Houston Astros: From Ironic To Iconic!

The Houston Astros will rely on their youth movement from players like LJ Hoes. Photo Courtesy: Rick Leal
The Houston Astros will rely on their youth movement from players like LJ Hoes. Photo Courtesy: Rick Leal

By Will Martin

A full year has now passed since the Houston Astros became the first team in National League history to make the switch over to the American League, for better or worse. History was made for a second reason, that as a new rivalry was created to capture the mood of fans of baseball in the South and Southwest. The Astros won that night 8-2 for their 4,000th career win. Erik Bedard was your winning pitcher. Rick Ankiel with a pinch hit home run over the Rangers. Texas went 17-1 against Houston the rest of the season.

If you look back at the video you’ll note a slight color resemblance to the Giants and Dodgers when the Astros wore their home whites and the Rangers wore their road blues. I liked the look personally.

2013 was truly a year to forget as the kids endured a 15 game losing streak to end the season 51-11. The Yankees happened to beat their opponent to close out 2013 September 27th through 29th. It was only their second regular season visit to Houston if you exclude an exhibition game to christen the Astrodome back on April 9th 1965. A game where Lyndon Baines Johnson was in attendance and Mickey Mantle homered in a 2-1 Astros win in 11 innings.

The Yankees also happened to christen what they now call Minute Maid Park in an exhibition game on March 30th 2000.  George W. Bush was in attendance while Dwight Gooden started for the Astros against Roger Clemens and Derek Jeter made appearances.

Erik Bedard was your starter that last day of 2013 season. One where Houston went 51-110 with many signs of upswing for this young and coming team. I was confident enough to say that this was a 74 win team. That is the mark I will give this team to strive for in 2014 in what will be a subpar A.L. West. A division where Seattle and Los Angeles are on the rise while Texas and Oakland could experience decline.

From July 31st onward in 2013 this Astros team went with a youth movement. What you saw from the starting pitchers, from July 12th onward, was enough to excite the casual fan. RHPs Jarred Cosart,  Brad Peacock, and Paul Clemens along with LHP Brett Oberholzer combined for 34 starts and a collective ERA of 2.73. Allowing only 62 runs in 204 1/3 innings.

With Scott Feldman and Dallas Keuchel to enter the fray of pitchers, one can anticipate the starting pitching to get well into the 6th stanza. Where the Astos had their issues was in the 7th inning and onward. 20 leads were lost after 6 innings, 15 after 7, and 5 after 8. Cut that stat in half and your record steers closer to respectability.

As we look ahead to the 2014 season Houston gets the privilege of welcoming the Yankees. The very same team they played to end 2013. The last team to see Mariano Rivera do his thing in a storied career. The same thing shall happen on April 2nd when the Astros will honor Derek Jeter with a pregame video tribute and some special surprises. Roger Clemens and Andy Pettite will be on hand.

April 1st the fun will begin for the Houston Astros and Bo Porter. Only nine of the players who started on Opening Day will be on the roster to begin 2014. Jeff Luhnow approves of the mix of young and old.

“We’re going to have a much-improved product,” Luhnow says. “The fans are going to be able to see tangibly by coming to Minute Maid this thing is working.”

Scott Feldman (who I projected to be a solid #1 like Bud Norris before him) is excited about pitching Opening Day. If you follow the 15 game skid to end 2013 can the Astros start off better than the 8-19 mark April 2013 showed us?

“A fast start is important,” Luhnow said. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint. As Bo [Porter likes to say], it’s 162 sprints, and we’ll try to win as many of them as we can.”

While Jose Altuve was your leadoff guy in 2013 and had one heck of a September the projected lineup for 2014 will get a welcomed tweak. It will look something like this:

1. Dexter Fowler OF            12 HR  43 RBI  .276 BA
2. Robbie Grossman OF     6 HR  35 RBI  .256 BA
3. Jose Altuve 2B                   6 HR  69 RBI  .295 BA
4. Jason Castro C                16 HR  64 RBI  .265 BA
5. Chris Carter DH             27 HR   67 RBI   .219 BA
6. Marc Krauss 1B                 8 HR  30 RBI   .242 BA
7. Matt Dominguez 3B       18 HR  56 RBI  .263 BA
8. LJ Hoes OF                        4 HR   32 RBI    .246 BA
9. Jonathan Villar SS            3 HR  46 RBI   .239 BA

On the bench you’ll see men like Alex Presley, Jesus Guzman and Carlos Corporan.

The projected starting five for the Houston Astros should be:

1. Scott Feldman (8-10) 3.99
2. Jarred Cosart (6-9) 4.59
3. Brett Oberholzer (6-7) 4.03
4. Lucas Harrell (4-6) 4.85
5. Dallas Keuchel (5-6) 4.10

Middle and closing relief shall fall upon the arms of Chad Qualls, Matt Albers, and Josh Fields. Brad Peacock, Jerome Williams, and Anthony Bass will also be there if needed for relief.

Three names to keep en eye on once they come off the DL in 2014: Jesse Crain, Alex White, and Matt Dominguez.

Few people are giving the Astros any chance of getting out of the of 100 loss column, much less the cellar. Call me an eternal optimist when stating that the core of Feldman, Cosart, Oberholzer, Harrell, and Keuchel (if healthy) can accrue 15, 13, 12, 12, and 10 wins between them. Maybe Houston can cut their lost leads in 2013 from the sixth inning onward in half  then 74 wins is attainable.

2013 began with Erik Bedard getting a career win and ended with Bedard starting as we said goodbye to Mariano Rivera. 2014 begins with Scott Feldman, CC Sabathia, Nolan Ryan and Craig Biggio throwing out the first pitch and Major League Baseball counting the 162 times fans say ‘Thank You’ to Derek Jeter for an amazing 19 year career as a New York Yankee. The camera popping will exceed what these eyes noticed the week of July 25th, 2001 when Cal Ripken made his final visit to Arlington as an Oriole.

Down on the farm six minor league affiliates of the Astros went to the playoffs in 2013. Look for more of the same in 2014 as the prospects are 2-3 years away from rocking the A.L. West race.

Baseball is back. Opening Day is always a special day for fans of the game. The start of a six month affair that lasts three seasons before being left in the cold come Autumn. The Houston Astros begin with the most liked/hated team in all of sport for three games before the Angels (favored by many to win the West) come to Houston for four games.

Derek Jeter, CC Sabathia, Nolan Ryan, Craig Biggio all on hand for Opening Day. Let’s also not forget the Vin Scully of the American League as Milo Hamilton will be handling pregame introductions on the field for the 64th time in his career.

Upcoming Schedule
4/1 vs Yankees        6:10 PM
4/2 vs Yankees        7:10 PM
4/3 vs Yankees        7:10 PM
4/4 vs Angels           7:10 PM
4/5 vs Angels           6:10 PM
4/6 vs Angels           1:10 PM
4/7 vs Angels           1:10 PM