Over A Month Into The Season: What Do We Know?


Steve Rand, Adviser

Astros Have Some Great Young Arms

Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh, with only about 100 starts combined, have proven to be top-of-the-rotation guys. They are a combined 7-0 with a gaudy 18 runs allowed in 84 innings. If you add two vets like Scott Feldman and Roberto Hernandez at the back end of this rotation and what you have is a formidable starting staff. But. And this is a BIG BUT. With Jed Lowrie and Cody Rasmus as your cleanup and number five hitter respectively, can the Astros score enough runs over the course of a season? Doubtful. Outfielder George Springer (20 home runs in 2014) and first baseman Chris Carter (37 home runs in 2014) have some serious pop, but Springer has a career .221 average and Carter has a career .217 average. No matter how often the hit-machine Jose Altuve gets on base, is there anyone who can drive him in? Even with the signing of hard-hitting, lumberman Evan Gattis, who is hitting a paltry .190 with 27 strikeouts in 105 at-bats, can the Astros score enough to remain in contention? Gattis may end up with over 30 home runs now that he’s moved to the American league where he can get more at-bats by being a DH, but he also may end up leading the league in strikeouts this year. My guess is, the Astros, once Seattle gets its pitching dialed in, will end up leading the entire league in striking out even though Jose Altuve, who will probably end up leading the league in at-bats, is the toughest ballplayer to strikeout. As a team, they have struck out 271 times in 30 games, second most in the majors, trailing only the Chicago Cubs, who have struck out 278 times in in 28 games. Since there is some decent pitching in the American League West, don’t expect the Astros to contend much longer. The Astros are a great story for the first month of baseball, yet it is hard to envision a patchwork pen and some many whiffs will lead to a division title, let alone a wild card spot, unless Keuchel and McHugh miraculously continue dominating and everyone hitting behind Altuve decides to not to swing for the fence.

Cardinals Are Class Act

Even with their ace, Adam Wainwright, one of the best pitchers in baseball, out for the season, Saint Louis has the best record in baseball. How is this so? Look no further than the recent series with Pittsburgh: three walk-off wins in extra-innings in a row whereby Mike Matheny out-coached Clint Hurdle. A strong argument can be made that Mike Matheny is the best manager in baseball (My personal bias is that Joe Madden is the best). Grant it, Matheny has a lot of experienced players, players who have been to World Series, players who have been reliable and downright stingy on the mound and frustratingly patient at the plate for a long, long time, but he juggles his pitching staff and lineup like no other. He had his pitchers unintentionally, intentionally walk Pedro Alvarez, who will either hit the ball a mile or fan in three pitches, about a dozen times over the course of the series with Pittsburgh. He asked his pitchers to pitch around former MVP Andrew McCutchen, who happens to be struggling mightily early on. Essentially, Matheny was not going to take any chances with who he considered to be the most dangerous threats. He has an offense with absolutely no speed, but one that grinds out at-bats, a next-man-up philosophy, a true manipulator of a lineup that’s all about moving players along base-paths. It’s a thing of beauty to watch the Cardinals play. And they are not cocky at all. They just show up and work hard. Add to the mix Kolten Wong, who is have a breakout season, as predicted, with a .340 AVG/.375 OPB/.880 OPS. Also consider that Jhonny Peralta keeps — who knows how or why? — hitting and fielding. Ane what you have is a middle infield complimenting strong corner players in Matt Carpenter and Matt Adams. Then think about the general, Yadier Molina, behind the plate. He hasn’t hit a dinger yet. But he doesn’t need to. How can the Pirates contend? They can’t. The Cardinals will runaway with the division, an incredibly tough one with a surging Chicago team and a pesky Cincinnati team and a hungry Pittsburgh team and an underperforming, yet dangerous, Milwaukee team. The only thing I see standing in the way of Cardinal dominance for an entire year is the most athletic and talented team in baseball, the Pittsburgh Pirates, getting red hot during the dog days of summer, which is a huge question mark at this juncture. Clint Hurdle would have to conjure some amazing magic to get the most sluggish offense in the league going. They have been atrocious with runners in scoring position. As a fan, it’s been painful to watch. Look for Matheny to continue his wizardry and out-coach all managers this year. My guess is, come September, the Cardinals will still have the best record in baseball. Then the question will be can they bash Clayton Kershaw in the postseason again and any other ace they go up against? I offer an unequivocal YES! I can easily see a 100+ win season while Pirate fans put World Series aspirations on the shelf for another season until they can figure out who the heck is going to hit cleanup and knock in the most talented outfield in baseball: Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen, and Gregory Polanco. For cryin’ out loud, Chris Stewart, the backup catcher, has a higher batting average than anyone else on the team with runners in scoring position!

Red Sox Woes

Firing pitching coach Juan Nieves this early on seems odd to say the least. I mean to scapegoat a guy who coached your staff to a World Series title only to show him the door after you choose not to upgrade after jettisoning your entire starting rotation save Clay Buchholz seems a bit, well, cruel. In all fairness to Nieves, he wasn’t given much to work with. Naming Buchholz as your ace seemed pretty pathetic at the time. Now it seems downright ridiculous. All of us want to Buchholz get back to 2013 form, but the injuries seem to have compounded an inability to keep the ball down. Opposition is hitting .303 against him. Not Nieves fault. Nor are the “crooked innings” by Miley, Masterson, and Kelly. I am sure most of us felt the Sox would simply out-slug teams, which has happened a few times, but let’s face it, Papi is a perennially slow starter and Napoli is asleep at the plate. Luckily, no team in the American League East has stellar pitching or many of us would be writing off the Sox season this early. There are plenty of at-bats left for the offense to get cookin’ and take it to the Yankees, Jays, Orioles, and Rays. Next month is the time to bring up Henry Owens and Eduardo Rodriquez and see what these talented lefties can offer, maybe sending Miley, Kelly, and Masterson to the pen, which could be a tremendous help having them compliment two guys named Ogando and Tazawa, whose arms will be supremely tired come June.