What the Astros have done the past eight seasons has been nothing short of remarkable -- seven trips to the playoffs in eight seasons, five American League West titles in the last six years, a shot at their fourth 100-win season in their last five full seasons and five consecutive AL Championship Series appearances. Oh, they also won three pennants and the 2017 World Series.
Now that the Astros have clinched the division title and are eyeing the best record in the AL, general manager James Click took some time this week to discuss their success and the upcoming playoffs with MLB.com.
MLB: You still have six starters you can choose from. How much better do you feel positioned with the pitching that you have compared to last entering the playoffs when it was thin?
James Click: I think the fact that we are sending guys with ERAs that start with 2 [Seth Martinez] to the Minor Leagues says about everything that you can say about our pitching and our pitching depth right now. [Owner] Jim Crane likes to say that there's three things in baseball: Pitching, pitching and pitching. I've told him in the past that we had the first two and we're working on the third one.
We might actually be at the spot where I can say that we have all three, but if you think about pitching depth, you have it and it goes quicker than you can anticipate. So it has been a particular area of focus for us to make sure that we have the depth to get through 162 [games] while also having the ability to shorten up our roster in the playoffs and reconfigure our rotation and our pitching staff in a way that's appropriate for a short series.
It sounds like you’ll have some tough decisions to make in the playoffs.
Well, inevitably that's going to happen, especially with the off-days in the ALDS. We won't need a fourth starter unless we end up in a five-game series, and so we are going to prioritize, over the next few weeks, determining what roles guys will have the most success in and testing some guys out, maybe in some roles that they haven't been in, because of the nature of pitching in a short series.
As far as Hunter Brown goes, what do you think of what he's done so far? What role could he play for you going forward?
We're still getting to know Hunter. He obviously has hit the ground running. I think it's been very impressive what he has done in his first couple of starts [and he pitched three scoreless innings in relief Monday]. He may be a weapon for us out of the bullpen, he may be a guy who goes one inning, he may be a guy who goes through the order once.
We've certainly seen a graying of the line between starters and relievers in baseball over the past few years, and I think he has the ability to help us out in a wide variety of roles. It's up to us to find out how we can put him in the best position for success.
Rookie shortstop Jeremy Peña will be getting his first taste of the postseason, while taking over for one of the franchise’s great playoff performers in Carlos Correa. What are you hoping to see from him in October?
Well, the decision to have him on the taxi squad [for the playoffs] last year was deliberate, and it was not necessarily because we anticipated this, but we thought it was vital for his baseball education. And being in the dugout last year in the playoffs was a lot like going to graduate school for baseball. Seeing him continue to mature, continue to adjust, continue to refine his approach at the plate has been one of the most positive aspects of our season.
You can't replace what Carlos Correa has done in the postseason for this franchise. ... If we want to get this thing where we want to go, no one player is going to do that. It's going to be a total team effort.
There will be little rest this fall for Astros prospect Will Wagner, who will be among seven of Houston’s Minor League prospects playing in the Arizona Fall League. The other six players are left-handed pitcher Colton Gordon, right-handed pitchers Rhett Kouba, Matt Ruppenthal and Jonathan Sprinkle as well as infielder Scott Schreiber. Infielder J.C. Correa is on the taxi squad.
Wagner, an 18th-round pick out of Liberty University in 2021 and son of former Astros All-Star closer Billy Wagner, split time this season between High-A Asheville and Double-A Corpus Christi, slashing .261/.374/.394 with 10 homers and 53 RBIs.
“I was pretty happy,” Wagner said. “I think getting promoted from High-A to Double-A was a big adjustment for me, just trying to figure out everything. I thought it was a good season. I learned new routines to manage my body and try to stay healthy the whole season.”
Wagner, 24, adjusted to Double-A pretty well, appearing in 72 games with the Hooks after starting the year with 45 games at Asheville. He posted a .747 OPS while splitting time between third base, first base and second base.
“The pitching was the biggest adjustment, for sure, just because you’ve got guys that have three to four pitches they command,” Wagner said. “In High-A, there were guys who had good fastballs and didn’t have good secondary pitches. The only pitch you had to hit was a fastball. Now when you’re in Double-A, you’ve got to look all the pitches because they can locate them now.”
The Astros' contingent will play for the Surprise Saguaros, who will be managed by Triple-A Sugar Land manager Mickey Storey. The season begins Oct. 3 and ends with the AFL championship game on Nov. 12.
Last week, Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright and catcher Yadier Molina made their 325th appearance as a starting battery, breaking the Major League mark set by Detroit’s Mickey Lolich and Bill Freehan from 1963-1975. Which pitcher and catcher hold the Astros' record for most times working together as a battery?
“He was proud of my son. He said, ‘Man, I wanted him to hit .300.’ He hit .290 in Double-A. Barry always told me he’d never seen a .300 hitter get released.” -- Baker on a conversation he had Monday with Barry Bonds, who gives hitting lessons to Baker’s son, Darren, in the winter
Darren Baker hit .290 in 43 games to end this season at Double-A Harrisburg of the Nationals' organization.
THIS WEEK IN ASTROS HISTORY
Sept. 25, 1986
When Mike Scott took the mound for the Astros late in the 1986 season with a chance to clinch the National League West crown, he was so pumped up that he plunked the Giants' Dan Gladden square in the back on the first pitch he threw.
"I just settled down and tried not to go overboard and pitch a normal game," Scott said.
Scott, en route to winning the NL Cy Young Award, became the first pitcher in baseball history to throw a no-hitter in a clinching situation, beating the Giants, 2-0, to secure the division in the Astrodome. Scott leaped into the air when he got a rookie named Will Clark to ground out to first baseman Glenn Davis to end the game and spark a huge celebration.
"I got a little air under my cleats," Scott said. "The pitch wasn't that good. He happened to ground it out, and when I look back, I still kind of hold my breath hoping he doesn't get a base hit, because it wasn't a very good pitch. He happened to ground out to first and that was it."
Roy Oswalt and Brad Ausmus.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, Oswalt and Ausmus worked together in 193 games from 2001-08, which is more than any other Astros battery combination.
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