The Houston Astros: Looking forward to 2017
The Houston Astros’ playoff predictions felt pretty secure as they began the stretch of games to close out the 2016 regular season. Well, pretty secure turned to eliminated when they made some catastrophic errors in their final two sets of three that dashed any hopes of a playoff showing.
High hopes and dashed reality
When Jeff Luhnow became GM of the Astros, the team had high expectations. That promise felt real throughout the 2015 season. Before you could blink an eye, the Astros were in the playoffs. A victory over the Yankees in the 2015 AL Wild Card Game showed Astros fans they were moving in the right direction. Excitement washed over the Astros during Spring Training as the 2016 season approached.
The Astros were predicted to be World Series contenders this season, and one would think the season would be exciting and fresh. Then reality set in. As the Astros battled through April and May, the prediction of World Series contenders was replaced with the status of being the worst team in the American League.
The letdown season
The reality was glaring. Cy Young’s problems behind the mound made people question why he was even there. Runners had problems getting further than second base, and going forward looked pretty ugly. With an April start of 7-17, the Astros started May looked a little better, with a 7 -4 start. Maybe the beginning of the season slump was over, and the Astros would have some upward progression.
That thought ended when they played the Texas Rangers and tempered everyone’s expectations. From there, something happened. Whether it was a second wind or a kick in the rear, from May 24 through July 24, the Astros went 37-16. The Astros won nearly 70 percent of their games for close to two months. The world was finally starting to see the team that had so much promise at the beginning of the season. The Astros were only 2.5 games behind the Rangers to lead the division, with all the momentum in the world to close the gap.
From there, the injury bug set in. First, Luis Valbuena suffered a season-ending hamstring injury. Then Marwin Gonzalez, Carlos Gomez, Jake Marisnick and Luke Gregerson kept the injury bug alive. Lance McCullers was removed in the middle of a game, which would effectively end his 2016 season. To anyone watching, it seemed that just as the Astros were getting some upward momentum, something would happen that would send them back to square one.
A rollercoaster of a season
As luck would have it, the Astros began to look alive again. Alex Bregman brought them back into playoff contention with his lightning arm. Yuli Gurriel helped keep them on a steady upward trend, assisted by rookies Tony Kemp, Teoscar Hernandez and Joe Musgrove.
Then the injury bug bit AGAIN. Alex Bregman, a rookie who had helped the Astros recover from Luis Valbuena’s injury, now had a hamstring injury of his own. Luckily, the work had been done, and the Astros found themselves one game out of first, with a relatively easy schedule going forward. Playoff hopes were there. Unfortunately, luck was not on their side at the end of the season. They dropped three of four to the Angels and then two of three to Seattle. The Orioles ended the Astros’ playoff chances on Sept. 29 with a win over the Blue Jays, and that was that.
The Astros go into the offseason with an understanding that now is the time to make wise decisions, capitalizing on the limited successes from 2016 and trading prospects for proven veterans that can provide the production and leadership this team needs to be successful going forward. Although youth might look attractive, it’s time to bring in some players with some wear in their mitts who can give the team the stability and leadership that comes with experience at this level of play.
Although the season is officially over for the Astros, when you are committed to a team, it’s almost like a marriage. The love is always there, but some days you just don’t like the team you support. Change has to happen to reinvigorate this team with enormous potential and get them past whatever hang-up is keeping them from making the playoffs and being World Series contenders. The Astros’ front office has some work to do this offseason. Hopefully some much-needed attention can get this team the medicine it needs to get well and get moving.