As I said this morning, we’re taking the preseason standard feature Playing Pepper and applying it to the 2015 postseason participants. This time around, we’re talking with our good friend James Yasko from Astros County. James and I go back to when Houston was in the NL Central (you know, almost prehistoric times!) and he’s never held being a Cardinal fan against me, which is big coming from a guy in his situation. I guess I could have just hacked some database to find out these answers, but James was nice enough to save me the trouble. Seriously, if you want to follow the Astros through this postseason (or check in on them any time), Astros County is a great place to go.
C70: If you had to sum up this season in a word or phrase, what would it be?
AC: Unreal. I mean, we’ve all seen the Sports Illustrated 2017 World Champs thing, right? (Aside: I haven’t actually read the article. I can’t bring myself to do it just yet. I don’t know what it is, but I haven’t.). But still, when the Astros were 8-7 at the beginning of the year, I thought, “Okay,” this is about what I expected. Then they rattled off ten straight to get to 18-7, and it has been unreal – in both senses of the word. It was unreal that they led the division for as long as they did, and it was unreal that they blew it in the last three weeks of the season to the Rangers. And it was unreal that they actually had a fleeting chance to get the division back, and now it’s unreal that they still made the playoffs.
C70: What worries you the most about the Yankees, beyond the flukes of a one game battle?
AC: The randomness of a nine-inning game worries me the most. Dallas Keuchel should be the Cy Young winner, and he hasn’t allowed a run in two starts (16IP) against the Yankees in 2015. But that doesn’t mean that Base Ball can’t find a way to make all that meaningless in nine innings. Oh…beyond the flukes of a one-game playoff? It’s the Yankees, in Yankee Stadium. Dumb things happen in October all the time. I’m worried that Schilling’s strippers Aura and Mystique will show up and ruin what has been a perfectly good season and a chance to get back to the Rangers and finish some business.
C70: Assuming you get past the Wild Card Game, what has to happen for the Astros to have a deep October run?
AC: Assuming the Yankees game goes the way I’m sacrificing things for it to go, the Astros’ starting pitching has to do what it has done all year, and the bullpen has to stop doing what it’s done since September. At one point, the Astros’ bullpen had an ERA over 6.60 in September, and that just has to stop. The starting pitching has been great, the offense is hit or miss – a little more hit than miss lately – but the bullpen can’t go blowing leads like they did last month. In September, Josh Fields had an .892 OPS-against; Pat Neshek had an 1.181 OPS-against; Vincent Velasquez had a 1.014 OPS-against. That’s, uh, not going to work.
C70: Is there a player that will be the key to the postseason?
AC: The first player up is Keuchel. If he can continue his Cy Young season and shut the Yankees down will be the most key thing he can do. Thing about the Astros is that they’ve managed to spread the power around the lineup. They have eleven players with 10+ homers and two more (Jed Lowrie and Jake Marisnick) had nine. The story of the Astros is “lots of power, lots of strikeouts.” But both of those things can happen anywhere in the lineup. Getting past this crapshoot of a game will be the biggest thing to a deeper run.
C70: How high is confidence running among the Houston faithful?
AC: Confidence is a funny thing. As a fanbase we’re kind of shell-shocked by how bad things went in September (11-16, eleven of those losses by one or two runs, getting swept at home by the Rangers…), but the team is here, and we saw with the Royals last year that sometimes that’s all it takes.
C70: What’s the minimum that counts as a successful postseason for the Astros?
AC: I think it’s already a success. The team lost 111 games two years ago and now they’re in the postseason, even if it’s the dumb pre-post-season, and it’s not like 2005 – the last time the Astros were in the playoffs – with an ancient Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell. This team is built for more runs than that one. If the Astros can continue to develop, continue to draft well, and continue to keep the Cardinals from breaking into their system and reading their secrets, then there will be more playoff runs to come.