The Houston Astros come to town tonight to open up a three-game set with the Mets at Citi Field. The Astros, sitting at 39-86, have the worst record in the major leagues and are an astounding 7-40 combined in July and August. Manager Brad Mills was also relieved of his duties earlier this week. Coming off of an embarrassing four-game sweep at the hands of the Rockies, the Mets look to turn things back around at least momentarily. Of course, the Astros did sweep the Mets in three games at Minute Maid Park earlier this season. I asked David Coleman of The Crawfish Boxes a few questions about the struggling Astros and here's what he had to say.
Amazin' Avenue: The Astros seem to be the only team in baseball playing worse than the Mets right now. What are Astros' fans looking at to help keep themselves positive about the future?
The Crawfish Boxes: Not much. It's pretty bleak this late in the season, especially since the team took such a precipitous nosedive in July. There's always the minor leagues, but so many of Houston's prospects are years away, it's hard to get too excited about any of them in the short term.
AA: It isn't a stretch to say that starter Lucas Harrell and reliever Wilton Lopez are the two best pitchers currently on the Astros' roster. Do you think these two could be pieces to hang onto long term?
CB: Harrell should provide good value and could just be a late bloomer. He features a heavy two-seamer and has developed what he calls a cutter (and Pitch F/X calls a slider) to really become an effective pitcher in the second half. He's had some home/road problems, and still needs to do what he's done consistently, but overall, I'd say he should be in this rotation for the next few seasons.
As for Lopez, I'm less high on him long-term, because I don't know how much value a closer has to this team. If he does get the closer's role and can generate enough saves to build a market, I'd absolutely be for flipping him for prospects. Just look at the value Houston got for Mark Melancon last winter (even though both players they received are on the DL).
AA: It looks like former Mets' prospects Fernando Martinez and Rhiner Cruz have struggled in their major league stints this season. Any observations from what you've seen of them?
CB: Cruz is a typical Rule 5 pick: he's raw and just needs time in the majors. He's flashed signs of being dominant, but has no consistency and tends to give up big hits. F-Mart hasn't played very much at all. He was hot to start the season in Triple-A, but suffered a concussion, which he reaggravated in his first game after getting called up. It took him a while to bounce back from that, and by then, his hot bat went away. Since being recalled, he hasn't gotten enough playing time to say either way, but he did look good against St. Louis on Thursday. I bet he sees more time under Tony DeFrancesco, so we'll see in the next few weeks how he's progressed.
AA: We're almost through a full season and the Astros have been pretty active in the trade market all year. What do you think of the job that new GM Jeff Luhnow has done thus far?
CB: Tentatively optimistic, I'd say. It's not as universal an opinion as it may have been two months ago, but then again, losing can kill optimism pretty fast. Luhnow's honeymoon will probably end this winter, unless he signs a few killer free agents to short deals or pulls off a huge trade (both of which are unlikely). Plus, I think he's still restructuring this team to fit his general managing style, so we haven't seen his full staff at work. I like the progress and want to see more.
AA: Which Astros players have been playing well over the last few weeks and which players have been struggling?
CB: Brett Wallace and Jose Altuve are about the only two Astros hitting at all. The rest of the team just stinks. Lucas Harrell has pitched well, but even then, he gets bombed on the road. Bud Norris appears to be dealing with more injury issues, which doesn't keep him from pitching, but does seem to limit his effectiveness.
Everyone else stinks pretty badly, and I say that as nicely as I can. This team is largely replacement-level from top to bottom, so it's not like we should expect any better.
Thanks again to David Coleman for giving us a preview of the Astros! Here are the upcoming pitching matchups for this series: