Today I had the good fortune of talking for a few minutes with ESPN's Tim Kurkjian, who will be a part of the ESPN team for Baseball Tonight on Sunday prior to the Astros/Red Sox game. Here's the transcript:
AC: As the Astros stand right now, they're 11.5 games up in the AL West. To you, what was the best move of the Astros' offseason?
TK: Well, the Astros did a lot of good things but maybe bringing in Carlos Beltran and telling him, "Alright, you're going to switch-hit, you're going to move around in the outfield, you're going to be a leader on this team." Maybe, at least offensively, that's what this club needed - just another veteran voice on it, one that spoke both languages of course, and had been to places that a lot of these guys hadn't been - the World Series, and everything else. The way this team has been put together has been really impressive, but as far as last offseason and into this season I think that was the best move. Because when things are good, and then more importantly, when things go poorly, I think Beltran is the guy who can go in there and settle things down, but let's face it: not much has gone wrong for the Astros this year.
AC: It's funny you say that because, if you've ever spent any time on the dark section of Twitter that is Astros Twitter, having lost six of their last nine games, it felt like the sky was falling. Is there any reason to think that what the Astros have done so far this year isn't sustainable?
TK: It may not be sustainable, and it's not going to be sustainable as long as Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers are hurt. However once they come back, and they will, and once they're healthy, and they will be healthy, then this becomes sustainable again. But there's no way around that this team is so good right now that it can hit its way through any sort of pitching injuries and, when they get their pitching right, if they have a bad week at the plate then they can pitch their way through certain problems. I just don't see anyone catching the Astros in the division, but obviously the key now is to keep this team in first place and by October 1, have it the best you can be entering the postseason. That's two healthy pitchers at the top of the rotation and maybe they have to go get another starting pitcher via trade - they're certainly in the position to do that - before August 1.
AC: To that point, the whole "The Astros need another starting pitcher" argument, that's been the take on the team since November. Who might the Astros be targeting?
TK: That's a good question. I mean, Jose Quintana of the White Sox has been out there for months now and the White Sox are smart to not deal him until they get overwhelmed for him. The fact that he has pitched poorly this year has not helped in any way, but he's going to be a guy who is certainly going to be out there. It's possible Sonny Gray of the A's will be available - he needs to pitch more and pitch a little bit better to make a contender like the Astros say "Okay, we have to go there." Ervin Santana of the Twins could be out there, he's had a very good year. In fact, he's been really good for the last calendar year. But the question is, "Are the Twins contenders? Do they need him to get into the playoffs?" The Twins are a real surprise team. But those are just three guys who will be out there but, this is the beauty of the Astros, they can sit back and wait with the lead they have, and they have all the resources they need in the minor leagues to go and get what they want.
AC: Who do you feel are the Astros main competitors in the American League the rest of the season?
TK: The Yankees are way better than I thought they would be, and their firepower is significant and it's real, so they're a danger just because they can slug you to death. I still think the Red Sox are going to get hot - they've started playing a lot better in the last week or so. With Chris Sale and with a seemingly-healthy David Price, they're going to be a tough out once they get to the playoffs, and I think they are. And I still think the Indians are right there, too. They haven't played well at all and are only two games out of first place and they're going to get healthy, they're going to get their pitching stabilized. So the bottom line for Astros fans is that those are three teams right there that could beat the Astros in October if Houston isn't healthy, or isn't playing well, or anything else. But I still think, the way things are going at the moment, with health, the Astros could be the best team in the league entering the playoffs.
AC: You mentioned the Red Sox as one of the Astros' main competitors, and that's the series that opens up tonight. You'll be on Baseball Tonight going into the Sunday night game between Boston and Houston. What are you going to be paying attention to - for either side - in this Astros/Red Sox series?
TK: This is fairly unimportant, but I'm going to watch the two second basemen play. I think this is one of the beauties of baseball: we'll have a 5'6 1/2" second baseman and probably a 5'5 1/2" second baseman. And one of them is one of the five-to-ten best players in the game right now and the other, Dustin Pedroia, is pretty darn good also. And to me, this just speaks to one of the great, great parts about baseball is that it comes in all shapes and sizes and as long as you have the skills to play this exceptionally difficult sport, it really doesn't matter what you look like. Every time I watch these two teams play, I think about how great baseball is; that these two guys, with their short stature, are really really good players.
Be sure to watch my new best friend Tim Kurkjian on Baseball Tonight. at 6pm Central on ESPN.