Much has been made this off-season about the positive energy that has been bestowed upon the Astros thanks to new manager Bo Porter. There are a lot of specific positive signs (including actual signs) surrounding the compliments of Porter that have been discussed and given their due. But now we have actual games to evaluate, and the conclusion is clear: Bo Knows.
Bo Porter (Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports)
Just to be clear I am not referring to the shirts that Porter and Astros ace and veteran leader Bud Norris were sporting a few days ago. While Porter has done well to draw on his previous experiences and his friendship with Bill Parcells, his leadership style is all his own. And it has been on display in full force since Porter and his players began trickling into Spring Training.
Quite frankly the Astros needed an attitude adjustment in the worst way. Removing the names from the backs of the jerseys this spring was a good move. It is all about the front of the uniform, not the back. That is how Porter expects the Astros to play, and that is what they have been doing.
He established a leadership group of essentially all the veterans. Everyone can and should be a leader. Norris, especially since he is one of the longest tenured Astros, has taken this to heart. Young players such as George Springer have been able to fit right in and assimilate into the clubhouse. The team is in flux and almost every job is up for grabs, but so far you would not know it. All of the players seem committed to one cause, the team. Now this is obviously a fluid situation and could easily change, but for now Porter has the Astros playing the right way.
It really is not healthy to live and die by spring training results. It is about getting ready for the season and working on things. It is about development. But that does not mean there are not some conclusions to draw about how the Astros have been performing so far this spring.
First of all, they are not facing the best of competition and after a few innings most of the players on the field are unrecognizable. But when you are trying to create a culture, the results still matter. You want to see that edge. You want to see a team that is doing the little things and not giving up.
I am not going to discuss individual performances in detail here, because that is not the point at hand. The point is that the Astros are proving that they are willing to take the extra base. So what if Rick Ankiel gets thrown out trying to stretch a double into a triple. The point is that he could have cruised into second base happy with the result in his quest to make the team, but that is not what he did.
Brett Wallace is not the fastest player on the team, but when the catcher mishandled a pitch the other day, Wallace still tried to make it to third base. The fact that he got thrown out is not the point. Were this a regular season game, more care would have been taken in his decision to advance. But these spring games are when you give it a shot.
Against the Yankees in a game that clearly did not matter, Brandon Barnes took the extra base. And what do you know, Porter positively reacted to it on the bench. Because that is what he is instilling in these Astros. Bases are being stolen, runners are being thrown out all over the diamond, and all of the players are hustling.
Lucas Harrell pitched almost as good as you could have wanted him to on Thursday against a team of Yankees scrubs. Unfortunately, the Astros just did not hit and then the Yankees scored five runs on the Astros’ bullpen. But instead of folding, they fought back in the bottom of that same inning. And what happened? Brandon Laird hit a grand slam against his former team and Houston took the lead. In the 8th inning when Porter needed to get an out to get out of the inning he brought lefty Sergio Escalona in. Then in the 9th inning he had Josh Zeid up in case there was trouble. But Escalona was given enough rope and he managed to get the job done and close out the victory.
What is the lesson here? The Astros are learning to win, fighting to the end, and doing the little things needed to be successful. Yes it is only a week and the competition is substandard, but what is happening on the field is real. It may not translate to many wins once the regular season starts, but progress is being made.