The Hunter Versus the Hunted

Brett Wallace and the Astros have been on a learning curve all season. Photo Courtesy: Rick Leal
Brett Wallace and the Astros have been on a learning curve all season. Photo Courtesy: Rick Leal

By Will Martin

One term you will hear often among baseball teams who are in the race for a playoff spot is, ‘The Hunt For October’.

A mindset, a belief, a goal, a destination, some added play time for added pay, the incentive, a team collective.

Everybody else is just feast meat for the impending whistle of unwanted gristle.

These teams will often get overlooked, taken for granted, used as a launching board for padding a record. Maybe teams get a false sense of security when playoff bound or having aspirations thereof.

Thankfully only one week remains for the 2013 Houston Astros. Currently mired in an eight game skid while completing a four game road trip in Cleveland.

I was on record to state that the Indians would be a playoff team come October. No one had any idea how easy a schedule they would have to finish out 2013.

Having witnessed two games with the Tribe back in April in Houston it was easy to see just how strong their lineup was. On a side note it will be fun to see if Terry Francona can put a monkey wrench in the plans of the Boston Red Sox next month the same way Andy Reid had his comeuppance on Philly last Thursday.

Coming into play Sunday the Astros are 51-104 and will probably go to 51-105. Surpassing their record of 2012 of 57-105 now appears unlikely with the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees on the horizon to finish out 2013. You see, Houston has been the very team playoff bound clubs have wanted to pad their record on and make that October hunt.

This begs the question, especially in Arlington…Did a 20-7 August record for the Rangers with a huge chunk of wins over Houston place a pall on Team Wash? The victories were few and far between for Houston yet like a prizefighter who gets the gold he still bears the scars of a good fight, a good battle. This is one time where the records do not matter. Here is where the eye test comes to play.

Numerically the numbers read poorly for the Houston Astros yet…I see a team that was 18-32 in one run games, 13-17 in two run games, 13-29 against left handed pitching in addition to getting acclimated to a new league and a new way of approaching the game in said league.

I see a Brett Oberholzer who joined the club on July 31st and posting a 4-4 record with a 2.14 ERA in 9 starts. Add Jarred Cosart, Brad Peacock, and Paul Clemens ¬†and you have a rookie foursome who (since July 12th) have a combined 2.69 ERA in 31 starts. That’s worth noting when looking ahead to 2014.

When September began Jose Altuve was moved to the #2 spot in the batting order. In the span of 20 games Altuve has had four 3 hit games and one 4 hit game. His 33 hits in the month leads all hitters and is the most by an Astro since Miguel Tejada in 2009. His RBI production at the top of the lineup has been amazing alongside what Chris Carter and Matt Dominguez have done in stretches. Carter with 28 dingers and 78 RBIs. Dominguez close behind with 20 homers and 75 ribbies.

Using a half empty, half full analogy this month of September may be the best thing that happens to the Houston Astros. For two full weeks having to play teams with playoff/wild card aspirations. Seeing the urgency on the opposing team trying to stay alive.

Bo Porter and staff dutifully taking notes for the upcoming season. Indeed there is a Picasso being constructed with many a great piece floating within the team objective. Now to shore up the bullpen with a confident setup man and a closer 2014 should be a season where 65-70 wins can be attainable.

2013 for the Houston Astros will be one where Bo Porter, Jeff Luhnow, and team began the talent search to determine who is going to be here for the immediate moment compared to the long run. Starting pitching all year has been…impressive! Late inning fades, errors, too many team strikeouts, and overaggressive on the bases have been the root cause of many a loss. We’ve heard other coaches used the process word to describe the time to learn.

With each loss this Houston Astro team is learning a valuable lesson. Probably not something longtime fans want to hear about. In time it will all be well worth it and a powerhouse will be reborn. Much like the Rangers of 2007 this is a starting point for the Astros. It’s all uphill after this.

Houston: You’ve had a very dubious distinction. While losing 14 of 15 you have had a ringside seat to what playoff baseball looks like for those in the hunt. Study those faces, strategies, and results. Remember what worked and remember that feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you see these teams who are feasting at your perceived weaknesses. These will be future strengths.

Houston finishes out the week in Arlington and then at home with the Yankees. What are the odds that on September 29th Andy Pettite pitches his last game at Minute Maid AFTER Mariano Rivera gets honored for a career second to none? Stay tuned. The last time we’ll ever see Rivera, Pettite, or Derek Jeter as Yankees. What an 18 year run that has been.