The Brewers cap up a nine-game homestand with three games against the NL Central rival Houston Astros. After sort of an unassuming first six games (Brewers went 3-3), a good series against the 6-10 ‘Stros is just what the doctor prescribed.
Don’t take Houston lightly, though. They definitely aren’t your father’s multi-colored Astros, but at least they aren’t your 2011 newborn’s Astros. They rely on a flurry of young talent with players such as Jordan Schafer, JD Martinez, Bud Norris, and Jose Altuve after dealing away former veterans Hunter Pence, Michael Bourn, Lance Berkman, and Roy Oswalt in the past two seasons.
Reviewing the Brew: Coming off a not-very-fun season, what’s the outlook on the Astros for 2012?
Climbing Tal’s Hill: To be perfectly honest, expectations were very limited coming in. I think most realistic Astros’ fans and experts expected anywhere between 90-100 loss team but really that’s irrelevant. We’re looking for development and to start weeding out the guys who could be here down the road and who are stop-gap guys.
RtB: Obviously, Houston is in rebuilding mode and has a lot of guys with bright futures. But with the upcoming switch to the American League this off-season, which young player should Brewers fans be most worried about this season?
CTH: Right now, the heart and soul of the young position players is J.D. Martinez. The kid has started out very well and just seems like someone who could develop into an above average talent. Jose Altuve is beginning to turn heads like he did through his minor league career and Jordan Schafer seems like he is beginning to live up to his potential as a leadoff guy.
RtB: The rookie Lucas Harrell toes the rubber against Zack Greinke in the series opener. What can we expect to see from him and what’s
the key to his success?
CTH: Harrell is an interesting guy, not a stud but seems to know how to pitch and locate. He isn’t a top of the rotation guy but so far he has either been very good or pretty bad. Look for a battler and someone who will depend on his fielders to make plays for him.
RtB: From an Astros standpoint, what worries you most about this Brewers team?
CTH: The Astros have faced a string of top-notch pitching this past week and with the guys the Brewers have lined up this week vs the Stros, it appears to continue. I think the Astros can hold the Brewers down a bit offensively, with the guys we have going, but can they score enough to win off Milwaukee’s staff?
RtB: Amidst a flurry of blooming players, who is the one Astro whose name we may not hear much but we should keep an eye on?
CTH: Astros have a ton of young players but the one guy that might see some time in Milwaukee that will surprise is Marwin Gonzalez. The kid is a rule 5 pickup from Chicago that has turned heads so far. With Jed Lowrie returning from the DL, he hasn’t seen as much time recently but before that he was playing excellent defensive SS and seemed to hold his own at the plate. This guy is a pleasure to watch at SS and if he can develop a decent offensive game, he has gold glove type skills. Maybe not this week but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Gonzalez at SS and Lowrie at 3B long-term.
RtB: To me, at least, it seems Bud Norris always silence Milwaukee’s bats. Should I be worried about his Tuesday start?
CTH: You should be, especially if Braun continues to struggle. Norris has a chance to be a very good #3 guy, with the potential to be a solid #2 down the road. He still needs to learn to work deeper into games, a patient team can wear him down but he has strikeout stuff. Once Wandy Rodriguez is traded, and he will be, Norris will be the ace of the Astros rotation.
RtB: J.D. Martinez has three homers and 14 RBI to start the season–has he been the most impressive Houston hitter?
CTH: I’d say so, like I mentioned above, he has been the heart and soul of the offense. The guy seems to have the right approach at the plate. Not sure he is a 3rd hitter but for now, he has done just fine. If Schafer and Lowrie get on base in front of him, odds are Martinez will drive them in. He has also shown improvement in the power game. That was his one big question mark coming up the minors; he seems to have worked on an upper-cut stroke. He hit the 1st homerun at Marlins Park, which when you play there, you’ll see is a really tough homerun park.
RtB: Obviously, the Brewers were the last team to switch leagues. What are the hopes for Houston as the team switches to the American League after this season?
CTH: I think survival, at first, is the hope right now. Honestly, the fanbase is pretty upset and nervous about the move. You see what the Rangers are doing and potentially what the Angels will do and it’s a bit scary. This and next season is all about development but by 2014, the Astros top prospects Jarred Cosart, George Springer and Jonathan Singleton should be in the starting lineup which will be when the fans start to look more closely at the W/L column. I think most everyone understands losses are secondary to development right now and next season, regardless of league.
RtB: One last question: Is Carlos Lee slower than last year? Is that possible?
CTH: WOW…you’ve hit a major hot button with Astros’ fans. Look, the guy has started off slow but I’m sure will pick it up eventually and, crossing our fingers, will eventually get dealt for something of value. We hope sticking him at first will hide some of his defensive issues and he starts to hit as he usually does. At this point, we’d take him smiling, hitting home runs and not screwing up to badly at first.
RtB: Thanks for the time, man!
CTH: No problem, it was my pleasure. Good luck on the season, seems like with Gallardo, Grienke and Wolf you guys have a great shot of taking the central once again.