Since the Twins are in Houston taking on the Astros this week, I exchanged a few questions and answers with Ryan Dunsmore from The Crawfish Boxes. Here’s what Ryan had to say about the state of the Astros.
Q: How much making the playoffs last year raised Astros fans' expectations? Did it get more fans involved again?
A: First of all, Houston sports fans are a fickle bunch. The diehards will alway go but your average fan didn't start filling out the stadium last year until the final month of the season even with a playoff race. Coming into the 2016 season, Astros fans were excited about baseball for the first time since probably 2008.
The volume at which I see Astros gear out and about has exploded. Which sounds like a silly barometer but during the 2009-2014 years you wouldn't see many people walking around town with Astros stuff on. Everyone plays second fiddle to the Texans.
I think everyone expected them to be in the playoffs this season. But overall think they were happy to have good Astros baseball back. The everyday fans care again, so we've there is been much more outcry as the Astros have struggled. They haven't been happy with the current results and have made their voice heard on our site.
Q: How confident do Astros fans feel about the future of the team?
A: When Jeff Luhnow took over he laid out a plan to replicate the St. Louis Cardinals' minor league system. He has created the foundation for the Astros to have a large window of success with prospects. The team has graduated uber prospects Carlos Correa, George Springer, and Lance McCullers. The team has players like A.J. Reed, Joe Musgrove, and Alex Bregman waiting in the wings to take over when the current crop of veterans move on.
I think the fans know that have a very bright future ahead of them if the team can figure out a definitive plan with the starting rotation. The Astros have answers at most positions for the next 7-8 years: Correa, Springer, Reed, Jose Altuve, Preston Tucker, Colin Moran, and the list goes on.
Q: How much do you hate that hill in center field? Are you glad they're getting rid of it?
A: I admit, I actually don't hate Tal's Hill. I think's a unique thing that helps The Juice Box (still trying to get that to stick as a nickname for Minute Maid Park) stand out.
I know it's silly and I'm not sad to see it go. But in reality, the hill plays a major role in let's say 5 plays per year -- most plays that are going to be made are still made. There hasn't been a major injury yet from fielding a ball on the hill either. It has created some great highlight players for Astros and opponents alike.
That said, I'm more excited about the prospects of the hill being taken away and giving the power-rich Astros more home runs. [Editor’s Note: Like that one stolen from Byung Ho Park on Monday night. Grrr…]
Q: Do you ever miss not having a DH?
A: I miss playing against the NL Central more than having the pitcher bat. Three of the teams (Mariners, Angels, and A's) are on Pacific time, resulting in a lion's share of AL West games starting at 9 p.m. in Houston.
At times, it does feel like the AL is playing checkers while the NL is playing chest with double switches and working around a pitcher batting. But in reality, minus a few outliers, the last person you want batting is the pitcher. I would rather see Evan Gattis club balls all over the field instead watching Dallas Keuchel try to not hurt himself swinging a bat.