during his tenure as manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks, and I really wondered rather Luhnow was more interested in a field manager or if he was more concerned with bringing in another yes man to round out the staff. But despite the complaints I’ve seen recently with more and more fans blaming Hinch for the team’s struggles, there’s not really much more that Hinch can do in his job.
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Hinch doesn’t choose the roster. He’s not the one responsible for a roster that left no choice but to play Evan Gattis in the field several weeks ago while Cobly Rasmus and Jake Marisnick were injured. Yes, it’s painful watching Chris Carter flail away every night while we’re told time and time again that his rebound is just around the corner. And yes the Jason Castro/Hank Conger catching combo is awful, but what can Hinch do about it? Does the team suck at running the bases? That’s a system-wide problem, not just a major league team problem.
There are 71 games still left in the season. And the team’s probably not going to win the pennant, especially with George Springer still supposed to be out for at least another month or so, and especially not as long as Carter or Castro are playing every night, or if Gattis and Luis Valbuena are between home run streaks. But Jed Lowrie should be returning soon, and maybe the Astros will move him to first or third base, and maybe Jose Altuve will return to the player he was last year. And maybe, just maybe, Jeff Luhnow will make some moves and bring in another starter or another, more consistent bat.
But for the most part this isn’t one of those squads of incompetent fools that horrified Astros fans of years past. This team is better. It’s competitive. There’s talent on this roster, and there’s still more talent in the minors. Sure the team’s no longer in first place, but who really among you really thought this team would be 49-42 at the All Star break?
The Astros are once again a fun team to watch play baseball. Sure the team can be a bit frustrating to watch at times. But the frustration comes not from watching a bunch of clowns, but because there is actual major league talent on this roster. So maybe the Astros don’t win it all this season, but the team’s better, and there’s nothing to indicate that the team won’t be much better next season, and the season after that.