How might the Houston Astros navigate the new extra inning baserunner rule?
Say what you want about this 60-game season we’re about to embark on, but it’s not going to be boring. Schedules are different, NL teams will be utilizing the DH, and a minor league rule about extra innings gets a temporary stay with the big boys. The Houston Astros, like all other teams, will have to adjust.
Beginning with the 10th inning, each team will start with a runner on second base (the runner will be the batter who made the last out of the team’s previous inning). If that runner scores, it’ll be counted as an unearned run against the pitcher on the mound. Unfortunately that pitcher could still take the loss if he allows the runner to score.
The idea behind it is to speed up games when they go into extra innings, thereby preventing the 12-plus inning marathons we occasionally see. In such a short season in which teams will probably be missing players due to COVID-19 concerns, it makes sense to try and prevent those types of games. I just hope it doesn’t stick around beyond this season.
The Astros do have one weapon in their arsenal that will help them in these situations: Myles Straw. He’s one of the fastest players in the league and could be inserted as a pinch runner in these extra innings situations. With him on base, they could probably just bunt him home.
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Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman and George Springer run well, so there aren’t too many plodders in the lineup. Kyle Tucker was 5-for-5 in steal attempts in the majors last year after swiping 30 bags at Triple-A, and Garrett Stubbs stole 47 bases in 52 attempts in his minor league career. They have options for quality baserunners.
Another advantage they’ll have is with the hitters at the plate. As a team, the Astros struck out the fewest of all 30 major league clubs in 2019, so they’ll have a better shot at putting the ball in play to move the runner over. They also drew the most walks of any team, so they’ve got patience working for them as well.
On the pitching side, the Astros struck out the most hitters of any major league team last year. That may change this year as they lost Gerrit Cole and are without two of their best relievers in Will Harris and Joe Smith. Ryan Pressly and Roberto Osuna are good, but how the rest of the bullpen shakes out is still a mystery. We just don’t know who’ll be on the mound in these situations.
On the whole, though, the Astros are well equipped to handle this new rule. They’re in good position to be able to score that inning-opening runner, and if the pitching staff can make some stops, this team could have a nice record in extra-inning affairs this season.