These have been a trying few years for the Astros. As much as I am sick of writing about this and belaboring the point, it still needs to be mentioned at times. Unfortunately it is an underlying theme for the season and the franchise in general right now.
Matt Dominguez (Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports)
As we are in the midst of a six game stretch against two familiar National League foes (the Brewers and the Cubs), there were some things to be excited about as an Astros’ fan on Wednesday leading up to the middle game of the series against the Brewers.
The 10-1 victory against the Brewers in the series opener on Tuesday is certainly a good place to start. Everything was working for the Astros as they found success in all facets of their game.
Jordan Lyles continued to show that he is unimpressed about all of the Mark Appel talk and shut down the Brewers over seven innings while allowing only one run. This success should not come as a surprise as Lyles still should fall under the “prospect” umbrella and his ERA now sits at a robust 3.22.
As the Astros’ starting pitching has gotten progressively better, the hitting has gone in the opposite direction. However last night that regression was suspended, at least for one game. Houston scored 10 runs and did it both with the long ball and with small ball. Justin Maxwell scored on a Marwin Gonzalez squeeze bunt to give the Astros a 2-1 lead early in the game. Ultimately that ended up being all Lyles needed, but the bats were not done.
In what is hopefully the start of the bats waking up Carlos Pena hit a mammoth three run blast and Matt Dominguez continued his success as a run producer by hitting a grand slam to give Lyles and Paul Clemens just a few insurance runs.
But that is not where I am going with this. Everything I just mentioned, you already know. And that was just one game. The Astros have had a few games like that already this season yet they are still in last place. But help and hope is on the way. It also might be here sooner than you think.
It is also not a secret that the Astros signed first overall pick Mark Appel Wednesday afternoon.
After listening to the press conference, the major takeaway, was that Appel will likely end his season in AA this year. What that means, is that the Astros are confident Appel has the ability to move quickly through the system, and it really is a foregone conclusion that we will be seeing the future ace in Houston by the All-Star break in 2014.
So the question then must be raised, why is there such an urgency to move Appel through the system? Said urgency has not been there for the other top Astros’ prospects.
That query has two answers. The simple and apparent one, is that Appel is quite frankly further along and more polished thus reducing the need for an extended stay in the minor leagues. But the other answer is what should excite Astros’ fans.
The prevailing belief is that beginning in 2014, but more towards 2015, the Astros are going to surprise people and be ready to start making some noise. And Appel is going to be a big part of that.
More towards that thought process, Brian T. Smith had some interesting tweets early Wednesday morning. In summation, the Astros have turned that corner. The Astros have hit rock bottom and are now beginning their ascension. Luhnow’s approach at the trading deadline will be different from what it was in the past. While he might look to make some trades, the thought process is different from last year. Houston will not be pure sellers like they were last year.
Smith also noted a changing approach to free agency. Instead of just looking to sign free agents like Carlos Pena and Jose Veras to low risk one year deals, shorter multi-year deals are going to be on the table.
All told, it was a pretty good 24 hour stretch starting with Tuesday night’s victory. Smith made a lot of good points about the Astros future to add to the optimism, and then we had the Appel press conference.
Granted the Astros have nowhere to go but up, but that is what they are starting to do.