We start a series with the Astros tonight in Toronto. We played the Astros in Houston about 3 weeks ago, though you may have erased that series from your memory. This is our third series in a row against a team that is first place in their division.
The Astros are 9-8 since playing us and are coming off winning 3 of 4 against the Orioles.
I'll start you off with more of a personal opinion question, your Astros were in the NL until recently, since you've seen both sides, which game do you prefer? Do you miss the different strategies of the NL?
There are many times that I miss the National league it was the league I grew up with. I enjoy the teams in the National League. I felt like I really did miss the strategy in the National League. American league managers have less complicated decisions, not having to worry about switching out a terrible batter every nine batters.
That said when the Astros recently played in a National League park (San Diego), I was reminded how bad pitchers are at batting. Not to forget the fact that most managers don't even want their starters swinging in fear they would hurt themselves. So I've come to appreciate the designated hitter, I wouldn't have been able to enjoy Evan Gattis and Chris Carter without it.
The Astros get 2 picks in the top five of the draft. Have you an idea of the players they might be interested in?
In a perfect world, the Astros front office would want Dansby Swanson and Kyle Tucker. The Astros have a fondness for polished college talent and young athletic high schooler. I wouldn't be surprised if they come away with Brendan Rodgers at two, but he seems to be on the older side of 18, when this front office has taken young it's been on the 17 year old side (Correa, Aiken). Kyle is the younger brother of Preston Tucker, the rookie recently called up by the Astros.
What do you expect the Astros will be looking to pick up before the trade deadline? I don't suppose you'd like a slightly dented catcher? We have a used Dioner Navarro.
(kicks Navarro in the shoe lightly a few times) Nice, but we'll look around. At the moment I think the Astros are set a catcher. Houston believes heavily in framing and they have molding Jason Castro and Hank Conger into two of the best in the league.
That said, starting pitching is definitely the target the moment. Houston has two starters on shelf, Scott Feldman and Brad Peacock. One starter is probably one an inning limit this year (Lance McCullers) and another is probably not long for this world as a starter (Roberto Hernandez). This probably could be solved with internal solutions (Mark Appel, Dan Straily), or the Astros could finally turn some of that prospect wealth to in a starter like Cole Hamels.
What Astros prospects to you expect to see before the end of the season?
Carlos Correa will wear an Astros uniform by the end the season, it's only a matter of time. He has to prove he can hit Triple-A hitting and he'll be up. Mark Appel is another piece that could help the Astros, but he needs to straighten his game out. Jon Singleton, Joe Sclafani, Domingo Santana, and Asher Wojciechowski are all guys I would expect to see if the Astros trade away major league depth or get called up in September.
What do Astro fans think of that hill in center field? There was some grumbling about it during our series there. I took a tour of Minute Maid a couple of years ago, unfortunately when the Astros weren't in town. It looked great. What is it like for watching baseball?
I love the hill, it makes Minute Maid Park unique. But I wouldn't be devastated if it was removed. The hill hasn't injured anyone yes, if that does happen I suspect it will be removed.
The Juice Box is a great place to take in a game, the sight lines are wonderful no matter where you sit. I don't know what else to add without sounding like ticket broker. It's not going to blow your mind but it's a good place for baseball.
Dallas Keuchel has some amazing numbers, what's he doing that makes him so effective? Can he keep this up?
Keuchel is that rarest of birds, a left-handed sinkerball pitcher. He has been the perfect experiment for Astros pitching coach Brent Strom, who preaches location over velocity. Keuchel is effect at getting ground balls, he is the best in the league at it (4.68 groundball to flyball ratio).
Keuchel can definitely keep this pace up, because it hasn't been another night change. He had an ERA over 5 in 2012 and 2013. It was under three in 2014, now he's pushing for a Cy Young. Keuchel pitched 200 innings last season, he ready to go the long haul this season.
What players or positions do you expect to see improvements from the rest or the way?
I would argue the improvements have already happened this season at a few places, Evan Gattis went from having one RBI in his first 15 games to being in the top five. Chris Carter appears to have turned it around at the plate, pushing his average north of .200.
Really there are two guys that started the season strong that need to get back to that. Jose Altuve and Jake Marisnick. Marisnick has just four hits over his last 10 starts. He appears to be struggling breaking pitches at the bottom of the zone. Altuve is all about contact, he doesn't walk. The problem is he's been striking out a lot, but I'm sure the two-time All-Star will turn it around. The Astros will need both of these guys to return to form if they hope to go far in the playoffs.
Remember that SB Nation is partnering with Fan Duel this season for your daily fantasy baseball games where you can win cash. Today's game is just $5 to play and there are $100,000 in prize. It is a fun game, give it a try.