Ahh, the NL Central. Home of the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals. Home of Superstars Ryan Braun, Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips. Mancave for upcoming stars Starlin Castro and Andrew McCutchen. Lots of intrigue here, but perhaps the most exciting team in the division is the one no one talks about; the team everyone wrote off for 100 losses, last place in the division, and no hope in the near future. The Houston Astros. I understand if you stop reading now..but if not, you may be surprised.
This division is one I have been and will continue to watch closely for the rest of the season (no bias here, avid Braves fan) because of the consistency of the Cardinals, Brewers, and Reds and the up and coming stars sprinkled throughout. However, as I have followed baseball this year and this division, it’s the fightin’ stros that have really caught my attention.
I understand your initial thought process here.
Various people I talk to about this reply:
“It’s the Astros!” or “They have nobody.”
I get that. And maybe “having nobody” is a good thing. Manager Brad Mills is letting the kids play and their loose attitude has helped them put up some pretty impressive albeit surprising numbers. Houston is currently sitting in 4th in the National League in runs scored, and 11th overall. Most would have predicted 11th in the National League. They also sit at 9th in the majors in stolen bases with a total of 23. In case you are wondering, the running ozzie’s in Miami currently lead the race with 34 thefts. Bottom line is the team “that has nothing” has been putting some runs on the board and they aren’t afraid to run. On a side note, I understand it is early, but the young Astros currently sit in third in the NL Central ahead of the Brewers and Cubs.
Let me get more specific as to why these Astros have been and can continue to be exciting for the baseball season and your fantasy season.
They are not all exciting (sorry to catchers Jason Castro and Chris Snyder this is not your plug) but there are a few worth watching and plugging into your fantasy lineup. Hitting leadoff, Jordan Schafer.
Schafer was a third round pick for the Atlanta Braves back in 2005, with the Braves hoping he would fill the void in center field and one day man the depths of Turner Field with Jason Heyward. However, in 2008 Schafer tested positive for HGH use and was suspended 50 games.
After a few years of injury, spotty playing time, and minimal performance, the Braves shipped Schafer to the Astros for Michael Bourn at the 2011 trade deadline. Now with a full time starting job and a manager with nothing to lose, Schafer has gotten to run wild. He began the season reaching bases in the first 24 games, and has tallied 11 stolen bases to date. He is also tied for the league lead in SB attempts (15). He’s going to steal 50 bases, so if you need speed and he is in your free agent pool, now is the time to pounce.
The next bright spot in this lineup is second baseman Jose Altuve. Currently 8th in total hits in the majors with 40, and posting a cool .333 batting average, this 5’5” 150 pound powderkeg is making serious contact this season at 93%. While his BABIP is an inflated .373 thus far, I see no reason why the speedy second baseman can’t have a season similar to Starlin Castro’s 2011 campaign. He may not lead the NL in hits, but between 175-190 is certainly within reach. And as fantasy players know, at 2B a player with 175 hits who is on pace for 25 steals makes you smile.
Another very surprising and productive player for the Astros is 3B, SS Jed Lowrie. Similar to the makeup of Schafer, a former top prospect finally shining in a change of scenery, Lowrie has shown why the Red Sox were hoping he would eventually become their everyday shortstop and why the Astros wanted him. For Lowrie, his biggest hurdle has not necessarily been hitting or fielding, rather staying on the field. Thus far, Lowrie has been on the field every day and has thrived. So far, he has posted a .301 batting average while hitting four homeruns and driving in twelve Schafers and Altuves. Remember, this is your Houston Astros third hitter in the order (remember, “they have nothing!.” For fantasy baseball, them having nothing is a good thing in this case as Lowrie is still available in most fantasy leagues. He’s not your ideal 3 hole hitter, (23 career homeruns) but barring injury, Lowrie could post .275/65/20/80 like numbers.
While the Astros will not be making the playoffs this year, with a young core of talent, a manager with no limitations, and valuable trade pieces Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers (8/8 save opps), these Astros are going to put up some numbers and be fun to watch.
Think I’m crazy about saying anything good about the Houston Astros? Have an Astro on your fantasy team? Please feel free to comment. Follow me @indy8818 on Twitter.