added 4/19/2015 by Greg Thurston
Almost two weeks into the season the Astros offense is stuck near the bottom of the American League in several important categories. Houston's 30 runs scored is the lowest in the junior circuit and the club's .202 batting average is second worst, coming in only one percentage point higher than the Arlington Rangers. Should Astros fans be worried about this lack of production in the early going?
I don't think so. In fact, the club has eight players that are performing at a level above the league average. The overall numbers have been dragged down by the slow starts experienced by three players in the middle of the batting order. Chris Carter has been anemic. Evan Gattis has been only slightly better, and George Springer has yet to find his stroke.
Gattis and Springer have started to show signs of life and I'm not too concerned about the powerful duo moving forward. Carter, on the other hand, has me a little worried. I mean, who would have thought that the man who has amassed a total of 66 homers in his two years in Houston would still be looking for his first RBI eleven games into the season?
Carter has managed only two singles and four walks in 40 plate appearances while striking out 40% of the time. Chris has looked lost at the plate at times and one has to wonder if the loss of hitting coach John Mallee could be a factor in his struggles. According to fangraphs, Carter is swinging at more pitches that are out of the strike zone and he is also swinging and missing more often.
Perhaps in an effort to alleviate some of the pressure built up by the horrendous start, manager A.J. Hinch has moved Carter down in the lineup for the last two games. Last night's results were a little better. Carter coaxed a pair of walks, equalling his total for the previous ten games. Maybe the six spot in the order is where Carter belongs.
Looking at things from more of a "glass half-full" perspective, Carter is no stranger to slow starts. Chris slashed .153/.270/.329 last April and we all know how that season ended. Also, the Astros have managed to win 5 of 11 games to start the year and are only one-half game off the pace in the A.L. West despite the lack of production from the middle of the order.
With players like Robbie Grossman and Marwin Gonzalez playing well enough to see an increase in playing time, players who fail to produce could find themselves riding the pine. And with the likes of Jon Singleton and Preston Tucker producing at AAA, a more permanent solution could become a reality.
Jake Marisnick has been a pleasant surprise with the bat and Jason Castro has looked more like the All-Star Jason Castro of 2013. The new additions to the left side of the infield, Jed Lowrie and Luis Valbuena, have provided some pop and should show more consistency as the year wears on. And, although this is an article about the offense, I feel obligated to say what a treat it is to watch these two guys play defense.
In addition, the team's top two starting pitchers appear to be as good as any team's top two and the bullpen looks like an actual bullpen. So, if the key to the Astros success depends upon the middle of the batting order, I wouldn't hit the panic button just yet. These guys aren't going to hit .112 all season.