After a season where the Astros succeeded when no one expected them to in 2015, things changed in 2016.
The Astros were loose and exciting in 2015 when the music Club Astros blared following each win. They had fun and manager A.J. Hinch allowed them to have a little fun as long as they were winning. The came within six outs of advancing to the ALCS last year. All was good in H-Town after years of the process.
Yesterday, Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle joined me on Talking Stros. While we focused some on what the Astros are looking to do in the future, we focused mostly on what happened in 2016. The team was projected by many to be World Series contenders after their rise in 2015, which could have put too much pressure on the young team.
Team Got Off to a Bad Start
The Astros started off 2-4 on the road versus the Yankees and Brewers. Then they came home to play versus the team that knocked them out of the playoffs in the Royals. While there were still positive feelings about the team with the slow start, there were some people in the Astros locker room who were already feeling the pressure.
All offseason and spring training, people like me said that the Astros would dominate game one versus the Yankees behind Dallas Keuchel. While the Astros did get the win on opening day, it was very obvious that Keuchel wasn’t the same pitcher. All eyes went to 19-game winner Collin McHugh for game two, but he only lasted 1/3 innings allowing six runs (five earned) versus the Yankees.
Team management assumed that Keuchel and McHugh would pick up where they left off in 2015. When they didn’t, players started trying too hard to make things happen. One thought that Smith offered was that their arms were overused in 2015. When the Astros returned home and won the home opening day game, Smith saw something that he thought was wrong.
You can listen to Talking Stros interview with Brian T. Smith below or listen to the full show tonight from 6-8 pm CST at TuneIn: Texas Sports Review.
Feeling the Pressure
The first week of the season, many of the local writers were writing about the early struggles of the team. Smith was one of them, so following McHugh’s seven shutout innings performance in the home opener, a pitcher approached Smith. This pitcher, who he would not say who it was, told Smith, “Is that better?”
Smith thought it was weird that a player would react so much to what people are writing about him. He thought they should play the game and not worry about what others are saying. In 2015, the Astros had no expectations to win, so they won without the pressure. In 2016, there were high expectations for the team, and they got off to a 15-28 start to the year.
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They were expecting players like Colby Rasmus who has not been able to maintain consistent play for an extended time. They were also counting on Luis Valbuena to be the left-handed power hitter in the lineup before A.J. Reed was ready. Rasmus was decent in April but was not a factor for the rest of the season.
Valbuena struggled to start the season but helped the Astros get back to winning ways once he started hitting. Some would say that the Astros season changed when they lost Valbuena to the hamstring injury. However, the pressure to win got the team off to a bad start. After the 15-28 start to the season, the Astros showed life by going 69-50 over the last 119 games.
Some could say that Carlos Gomez was the king of not being able to live up to expectations. Ever since the trade to Houston, Gomez tried too hard to succeed to prove he was worth the trade. When he went to the Rangers, he did so not having to be the guy for them. Now he finds himself returning to former glory.
Despite the slight regression in 2016, the expectations will be just as high. The young team has now learned how to win when they are expected. They just need to learn how to play better at the end of the season.
***Stats and records from Baseball-Reference***