If you’ve read this site long enough, first my apologies and second you may remember back when Houston and St. Louis had a strong rivalry going in the NL Central. Before Bud Selig’s need for perpetual interleague required a sacrificial lamb (you may be able to tell what I think of that idea), the Cardinals and Astros were appointment viewing, for the most part. Houston had started their downward slide before they left the Central, but those early 2000s matchups are still emblazoned in our minds.
Back then James Yasko, who created and still runs Astros County, would occasionally answer some questions for me about the Astros. James was one of the first members of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and is a great Twitter follow @AstrosCounty. I sent him a few questions for old times’ sake since the two teams were renewing acquaintances and here’s what he had to say.
C70: The last time these two teams played was July 10, 2013, almost three full years ago. As two people that lived through the intense rivalry these two teams had in the NL Central, does that surprise you as much as it does me? Does the gap make this series a bit nostalgic or are you just hating to see the Cardinals again?
AC: I guess it makes sense that it’s been three years given interleague play, but the 2013 Astros lost 111 games so I’ve blocked most of those from my memory, though I’ve kept the phones I have broken in a shrine in a closet complete with candles and incense. At this point in the 2016 season, my sanity just needs the Astros to start winning games, so I’m not exactly thrilled to see the Cardinals. There is a nostalgic aspect to the series, but pretty much the beginning of every Astros game fills me with a sense of dread.
C70: Given the team’s recent success, it’s a little surprising to look up and find them sitting five games under .500. What’s been the biggest problem for the Astros this season and how likely is it to turn around?
AC: We’ve been trying to figure this out. Basically it comes down to a few things:
-Not being able to beat the Rangers. The Astros are 1-9 against the Rangers and, as Kommissar Selig has ordained, they are now our “major rivals.” Also, I have a number of morally bankrupt friends who are Rangers fans, and this has caused a problem with many of those friendships. So, yeah, the Astros are 30-35, but they’re 29-26 against Not The Rangers. It’s not a silver lining, but it’s at least something to cling to.
-The team is remarkably inconsistent. They struggled offensively, even dating back to last year’s playoff team, and that has carried over to this year. On Sunday the Astros had five players in the lineup hitting under .220. Basically you have Jose Altuve, George Springer, and seven other guys. Carlos Gomez has been an abject disaster, his presumed replacement Jake Marisnick is hitting .181 (exactly Gomez’s batting average). St. Louis’ favorite son Colby Rasmus has cooled off considerably since his hot start.
-And the starting pitching comes and goes. Dallas Keuchel is definitely not pitching like the Ace he was last year, Collin McHugh has been hit or miss. And it seems like if the offense is clicking, the pitching struggles; conversely if the pitching is clicking, the offense struggles. This season has caused intestinal discomfort, and I blame the weight of expectations and actually having hope for the first time in eleven years.
C70: This series will mark the first time Colby Rasmus has played in Busch Stadium since his trade in July of 2011. He seems to have found the acceptance in Houston that he never fully had in St. Louis. Is that the case and why is that?
AC: I absolutely adore Colby Rasmus and hope he signs a lifetime contract for All The Moneys. A.J. Hinch is a decidedly player-friendlier manager than Tony LaRussa, and there isn’t some mystical “Astros Way” of doing things unlike your fair team – both of which I think have been to Rasmus’ benefit. We also apparently don’t have the best fans in baseball. It’s been a long long long time since the Astros had a guy like Rasmus – kind of a weird guy with a southern drawl, and after so much losing he has some personality. And yet, even that doesn’t really make sense. I can’t figure out why I’ve latched on to Rasmus, and I bet most Astros fans couldn’t either. He’s just a delight.
C70: It sounds like Carlos Correa should be back from a minor ankle injury in time for this series, giving the Cards their first real look at him. How enjoyable is it to watch him play every day?
AC: It’s fantastic. Even though he’s taken a step back from his ridiculous rookie year, sometimes it’s worth remembering that he’s still only 21 years old. But there is a very loud corner of the Astros Fandom that want to see Correa move to third base, given some of the plays he hasn’t made. Still, he’s only 21 years old and has been in the majors for just over a calendar year. The Astros haven’t had the promise of a shortstop of his caliber since Dickie Thon 32-33 years ago, and God help me if Mike Torrez (or one of your thug pitchers) hits him in the face with a baseball. I’ll drive to St. Louis and burn your city down if that happens.
C70: The Astros didn’t quite have their pile of draft picks or get to pick as high as usual. Overall, though, what are the initial impressions of their 2016 draft?
AC: It’s such a crapshoot. And keep in mind that the Astros took Mark Appel over Kris Bryant, and then there was that whole Brady Aiken thing… my view of the draft is much more cynical than it was after 2012 (the Correa/McCullers draft). I can look at the HS/College stats of the guys the Astros drafted and think it’s the greatest draft of all time, though the statistical reality of minor-leaguers making it to the Majors will prove me wrong. Despite that, the Astros drafted *a lot* of college players perhaps in an effort to restock after the trades for Scott Kazmir (blech), Carlos Gomez (hork), and Ken Giles.
C70: What unheralded player might make an impact in this series?
AC: I literally have no idea. The problem is that the Astros – as a team – were fairly heralded in the preseason expectations, so I don’t have an answer for that. Maybe this is the time that Jake Marisnick or Carlos Gomez figures it out. Maybe Tyler White regains a spark of what he did in the first week of the season, when he looked like Babe Ruth.
As always, it’s great (and fairly humorous) to hear from James about the state of the Astros. Be sure to check out Astros County this week to see what the other side is saying!