For those of us in the American League who’ve been used to settling into our division rivalries, the attendant smoldering grudges and full on snickering and snorting when something really bad happens to your rival, the thought of moving to another division, never mind another league, is a not-to-be considered proposition. Well that’s exactly what happened to the Houston Astros 2013 as they were plucked from the National League Central and plopped into the American League West.
Bosox Injection talked with the Greg Thurston, Senior Editor of Fansided’s Climbing Tal’s Hill website, about the move, what it has meant to Astros fans and what Houston needs to do to make an impact in a division already crowded with strong teams.
Let’s get down to business.
BSI: Has the move to another league affected the Astros fan base? Are Astros fans enthused about coming to the AL?
Greg: When it first happened, 95% of the fan base was livid. Some of us got over it fairly quickly but many fans have gone as far as boycotting the team. While I believe Jim Crane was given no choice in the matter when he purchased the team, there are those who think he is just as culpable as Bud Selig.
BSI: How do you think Houston’s adjustment to the designated hitter will go? Does the team have likely candidates for a solid DH?
Greg: Getting an extra bat in the lineup should help an offense that was near the bottom of the N.L. last season. Astros G.M. Jeff Luhnow has brought in an interesting mix of candidates to fill the position. Carlos Pena has been declared the favorite to be the primary DH, although I would prefer to see him spend more time at 1B. Although Pena’s batting average has been anemic for the last few seasons, he still walks enough to generate a decent OBP. The thing I like the most about Pena is his ability to provide veteran leadership on a young and inexperienced team. Chris Carter was acquired from Oakland in the Jed Lowrie deal and is another candidate to get DH at-bats. Lastly, Nate Freiman, a Rule 5 pick is a big dude who hits the ball extremely hard.
BSI: The Astros have had two rough seasons in a row. What three things will they need to do to be successful in the increasingly competitive AL West? What three things will they need to stop doing?
Greg: The Astros are definitely going to be overmatched in the division this season. In order to be competitive they will need to make the most of what they have.
1. Be both aggressive and smart on the base paths.
2. Play fundamentally sound baseball in all phases of the game.
3. Get lucky!
As for three things they will need to stop doing, I think they are already correcting some of the problems that existed under the old regime.
1. The farm system has been drastically improved over the last couple of seasons through trades and the draft.
2. New manager Bo Porter is a breath of fresh air. He is a motivator and an intense competitor that demands maximum effort from his players.
3. Many of the players on the current roster were rushed to the big leagues. As a result guys like Jose Altuve, Jordan Lyles and J.D. Martinez have taken their lumps but have gained valuable experience that should turn into a positive in the long run.
BSI: One of your writers, John Burgess, recently posted on his frustrations with Astros owner, Jim Crane. Is there something going on with Astros management that is blocking the team from being successful?
Greg: As can be expected when things aren’t going well in the win column, Crane has come under fire from some fans. He has been criticized for trimming the payroll to the bone after saying he would be willing to spend on free agents if he thought they could help the team. With the current state of the rebuild I’m not ready to throw Crane under the bus just yet and I wouldn’t say he’s holding the team back. The plan is to build from the minor leagues up and a tremendous amount of progress has already been made, in my opinion.
BSI: You’ve been an Astros fan for 35 years. What is your greatest Astros moment and why?
Greg: I’d have to say making it to the World Series in 2005. After so many years of getting so close, only to come up short, it was especially satisfying to finally get over the hump. Of course, winning would have been much better, but that was a great series. If the Astros can become the first team to reach the series in both leagues, that will be a new high.