On Thursday, the Houston Astros released their game times for the full 162-game season schedule. After the small sample-sized 60 games of 2020, the 2017 World Series champions are looking to contend once again, although finishing below .500 during their ’20 campaign.
The schedule is home to game times that fans have been accustomed to since joining the American League West. With Opening Day being played away against the Oakland A’s on April 1, the Astros will once again start these night games at 9:07 p.m. CT. These 9 p.m. starts will be a reoccurrence for the away games on the West Coast. Home games will be back to 7:10, 6:10, and 1:10 for weekend sets, while weekday starts will be at 7:10. The home opener is on April 8 at 7:10 p.m. against the A’s.
The Astros announce their game times for the 2021 schedule. What else can you expect?
We are left with some unanswered questions moving forward, and as pitchers and catchers are reporting within the next week, the Astros have the expected money to sign one more big name player. That could be from a closer to a center fielder or to rotation depth.
With the departure of George Springer, Houston needs to fill the leadoff spot and the gaping hole in center, and with regards to the 40-man roster, the answer could be in Myles Straw. Although he could be the expected center fielder, Straw being the leadoff hitter doesn’t sound like the right solution at the moment.
Straw has been with the Astros since being drafted in 2015, and while Houston was in the running to sign Jackie Bradley Jr., it has been reported he will most likely re-sign with the Boston Red Sox. The right-hander, now 26, hasn’t had many chances to make an impact for the Astros in his career, while Springer had the job locked down. A full schedule is also something Straw would not be used to, as the most games he has played in a season has been 53.
While playing five seasons in the minors, Straw posted an OPS above average at .773, which is something to note. The right-hander has seen struggles at the plate for the Astros, but his lack of opportunity against major league pitching is a cause. Through 224 MLB plate appearances, Straw has hit .246/.327/.322. Though his power and slugging is quite low, he is explosive on the base paths; Straw even said he could steal up to 50-60 bases as a starter for the Astros.
Although Straw is not short of confidence whatsoever and is ready for the job, Houston also has an opportunity to evaluate the futures of Chas McCormick, Steven Souza Jr., and Jose Siri as possible candidates for the fourth out fielding spot.
Concern: rotation depth
While Justin Verlander will hit the injured list come Spring Training, the Astros will have to rely on their young core once again like they did in 2020. Verlander’s injury led to Houston seeing a success in the futures of Framber Valdez, Jose Urquidy, and Cristian Javier. The one issue heading into the 2021 is seeing how this young core matches up in a full season.
Along with the future to worry about, the Astros have Zack Greinke and Lance McCullers Jr. in the frontend of their rotation, who are on expiring deals. Their regressed campaigns of last season could be something to worry about, but also they have something to prove if they are looking to re-sign next winter.
The Astros could look into arms on the market as an depth in the backend of the rotation, while moving Javier to the bullpen as a long reliever or even given time to split starts. The options are there if Houston were to sign an effective starter in the coming weeks.
After the signing of Steve Cishek, GM James Click could be done shopping for possible arms to round out the bullpen. With options in Pedro Baez, Ryne Stanek, and now Cishek, the youthful bullpen of 2020 has competition and available options of replacement during the upcoming season.
The closing role could fall in the hands of Cishek if he makes the major league roster depending on his Spring Training performance. Other options are in veteran Ryan Pressly and second-year Enoli Paredes, who has been speculated as a fit by fan assumption. Pressly had a regressed slate in 2020, after taking over at closer for the injured Roberto Osuna.
The bullpen might be the last worry on the Astros minds moving into Spring Training with experienced and young arms battling for roster spots. If Cishek were to make the big league roster, than the perfect bullpen concept I had would need to be adjusted.
We saw regressed seasons in Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, and Carlos Correa, but in the light of a great postseason run, there were snippets of success. The Astros have always been a team of progression, and I can’t say that enough. We have seen them climb the standings come summer and into August and September.
They didn’t have those type of chances to make mid-season adjustments, but this infield saw great success at the plate in October as each of their OPS was above average. There shouldn’t be worry in the All-Star core, especially after the re-signing of Michael Brantley. Springer is gone, but the future is bright for young stars like Kyle Tucker, while the rest of cast is steadily in their prime.
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Correa’s future relies on his performance of this season, but also his relationship with Click is strong as both want an extension in the near future. The two settled a deal before heading to arbitration this winter, and while this is just a small step, the Astros ended up giving Correa more than they had planned to. Correa is among a talented free agency class for the 2021 offseason, and it would behoove the Astros to lock him down now before he evaluates the market.
All of these needs will be addressed at Spring Training, as pitchers and catchers report on Feb. 18, and full workouts begin on Feb. 22. There is more to evaluate among the crop as the Astros will look at the future progressions of Jeremy Pena, Forrest Whitley, Tyler Ivey, Freudis Nova, Pedro Leon and many more.
Spring Training in West Palm Beach will also be allowing fans to games, but walking around and watching practices will not be allowed like it has been in years past. The schedule also has been shrunk, after the the Grapefruit League was divided into two divisions, cancelling matchups against AJ Hinch’s Detroit Tigers and postseason opponents in the Minnesota Twins and New York Yankees.
The Astros are projected to finish at the top of the AL West once again, but heading into this year’s Spring Training comes with a longer list of evaluations and possible concerns. With the season around the corner, we do not know the exact capacity Minute Maid Park will be at, but it is a good sign that West Palm Beach and the College Classic will both allow fans.