The Astros started the second half of the season just like they finished off the first half, with another loss. It was a typical night for the Astros as their feeble offense overshadowed a decent performance by a starting pitcher. Wandy Rodriguez settled down after a rocky first two innings that included a 2-run homer by Buster Posey. But it was too late. The Astros managed only three hits in the game, narrowly avoiding a shutout thanks to a homerun by Chris Snyder. Madison Bumgarner beat the Astros for the second time this year in as many tries as the Giants coasted to a 5-1 win at A.T. & T. Park.
What has happened to the Astros offense that got off to such a promising start this season? To put it into layman’s terms the wheels seem to have fallen off. The strikeouts are the most obvious issue – but the team is failing in other areas as well. Their .243 team batting average ranks 14th in the N.L. and their .689 OPS ranks 13th. The Astros are not hitting, hitting with power, or getting on base.. DUH!
The Astros have managed to hit more homers than a few teams but are dead last in doubles with 135. That means fewer balls hit with authority and maybe even some lackluster baserunning skills. Fangraphs ranks Houston next-to-last in baserunning with a negative 6.1. I don’t know exactly what that number means but the Astros do seem to be pretty weak at running the bases. They don’t seem to take the extra base when the opportunity presents itself in the form of a pitch in the dirt or a bobble by an outfielder. I don’t have any other stats to back it up but this team simply doesn’t play an aggressive brand of baseball on the base paths. I’m sure anyone who has watched a number of their games would agree.
It’s almost as if the Astros have adopted a strategy of waiting around for someone to hit a three-run homer instead of pressing the action. Unfortunately, this team isn’t built to play that type of game. They’re not members of the American League just yet and this team needs to win some games now or they will see their league worst attendance figures continue to plummet. Fans just aren’t going to pay to see such a pitiful product.
The peripheral small-ball stats are bad too. Only two N.L. teams have fewer sacrifice bunts. Scoring runners from third base with less than two outs has also been a challenge. Houston ranks 15th in the N.L. with only 13 sacrifice flies on the year. It all boils down to their inability to make contact. The Astros have fanned a league-high 711 times this year. Things didn’t start off that badly but the numbers took a turn for the worse in June. That month saw Astros hitters strike out in a dismal 27% of their at-bats and post more than a 3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. These numbers have improved a bit so far in July (they couldn’t have gotten any worse) but are still well below the league average.
Yesterday I heard analysts on MLB Network talk about teams and their “identity“. Winning teams establish themselves by showcasing what they do best. Some teams score lots of runs, others pitch well. Some are built on speed while others play outstanding defense. The Astros are obviously struggling to find their identity and chances are, that when they do, it won’t be about their hitting. For example: Astros outfielders have been the least productive offensively in the N.L. On the other hand, the 2B/SS combination of Jose Altuve and Jed Lowrie have been one of the best in the league. That’s great, but the Astros have got to get some production elsewhere. A 1B platoon of Matt Downs and Scott Moore doesn’t appear to be the answer.
Bring up Brett Wallace now! What are we waiting for?