Friday, February 17, 2017

Some thoughts at the opening of Spring Training

This is the year for which we have been waiting. Three years removed from the famous Sports Illustrated "2017 World Series Champion" cover*, five years removed from the draft that brought Carlos Correa and Lance McCullers into the organization. This is the time.

*Note: I still have not read this article. It has sat in my Pocket queue for three years, undisturbed. I just can't bring myself to read it. Maybe after the season has ended, or before Game 6 against the Cubs. 

We - as a fan base - have been laughed at. Those three years of 100+ losses (each loss more creative than the last) were absolutely brutal and between the losing, the Butt Slide, the Blocked Bunt, and the secondary stories that seemed to plague our favorite team - CSN Houston, Brady Aiken, getting freaking hacked by the Cheatin'-Ass Cardinals - the media took square aim at how the Astros were doing business.

2014 was fun simply because they didn't lose 100 games. 2015 was the most fun I've had as a fan since 2005, based largely off of Dallas Keuchel's home performances, Chris Carter's best Babe Ruth impression in late September, and Colby Rasmus's October heroics. 2016 came, and we all thought that was going to be The Year. It was not The Year. They couldn't overcome the slow April and the continual losses to the Ramgers. They couldn't overcome having a black hole at the bottom half of the lineup. They couldn't overcome Carlos Gomez looking like he'd won a contest to play center for a Major League team. They couldn't overcome not making a move at the Trade Deadline for a starting pitcher. They couldn't overcome Keuchel and McCullers' subsequent injuries.

There were bright spots, though! The Yulieski Gurriel signing. The rise of Alex Bregman. Another monster season from Jose Altuve that shows he's actually getting better. A full year of Carlos Correa. Another Luhnow draft that, while it doesn't immediately feel like the 2012 draft (but honestly, what could?), brought in another round of talent to the system.

Now the Astros have a lineup that, on paper, is among the best in the game. Maybe it's the best lineup since...2004? The rotation still does not feature Jose Quintana or Chris Archer, but maybe - MAYBE - it is good enough to win games with the expected offensive production. This is the year to be optimistic.

But I'm not optimistic. I'm a nervous wreck. Until the Astros can prove over a full season that the black magic of the Rangers for the past three seasons has been a fluke, I'll be skeptical. I won't settle down until the Astros clinch the division, and then a whole new bundle of nerves get to rear their ugly head. Because we've been down this path before. The 2015 ALDS against the Royals was the absolute worst because - as reliever after reliever allowed bloop after bloop in the 8th inning - I thought, "Yep. Knew it." And then I almost wrecked the rental I was driving.

So yes, the Astros are presumably better in 2017 than they were in 2016. Brian McCann *should* be an upgrade over Jason Castro. Josh Reddick *should* be an upgrade over Jake Marisnick. Carlos Beltran *should* be an upgrade over Colby Rasmus. All of these things should be true. When Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa talk about Carlos Beltran in basically a reverential whisper, that's exciting. And don't get me wrong, I am excited about the 2017 season. But it's nervous excitement, and I don't know what to do with it.