Sean Pendergast

Rating My Four Way-Too-Early Houston Astro Concerns

The Astros have been okay, but the most fun so far this season has been celebrating last season.
The Astros have been okay, but the most fun so far this season has been celebrating last season. Photo by Jack Gorman
Before the Astros began the process of defending their 2017 World Series title in this year of 2018, I told myself that if things went a little sideways early in the season, I wasn't going to freak out... and I'm hear to tell you that, I am most assuredly NOT freaking out after the Astros began the season 10-6 at the one-tenth-of-the-regular-season mark. They're now 10-7 after last night's 2-1 loss in Seattle. Still, not freaking out.

That said, if the season ended today (listen to me... I sound like a crazy person who is about to freak out!), the Astros would be outside the playoff picture looking in. Also, Bartolo Colon, who is roughly 87 years old and obese, was spinning a perfect game through seven innings on Sunday night against the Astros. So I feel I'm entitled to, at the very least, point out the things that are of mild concern to me right now.

Again, not freaking out here. Just verbalizing via my keyboard a little bit. I promise, there's a difference. So, what's concerning me at the one-tenth mark? Well, glad you asked...

4. The Angels
After dropping two of three over the weekend to the Rangers, the Astros found themselves trailing in the AL West by three games, behind the white hot Los Angeles Angels (of Anaheim... or of Upper Orange County... or of Right Near Disneyland.... whatever). Behind the early power surge of Mike Trout, and the hitting and pitching greatness of Japanese phenom Shohei Ohtani, the Angels are out of the gate quickly in 2018. They were my pick for a wildcard spot in the AL before the season started, and I still think that's where they end up. Ultimately, the Astros' starting pitching is just too good. That said, it was widely assumed that the Astros could work out any kinks in 2018 with the veil of a large lead in the division to protect them. It appears there might be meaningful division games played in August and September, which will be fun, but anxiety-inducing.

CONCERN LEVEL (1 to 10): 4.1

3. Uneven offense
Only a few weeks into the season, with a small sample space of games, it's not surprising to have some Astros hitting well below where we expect them to finish the season — George Springer, Alex Bregman, Evan Gattis, and Marwin Gonzalez are all regulars who are in the low .200s for batting average right now. One of the trademarks of this team last season, and certainly in the postseason, was that a couple guys were normally able to pick up the team if they were in a tight, low scoring game. Early this season, though, the Astros have had an inordinate number of games where they could get NOTHING going, seven games in all with two runs or fewer, and even in some of the games where they scored some runs, it was all in clusters, like Saturday's game against Texas where they scored all five runs in one inning, and were dead the rest of the time. To be clear, the offense is what worries me the LEAST on this team, but there have been some head scratchers early on this season.

CONCERN LEVEL (1 to 10): 1.5

2. Keuchel and McCullers
Any concerns surrounding both of these guys are usually in the medical area. Both have had trouble staying healthy the last couple years. When they've been healthy, they've performed at an All-Star level. (NOTE: Like literally, both MADE the All-Star game last season.) After just a few starts, Keuchel already has as many losses as he had through the late August last season, although he pitched well in a losing effort last night in Seattle. That was encouraging. McCullers, meanwhile, is coming off the worst start of his career last week, giving up 8 runs in an inning against the Twins. Not to be alarmist about Keuchel and McCullers, but it's a little scary to think about how we'd feel right now if Jeff Luhnow doesn't pull off the Verlander and Cole trades, right?

CONCERN LEVEL (1 to 10): 5.8

1. Bullpen
If there's any area where Luhnow will be asked to pull off some magic again this season, it will probably be in the bullpen, which, compared to other areas of this team, is a bit of an unhinged circus right now. The trust level in Ken Giles as a closer is a huge trigger mechanism in some of the bullpen's shakiness. Early on, Giles' inconsistency has forced Brad Peacock to pitch (a) more often and (b) in a different role than he'd been accustomed, too. His last couple outings have been shaky. Hector Rondon and Joe Smith were supposed to fortify things, but neither really generates a lot of confidence for fans right now. Chris Devenski, another 2017 All-Star, is probably still the most reliable arm, but the bullpen right now needs Giles to reassert himself, or it's going to be A.J. Hinch essentially spinning a wheel in the late innings all season long.

CONCERN LEVEL (1 to 10): 8.1

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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast