Originally posted on Fox Sports Houston  |  Last updated 6/17/12
Although the Houston Astros are running around a dozen games under .500 after the first 66 games of the Major League Baseball season they COULD be a lot closer except that what separates winning teams from losers is working against the Astros. Houston does not have much offensive punch in most games. In addition the club is not one of the better teams in moving runners into scoring position and then plating them. That puts a heavier burden on the pitching. Astro defensive gaffes -- either direct errors or plays not made -- have added to that burden. Shortcomings were exposed in the recent road trip -- especially in San Francisco and Texas. What general manager Jeff Luhnow and his staff must decide is which players on the mostly very young club will improve in those areas of weakness and which will not make the grade. If there are two offensive problems with the club -- outside of an apparent low likelihood the current crop of players will develop much in the power department -- they are inability to handle breaking balls and very closely related -- too many strikeouts. Many baseball followers discount strikeouts as being a negative. They claim they are just outs like any other. I am personally amazed when I hear respected baseball people say that. It is simply not true. A hitter who strikes out with a runner on third and less than two outs has done more than just make an out. He has given his team a drastically reduced chance to score that run. The same thing is true when a hitter fans with a runner on second and no outs. In a more basic sense a hitter who strikes out allows the defense to do nothing. No chance for the opposition to mess up a play. Even in the major leagues the more balls put in play, the more chance for a defensive mistake. Cutting down on strikeouts is especially important for hitters that do not have real power. Adam Dunn strikes out a lot. But Adam Dunn hits home runs, too. Not many hitters in the majors have Dunns power. Trading two or three strikeouts for a three run homer in the same game is well worth it. Two or three strikeouts from a hitter who may provide only a single or even double in his other at bat likely is not. There is little question the scouting reports on the Astros say for pitchers--if they have good ones -- to use the curve extensively. It does not matter if it is being thrown from a right handed pitcher to a left handed batter. Astro hitters in general from both sides of the plate have not shown an ability to handle them. Defensively the Astros are on the low end of average. Jordan Schafer and Brian Bogusevic are above average in center and right field. Jose Altuve may be above average in range at second base, but still has made a few too many errors at the position. Jed Lowrie at shortstop is sure-handed but does not have great range especially to his left. Chris Johnson has decent range at third but makes far too many errors. There is a problem is behind the plate. Jason Castro many times does not look like a major league catcher. He does not block the ball well and does not throw well consistently at all. Fortunately he has started to hit better and the hope is that experience will improve his physical catching skills. He was not the full time catcher till late in his college career at Stanford and is still learning the nuances of playing the position. Jason may be the "poster boy" for what the Astros need. The need their young players like him, J.D. Martinez, Jordan Schafer, Brian Bogusevic, Chris Johnson, Brett Wallace and a number of pitchers to benefit from this season as a fast track learning experience. Those that can use 2012 to become better players will still be around when the club turns the corner back into contention. Those that dont wont be part of it.
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