And so another Astros season is in the books. Another season of good, and bad, of head-shaking stupidity and inexplicable thinking. Of outstanding individual performances and huge steps back. The team made the cover of Sports Illustrated, which projected the Astros would win the World Series in 2017. But it's still 2014, so let's take a quick look at some highlights and lowlights of the season.
1. The Astros won 70 games, a 19-game improvement over last season. The team didn't lose 100-plus games for the first time in four seasons, and the team finished in front of the Texas Rangers in the AL West standings. The Astros were only the fourth worst team in the majors this season, beating out not only the Texas Rangers, but also the Colorado Rockies and the Arizona Diamondbacks.
2. Diminutive second baseman Jose Altuve entered the Astros record book. He owns the team record for most hits ever in a season. He's also the first Astro to ever win a batting title, playing (despite the express wishes and orders of the Astros front office) yesterday to hold off Detroit's Victor Martinez. Altuve played nearly every game this season, and he was an All-Star.
3. Designated hitter Chris Carter went on a tear in the second half of the season, finishing with 37 homers and tying with Miami's Giancarolo Stanton for second in homers in the majors. Carter was still a strikeout machine, but he managed to find ways to make contact more often, and his contact usually plated a few runs.
4. George Springer missed the last part of the season with an injury. If the injury doesn't happen, one has to wonder if he's in the conversation for Rookie of the Year. He hit for power, showed range in the outfield and stole bases. Once given a chance, Springer did exactly what observers, scouts, coaches and teammates promised he could do when he was drafted. Now he just has to stay healthy. THE LOWLIGHTS:
1. Jason Castro and Matt Dominguez took huge steps backwards from where they were last season. Jon Singleton seemed over-matched most of the season. Major amounts of playing time were still wasted on the likes of Marc Krauss, Jesus Guzman, Robbie Grossman, Marwin Gonzalez, and Jonathan Villar. Teams generally don't contend when at-bats and playing time are wasted on players who should only be playing in the minors or as late-inning defensive replacements.
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2. The Astros were once again team controversy. There was the spring training drama over whether Springer would make the big league roster, the contract offer he supposedly rejected, and the arbitration clock. There's the whole Brady Aiken draft fiasco, and the grievance filed by the Players Association against the team. The team's state-of-the-art database was hacked and the material made public. There was former manager Bo Porter's hissy fit over Oakland's Jed Lowrie bunting against the shift. The front office feuded with the coaching staff, and Bo Porter was unceremoniously dumped over Labor Day weekend. Then there was the front office attempting to force Jose Altuve to the bench yesterday despite his wishes.
3. There was another season of no television and the complete and total failure of CSN Houston, a network 40-percent owned by the Astros. Owner Jim Crane is suing former Drayton McLane for fraud, mostly arising out of CSN Houston -- an allegation that McLane has disputed and which McLane blames on George Postolos, the supposed original mastermind of the network and former Crane confidant.
The Astros truly showed improvement this season. Sure there were more wins, but there is now legitimate big league talent on the club with the likes of Altuve, Carter, Dexter Fowler, and Dallas Keuchel. There are still too many players who should have been in the minors getting significant at-bats for the team, and the bullpen is still very much a work in progress. The Astros do finally appear to be poised on the brink of relevancy, and it's possible to think that maybe Sports Illustrated wasn't nuts with that whole World Series prediction. A new manager still needs to be hired. And at some point, all of the non-George Springer players in the Astros' much-ballyhooed minor league system actually need to come up to the majors and play like the All Stars they're projected to be."But for now, just enjoy the fact that the Astros are a better team than the Rangers.