What Astros Manager Bo Porter Must Do to Keep Houston from AL West Cellar
In his first season as a major league manager, Bo Porter has his work cut out for him.
His Houston Astros, brand new members of the American League West, lost an astounding 107 games last season.
And in joining what is arguably the best division in baseball, things may well be even worse.
The Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels are undeniable powerhouses, the Seattle Mariners have a revamped and formidable offense to go with their usual strong pitching, and as the reigning AL West champs, the Oakland A's can not be ignored.
Where does that leave the Astros? Dead last, by a country mile.
To avoid such a horrendous fate in his debut campaign, Porter must make several things click with his team that, despite all the losing, does have at least a little potential.
Get the Best out of Newly Acquired Veterans
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The Astros may have the lowest payroll in baseball (h/t USA Today), but that doesn't mean they didn't make any free-agent pickups over the winter.
Carlos Peña, Rick Ankiel and Erik Bedard were under-the-radar pickups, but they do have the potential to keep this season from being the disaster many believe it will be.
In a clubhouse filled with young, inexperienced hitters entirely unfamiliar with success at the major league level, Peña and Ankiel have an opportunity to mentor and encourage their teammates both on and off the field.
Bedard will be by far the most senior member of the pitching staff, and he'll be needed as an example to the younger pitchers to teach both starters and relievers.
With Peña likely to spend most of his time as a designated hitter, he is the most important man on the team. For an Astros offense that scored the fewest runs in all of baseball last season, a home run hitter like Peña can put runs on the board even if nobody else is getting on base.
All three players are nearing the end of their careers, and so their numbers will most likely not match their figures of the past.
But if Bo Porter wants his team in a positive, winning mindset, he must connect with these players and utilize their veteran leadership potential.
Find Consistency in the Starting Rotation
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This Astros team may not be very good, but their starting rotation has the arms to be a mid-level staff.
The one thing they lack, from one through five, is consistency.
Bud Norris and Lucas Harrell, the two young holdovers from last season's staff, performed as well as they could on a 107-loss team.
But adequate pitching for a 107-loss team is only acceptable if a manager is willing to concede that his team is a lost cause.
It's easy for a pitcher to fall into a lull if a performance that isn't his best still holds up well in comparison to the rest of the team.
Bo Porter must demand better from Harrell and Norris, even if the rest of the team continues to struggle.
Phil Humber, claimed off waivers from the White Sox, is inconsistency personified. His ability to throw a perfect game in a season where his ERA was above 6.00 shows that he isn't a bad pitcher, but rather a man unable to replicate the same mechanics or belief every start.
Porter must instill a confidence in him that allows him to go into every game with the same mindset.
With the Astros' lack of offense, this starting staff will endure a whole bunch of hard-luck losses. But if Porter can continue to mentally drive his hurlers, his team will be able to pull out the occasional 2-1 and 3-2 victories that come from quality starters.
Utilize the Team's Vast Array of Prospects
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The Houston Astros don't possess many major league-caliber players on their roster, but they have many soon-to-be major league-caliber players in their farm system.
With the team lacking in talent, why not occasionally give them a shot?
Last season, Jose Altuve and Lucas Harrell weren't expected to make a real impact in the major leagues, let alone perform at an All-Star level.
But because the team was so bad, both received their opportunity and flourished.
This year, Bo Porter must do the same thing with his minor league talent.
Jarred Cosart, a 22-year old starting picture with a huge upside, had a rough spring training and was quickly sent down to minor league camp.
However, if he performs as expected in Triple-A, and one of the Astros' starters begins to slip, calling up Cosart and giving him three or four big league starts would be a fantastic opportunity to gauge his ability going forward.
Obviously, the Astros can't call up every minor leaguer to see how he plays against tougher competition, but doing so with a few top-line prospects could lead to a surprise player drastically improving the club like Altuve or Harrell did last season.
Don't Blow the Team Up at the Trade Deadline
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This one might contradict what the Astros front office has in mind, but it is absolutely vital that all of the best pieces of the team don't all leave just before the trade deadline.
Jose Altuve and Bud Norris have been discussed at length as perfect candidates to dish out for more prospects assuming the team's playoff hopes have died long before July.
The only thing the team would lose by trading these players is, of course, far more games.
But Bo Porter, as an excellent manager, must recognize the detrimental effect that would come about from even more losing on his young players.
This club has seen some tough times over the past few seasons, and even though the Astros definitely have more young talent, perpetual losing can and will take its toll on the psyche of the players.
Regardless of which manager is leading the team, at some point, loss after loss creates a culture of losing. It's practically unavoidable.
While the difference between losing 100 and 120 games may not seem like much to a fan, that's 20 more losses a fierce competitor has to take, and at a young age, that can be damaging.
While Jose Altuve isn't Robinson Cano, he holds that level of importance with his team, and unless the offers for him are downright silly, he should remain a Houston Astro from start to finish.