Houston Astros: Lost in the lights

Houston-Astros-Mezzanine

Damn those lights are bright.

The Astros are off to a lackluster start this season, with a 3-7 start and an uncomfortably familiar last place in the American League West. After last year’s surprise competition for the AL West title, and 6 game appearance in the post-season, the team was brought into the limelight, both nationally and at home. Astros fans dug out their outdated apparel, spent a record 270 million in tickets and new orange shirts and ballcaps, and started repping their hometown baseball team again.

Last year’s dive into the playoffs heightened expectations for 2016, and so far those expectations have not been met. Critics and fans both expected an explosive start for this still relatively young team, and the Astros instead have managed only a single win in each of the 3 series played thus far. It seems like the spotlight is a little too intense right now, catching every critical and not-so-critical error and flub in this rocky start. Ironically, the same can be said for the newly installed LED lighting system at Minute Maid Park.

Interestingly enough, the only other ballpark to install an energy-efficient LED lighting system   (installed by Musco Lighting, which is the same company that installed the system at MMP) has also started with a 3-7 record and last place seed in the NL West. That team is the San Diego Padres. I’m sure it’s just coincidence, though. While there haven’t been any official complaints from Padres players, there seems to be some controversy brewing around the new new lights at MMP.

The LED lighting in MMP has negatively affected at least one player’s performance in the outfield so far. George Springer, playing right field, has been caught shielding his eyes, peering and squinting, and even missing a couple of routine balls in the past 4 games at home in MMP, one being a crucial miss on what would have been a 3rd out in the 6th inning of Thursday’s game. Instead, the play turned into a single, and the Royals went on to add 5 runs after that play. The final score: 2-6.

Springer ultimately took the blame for the loss, but certainly isn’t shying away from announcing his distaste of the new lighting system. His discomfort can also be seen on the field, both in the outfield and at bat, where he has appeared less than comfortable in the past few games. Fans and local sports reporters have also taken notice of the new lighting system, with a flurry of reports and social media comments about the brighter ball park popping up over the home series opener this past week.

Is this a legitimate issue the ball club should be concerned with, or simply another nuance of the ever-evolving MLB? Time will tell. I would expect the bright lights to be shining in tonight’s home series opener against the Detroit Tigers, and fortunately 2 of the 3 games in the series will be during daylight hours. However, if the insanely bright lighting (clearly seen in the pictures above – L: MMP pre-LED, R: MMP post-LED) continues to hamper of one of the Astros’ star players, there could be some changes made.

As far as the Astros spotlight, that will not be dimming anytime soon. Although the team’s gotten off to a rather weak start, it’s a single loss behind last year’s start in the first 3 series. Nobody was concerned then, although nobody really expected the season to unfold as it did. This year it’s still too early to panic, although every game in the season does count. The Astros are currently working out the kinks in the new starting rotation, minus McCullers, as well as a few new additions and changes to the bullpen.

The batting order will continue to evolve, with a few line up changes already made, which has helped the run production in a couple of wins. The farming system will continue to develop, which will open up some opportunity to bring up new players when the time is right. Each season is meant to begin as a work in progress, and the Astros have had a few areas of improvement brought to light early on. We’ve all noticed, because it’s the first time in a long while that it’s worthy of note.

Trust me, it’s better to see the problems up front, than have them creep up after the all-star break.

So, don’t push the panic button yet. Let’s let the Astros get through a month, and then evaluate progress. If the club starts May in last place after a couple of division match-ups, then we can start sweating the season’s fate. If they make it out of April without a single series win, then you can start to panic. Although every game is important in the season, the first 2 weeks of play aren’t reflective of the season. There’s still 152 games to be played, and nobody is eliminated in April.

 

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