From the moment that the 2015 Astros season ended in Kansas City on a late October evening, the expectations were set to “Astro”-nominal levels for 2016.
Flash forward to mid-August 2016. The Houston Astros have been, for lack of a better word, underwhelming. Sure, regression was understandable and in fact almost predictable. If you remove the first six or so weeks from the 2015 season, the Astros are about a .500 club. The team’s actual record this season indicates as much as they entered Tuesday night (61-57) was roughly on par with their expected record (64-54) at the time.
In essence, the Astros are what their record shows they are: a decent team.
For a “decent” team with playoff aspirations, this season has been like an unwelcome gut punch. Not only has the Astros become the personal punching bag of the Texas Rangers (2-11 record in 2016), the team has been streaky at times when it hurts the most.
For example, the Astros trailed the Rangers by just a few games heading into the All-Star break. Momentum was on their side. However, the lack of offense and effective pitching when the bats actually awoke from their slumber has allowed the team to drop to eight games back for the division lead in recent weeks. Oh, did I mention that the Astros also trail the Seattle Mariners for second place in the division?
In many ways, the Astros had all the right breaks in 2015. That has not been the case in 2016.
Reigning AL Cy Young winner, Dallas Keuchel, has fallen back to earth after a remarkable two-year stretch. Collin McHugh is more inconsistent than he has been in over two years. Lance McCullers has missed plenty of games due to arm ailments. The now-former Astro Carlos Gomez became a liability not only in the lineup but on the field as well. Luis Valbuena was having arguably the best season of his career, but his recent absence to due injury has derailed a once-strong offense. Colby Rasmus has seen his 2016 season potentially end in forgettable fashion following his right ear condition. Tony Sipp has become the worst pitcher in the Astros bullpen. The list goes on and on.
In fact, it is actually sort of remarkable that the Astros have climbed their way to over .500 when you consider everything that has gone haywire and the lack of a big move at the trade deadline.
But the future is still bright in Houston.
Despite their struggles in 2016, the talent pipeline for the Astros should continue to produce quality major league players. Outside of a slow start for top prospect Alex Bregman, he has been a valuable hitter in the lineup as of late. A.J. Reed has shown flashes of becoming a solid major league first baseman. James Hoyt is one of the most dynamic arms in the bullpen. Teoscar Hernandez and Tony Kemp have been spark plugs since their promotion to the majors. Heralded Cuban slugger, Yulieski Gurriel, is expected to make his debut in 2016, and he plans to be part of the team’s plans.
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Then there is the capability for regression to the mean next season. Keuchel, for example, could be a prime candidate in 2017 if he adjusts to his struggles this year. The same can be said of McHugh if the Astros retain him. Not to mention that a healthy McCullers would be a major boost to the rotation. And Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve, and George Springer is the young, inexpensive core that this organization can build around in the foreseeable future. Most teams are lucky enough to have one player like that. The Astros have three!
The only way that the Astros future could actually be brighter is if ownership is willing to spend money in attracting marquee free agents that could push the team over the top.
Of course, the lack of top quality free agents this winter is concerning for any team looking to spend money to improve so it may be best not to dole out expensive contracts. Now, the 2018 free agent class is another story.
It is a downright shame for the Astros to waste a great season essentially from Altuve and solid seasons from various others. Alas, that is life, though. While the possibility of making the playoffs is ever decreasing in Houston for 2016, the future is still bright. Even amid the present woes, this is arguably the healthiest the Astros have been regarding the future in well over a decade. Man, has it been that long?
**Team record information provided by Baseball-Reference**