Houston Astros: It’s not, oh whatever. It is over

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There is really no nice way to say this, so I am going to simply throw it out there. In the month of May, the Astros playoff hopes have been squashed. In almost a 2 month span, the club has managed to string together 18 wins out of 46. That’s 5 games out of .500, which .500 is what the club is sitting at in May alone, but 7 wins in April does actually matter, as it turns out. If the Astros finish out the month of May above .500 (for the month of May, since it’s already impossible to even the season record to .500 with 7 games left), that will leave an average of 16 wins needed in June, July, August, and September to tie last year’s record.

Hey, a bit of good news: that’s possible. That would mean a series win with the Orioles, the Angels, and an even split against the Diamondbacks in the 1st 2 of the 4 game series. That gives 4 more wins for May, a month above .500, and a reasonable goal for the remaining season. After such an abysmal start, a tie with the previous season’s record would be a saving grace for the club. That would mean 2015 wasn’t a fluke, and that the Astros are still on track. That would mean the changes and progression is working, but 2016 hit a bump in the road. Unfortunately, that means ending the season without a playoff run, because last year’s record will not be good enough to make it.

The Seattle Mariners are currently winning 60% of their games. The Mariners are 9.5 games ahead of the Astros (or, a win-out vs the Mariners for the rest of the season). They are currently on pace to end the season with 97 wins. That’s 11 games more than the Astros had to make it to the playoffs in the wildcard spot. That’s 9 games more than it took for the Rangers to take the AL West. That is big league playoff numbers, and that’s also the trend in the AL. Current wildcard contenders, which are the Orioles and the Rangers, are on pace to win 90+ games, (98 and 91, respectively). That means the Astros will need to pull off as many wins per month for the rest of the season as they’ve reached 2 months in.

Sorry for the buzzkill, but these are the numbers they are looking at.

Now, I am not saying that the month of May is the ideal time to crunch the numbers in order to determine playoff berth by any means. Out of the 3 AL division winners in 2015, 1 of those teams were sitting below .500 in the month of May before picking up the pace and eventually taking their division. The Toronto Blue Jays were sitting at 23 wins at the end of May 2015, and then they started June with an 11 game winning streak that bounced them to the top, and they never looked back. They also knocked the Rangers out of the playoffs, which gives them infinite karma credits. So, there is still time for the Astros to turn their season around. It’s baseball – anything’s possible.

However, this means consistency for the rest of the season, at bat and on the mound. This means no more games that got away from the club. This means winning out over games that go into extra innings, just like the Astros pulled off last night. I do not want to take away from that clearly much-needed win, but that win was because of bad fielding moreso than it was over the Astros pulling out the strategic win. Tony Kemp’s triple was a triple because the CF was playing rather shallow. They underestimated Kemp’s power at bat, and he gave them a show of it. Again, that’s not to take away from what Kemp pulled off at his last bat, but that is not a mistake that will be repeated by the Orioles.

So, will they make it?

Reasons they can:

Starting Rotation. After the April start, the starting rotation has settled in and has pulled out some quality starts. Doug Fister has been the most consistent of the group, with a 3.09 ERA. Fiers and McHugh have both improved, and McCullers is getting back into the swing of things, with 5 hits and 2 earned runs in his 2nd game of the year. Outside of Dallas Keuchel, the SR has an average ERA of 4.11, which is an entire run less per 9 innings than their April ERA of 5.11. This is not ideal for a club moving forward into must-win situations, but this does show an improvement and a step toward more consistency in the starting rotation, overall.

Bullpen: The bullpen went from an ERA average of 5.57 in April to 2.13 in May, which is is a loss of over 3 runs per 9. In a single month. They’ve not only settled in, but have battened down the hatches and are ready for a storm. The Astros bullpen is arguably one of the top in the league coming into June, and with last night’s 7 inning, 16 stike-out shutout over the Orioles, they are bullpen to fear. Luke Gregerson, closer and current weak link, has blundered some saves in the past few weeks, and is struggling. He should probably have a rotation with Feliz or Harris, but the bullpen is otherwise solid.

Reasons they can’t:

Dallas Keuchel: Another factor in last season’s success was Keuchel’s 20 wins last year, and record for being undefeated at home. Keuchel has lost his mojo, and it is hard to tell if and/or when he’s going to come out of his slump. That 20 wins in 28 starts garnered last year was pretty pivotal in the Astros run in the playoffs, and it doesn’t appear that there will be a repeat this year. If he doesn’t show some improvement soon, he may need to be dropped down a few spots in rotation, as well as have his games/innings limited to lessen some of the damage coming out of a so-far 2-6 record.

Offense: At bats have been horrendous and inconsistent all year. The team batting average is .228 with an on base percentage of .710. The only reason the Astros are no running dead last in on base percentage is because they lead the league in walks. Otherwise, both of those numbers would be pretty pathetic. The team, at bat, isn’t slugging it like last year, either – which HRs were the saving grace on that season. Stranded runners in scoring position accounts for 3 1/2 runs lost per game. It’s not the highest in the league, but most of the teams with higher numbers also have more runs per game, and are winning more than losing.

This is occurring for two reasons. First, there is little strike discipline among batters in the line-up. The Astros lead the league in strikeouts, because each and every batter that gets up is looking to knock it clean out of the park. That creates an overly-aggressive at bat, and a tendency to swing with power at whatever comes across the plate (or even close to it). That isn’t uncommon with a young team. In fact, Altuve has only this year begun to pace himself at bat and look for pitches to hit. Look at the difference this has made, though. He’s a better player for it, and that came with experience.

This leads to the second problem , though – no strategy at bat. There is not a game plan when there are runners in scoring position, except to whack the ball as hard as you can. This is obvious. Embarrassingly obvious. How many times (outside of Carlos Gomez) has the team even attempted a bunt with runners on base? Sacrifice plays aren’t being utilized with runners in scoring position, or to advance runners in scoring position. A walk (which the Astros lead the league in) is a gift from the other team, and the at bats should utilize that gift by moving it around the bases. Currently, that’s not being done.

Fielding: Two issues here; one is minor and one is major. The minor issue is rookie presence on the field. White has struggled at 1st base, but is becoming more confident at the spot. New additions Colin Moran and Tony Kemp are also finding their footing at 3rd base and left field, respectively, but mistakes will occur along the way. I don’t feel this will be a persistent struggle, and these additions are not permanent. It is, however, good to get the feet wet before the post-All Star break push to cap off the 2nd half. A few more moves from the MiLB are likely to be made, too, but this shouldn’t have a hugely negative impact overall.

The major issue is the defensive shift. The defensive shift is not working for the Astros anymore, because gimmicks are not meant to be long-lasting solutions, and the shift is a gimmick. The rise in the usage, since 2010, has increased more than 500% in the MLB, with the Astros employing it more than any other team. The reaction to this, naturally, is that teams are adjusting and the data used to determine the defensive shift becomes useless because it doesn’t adequately measure adjustment rate over historical success. Even as the data is streamlined, this will only give you a probability of which hole in the defense will be less exploitable.

I can tell you which one right now – the traditional defense that spreads players across the field. It was a new to the era strategy that the Astros have employed for a good 3-4 seasons now, but they’re stretching it about 1/4 of a season too far, because it’s not working this year. What it has done is made the Astros defense the most predictable and exploitable in the MLB.  I’m not saying to scrap it altogether, as there are opposing batters that can’t adjust. That’s a small number, though, and far smaller than the percentage that it is being employed by the Astros defense. Lay off, and play ball.

Management: A good number of these issues rely on the right coaching and leadership to correct. Some will come with time and experience – like strategic batting. Others, like a struggling pitcher, player, changing the line up, defense strategies, are called by management and are up to management to correct. WIthout getting into detail, because this deserves its own write-up, AJ Hinch is rather conservative with his management of the team, and has become more reactive than proactive when it comes to addressing issues. I don’t know if this is fixed by Hinch, or something that will be fixed with a new manager and coaching staff. This season will likely make that determination.

The odds are stacked heavily against the Astros for an improbable comeback from this season. I don’t want to be right, but I don’t believe this current team will beat those odds. In fact, I want to be wrong, and proven wrong. This team has a lot of talent that isn’t reflected by a 18-28 record. At the core, it is the same team that came out of nowhere and made the post season a year early, all because of a 10 game winning streak. They could be a 10 game winning streak away, that could happen in June and ignite the team, but that is counting on more luck than consistent play. That’s baseball, though.

Houston Astros: Ground control to Major Keuchel

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What has happened to our ace?

Dallas Keuchel, our top of the line up starting pitcher, is venturing through some hard times. The 2x Golden Glove winner, and Cy Young Award recipient of 2015, is cruising through a low point in his 5th season of the MLB with the Astros. What started out as another promising season, Keuchel took the mound against the 2015 Wild Card rival New York Yankees on April 5th (after a 1-day rain delay), posted up 5 strike outs, 3 hits and 2 runs in a season opener victory. The Astros hit the gate running, but quickly tripped and fell, landing square on their face.

The rough start, minus the opening day win, was highlighted by poor pitching from the starting rotation, and compounded by poor and inconsistent at bat appearances. April’s 7-17 start began to slowly be erased from our collective minds with an impressive start to May: 8-6 in the first 2 weeks, and eventually rounding out to 10-8 and a vital on-the-road series win against the Chicago White Sox before heading home to face the Rangers. By all appearances, the pitching had settled in and the team was waking up at bat. Even though the team appeared to be on the mend, there were some games that got away.

That’s another story, though, because we’re here to talk about Keuchel.

Keuchel’s season, in the first couple of weeks, didn’t immediately plummet. By the end of the 2nd week, Keuchel’s record was 2-1, with a total of 5 earned runs over 3 games and an ERA of 2.18. He should have been 3-0, but the pretty pathetic AB showing against the Milwaukee Brewers made nothing come of a 1 run loss in a low scoring game. Keuchel did his job, but the offense failed him. And then the Astros went on to face the bane of their existence: the Texas South Oklahoma Rangers, in Arlington. As with the rest of the team, the Rangers have sunk deeply into Keuchel’s head.

For the most part, it appears that the Rangers broke our ace. They posted 13 hits, 6 runs, and a 1st home run off Keuchel for his season, and accounted for Keuchel’s first loss in which he bore the responsibility for. Anything over 4 runs, and you’re not giving your offense a fair chance. This, though – this wasn’t the game that broke Keuchel. This was the beginning – to fans it was Keuchel playing his part in getting a rough start over early, like everyone else in the starting rotation. It was, at that point, still early: 3 weeks in, and hopes and dreams of the team and fans not terribly crushed.

The next game that saw Keuchel taking the mound is what broke our ace. It shouldn’t have, really, but it did. The Seattle Mariners game with the worst strike zone calling to date this season, thanks to home plate ump Brian Gorman, who is known as a hitter’s ump. Basically meaning he’s going to call in favor of batters, although his inconsistent zone in that game wasn’t helping anyone. It did severely mess with Keuchel, though, to the point of making some strong words after the game.

So how did this game break Keuchel? Simple – a low-velocity pitcher counts on his placement. Keuchel throws an relies mainly on his slider and sinker, but can also pitch a good change-up, and has a 4 seam and cut fast ball. And, I use that term loosely, as his velocity averages out at about 90 MPH. So, Keuchel’s asset is in his placement. When that’s gone, he’s useless. That’s not a kind way to put it, but that’s the reality. When a couple of bad outings get in his head, like they’ve done, then he’s in trouble.

Let’s see it in real terms, after the Mariners game:

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That chart shows where Keuchel’s sinking his season. His 2015 chart shows command, consistency, and location. 2016 shows a wildly inconsistent, but primarily right over the plate location. Low velocity (less than 90 MPH, on average) strikes right in the zone mean higher hit rates, which is what we’ve been seeing. The Mariners game wasn’t the only off-base strike zone being called, either. Home plate officiating this year seems to be quite a mess so far, but it’s damaging for a location pitcher.

What’s insulting is that he’s been getting the rookie squeeze in the past few games. A 5 year player getting the rookie treatment is almost degrading to a player. Keuchel lost his composure (as much as Keuchel will) with the strong wording surrounding the terribly called Mariners game, and asserted as such that giving him rookie treatment is insulting. Seems like that stuck with him, too, because any weird or bad call sets him off into a tailspin, and he starts missing his mark.

That is Keuchel’s value – that and left-handed pitching. Historically, it is an uphill battle for a pitcher to lack the velocity to regularly throw a nasty fastball in the mix. It’s not impossible, but it stacks some odds against him. He’s been consistent with his location on the edges in the past few years, getting batters to stretch and chase, and often swing and whiff. That’s changing this year. Batters in the AL are adjusting to his presence, and that makes it difficult for him to adjust successfully.

Then you add the strike zone squeeze and that mental stigma leftover from a particularly terribly called game, and you have your current Keuchel disaster. That creates a bit of desperation on Keuchel’s part, which is why we’ve seen the curve ball worked back into his pitching rotation. Not his strong suit by any means, but also not a ball that batters are used to seeing from him. With any hope, he can work a few weaker pitches back in, and continue hammering out that location.

What I think he needs is 1 week off from rotation, and to immediately limit his innings to 5-6. Let him build it back up, and move away from some of those terrible starts. He’s not done by any means, but he’s certainly struggling. And it isn’t a decision that Keuchel would like, but it’s a management decision that is needed for the good of the team. Keep your players happy, but do so responsibly. This is a decision that needs to be made in the next rotation reset, and Keuchel will end up being a better player for it.

Houston Astros: Silver (re)Boot Series

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With a series win, and a rough northeast road trip behind them, the Astros come home to face their division rivals, the Arlington South Oklahoma Texas Rangers. No, wait; I’m changing that back to Arlington Rangers. This will be the 2nd of 6 series against the in-state rivals, as well as the Silver Boot Series (the Silver Boot Series, again, being the seasonal trophy for the club that has the most wins vs the other). This series is a matter of pride, with the 1st being in Arlington and ending with an unceremonious sweep by the Rangers. it is also a test to see if the Astros are indeed coming back to the game.

After a terrible series in Boston, one of which the Astros should have come out 3-1 but instead came out 1-3, a roster shake-up was implemented. Erik Kratz was no more, being replaced by Evan Gattis, Tony Kemp was called up, Carlos Gomez was placed on 15 day DL (which could be the first step to sealing his fate for the team, or a much-needed break to get back on track), and then Colin Moran was called up from the MiLB in the final step of the shake-up. This caused a much-needed and highly anticipated boost in the line-up, with the Astros clinching a series win vs the slipping Chicago White Sox in game 2.

Both Kemp and Moran got their MLB debuts in the series – Kemp with a pinch running spot in game one, and both being inserted in the line up, at left field and 3rd base, respectively, in game 2. Both showed a certain spark that led to their call-ups. Kemp, in his first game in the line up, went 2/3 at bat, with a double, a single, a run, and a walked base. Moran was slightly less impressive, with a strikeout, a line out (albeit a solid hit), and a walked base. Both showed an aggressive and energetic defense on the field, which shows a lot of promise in the coming weeks.

This was the series of the rookie. Not only did the 2 newcomers put on a worthy performance, but Tyler White made a comeback at bat, putting in his 1st game of the year with multiple home runs in game 1 of the series. Coming in with a noteworthy mention would be Evan Gattis – not a rookie by any means. However, in his first appearance back from the fast-track to catching minors designation, Gattis came out and hit a 2 run home run in extra innings to clinch the 1st win for the Astros. In between the double sock road series, the Astros pulled out a punch.

This was a much-needed road series win for the Astros, the 1st road series won all season, but I would caution those who want to turn that series win into a testament that the Astros are back. The signs are promising, but the conditions were ripe for picking. The Chicago White Sox entered this series on a skid. They were coming in 2-4 in their last 6 games, with 2 consecutive series losses and a 2 game losing streak. Not that the Astros were coming in great, but this recent slide put the Astros in a relatively good position to pull off a few wins on the road.

And boy are we glad they did.

The series win on the road gives the Astros a decent boost coming home to face the Rangers, who are coming out of a series loss and sweep against the Oakland Athletics. That series sweep not only cost the Rangers a possible bump to 1st place in the AL West, but it’s putting their 2nd place seat in danger. Both teams will be hungry for wins. The Rangers will fight to advance to the top spot in the division, while the Astros will fight for another series win at home, and a hopeful jump out of last place in the division. The Astros are also confronting their on-field demons, so to speak.

Since their ascention to the top spot in the division in 2015, and the eventual take-over by the Rangers, the Astros have had some bitter stuggles against the division and in-state rival. They had an embarrassing sweep against the Rangers in Minute Maid Park around this time last year, that kicked off that stigma of facing their rival down the line. The season was marked with 3 series wins for the Astros, and 3 series sweeps by the Rangers, for a final record of 6-13 against the Rangers – their worst record against a division opponent.

This season, the Astros are 0-3 against the Rangers with that 1st series sweep. That series showed 2 teams struggling against each other, with neither playing their best on the field. That series, for the Astros, also marked the beginning of the decline for ace pitcher Dallas Keuchel. Yes, guys, the Rangers are responsible for breaking out star pitcher; get mad. Keuchel, who had a terrible outing in the final game of the earlier series, had 13 hits, 6 earned runs, and the 1st home run in 2016 against him. Keuchel will get his chance to come back from that loss in game 3 of this upcoming series, on Sunday.

This series will, in my opinion, tell the tale of how the Astros will fare the rest of the season. They are facing their mentally toughest opponent, at home, and in the middle of a turnaround month where they currently have a winning record. This series gives the Astros the chance to finally confront their in-state and division demons, and finally get the notion of playing the Rangers out of their heads. With a new injection of energy on the roster and a victorious battle for a series win against a 1st place team in the AL, the Astros could not be more ready. The question is, will they step up?

Noteworthy for this particular series is that it looks like Rougned Odor, who is appealing an 8 game suspension after punching Bautista in the face earlier in the week, will be on the roster for a few, if not all 3 games in this series. The hope that Odor would start serving his suspension prior to this series was pretty good news for the Astros, as Odor has been a force on the Rangers squad, with 28 runs, 7 home runs, 21 RBIs and a .275 BA this season so far. Granted, the Astros own superstar at 2nd base, Jose Altuve, smokes him in every way possible (except throwing punches), but losing him would hurt the Rangers.

It doesn’t look like it will play out that way, however, and the Astros will be facing the full force of the Rangers.

The key to this game for the Astros will be productivity at bat (and subsequently, pitching). Both teams have very similar runs per game and runs allowed per game stats, with the Rangers having the slight edge over the Astros with 4.54/4.24 runs per game, and 4.56/4.81 runs allowed per game, respectively. The Astros have started swinging more consistently over the past week, but stranding runners is still a big problem with the team. There are some tweaks that can happen in the line-up to produce a few more runs, which we’ll probably see in the coming days.

Starting rotation needs to remain steady. McCullers will have his 2nd game of the year starting tonight (under much better weather conditions) and needs to take more command on the strike zone. Fiers, starting in game 2, needs to continue his trend of improvement, now that he’s got the starting job over rookie Chris Devenski (who was dropped to the bullpen yesterday). Keuchel needs to just come back. He looked good in his start against the White Sox in the first win, but couldn’t make it through 7 innings after losing command over the lower outside strike zone.

Bullpen needs to keep the consistency solid. Gregerson needs to start splitting time as closer with Harris, even if it’s just an inning split, if there are any 1 run games. The bullpen needs to be managed more efficiently in this series, especially with Devenksi coming back in the fold. There should be no excuse to lose any tight games moving forward. If Gregerson isn’t having a good outing, then Gregerson needs to be pulled. No excuses, no chances. If the bullpen is managed a little smarter and a little more competitively, there should be no reason for a series loss at home.

Finally, the Astros need to remove the stigma of playing the Rangers from their head. The team needs to get out and enjoy the game, which makes it more enjoyable for all of us. Forget the past, forget the bad April start, and forget the last series sweep against the Rangers in South Oklahoma. Yep, it’s South Oklahoma again. Get out in front of a packed Minute Maid Park and put on a performance worthy of the Friday night fireworks. Let the Rangers know they have a worthy opponent. Most of all, let’s work on a series win and even a 1st series sweep of the seaon in the Astros favor. Let’s play ball.

Houston Astros: The final piece (May Edition)

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It’s coming together now. This morning, the Astros announced a surprise move to call up in field (3rd base) prospect Colin Moran from the Fresno Grizzlies. Moran has been on a pretty nice streak in the AAA. He’s currently tied with the most RBIs on the Grizzlies roster and has been a much-talked about prospect rumored to be making a debut this year. Along with this call up is the designation for assignment for Fresno Grizzlies pitcher Asher Wojciechowski, previously on the 40 man roster, as well as assigning Carlos Gomez to the  15 day disabled list for a bruised rib cage.

The injury may be legit, after the hard slide back into 2nd on a base check in Sunday’s game, as well as further aggravation  after being hit by a pitch in the same game. Of course, the injury may be an excuse to give Gomez a much needed break to get himself back on track. His overall performance and regression this year has really put a big question mark on his overall health. The decline at bat can be chalked up to a slump, or even a failure to adjust (which has been an overall team issue, primarily at pitching), or even a decline in health. Add on his loss of speed in max throwing attempts, and you’ve got yourself a real theory.

Loss in throwing speed is symptomatic of injury (prolonged, improper rehabbing, new injury), loss of overall strength, or general wear and tear. This isn’t an issue that just happens because the player has lost his mojo. So, maybe there’s something to the injury. Or maybe a bruised ego is actually a legitimate injury to overcome. If there is a real, prolonged injury that has been affecting his game, I fear 15 days won’t bring him out of it. If he was rushed back too soon after last year’s stints, this will be a prolonged problem that won’t be fixed.

Or perhaps it’s just something new that’s been lingering, with Gomez wanting to work out of it and not cause another knock on his value in a contract year. Either way, we should all hope for an improvement when he comes back in June. What’s good for Gomez is good for the team. Let’s face it – he’s part of this team, a beloved part of the team, from the player’s perspective. What other outfielders would come together and do the dab after every win if they didn’t hold their fellow teammate in high regard? No team would do that. So, for a third time, get over it. He’s still going to be a part of the team in the short term.

Moran, though, brings some needed relief to the infield. Gonzalez has been run ragged, and this move opens up more options for Valbuena to cover other infield positions to give a rest in the interim. Kemp adds to that additionally, as well as OF relief, and both players called up are expected to improve the team BA. It’s a try out, with more moves expected later on in the year. AJ Reed is still expected to make his MLB debut in 2016, along with Joe Musgrove, RHP just recently making his debut in the AAA with the Fresno Grizzlies, and it’s possible that Alex Bregman will come up in the near future as well.

The bright spot in this season will be a lot of young talent coming up to fight for a spot on the team. This will be as exciting to watch as it is frustrating, as it may tell the tale of another season spent in a rebuilding phase. The Astros will soon find out if this is the case, with 3 tough series coming up in May. The first with the Chicago White Sox, 1st place in the AL Central, starts tonight. Right after, there’s another tough series with the Texas Rangers, and then following that, with a single day’s rest in between, another match up with a 1st place team in the AL East, the Baltimore Orioles.

That’s 9 games that may very well tell the story of this season. That’s a stretch that the Astros desperately need a winning record against (especially when it comes to the league contending Rangers). These next 3 are almost must-win series if the Astros want to keep the hope of a playoff run alive. If they don’t come out with an overall win for this stretch, that doesn’t mean it’s over, but it does begin to make a playoff push border on insurmountable. The new team members will slowly be added into this mix, so we’re really looking at a grand experiment in a vital stretch of the season. Let’s hope it works well.

With Gomez being listed on the DL, I would expect Kemp to start making it into the OF rotation relatively soon. Neither new addition are expected to start tonight, because tonight is the start of a tough series. No need to be throwing the young to the wolves. However, both new additions will be added into the rotation in a tough stint, so their test will come soon and it will be abrupt. Hopefully the roster additions will breath some immediate life in this stagnating club, and hopefully we’ll see it tonight on the field. Overall the additions should spark that new life, and that new life couldn’t come at a better time.

Houston Astros: Kemp it is

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This morning, the Astros officially announced AAA Fresno’s Tony Kemp would be the newest rookie making a debut for the Astros in 2016, behind now RHSP Chris Devenski and 1st base/DH Tyler White. It wasn’t the decision I expected, but it makes some sense. Kemp is an infielder and outfielder, and is a left handed hitter that will likely make it to base more often than not. I’m not sold on his hitting capacity in the majors, but that’s one of the tests when being brought up to the MLB. With this call up, Luhnow made some strong remarks about the future of the OF, and specifically Carlos Gomez. This may bring some relief to the struggling Gomez, who isn’t working his issues out on the field as hoped.

In the long run, this move is hard to decipher. Immediately, there’s a chance for a new, fresh player to inject some energy AB and in LF, while letting Gomez take a time out. It won’t be permanent, so don’t take out your Gomez is gone pom pons just yet. Kemp is still a year or two away from regular starting potential, and his earlier projections had him entering the MLB in 2017. This is an early call-up, and a quick fix injection to a team that just needs a few things to go the right way to start consistently winning both on the road and at home. This doesn’t signal permanency, but it does open the doors for a few different directions that the club can go, as far as position players in the outfield.

One door that it opens is some possible time off for the seasoned veteran in CF to get his head back in the game. And guys, we want Gomez to get over this decline. The spirit of the Astros fanbase seems to point to Gomez having an attitude problem without the stats to back it up. There doesn’t seem to be any real chatter coming from the clubhouse to substantiate this, but Gomez has certainly grown more defensive as his season has regressed. He’s a fun, spirited player to watch and root for when he’s playing well, but the hate as he’s going through this slump is uncalled for. No fanbase should ever root for one of their team’s players to fail.

Additionally, Gomez came into the Astros with a very impressive potential in CF to replace Marisnick. Let’s not forget that. He’s still outperforming Marisnick in CF and AB (barely AB, though). He’s still a better option at CF until he starts sliding defensively as well. There is no player in the farming system that can come in and replace the hole he would leave. The outfield can be moved around to fill these gaps, but Gomez is being paid to fill this gap through this season. You can complain about how terrible this aquisition was (Milwaukee didn’t celebrate the departure) but Gomez was given a short contract to see what he could do for the team, and while he’s here, we should root for him to give back.

Gomez will either rebound or he won’t, but Tony Kemp is not going to be anymore than what Gomez was – a stop gap with some potential. This isn’t the difinitive answer moving forward for a team with a horrendous stranded RISP rate per game, starting pitching rotation with a bottom of the barrel ERA, and team BA lower than opponents played. It opens up the opportunity for Gomez to sink or swim, and also opens up the eventual opportunity to option Marisnick down to see if he can finally get the work he needs AB (although that clock is ticking as well). This also affords Preston Tucker the opportunity to work on his own consistency AB, and provides some novelty relief infield, as Kemp has previously played 2nd base.

The move also trends toward the belief that A.J. Reed will soon join the team to give Tyler White some help at 1st base. The clubs trend toward utilizing Marwin Gonzalez heavily at 1st shows the need to have support brought up at 1st, with White not being the immediately clear starter for the position. And we can’t forget the overall struggles the team has had both AB and on field (as well as pitching). In fact, the entire regression of the team (with the exception of Altuve, who is having a landmark year and is the only consistently bright spot in the line up) speaks more of personnel issues than any one player could produce. As the club’s personnel scrambles to stop the hemmoraging of the 2016, there’s got to be a point to where that management is called into question.

I will still stand by the prediction that this doesn’t mean an end to Gomez’s career with the Astros. Motivation, perhaps, is a player in this call up, with an opportunity for Tucker to gain some consistency AB, or for Marisnick to be optioned down to do the same. Gomez may get some time off, but he’s not going on a permanent hiatus. So, while this all plays out and falls into place, perhaps it would be a good idea to get behind struggling players that have already proven they can be a positive force for a team, instead of singling them out and booing them off the field for playing par for the course of the team so far? Gomez at his best would be a far better option than Kemp in his rookie year. So let’s stop hoping and praying for an implosion, and instead start rooting for a trade to work out for once.

Houston Astros: Roster Redux

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Get over it, he’s not going anywhere. At least not any time soon.

Let’s just gogo ahead and get that out of the way. Carlos Gomez, current CF in the last year of his contract, being paid $9 million, or a lot more than what he’s currently giving back to the Astros, will not be released. He’ll play out his contract and, depending on whether or not he can turn his season around, he’ll extend in Houston or find a bigger contract elsewhere. Six weeks into a season isn’t going to tell the story of a seasoned veteran who is in a bad slump, and had a really bad outing in the final game of the Red Sox series, so it’s anyone’s guess as to how much longer, AFTER his contract, Gomez will remain in Houston.

What is apparent is that something’s gotta change with Gomez. He’s been in a hitting slump since joining the Astros mid-season in 2015, and he’s lost some power both AB and outfield. The day off is certainly needed for not only the club, but Gomez in particular. His hitting slump spilled out on the field today, and what we witnessed was a player trying a little too hard and not getting it done. Gomez wasn’t Gomez in CF in this one game, but it’s not enough to take him off the roster or send him down. If anything comes of this, some injury rumors may spark up and land him on the DL for a stretch, but it won’t happen anytime soon with today’s roster moves.

So, just move on from that. Gomez is here for the season, whether you like it or not.

That being said, there were some poignant roster moves made today. Say goodbye to Erik Kratz, who made us all wonder how this player is still in the MLB with every plate appearance he had. Evan Gattis is coming back to back up Castro and take the DH spot. Also being optioned down to the AAA is DH/LF Preston Tucker. Tucker has seen more ABs and has been given ample opportunity to boost his stats and start hitting, but it hasn’t happened. With no real spot for him on the roster this season (LF is a position that is coming hard for him, with limited ability in speed and throwing) and Gattis coming back up, he’s the odd man out.

The upcoming announcement on who is getting called up is the big question. Will it be depth in the outfield, since Tucker represented the second back-up spot? Will it be a power-hitting infielder to take some time of Gonzalez and split time with Gattis and Tyler White as DH? Will relief pitching come into play, with the extra innings popping up in the past week? The delayed announcement is intriguing, and with a spot on the 40 man being vacated (Kratz), anything’s possible. There are a lot of deficiencies right now and there is not a single call up that will answer them all. So, what will make the best impact for the Astros moving forward?

Run production.

First thing first – don’t assume that it will be an outfield replacement since Tucker is moving down. Marisnick has the speed and defensive ability to cover as the back-up, and there’s no need for a 5th player in the depth chart for the outfield. Not as long as Marisnick’s still up in the majors.  The main designation will likely be DH for the call up, because the Astros are anemic at bad, and need some cleanup with stranded RISP. Also noteworthy is that there’s no true starter at 1st base. Currently, White is splitting time with Gonzalez, which is pushing the rest of the infield on rest days. Eventually, we’ll see A.J. Reed move up to split that time with White at 1st, but with his DL designation, it’s not going to happen today.

The other big hint is the recent move in the minors, expanding Corpus Christi Hooks (AA) SS Alex Bregman’s playtime to 3rd base last week. This could be a fast track to the majors, or it could be a position move to clear the way for another 3rd base call up, Colin Moran, 3rd base for the Fresno Grizzlies (AAA). Another position player that’s been discussed in this mix of potential call ups is Tony Kemp, 2nd base for the Fresno Grizzlies with OF experience. Kemp is an interesting choice for a few reasons. He can be an infield/outfield plug in, and can eventually allow Marisnick to be sent back down to AAA to get more plate appearances and work out his hitting situation.

The decision maker will likely fall into who can prosper best as DH, however, with some emphasis on plugging into infield positions when needed. To me, this eliminates Tony Kemp. Kemp is a left-handed batter, which will draw more walks, but he’s not a big hitter. He’s not going to be driving in runs, and he won’t be hitting it out of the park. He does have some speed (baserunning, OF coverage, and overall defense) that helps, but his arm strength won’t win battles in the OF. Also, as noted, Marisnick is the 4th man in the outfield, and there’s no need to cover bases in the OF with Marisnick backing up. Kemp could help infield, but he won’t help in run production.

Bregman’s move from SS to 3rd base with the Corpus Christi Hooks put him on the radar as a potential fast track with a lot of talking heads, which makes some sense. Currently, SS is pinned down by Correa, and a MiLB prospect isn’t going to bump Correa to another position. Correa may have experience at 3rd, but that’s not going to happen with another rookie coming up. So, Bregman playing a different position lends speculation that he’s going to be part of an upcoming move. It’s not likely to be a jump from AA Hooks to the MLB roster, though. Not this year. More likely, he’ll be promoted up to the AAA Grizzlies to make room for a call up.

Which leads us to who I think will be joining the team shortly: Colin Moran. Moran is a constent hitter who can bring home runs as a DH, and can back-up Valbuena. This is needed for two reasons: Valbuena hasn’t been at his best defensively on 3rd, and Gonzalez is splitting time with White at 1st. Oh, and there’s that thing about how Luhnow loves Moran, and brings him up every chance he gets. Calling Moran as being on the short list of call ups while being a slump or injury away from the MLB is a big nod toward who is being brought up. I could be wrong, but all signs point to Moran being called up to the roster on the off day in Chicago.

Houston Astros: Team transactions

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The past couple of weeks have seen some roster moves, call ups and options within the Astros organization, a few which have a few people puzzled. Both LHP Tony Sipp and C Jason Castro left on paternity leave within days of each other, allowing for Michael Feliz and Max Stassi, who many thought would start the season as back-up to Castro, to be recalled from the AAA. Additionally, Evan Gattis was optioned to Corpus Christi on a fast-track to get some time in behind home plate himself. The plan for Gattis to be plugged into the back-up catching spot has been in talks for some time.

This isn’t a new role for Gattis, who played the position during his tenure with the Atlanta Braves, and it was a smart move considering the lack of depth overall in the position, as well as lack of run production. The move was delayed due to Gattis’ sports hernia injury, and an immediate need was created for position depth with Stassi’s injury and surgery on a wrist injury. Both players, who would be thought to add depth to catcher, started the season on the DL. This created an immediate need for at least the start of the season, and this is where Erik Kratz comes in.

Kratz was acquired off a trade with the Padres at the last minute in March for AAA pitcher Dan Straily, whose time had basically come to an end with the Astros farming system and organization. It was a win-win for the Astros – dumping a player with no future that would be released anyway for an immediate need, instead temporarily recalling a player not yet ready for the MLB. I don’t believe anyone came into this trade thinking they would be a long-lasting solution for depth at the position, but instead a last-minute trade that ensured a back-up catcher on the roster when the season started the next week.

In case some of you are puzzled about Kratz being in an MLB uniform, now you know.

With Stassi being brought up earlier in the week, most fans were overjoyed with the aspect that he was ready to be brought up and the Astros could finally knock Kratz off the active man roster. Understandably so, since Kratz has gone 2 for 30 this season at bat, boasting an embarrassing (even for a catcher).069 BA; a number bolstered by yesterday’s double in the blowout 11-1 loss against the Boston Red Sox. Surely, with Castro’s return today, Kratz as back-up catcher would become a thing of the past, and Stassi would emerge in the role he was destined for prior to injury.

I’m sure many of you believed you were watching Kratz’s last game in the MLB yesterday, and it was nice to see him go out with a (sort of) bang. Then, the Astros announced the return of both Castro and McCullers to the active roster, and the options of Stassi and RHP Josh Fields. Fields being optioned down made sense, even though a lot of you may have thought it would be Michael Feliz heading back down to the AAA. Until the last week, Feliz has been the resident scape goat to save the bullpen when the Astros starting rotation failed and the game was all but considered a loss.

In the past week, since being brought up to plug in the roster for Sipp’s brief departure, Feliz has come out firing. His fastball has been a weapon, and he’s dominated in relief when he’s been brought out. This was most noticeable in the 16 inning win over the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday, when he pitched the final 3 innings and served up 5 strike outs in embarrassing fashion, when the Indians were delving into their starting rotation to relieve. However, Feliz’s marked improvements could be seen for the whole month of May, with 1 hit, no runs, and 13 strikeouts in 8 innings pitched.

Fields, on the other hand, has been quickly sinking the bullpen and showing himself to be the weak link, with a total of 14 runs credited in 15 games (15.2 innings pitched), and a cumulative ERA of 6.89. Between his own slow regression and Feliz’s rapid improvements, this was a no-brainer choice. Ironically, this transaction would have been slow to fold out, if it even happened at all, had Feliz not been recalled to cover Sipp’s empty roster spot, since Feliz made his case just 2 days ago. In true Astros fashion, Fields most likely would have been given a few too many chances to turn it around before being sent down.

The more surprising move, of course, was sending Stassi instead of Kratz, but it was the right move to make. Stassi started the season on DL after wrist surgery, and was just sent to Fresno on rehab assignment 10 days ago, playing every other game. Do the math – that’s 4 games after sitting six weeks. Not ready for prime time. He was brought up only to make sure there were 2 catchers on the roster while Castro was out, and with Gattis being optioned to Corpus to be fast-tracked to back up Castro, that allows Stassi a more comprehensive rehab assignment.

The move doesn’t mean the Astros like what they see with Kratz and are moving away from Stassi, by any means. They’re just allowing Stassi’s rehab to play out. Being activated 4 games after 6 weeks out isn’t enough. It’s enough to get by on a temporary basis when Castro’s out on paternity leave, but that’s it. If Gattis were available to be recalled, it would be him behind home plate, and then it would be Kratz being sent down. Gattis will be returning as early as next week (following the mandatory 10 day assignment), and that is when Kratz will finally get his send-off.

So what’s next on the horizon for possible roster moves? A few weeks earlier, Luhnow commented on how he’s committing to this team as-is, and won’t likely delve down into the minors for a game-changer. However, with an atrocious stall at run production, primarily in the latter half of the line up, he may be changing his mind. Gattis and (eventually) Stassi both add potential run production at #9, and the other weak spots include Valbuena and Gomez. Valbuena has picked up his game in strides both offensively and defensively, but certainly not with any consistency.

Today’s announcement of 2015’s 2nd overall draft selection Alex Bregman being transitioned from SS to 3rd base with the AA Corpus Christi Hooks has started a new round of chatter that he could be on the fast track to debut in the MLB later this year. That could spell some trouble for Valbuena’s longevity with the Astros, but it could also spell some additional relief and depth in the in field, and possibly in the outfield if Bregman gets some playing time there. Either way, I wouldn’t expect any kind of movement into the majors to happen until closer to or after the July All-Star break.

Outside of sorting out the catching depth and eventually bringing up pitching/bullpen prospects from the minors (Joe Musgrove was promoted to the AAA as well, and has been expected to make his MLB debut this year for some time now), we’re not likely to see any immediate changes to 3rd base or CF. Sorry, Gomez haters, he’s here for the long haul. His contract this year alone dictates that he’ll be given every chance to earn that salary, even though (as I mentioned in an earlier column) I’d expect more rotation between him, Marisnick, and Rasmus (with Tucker being brought into LF) if his numbers don’t improve.

Houston Astros:McCullers and the starting rotation

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Lance McCullers is coming back to the Astros active roster this Friday, after starting the season on the disabled list due to shoulder pain that kept him from participating in spring training. After a rehab assignment in the minors and his last bullpen session on Tuesday, the young pitcher felt ready to rejoin the team, and is slated to start in place of Collin McHugh this Friday, behind Dallas Keuchel, giving McHugh an extra day of rest, and adding another pitcher to the starting rotation. Hinch today announced the starting rotation would move forward with 6 for the time being.

McCullers will be a welcome addition to bring more stability and better depth into the starting rotation, something desperately needed this season with an inexplicably bad start in the starting pitching in the first month of the season. Even Keuchel, the Astros ace, hasn’t been able to put in consistent starts. I would opine that a weaker start was somewhat expected, with McCullers starting out on the DL, but it has been a lot rougher than anticipated. Hopefully McCullers can shake off the rust with relative ease (his last start in the MLB was in October 2015) and hit the ground running.

Originally, there had been a lot of speculation about whether Mike Fiers or newcomer Chris Devenski would be bumped down to the bullpen to make room for McCullers. Fiers, who has struggled in starts this year (along with pretty much every other pitcher in the starting rotation) has gained some traction and settled into the game. Devenski, in his rookie season in the MLB, was brought into the bullpen as a middle reliever, but made a strong case to be added to the starting rotation with a commanding stance the mound behind his 4 seam fastball.

Eventually, Devenski made the transition to the starting rotation, and has quickly become the most consistent starting rotation pitcher out of the 5. It’s hard to call him the best pitcher out of the starting rotation with just 3 starts (although they were 3 quality starts), but Devenski boasts the best starting rotation ERA (1.72) and is quickly making a case for himself to be a permanent fixture in the starting rotation. For this reason, as well as Fiers improving in his own starts (moving from 5 shaky innings to consistently 6-7), Hinch has opted for 6 starting pitchers for the time being.

Reasons this makes sense: With 6 consecutive quality starts, Hinch doesn’t want to mess with a good thing. Strength in the starting rotation is what the Astros need right now, in order to keep the opponent scoring low and keep the Astros in the game when they don’t come out swinging bats. There still isn’t any consistency in the at bats, and until that levels out there will be some heavy reliance on the starting rotation to keep the games within reach. So, if the starting rotation keeps coming out with quality starts, then it makes sense to keep the current rotation intact.

If the designation is between Fiers and Devenski, then it’s a close race. Fiers has the veteran experience to work through tough innings and games. Fiers is coming into his 5th year in the MLB, and his career ERA (3.70) makes him a reliable starter. Devenski, while coming in hot to the MLB and putting in 3 quality starts, only has 3 starts. The fact that they’ve been good starts for a newcomer is why the team is moving forward with 6 starting pitchers. Down the line, I see this as Devenski’s spot to lose, and Fiers’ spot to fight for, if he maintains this consistency.

Reasons why this doesn’t make sense: although the starting rotation seems to be getting it together and settling in, there have been some awful starts. Every starter has been pulled from a game prematurely, leaving the bullpen to extend past a normal 2-3 innings. In fact, the starting rotation average innings played is less than 6, and you need 6-7 innings, average, to keep your bullpen fresh and competitive. There’s also the issues with Ken Giles, who has had a disastrous start with the Astros, and Josh Fields, who has been pretty subpar in relief over the past few weeks.

Giles is still a big question mark, but the current trend seems to be throwing him out to set up when the pressure’s not quite on. In Mondays series opener against the Cleveland Indians, Giles put in a solid inning in the 8th with the Astros leading by 5. Instead of optioning him down for a few weeks, this may be the path Hinch takes to bring Giles back. If this is, indeed, the path, it weakens the bullpen. It’s also quite possible that Feliz will be optioned back down when McCullers is placed on the 25 man, which is a shame because Feliz has turned out some pretty outstanding innings in the last few games.

We’ll see that on Friday, though, so I wouldn’t expect the 6 man rotation to be a long-standing deal.

Overall, the 6 man rotation moving forward is a good idea, and speaks pretty loudly for Hinch’s confidence in Devenski. This is his position to lose, and I feel this kid is just beginning to show us what he’s got. The jury’s out on Fiers, who managed his best game against the Cleveland opener Monday night, with the Indians’ AB making him look like a Cy Young candidate. If Fiers has indeed settled in, then the competition is going to be stiff for Devenski, but that’s not a bad predicament for the Astros. If he’s got it, he’ll show it, and the team will be better for it.

Houston Astros: Everyone hates Gomez

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Carlos Gomez, Center fielder for the Houston Astros, is a controversial player in the MLB. He’s an exceptional outfielder, Golden Glove recipient, and a 2 time All Star. His speed and athleticism is hard to match in the outfield, and he’s had decent at bat appearances over the past few years. He’s an emotional player who loves the game, but often that emotion boils over and creates a bad attitude when the game’s not going his way. This bad attitude creates a diversion from the game, and often leads to arguments, fights, ejections, and even suspensions. All have been seen in Gomez’s recent history, most notably in game 3 of 4 versus the Seattle Mariners, on Saturday night.

The backstory of the game, and more specifically the home plate officiating, told a story of mutual frustration among players and coaches of both teams. Several players questioned strikes versus balls at bat during this game, one of the most notable being usually calm and quiet Carlos Correa, who took exception enough to argue his point with the home plate ump – almost to the point that I feared his own ejection from the game. Soon after, A.J. Hinch came out to speak his mind, and was quickly ejected from the game. Hinch made the right call there, by the way. His players were frustrated, and it was his job to speak up so that his players wouldn’t have to and wouldn’t face ejection from a game.

Then Gomez yelled a comment about some calls during the 9th inning, with Jason Castro at bat, which was loud enough to catch the attention of the 1st base umpire. A hefty stare-down ensued, and that stare down by the 1st base umpire was enough to cause Gomez to give that ump a piece of his mind. A discussion ensued, and then an argument that was largely a one-sided tirade from Gomez, who became worked up enough to cause fellow teammate George Springer to intervene and walk him off the field. At this point, Gomez had been ejected, and the Astros headed into extra innings in a tied ball game with a single available player left on the bench.

The Gomez ejection earned him a spot on the bench for the final game in the series, with Marisnick taking over CF duties (both after his ejection and the next game) and the Astros ended up with a tied series after the win on Sunday.

Now, I’m not making a claim that the Astros won because a team member that has gained the reputation of having a bad attitude wasn’t in the line-up, but that idea does deserve some scrutiny. If we can float the cliche that attitude is everything, we can find examples of this in the professional sports world. The most recent and glaring example would be the Harden/Howard drama that snared the Houston Rocket’s 2015-16 season. This was a team made up largely of the same core that finished in a top seed and advanced all the way to the conference finals the previous season, but fell apart because the 2 stars of the team let talent, teamwork, and leadership take a back seat to their egos.

In the case of Carlos Gomez, one could easily come to the conclusion that his attitude may be having a negative effect on the team as a whole, although only anecdotal evidence can be seen in this season so far. Gomez has sat 5 games thus far in the 2016 season, and left 2 games before completion. The first was due to injury in the 4th inning at bat, and the second was the ejection between the 9th and 10th innings. Out of the 5 games he sat, the Astros W/L record was 3-2. The game he left after injury, the Astros won. The game in which he was ejected, they lost. There could be a pattern emerging here, but with only 32 games played out of 162, specific conclusions cannot be made.

However, if a starter’s team has a better record when they’re riding pine, that could eventually lead to a real issue with that starter. Does that mean that Gomez and the attitude he brings into the game is the cause of the Astros unexpected and poor start this season? Hardly. Every part of the team – pitching, at bats, as well as fielding, have all contributed to this poor start. His negative attitude doesn’t help the team, and ejections absolutely hurt the team. That, though is exactly why the team doesn’t need a single player’s attitude to negatively affect the game. There’s already enough to worry about when you’re off to a 12-20 start.

Currently, the Astros are sitting in last place in the AL West, 1 game behind 4th place, and 6.5 games out of 1st. There is no player on the team (with, perhaps, the exception of Jose Altuve) that has any right to cop an attitude about anything right now, regardless of how frustrated that player may be. When that player is struggling offensively, and has made some poor and costly decisions at bat and on base, like Gomez has done this year, he has no right to demand respect. The ejection came from Gomez’s own interpretation that the ump was disrespecting him, but he has no place to demand respect when he’s started the season with a career low batting average and several costly base running errors.

Carlos Gomez brings a much-needed talent in the outfield. His at-bat leaves much to be desired. His attitude so far, in this season, stinks. That’s 1 for 3 that helps the Astros. Currently, the depth in the outfield isn’t strong, but it’s not crippling. Jake Marisnick has matching speed and athleticism to cover center field, but doesn’t have a strong presence at bat. Preston Tucker struggles in left field, and hasn’t had a real consistency slugging, but he’s gaining ground. If Gomez keeps getting in the way of himself and his team, then both Marisnick and Tucker should start getting a heavier rotation in the outfield. You can’t argue his talent on the field, but you can’t justify his behavior if it hurts the team.

Houston Astros: The Ken Giles dilemma

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One of the goals in the Astros offseason was to bulk up the strength of the bullpen, which was largely one of the most impressive bullpens in the MLB in 2015, until the last couple of months. In trying to achieve this, a blockbuster trade for Philadelphia Phillies closer, Ken Giles in what essentially turned out to be a 7 player trade was made. Giles would be brought in to become the legitimate closer, taking over for current closer Luke Gregerson, who was rather steady in 2015 as the Astros closer, but still lacked the overall consistency to win that spot in the long term.

This one year deal put Giles in competition with Gregerson for the closing spot in spring training, and ultimately Gregerson won the position. Since Gregerson was awarded the spot, Giles has consistently shown the Astros, on field, a subpar performance that couldn’t have been predicted when he was brought on. The same pitcher who boasted a 1.18 and 1.80 ERA, in that order, during his 2 year stint with the Phillies currently holds the highest ERA on the Astros roster, at 9.26. This is higher than catcher turned pitcher for one inning Eric Kratz.

Speculation has come from team manager A.J. Hinch that being the set up man for Gregerson in the 8th has been too much pressure, especially in close games. Giles himself has stated, essentially, that he’s playing in his own head right now and hasn’t been comfortable on the mound this season with the Astros. This has clearly been seen, with Giles being at least partially responsible for blowing leads or close games at least 5 different times this year. In the 11.2 innings Giles has played for the Astros, he’s amassed 12 runs. That’s a run per appearance on the mound.

So what can you do with a pitcher brought in to close that can’t handle the pressure of being the set up man for the closer that beat him out? Was it a knock on his confidence to lose closer to Gregerson, who he was brought in to replace? Possibly. To ease the pressure of setting up Gregerson in the 8th, Hinch has plugged him in to relieve in earlier innings. He’s been brought in to face a single batter, as well as an inning in the 7th over the past week. The single batter was a success, the inning – he had to be pulled, and did enough damage with 3 batters to help lose the lead and eventually the game.

What’s the next step? Will he be tried in other innings? In the 6th when Fiers starts, or when any other of the starting pitchers need to be pulled early? Will that be his new mission? Will he be relegated to a RHP utilized on one or two ABs to close out an inning? Is that what we paid for? We had more than that with Vincent Velasquez, one of the pitchers lost to the Phillies in the trade. If that’s the answer – to experiment and see which inning works the best for Giles, then the Astros may as well start looking for a trade in the mid-season. Or, they can bite the bullet and send Giles down.

This isn’t a move that gives up on Giles. It’s a move that supports him. He’s in a funk and it’s not getting better when he hits the field. He wasn’t brought in to play 1/3 of an inning when the Astros need a strikeout to end an inning. He doesn’t want to play that. He’s regressing every time he gets out on the mound, though. His presence on the mound lacks any kind of confidence, and that’s been seen in almost every outing. He needs his confidence back, and needs to directly train as a closer for a few weeks so he can do what he was brough in for – to replace Gregerson.

It’s the same thing that is happening to Gattis as we speak. Gattis was optioned to Corpus Christie yesterday to be primed to back up Jason Castro as catcher.This isn’t a new position for Gattis, as he has experience catching for the Braves (2014 had him behind home plate for a majority of the season), but the move to train specifically in the AA as a refresher. The same could and should happen to Giles. Get him back on track to be closer, and bring him back up when he’s finally ready to close. This needs to happen sooner rather than later. Other wise, his trade will end up being a joke.

The Astros bullpen isn’t stacked right now, but with Feliz being brought back up it’s not shallow either. With McCullers impending return at any time in the next few weeks (with any luck) and Devenski and Fister improving their outings to stretch more than 5 or 6 innings, the pressure on the bullpen is slowly being relieved. Now is the perfect and necessary time to go ahead and make the move with Giles. He’s needed this season, and so is his Phillies ERA. He can get it back, but it’s not going to happen by shoving him into the relief rotation at random spots, hoping that’s the trick.

Save Giles’ season, Hinch, and send him down to Fresno. It’s the right move, and and the right time.