By Will Martin
Congratulations certainly in order for the Boston Red Sox. Fresh off a six game series with the St. Louis Cardinals with great efforts from ex-Rangers Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Koji Uehara, and Mike Napoli.
Beantown has proven that a team can finish in last place in one year and go all the way in the next calendar year.
Rare, but possible. When the people and the fans of Houston look back at 2013 at what was and wasn’t, suffice to say a lot of upswing lies ahead in the blueprint of what will be a very successful 2014 and onward. Be sure to talk to Red Sox fans. Despite three titles in one decade the elders will be happy to share with you the pain of 86 dry years.
2013 began auspiciously enough. 41,000 fans came to Opening Day. The first by a National League team to jump to the American League. That very first game was a win. The 4,000th career win for the Astros in an 8-2 fashion on the strength of a Rick Ankiel pinch hit home run off the Texas Rangers. Bud Norris with the win. For his efforts on March 31st his jersey now hangs in the halls of Cooperstown.
Victories were few and far between for the youngest team in the majors (26 years). That also included first year skipper Bo Porter. They would proceed to set a record in their inaugural season with a 51-111 record. 24-57 at home and 27-54 on the road.
In April I saw the Cleveland Indians bat around twice in a game off Philip Humber. I knew then it would be a long and interesting season for the new guys in the A.L. West. One stat that I kept an eye on was the number of games the margin of defeat was two runs or less. You had 83 of those for the Astros. Houston was 18-35 in one run games and 13-17 in two run games. Indeed there were numerous 9th inning meltdowns by the bullpen.
On July 19th Brandon Barnes had a five hit night while hitting for the cycle. Only the 7th Astro to complete the feat. The first righty to do so since Craig Biggio did the same 4/8/02 in Colorado.
In 2013 Outfielder Chris Carter showed some incredible power at the plate, especially on the road. 5th in homers with 19. 4th in RBIs with 57. 7th in Slugging Pct. at .565
On July 12th a new face of the future-one of many reasons Bud Norris would become expendable at the trade deadline-would make an amazing debut in Tampa Bay. An eight inning start of shutout ball for a 2-1 win. Jarred Cosart would make ten starts between July 12th and September 9th. In that span only 13 earned runs allowed in 60 innings pitched for an ERA of 1.95. Lowest in franchise history. That opening start was also the best ever in Houston history.
2013 also brought Houston the best catching season offensively by a catcher in history. Jason Castro was the first catcher since Craig Biggio in 1991 to be named to the All-Star team. Twice was American League Player Of The Week in May and August. Castro also set records for home runs by a catcher (18), doubles (35, even OPS (.835). Jason Castro will be the glue that keeps this franchise together for the next couple of years.
Left handed rookie hurler Brett Oberholzer joined the party on July 31st. In ten starts Obie would allow only 16 runs in 64 innings for an ERA of 2.24. That ERA was second only to Ubaldo Jimnez (1.98) and best amongst lefties.
Come to think of it, starting pitching was quite the story of 2013. Especially with the quartet of Cosart, Oberholzer, Paul Clemens and Brad Peacock. How good you ask? In the space of 34 combined starts the Fab Four had a combined ERA of 2.73. In 204 innings pitched the aforementioned allowed 62 earned runs!
Jose Altuve came to the American League even better than advertised. While the rest of the baseball world will harp about how the Astros finished 2013 on a 15 game losing streak, the crafty second sacker had a September for the ages. Hitting .357 for the month Jose Altuve also proceeded to get 41 hits in the month. Four three hit games and one four hit game. His 41 hits in September bested only by Richard Hidalgo in 2000 (49) and Cesar Cedeno in 1977 (47).
May 29th through June 3rd the Astros had a successful 6-0 road trip in Colorado and Anaheim, the first in their history since 1999. Their best offensive night was a 16-9 beating of the Mariners on April 9th with 22 hits and 5 Home Runs.
Matt Dominguez held down the hot corner with a productive season. His 21 Homers and 77 RBIs at the age of 23 were numbers not seen since Cesar Cedeno in 1974 hit 26 taters. 46 RBIs batting 8th was the best in all of the majors and a franchise best in Houston. Defensively Matty was second in assists and chances (323 and 431) while 4th in fielding percentage (.963).
You even had a rookie reliever Kevin Chapman who set a record by making 13 straight appearances and not allowing a run with a 1.77 ERA in 25 appearances.
The infield turned 168 double plays which were the second most since 1999 when Houston turned 175.
September 29th was an emotional farewell for the ambassador to relief pitching. Mariano Rivera ended an illustrious career at Minute Maid Park. The Yankees closed out 2013 in Houston, Texas.
Ironically, that is where the season will begin on April 1st. With a new look Bronx Bombers team.
The numbers say it was a downer of a first season in the American League West. No worries as I don the shades. That future is sure looking bright from where I sit. Reid Ryan at the helm alongside Jeffrey Luhnow. It’s just a matter of time before the fates return to success. I will be patiently awaiting.
Thanks again Houston! See you in 2014!