It may be early in the season, but the Astros organisation looks like it has two or three guys who could conceivably be in the major league rotation right now, maybe even four.
Apart from a first inning mishap Jordan Lyles coasted through seven innings, striking out seven and allowing no walks. Paul Clemens has started the season with two great outings, and Dallas Keuchel has yet to allow a walk or a run in 13 innings this season. Aneury Rodriguez meanwhile has had one great, one dodgy start, firing the Redhawks to a 7-2 start to the season.
Last night they gave Shelby Miller, the Cardinals' top prospect, his second bashing in a week. Fernando Martinez stole the show, mashing two home runs, including a grand slam. There are some other decent prospects there in Paredes and Wallace, but the rest is organisation depth.
So who is going to make it to the majors first? Clemens or Lyles? And who are they going to replace? Conventional wisdom says either Kyle Weiland or Lucas Harrell, but if someone desperate for a fifth starter tosses you a couple of really raw prospects for J.A. Happ, you have to take it right? Riddle me this: realistically is Happ ever going to be part of a contender in Houston?
It is right that Harrell and Weiland are getting their chance to show the Astros what they can do at the major league level, but you have to consider whether leaving Clemens or Lyles too long at AAA, when they are doing exceptionally well, will hurt their development. I would fall on the side of not much, Lyles being just 21 (Clemens being 24).
Keuchel is another matter entirely. Some of his starts were fantastic in 2011, but he ran out of juice late on and his stuff is often a puzzler. As Jayne points out he is not a 'sexy' pitcher, but he has induced 24 groundballs to 4 flyouts. That's a 6:1 ratio. Now all of this on all these pitchers is based on two starts, so it's easy to get carried away, still its all worth watching.
Three losses in a row
A frustrating three losses in a row for the Astros. Its a shame because we've seen some killer performances, notably from Jordan Schafer and J.D. Martinez.
Bud Norris will square off against Carlos Zambrano, former Cubs menace. Zambrano used to own the Astros, but off the top of my head he seems to have struggled the last few times out against us. He owns a 2.72 ERA in 32 starts and 34 games.
Jed Lowrie returns
Lowrie's first regular season game as an Astro saw him go 2-3 with 2 walks and a steal.
Altuve dropped down the order
Quite a few people were unhappy dropping Altuve in the order to eighth behind Jason Castro. Boy that's a tough one. I could see Altuve, Lowrie and Castro as all type 2 hitters at some point in the future.
As he told Brian McTaggart:
"I've been working so hard on being patient at the plate," Altuve said. "I don't really care where I hit, leadoff, second or eighth. I just want to come to the field and see my last name and go out on the field and do the best I can and try to help my team win."
Lets have a look at Altuve's major league OPS in each lineup spot:
First (20 PA): .816 OPS
Second (202): .640 OPS
Fourth (2): 1.500 OPS
Sixth (4): .500 OPS
Seventh (25) .768 OPS
Eighth (5) .000 OPS
Ninth (4) 1.000 OPS
Does this really tell you much? Not really. Remember Altuve is not yet 22, and I'm perfectly ok having Lowrie second and Altuve eighth, batting with less pressure on his young shoulders, just as the Astros did batting Chris Johnson seventh in 2010.
Stanford's coach allowed Mark Appel to throw 149 pitches last night. That'll end well.