This Could Be a Very Complicated Season for the Astros

Jake Odorizzi only made it through one out on Saturday.
Jake Odorizzi only made it through one out on Saturday. Photo by Jack Gorman
On Saturday, with only one out down, the last starter the Astros added to their rotation before the season started, Jake Odorizzi, left the game with tightness in his forearm. Kent Emanuel, a 29-year-old rookie stepped in and pitched the REST of the game giving up only two runs in a 16-2 route, more runs than the Astros had scored in the previous two series combined.

All of that came just days after four Astros who missed a week due to COVID protocols returned (Jose Altuve tested positive and remains out of the lineup). One of those players was Robel Garcia, who got the game winning single in the bottom of the tenth inning Friday night against the Angels, who cut him before the season started.

If we all thought 2020 was weird at Minute Maid Park, 2021 might want us to hold its beer.

Kyle Tucker, who is slashing a brutal .177/.202/.405, leads the team in home runs with five. Yuli Gurriel, who had a terrible 2020, is leading the team in RBI with 15. And Cristian Javier, who had been shipped to the Astros alternative training site when Odorizzi was healthy, came back to get a career high nine strikeouts in a win Thursday. His ERA is currently 1.32 in just under 14 innings pitched.

It's still early in the very long baseball season, which is why it is never a good idea to be "on pace" guy before a team is even through 20 percent of their schedule, but the start has been anything but predictable.

To start out 6-1 with only one home game under their belts and follow that up with 1-9 (five of those losses coming at home) before a 4-1 homestand is a rollercoaster ride to start a season even if it is only 21 games.

This could be a quirk of a rather odd early-season schedule mixed with some unfortunate injuries and time lost due to COVID protocols. Or, it could be a trend. The truth is, it is impossible to know with this team. There is the proven talent of Jose Altuve, Michael Brantley, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman. But, there is also the uncertainty of Gurriel, Tucker and basically the entire pitching staff.

Certainly there are plenty of oddities already this season from the first ever seven-inning no hitter to the Oakland A's charging out of the gate like they are going to win not just the division but the World Series. That will happen early in a season when teams and players are just getting their bearings. It has been amplified by the complications of returning after a COVID-shortened seasons.

That seems to be at least some of the difficulty for Joe Smith, the steady Astros reliever who sat out all of 2020 due to the coronavirus. His velocity has dipped noticeably this season and his massive ERA is the result.

Still, we aren't really going to know what we have with the Astros until we are probably in July. Vegas cast their odds for the Astros at 87.5 games, a number we still believe is a bit low considering it is barely above .500. But, watching them so far, how can we know for sure? Will Correa start hitting more long balls as many expected and hoped in a free agent season? Can Zack Greinke continue to pitch like an actual ace? Can Tucker turn things around? Can Gurriel keep them going? Who can stay healthy?

No crystal balls here, only questions. Fortunately, we have a long season ahead to answer them, but it might take longer than we expect and there are bound to be plenty more surprises along the way.
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke