Astros: Five takeaways from exhibition games against Royals

Houston Astros, George Springer (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Houston Astros, George Springer (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) /

Here are five takeaways from the Houston Astros exhibition games against the Royals.

While there were some initial doubts that the weather would halt the team in its tracks, the Houston Astros made it to Kansas City and completed their two exhibition games against the Kansas City Royals. They won both, and in the process looked like they’re ready for the season opener on Friday against the Mariners.

The Astros took Monday’s game by a 6-3 score behind five brilliant innings from Lance McCullers Jr. The offense was the story on Tuesday as the team won 15-6 on the strength of five home runs. Josh James did not get the start on Tuesday due to the threat of rain, but he’s still lined up to start the fourth game of the regular season.

Jose Altuve came up limp after scoring a run on Tuesday, leaving the game with a leg contusion. Manager Dusty Baker said he’s day-to-day, so the hope is that he’ll be ready for Opening Day, but there’s no guarantee. Beyond all that, here are five takeaways from these two games.

McCullers For Cy Young?

McCullers was downright nasty in his start on Monday, throwing five innings of one-run ball, allowing four hits and striking out six. His fastball was hitting 96 mph and his changeup looked flat out devastating. The curveball wasn’t quite on the same level, but it’ll get there eventually. He threw 76 pitches and should be able to get to 85-90 in his upcoming start on Saturday.

Coming off a lost 2019 season recovering from Tommy John surgery, one of the biggest things to watch with the Astros this season was always going to be McCullers’ readiness and performance. If he can throw the ball like that, he’ll have no trouble being a quality third starter, and his ceiling is pretty high given his elite talent.

Springer for MVP?

Of all the Houston hitters, Springer looks the most ready. He didn’t make an out in either game, chipping in with a double, a homer, four walks and a hit by pitch. He finished with a .320 average and .949 OPS combined between Spring Training and these exhibition games and seems primed for a hot start.

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A free agent at season’s end, Springer certainly could use a strong season. He’s coming off the best campaign of his career, bashing 39 homers and driving in 96 runs in just 122 games. Everyone looks to Mike Trout as the perennial MVP favorite, but Springer looks like a strong contender.

Pressly Looks Ready

After fighting off a blister on his right index finger, reliever Ryan Pressly actually got the start in Tuesday’s game after James was scratched. He threw just one inning, of course, but it was a good one. He set the Royals down in order on 12 pitches, striking out two of the three batters he faced.

The Astros desperately need him at the start of this season, as he’s just about all they have left in the bullpen. Joe Smith is out and Roberto Osuna doesn’t look to be ready, so Pressly will be the guy Baker relies on to shut the door. If this outing is any indication, he’s ready to go.

Young Pitchers Separate Themselves

With their bullpen so depleted, the Astros are going to need to rely on some young arms to get key outs once the season is underway. Pressly and Chris Devenski will be there, but just about everyone else is going to have little or no major league experience. But some guys showed the potential to be just what Baker needs.

HOUSTON, TEXAS – JULY 17: Enoli Paredes #91 of the Houston Astros pitches during an intrasquad game at Minute Maid Park on July 17, 2020 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TEXAS – JULY 17: Enoli Paredes #91 of the Houston Astros pitches during an intrasquad game at Minute Maid Park on July 17, 2020 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /

Enoli Paredes looked particularly strong, striking out five batters in two scoreless innings with his fastball touching 97 mph. Cy Sneed gave the team three innings in relief of McCullers, while lefty Blake Taylor followed up with a scoreless frame and a couple of strikeouts. All three appear to have a good chance to make the team.

Bryan Abreu is just about a lock after throwing two innings on Tuesday, and Andre Scrubb struck out five hitters in 1.2 innings but allowed a run on a hit and two walks. On the flip side, Jojanse Torres, he of the blazing fastball, gave up two runs on three hits and five walks in just one inning of work, so he may be on the outside looking in.

Exceptional Position Player Depth

While depth is a concern on the pitching side, that’s not the case on offense. The Astros got home runs from infielders Alex De Goti, Nick Tanielu and Taylor Jones on Tuesday. Abraham Toro tallied a couple of hits in Kansas City, as did Kyle Tucker and Dustin Garneau.

Other players to go deep included Josh Reddick, Martin Maldonado and Aledmys Diaz, so this offense should be fine without Yordan Alvarez. There’s plenty of depth here and plenty of players who can step in if needed. This is an area of great strength for this team.

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What’s Next

The Astros will continue to work out at Minute Maid Park in advance of the season opener on Friday. First pitch is at 8:10 p.m. CT, and the game will be shown on AT&T Sports Net SW and can be heard on 790 AM in the Houston area.