As we have done for the last few, less familiar, opponents we asked some questions of our sister SBNation site. Representing The Crawfish Boxes, Bilbos and mhatter106 both got involved in answering my questions, and did a great job with it! If you want to see my answers to their questions, click here to head over to TCB.
1. Obviously the Astros were a pre-season favorite, and haven’t done anything to dispel that belief. What would it take for you to consider this a successful season?
After waiting 55 years for a World Championship, and with the youth and spirit that this team displays, I think Astros fans are a little spoiled right now. This 2019 team looks as good as any other we’ve seen, so I think many fans would be disappointed by any less than another World Series trophy.
2. Marwin Gonzalez was a popular player for you guys, and we talked a little bit about that when the Twins signed him. With his departure, you guys have a new left fielder and/or utility guy I presume. What have you missed about Marwin, and what do the new guys bring to the table?
Marwin Gonzalez is a beloved Astro. Expected a teary, standing ovation when he returns to Minute Maid Park. He and Altuve were Astros during the dark days of multiple 100 loss seasons, a Rule 5 pickup who wouldn’t have been able to stick with any other team. In that first season with the Astros he earned fame by breaking up Yu Darvish’s perfect game with a ninth inning single. He kept improving every season, little by little, and also developing his remarkable versatility. Then in 2017 he exploded. A 102 wRC+ hitter for his career, during the Astros’ championship run he crushed for 144, while playing almost every position in the field. At one point he had a run of four straight games in which he hit five home runs playing four different positions and from both sides of the plate. But Marwin is best remembered for his ninth inning, game tying home run in Game two of the World Series, a game the Astros eventually won. No Marwin blast, no Astro World Championship. Marwin in an Astro immortal.
Marwin’s replacement is Aledmys Diaz, a solid player, former NL All Star. He made a very bad first impression with the Astros, making fielding errors, one of which cost the team a win, and starting the season 0 for 9. He’s not as versatile as Marwin, but he has made a nice comeback, and has had a couple key home runs in Astros victories.
3. We miss Ryan Pressly. Can we have him back? But more seriously, he’s become a dominant reliever for the Astros. What changed to unlock his potential?
No one knows what Astros pitching coach, the Wizard, Brent Strom, and his elves in the Nerd Cave, do to pitchers, or what kind of fairy dust they’ve sprinkled to transform the careers of so many of their subjects. But the transformation of Ryan Pressly may be the most impressive work of the Astros staff to date. Pressly came to the Astros already with a high spin rate, which has increased, and he is relying more on on his curve and slider than before. Since last August he is the best reliever in baseball, and has a streak of 26 innings without allowing a run.
4. On that topic, the bullpen has seemingly been the Astro’s weakness the last few years. Is that the case this year again? Do they have any other weaknesses? Is there any help on the horizon?
I have to take exception to the idea that the Astros have a weak bullpen. Last year they were ranked first in ERA, FIP, xFIP SIERA and second in K%. And that was without Roberto Osuna and Ryan Pressly for most of the year. This year they rank first in the AL in ERA and FIP, and first in MLB in xFIP and SIERA. The Astros bullpen has three All Stars; Will Harris, Chris Devenski and Roberto Osuna. My money says Ryan Pressly is an All Star this year. Since last August Pressly has the lowest ERA, the lowest WHIP, and the lowest xwOBA in the Major Leagues.
As far as replacements, the Astros have righty on righty specialist Joe Smith on the IL, probably returning in July. They also have some of the best depth in baseball in the Minors. Forrest Whitley is consensus #1 pitching prospect in baseball, and should arrive later this year. Other top 100 prospects not currently on the 25-man roster are J.B Bukauskas and Corbin Martin. There are probably a half dozen arms in the Astros Minor League system that are good enough to be pitching somewhere in the Majors right now.
5. Who is a player we probably haven’t heard of who will have an impact on this series?
Astros fan are accustomed to Altuve leading the team in batting, but so far, fourth outfielder Jake Marisnick is the team’s surprise leader at .314.
Always excellent defensively and on the base paths, he struggled at the plate last year, at one point with a 1.51:1 BB:K ratio, being sent down to AAA for a short while.
This year, through spring and these first 20 games, Jake has shown an improved approach at the plate, a better eye, and has consistently been getting on base, earning him more playing time. He bats exclusively in the 9 hole, setting the table for George Springer.