I suppose it’s possible for a starting pitcher to have a good start in which he has more home runs allowed than he does strikeouts. Taijuan Walker‘s start for the Seattle Mariners today in Houston was not such a start, and it wasn’t really close. The Houston Astros got all over the young M’s righty, and in the end the result was as ugly a line as any.
Walker today: three innings, nine hits, one walk, two strikeouts, three homers, eight runs, seven earned. His ERA is way up there at 8.74. Remember this next spring when some guy is super hot. It’s irrelevant. Walker’s nice spring has nothing to do with his regular season, which so far has been a total disaster.
This isn’t the first time the M’s have had it handed to them by the Astros, you know. They lost to Houston last night, and the night before that, too. The ‘Stros have the best record in the American League, and are just a game off the St. Louis Cardinals’ pace for best in MLB. As the M’s suffer through another clunker at the hands of baseball’s hottest team, it might be time to ask if Houston is for real right now.
Despite an offseason of upgrades, the Astros were still a popular pick to finish in fifth place this year. The Texas Rangers were healthy – or so it seemed – and the rest of the division was just too strong for the Astros to get anywhere. But we’re now a month into the season, and Houston has the largest division lead in the game. It’s early, but things are starting to get scary.
The success of the Astros starts with the front of the rotation, where Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh are sustaining their success from last year. The other man rotation members – Scott Feldman, Roberto Hernandez, and Asher Wojciechowski – have struggled to various degrees, but the top two have been aces. That’s a great place to start.
The bullpen arms have had success, coming off a season where they had anything but. And that’s even considering the struggles of offseason import Pat Neshek! Will Harris has emerged as a force, and Tony Sipp has been brilliant as well. The non-starter version of Sam Deduno has only helped the team. And Luke Gregerson‘s been an effective closer, too.
But it’s the hitters who are really powering Houston right now. Jose Altuve is only getting better. Jake Marisnick is breaking out. Jed Lowrie gave the Astros 1.1 WAR before getting hurt. Luis Valbuena and Colby Rasmus have been excellent.
This team boasts the AL’s top three stolen base leaders – Altuve, Marisnick, and George Springer, who’s combining league-average offense with superb outfield defense and blazing speed on the bases. Now if Chris Carter and/or Evan Gattis start coming around… yikes.
The back of the rotation may continue to be sub-par, and if that happens it shouldn’t surprise any of us. Similarly, the bullpen should be worse, and Marisnick sure as hell isn’t going to hit .390 all year long. But there’s a lot of upside here, and the thing worth realizing is that the Astros are hot as hell right now even though not everything is breaking their way. This team is firing on most cylinders, not all.
A potentially emerging Houston club helps take some of the sting out of the start to this weekend’s series, though it obviously hinders the M’s both in 2015 and the long run. We knew Houston was going to be good one of these days, but I suspect nobody was really prepared for it to actually happen. Certainly not this year, at least. Maybe they’ll lose nineteen of their next twenty and we’ll all be laughing about this in a month. Sure doesn’t seem like that’s going to happen.
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