The Cleveland Indians head to Houston tonight to kick off a three-game series at Minute Maid Park, and for the first time ever it’s an Indians-Astros matchup that isn’t interleague play. In order to get an expert’s take on the newest members of the American League, I talked to Climbing Tal’s Hill Senior Staff Writer John Burgess about the depths of the Astros’ struggles, their hope for the future, and how Houston is adjusting to the AL.
Wahoo’s on First: Most people seem to think 100 losses is an optimistic projection for the 2013 Astros. How bad are things going to get this year?
John Burgess: At the start of the year I predicted a 65-97 record, but now I’m thinking that may be a bit optimistic. It’s really difficult to predict anything with players with so little Major League experience. After the nationally televised Opening Day win against the Rangers, I think some fans started to let visions of the 2012 Athletics and Orioles creep into their heads. They were sucker-punched back to reality when the Astros went on to lose the next 6 games and struck out about 150 times a game. Games have been a little more competitive since then, and hopefully we will start to see more improvement as the youngsters start to gain some experience–maybe around 104 losses would be a better estimate?
Wahoo’s on First: At the SABR Analytics Conference last month, Brian Kenny asked several people whether they’d take the over or under for 95 Houston wins in 2018. What would you say to that?
John Burgess: I know Brian Kenny is a huge Jeff Luhnow fan, so I’m assuming he took the over? I would say 95 wins would be a reasonable expectation by that time. In the last couple of years, we have seen our farm system go from a bottom five system to the top ten by most accounts. Obviously that all depends on how well our top prospects develop, and if Luhnow and Co. can add some more top-of-the-rotation type arms. Mark Appel in 2013 and Carlos Rondon in 2014 would definitely help speed that along!
Wahoo’s on First: How have the Astros adjusted to the American League? What about the fans?
John Burgess: As far as the team goes, the pitchers have had the biggest adjustment to the American League. Even the best lineups in the NL have the pitcher batting, so when a bad inning arose they could always count on that out. Also, most of the Astros’ pitchers are unfamiliar with many of the AL hitters, so I’m sure they are having to spend more time studying tape and tendencies than they had to last season.
The move to the American League definitely cost the Astros some of their long time fans. Some blamed the new owner for selling out; many blamed Bud Selig for giving the team no other choice; and still some fans didn’t care who was to blame, they didn’t want anything to do with it. A majority of the fans have learned to accept the move though, and I think that once the team is successful again, we will see 3 million fans a season at Minute Maid Park again.
Wahoo’s on First: One of the biggest rough spots on the year for the Indians so far has been Brett Myers. Can you give Tribe fans any reason to be optimistic about him?
John Burgess: Brett Myers is definitely a competitor. In 2010 and 2011 he was huge for the Astros because of his ability to eat innings. That’s why it came as such a shock when the Astros decided to move him to closer last season. I will say I was pretty surprised with how well he did in that role, and more importantly how good of a leader he was with the Astros’ young bullpen guys.
When Myers was at his best, he was throwing his big curveball just as much as he would throw his fastball. I noticed that hasn’t been the case so far this year, but maybe he is still adjusting to being back in the rotation. If he doesn’t end up cutting it in the rotation, it’s good to know that you have a veteran arm that could fit in nicely in your pen.
Wahoo’s on First: Who’s pitching for Houston this weekend and what should Tribe fans look for from them?
John Burgess: Game 1 will be Lucas Harrell. Last season was his rookie year and he went 11-11 with a 3.76 ERA for a horrible team. He gets a lot of run on his two-seam fastball, and because of that he gets a lot of ground balls. Two of his three starts this season have been strong, allowing one ER in each of those.
Game 2 will be Philip Humber. I’m guessing you guys are probably familiar with him since he has spent time with the Twins, Royals and White Sox. He pitched very well in all three of his starts this season, and is probably the most unlucky guy in baseball. The Astros have only given him just ONE run to play with in all three starts combined.
Game 3 will be Erik Bedard. Bedard is another guy that I’m sure you’re somewhat familiar with since nine of his ten seasons have been spent in the AL. Bedard had some serious control issues in Monday’s loss against Oakland. He lasted just 1/3 of an inning, walking four and allowing six earned runs. He had looked very strong in his previous start against Seattle, so I’m hoping Monday was just a fluke.
Wahoo’s on First: What’s your prediction for the series?
John Burgess: As far as my prediction for the series–I expect all three games to be close. I’m happy that we miss Justin Masterson for this series, but it seems like every opposing pitcher has been at his best against the Astros this season (of course that could be because he is facing a AAAA lineup).