Yes, help is on the way. But, to me, 2014 looks like another 100-loss season for the Astros. The team would have to improve by 12 games to avoid a fourth straight year of eclipsing the century mark in losses. I just don’t see that happening.
Let’s start with the level of the Astros competition. It would appear as though the other teams in the A.L. West should be better than they were last year. These are the teams that the Astros will have to play 18 or 19 times apiece.
The Angels have addressed their main weakness by acquiring a couple of young pitchers to bolster a starting rotation that ranked eleventh in the league despite solid performances from the one-two punch of Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson. The Angels also figure to get more production from Josh Hamilton and a healthy Albert Pujols.
The Oakland Athletics’ situation is similar to that of the Angels. Oakland’s young pitchers will have another year’s worth of experience under their belts and should continue to improve. Also, Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick are expected to bounce back from down seasons.
The Seattle Mariners went on a spending spree over the winter. The additions of Robinson Cano, Fernando Rodney, and Corey Hart should pay dividends in the win column. As for the Rangers — our neighbors to the north could be the most improved team in the division. Shin-Soo Choo and Prince Fielder provide a serious upgrade to the offense. Texas also added some depth to their starting rotation and Neftali Feliz will be back in the bullpen.
As luck would have it, the Astros are burdened with one of the toughest schedules in all of MLB. Drawing the Braves, Nats, and D-Backs in interleague play doesn’t help the cause.
Astros manager Bo Porter (Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports)
As for the team Bo Porter will be fielding, it should be improved over last year’s squad — but not that much. Dexter Fowler provides an upgrade at the top of the order. But, with the exception of Jesus Guzman, the rest of the lineup consists of the same players that accumulated the most strikeouts in the league while driving in the fewest runs and posting a league worst .298 wOBA. It’s also pretty much the same defensive club that led the league in errors.
That’s a lot to overcome — and we haven’t even touched on the pitching yet.
The Astros bullpen was historically bad. The good news is, that’s the one area that has been addressed this offseason. The bad news: the performance of relief pitchers can vary drastically from year to year, and, our projected closer is still rehabbing an injury.
The rotation was pretty bad too. Once again, the problem has been addressed (sort of). Scott Feldman and Jerome Williams aren’t exactly Nolan Ryan and Cy Young. But, at least it’s a start. The mere presence of the two veterans will help take some of the pressure and the workload off the youngsters. The real question is: How will the kids respond?
Can Jarred Cosart, Brett Oberholtzer, and Brad Peacock get the job done? The opposition will have more of a book on these guys than they had last year. That could produce one or more sophomore slumps for the members of Houston’s rotation.
Lucas Harrell could prove to be the wildcard here. A return to his 2012 form could be the one thing that saves the Astros from losing 100 games.
George Springer should also be a big help. But the outfielder isn’t likely to be added to the roster before Opening Day.