Despite my Cowboys alliance I’m a Houston fan boy.
Opening Day 2013-still lost within inception, a dream within a dream- has become not merely a tally in the win column, but a statement for the Houston Astros and their fan base. For some, the new season is a new breath after last season’s 50th anniversary celebrating decades of Houston baseball with 100 losses. For others, the new look, mascot, and management is an excuse to sweep the past five years out of the dugout.
Monday’s 8-2 victory over the Rangers to open the season, proved the efficiency the Astros are capable of competing at. The new face of the program, Justin Maxwell, connected for a towering triple into the left center power alley (short about a foot for a homer), Maxwell differentiates himself from former Astros Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn with power at the plate but and is expected to elevate the program beyond the reach of the Rangers within the next five to eight years. Although the Rangers have seasoned veterans exposed to playoffs in October, Maxwell’s role as Houston’s new face of the program is to lead the young ball club into the conversation as a competitive group and edge the Rangers from the AL west. Unless management continues to follow their trend of trading off Houston’s all-star contender to rival programs, Maxwell can look to be the next Craig Biggio.
Game two, the Astros played well, like the Astros.
Historically within the past five years, strong starts from opposing pitchers the Astros have whiffed at a decent cutter and chase sliders out of the zone. Tuesday night was no different. Although the Rangers are composed of a veteran lineup, their pitching can be considered in the top echelon of the MLB. Yu Darvish’s performance of 14 strikeouts and a perfect 8 2/3 innings, the Astros will remain to be shutout by the Rangers lineup. Darvish’s weakness is his tendency to leave fastballs up in the strike zone to be jumped on (seen in game two), where newly acquired designated hitter Carlos Pena and power hitter Brett Wallace. As with championship series, the new Astros, Rangers rivalry will ultimately come down to pitching.
With the transition from the National League to the American League, fans’ offseason worries dug their spikes at the plate. The AL contains the league’s strongest pitchers including C.C. Sabathia, Yu Darvish, Derek Hollan, Justin Verlander and Jared Weaver; all consistent contenders for the annual Cy-Young award. Currently Houston is starting the 2013 season with a bad rap after consecutive 100 plus losses in previous seasons and is projected to repeat. With game one in the books, and game two evening the record at 1-1, the Astros can look to have a season looking to end 20 games below .500.
To set the tone for the remaining games in the Texas showdown, Houston must narrow their focus to stronger approaches at the plate and developing their bullpen to have strong secondary pitches in their arsenal. Unlike the NL, the AL historically has stronger hitters within the league and is recruiting a new, younger breed of athletes like Washington National’s outfielder Bryce Harper and Angels’ outfielder Mike Trout. Houston has recruited well during the offseason placing young blood in their Triple A program and spring training season. Notably Houston native Robbie Grossman (who was acquired in the Wandy Rodriguez trade) who swung a .273 batting average during spring training and connected for three doubles. Although Grossman is overshadowed by Maxwell, and last year Jordan Schafer, but was included on the pre-season 40 man roster during the limbo phase of transition and securing a starting lineup.
With youth scattered throughout their lineup, and veteran pitchers on their last arm, Houston this season should take some relationship advice and work day by day against the Rangers and throughout the season to avoid a three-peat 100 loss season and return confidence back into Houston baseball.