Sunday, June 3, 2018

The View From Over The Pond (@AstrosFansUK)

Astros v.2018: Just Who Are They?

“I cannot forecast to you the action of the bullpen. It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key. That key is the Astros’ opposition level...” somewhat paraphrase my countryman Winston Churchill. After 2 months of the regular season it seems like a good moment to mark it as a checkpoint and assess how our Astros are doing up to this point. 

Has there ever been a more tricky Astros team to decipher? Are we a team defined by our staggeringly - historically - dominant starting pitching? Or are we characterised by the somewhat Jekyll & Hyde offensive output of our explosive 2017 hitters? Are we the bullpen whose numbers hold up to consistent scrutiny or the brittle crew who have folded alarmingly on several occasions very recently against high-quality opposition?

The jury is definitely still out on the 2018 Astros despite what has, inarguably, been more than a very decent start indeed as far as results go. 

The Hitters

The beauty of our bats in 2017 was how relentless they were - the lack of an escape route for opposing pitchers led to more opportunities for the top of the order to cash in with 2 outs. It was almost perpetual motion. 

This year the lineup 7-through-9 is not producing to the same degree, impacting how consistent our run support is and how effective we are against the big teams in the clutch moments. It’s a shame, because there’s no one amongst the lower order personnel who rubs you up the wrong way like, say, a Carlos Gomez does (in before Rangers jokes...). The cold hard truth is hitters like poor Marisnick, Fisher and Davis (yet) have not done enough and they have a lot to prove. Hopefully it clicks consistently for them individually and as a unit, however add in McCann’s decreasing usefulness with the bat and Marwin Gonzalez’s expected regression from that 2017 career year and our offense has some gaps to fill. Don’t let the run differential tell the whole story as it’s magnified by our pitching.

Perhaps an answer to this would be a trade later in the season to catalyse the bats? Maybe bringing up Kyle Tucker would do the trick (sticking to my prediction of him getting an August call-up)? (Shout-out too to Myles Straw who is killing it in AA at Corpus Christi and also Tony Kemp for making it back to the bigs and contributing). 

Maybe I’m overreacting and nothing is needed, with our bats later finding that rhythm and consistency needed for the big moments? 

Being as good as we are we have to be ruthless with ourselves though if we want to repeat. 

The Starters

Blown away. We are packing one of the most devastating 5-man punches ever seen in baseball history. THAT good. I keep pinching myself over what our rotation is achieving, when a solid if unspectacular year from Dallas Keuchel is easily the least trustworthy starter that goes to show how insane our pitching has been. 

Keuchel being led by Justin ‘The Alien’ Verlander (no, I’m not having for a moment that this guy is a human being) and backed up by the outrageously good Gerrit Cole, everyone’s favourite Renaissance man Charlie ‘F’ Morton and the enormously talented Lance McCullers is THE reason why every team on the planet should fear the Astros. 

Our 2018 routine was born to tear into a postseason, the only question is - can they keep this up and stay healthy?

The Bullpen

The elephant in the room... or not, depending on who you ask(!). Just a cursory look trough Astros Twitter on this issue is enough to want to break out the popcorn as the two sides to this discussion will not back down. At all.

The bullpen stats both individually and as a unit aren’t indicative of problems, be it Ken Giles in save situations or the respective performances of Brad Peacock and Will Harris. However (unless you’re an Astros fan who’s been living under a rock) recent big meltdowns against the Yankees and, spectacularly, horrifyingly, the Indians - ok and the Red Sox last night - leave big questions hanging over them. 

Are the Astros bullpen ‘flat-track bullies’, to borrow and butcher a cricket phrase? When the opposition doesn’t lie down and go quietly into the night are they going to be found wanting when we need them most? 

Whatever magic dust Brent Strom is sprinkling over our starters - I dare you to mention pine tar and spin rates... - we need him to repeat the trick with our relievers. If it’s psychological then I wonder what the solution is?

No bullpen will ever be perfect, the trick is not to have those mis-steps and breakdowns when it matters most.

2019: MLB in the UK!

It was indeed confirmed recently that we will be seeing Major League Baseball arrive on British shores! The 2-game regular season series in late June 2019 is now set for London at the London Stadium and we are all systems go for the Yankees and the Red Sox games. No, it’s not the Astros but we’ll be backing these games to the hilt and it’s an enormous opportunity for MLB to begin properly laying some roots in the UK.

A second series in 2020 has already been confirmed with reports that a number of teams  are ‘lining up’ to be involved. I can only stress again to our wonderful Houston Astros that this is an extraordinary and rare opportunity to capitalise on how great our team is and break into the British and European markets.

Do not let this chance pass by! 

The UK Movement

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, we UK MLB fans are holding regular ‘meetup’ events across Britain where we gather in numbers to watch live ballgames. 

I am personally greatly involved with @MLBUKCommunity in (designing the promo media for, plus holding, the London events at Belushi’s in London Bridge, with last weekend on 27th May seeing our second hugely successful event after the Opening Weekend one on 1st April. We had ~70 attendees in April and ~60 people last Sunday, crucially, without the 2 free drinks this time around. We did however have excellent support again from MLB UK who facilitated a 15% MLB Europe online discount for attendees.

This shows we are making great progress already and I am really hoping to get @astros to give our next event (July, date TBC) a shout-out or potentially even Todd Kalas on commentary. I am firmly committed to pushing and developing Houston Astros support in Britain and have unearthed over 30 UK Astros fans in the last year on Twitter alone. The push continues...

If you’re interested in our UK events then check out the hashtag #MLBMeetupsUK for photos and videos from the event like the below:

Aside from having to sit through that torturous meltdown vs the Indians it was a terrific night. Shout-out to fellow UK Astros fan @bayleybayleypar who also braved that horror show alongside me!

My Twitter handle is @AstrosFansUK and I always love to hear from fellow Astros fans from Houston and afar (check out @AstrosFrance and @astros_brasil too who I recently discovered!) so get at me when you can!

Thanks for reading and - above all else - LET’S GO ASTROS!!