It's fast approaching time to kiss 2014 goodbye. And I for one am eagerly awaiting for a new start in 2015. But before the New Year arrives, let's take one last look into the year for the Houston Astros, the somewhat lovable group of losers playing baseball at Minute Maid Park.
6. The Astros won 70 games. While that still makes for a losing season, it's a hell of a lot better than the three seasons before that which saw the Astros lose 100-plus games each year. The team also showed improvement with the starting pitching and the farm system started to finally produce some of the long promised talent.
5. Speaking of that promised farm system talent, George Springer came up the majors in May and proceeded to set the world on fire. He hit 20 homers in only 345 plate appearances. He displayed speed on the bases, walked a decent amount, and played a very good outfield. The only problems were he struck out a lot (114 times) and missed a lot of time with injuries (which can probably be blamed on the Sports Illustrated cover jinx.
4. Everybody's favorite second baseman, Jose Altuve, accomplished something that no other Astro had accomplished in the history of the team. He won the major league batting title, batting .341 while collecting 225 base hits. He also stole 56 bases and reached base at an outstanding .377 clip.
3. Chris Carter finished second in the American League with 37 homers after turning around his season in the second half. He still can't play defense, and he still struck out 182 times. But he seemed to discover himself in the last half, and should hopefully be able to supply the Astros power needs for many years to come.
2. The Astros will finally be back on television for most of Houston. The CSN Houston bankruptcy saga is over, and the new Root Sports Houston is available on Comcast, DirecTV and Uverse, which together serve over 70-percent of the Houston area. The network's still working on deals with Time-Warner and several other providers, so hopefully by the time April rolls around, everybody will be able to see the Astros again.
1. The bullpen was an embarrassment last season, much as it's been the last several years. So over the past several weeks Jeff Luhnow and his staff have set about trying to finally fix the problem, signing free agent relievers Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek. Neither of these guys is a closer, but both were very important pieces to the Oakland and St. Louis pitching staffs. Neshek had a 1.87 ERA in 67.1 innings last season while striking out 68 batters for the Cardinals. Gregerson pitched in 72 games for the A's with a 2.12 ERA over 72.1 innings. THE BAD
6. Sports Illustrated did a glowing cover story on the Astros, naming them as the team to win the 2017 World Series. The story went in-depth into the team's decision to draft Brady Aiken with the number one pick of the amateur draft, and it went on and on about how smart the Astros were run. So of course, within weeks of the cover story, the Astros computer database was hacked and embarrassing emails were leaked to the country. Then the team failed to sign the ballyhooed Aiken.
5. It wasn't enough for the Astros to not sign Aiken, there was the whole controversy over whether the Astros discovered a heretofore unknown injury to drive down an already agreed to contract price. And not signing Aiken cost the Astros several other draft picks, namely pitcher Jacob Nix who saw his agreed to deal fall apart after Aiken's deal fell through. A grievance was filed against the Astros on behalf of Nix, and Nix and the team reached an unspecified financial settlement over that grievance that several weeks ago.
4. There's a very good reason the Astros had to shell out a lot of money for Gregerson and Neshek, and that reason was because of the bullpen imploding time and time again. This is not to say the Astros would have contended for the playoffs last year, but the much improved starting rotation kept the Astros in games that were then lost by the bullpen.
3. While George Springer played as advertised, highly-touted Jon Singleton struggled the entire season and catcher Jason Castro took a major step backwards. Matt Dominguez continued to disappoint at third, and the Astros found themselves giving way too many at-bats to the likes of Marc Krauss, Robbie Grossman, and Jesus Guzman.
2. Manager Bo Porter was fired over Labor Day weekend even though the team had begun to string together wins. But the media had been filled all summer with stories of tension between the coaching staff and the front office, and it was decided that Porter would be dismissed. Porter's primary complaint basically settled on his belief that the front office was sacrificing the major league team for success on the minor league level, and to manipulate player service time rules, the manipulation of which would allow the Astros to keep the players under their control on the major league roster for a longer period of time.
1. The Astros still lost 92 games, and there were times where, if anyone could've actually seen the team, they would have found them to be unwatchable. It's fair to say everyone understands what the Astros are doing, but at some point, the losing and bad play has to stop.
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