Oct 7, 2014; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Pat Neshek (37) is sprayed with champagne after defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers in game four of the 2014 NLDS baseball playoff game and advancing to the NLCS at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
Yes, you read that right, the Astros will be playoff contenders in 2015 after the signings of Pat Neshek and Luke Gregerson. With Jim Crane telling everyone that Houston had about $20 million to add to the payroll this offseason, the Astros still have about $8 million for additions to the roster.
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You may think I’m jumping the gun here, but I have valid reasons on why this will be the best Astros season since 2008, and potentially the first playoff appearance in a decade. Let’s start with the bullpen: Chad Qualls, Tony Sipp, Luke Gregerson, and Pat Neshek will bring us back to the Qualls-Wheeler-Lidge days, or even the Lidge-Dotel-Wagner days. This is a team that blew 26 games last season, and 29 the year before. Closing games has been the Astros kryptonite for a very long time, and that will no longer be an issue.
And that brings me to the starters, who tied for the 5th most quality starts in the AL with 87 last season. A quality start is when a starting pitcher lasts a minimum of 6 innings while allowing 3 earned runs or less. Quality starts might be the most underrated pitching category that there is, as it means that your starter kept you in the game while he was on the mound.
Still not convinced? Imagine Dallas Keuchel and company giving you 6-7 strong innings, with the fortified bullpen finishing the last 2-3 innings? All of a sudden, those 3-2 games look winnable, and it won’t feel like you’re flipping a coin on if they’ll hold on or not.
It’s not going to take a lot of runs to win these games, which is where the lineup comes into play. The team BA was ranked dead last in the AL at .242, and OBP was 13th in the league at .309. The only way to go from here is up, and you can expect George Springer and Jon Singleton to be a big reason for that. Singleton is not going to struggle as bad as he did in his rookie season, while Springer could actually play a full season and drive in 100 runs pretty easily. When you have guys who can get on base like Altuve, Fowler, and Marisnick, all you need is a blast from Springer, Carter, or Singleton to give the team some quick runs.
Nobody is sure at this point on who the catcher will be, or who will be on the left side of the infield, but you can expect Luhnow to pull the trigger sooner rather than later. And don’t forget about the defensive side of the ball either. The Astros have plenty of speed in the outfield to track down some difficult balls, while the defensive shifts have paid off more often than not in the infield for Houston.
Quite simply, this team will be better than the 2014 team, and there is a reason why Neshek and Gregerson came over to Houston. The Astros biggest need for years has been to get a stable bullpen, and now they have that.
I’ll leave this final thought with you: nobody honestly thought that Kansas City would make a World Series run last Spring Training, but they did. All we’re talking about here is the playoffs. If the Royals could do it last year, why can’t 2015 be the Astros year to shock the world?