2015 - Season Recap
by Bob Hulsey
(Note: some links on this page lead to pages that have not been completed. Thank you for your patience.)
The 2015 campaign will stay in the memories of Astros fans for a long time. Not only was it suddenly cool to wear Astros gear again but the team provided memories all year long. There was something for everybody - a triple play, a no-hitter, a 10-game winning streak, a 20-run game, miraculous comebacks, American League Cy Young and Rookie of the Year award winners and a post-season that almost took them to the League Championship Series.
Quite a lot for a squad that ended just five games above .500 and did not win their division. Their fans didn't care. Astros baseball was back and the future seemed brighter than ever.
After free agency failed the Astros the previous off-season, General Manager Jeff Luhnow spent bigger. He acquired righthanders Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek in multi-year deals. Neither were experienced closers but the front office felt the potential was there. Gregerson responded with seven wins and 31 saves. In addition, the Astros claimed Will Harris off waivers and he produced five wins, two saves and a 1.90 ERA in 71 innings.
The shortstop position needed stability so the Astros signed Jed Lowrie from Oakland. The oft-injured infielder was considered a place-holder while former overall first pick Carlos Correa rose through the minors but it was expected Correa might not arrive in the majors until 2016. More offense was needed so Luhnow dealt promising pitcher Mike Foltynewicz and two prospects to Atlanta for Evan Gattis, a sore-kneed catcher with 20-homer power who would become their designated hitter.
Dexter Fowler's contract was entering its final year and not expected to fit the budget after spending $13 million on relievers, so he was traded to the Cubs for pitcher Dan Straily and infielder Luis Valbuena. Valbuena's presence allowed the Astros to move on from Matt Dominguez at third base who was eventually waived.
In late January, Luhnow signed outfielder Colby Rasmus to a one-year deal. Rasmus, a former top draft choice of Luhnow when he worked in St. Louis, had disappointed in Toronto and was said to be a clubhouse prima donna. Luhnow also added Roberto Hernandez, a former star pitcher with Cleveland when he was under the name Fausto Carmona. Both would play key roles later on.
The Astros, under new manager A.J. Hinch, were expected to improve on the 70-92 record of the year. Optimists predicted s .500 season. The team sputtered to a 4-6 record out of the gate before winning 14 of their next 15, including a sweep of a nine-game West Coast road trip, to vault to a seven-game division lead. They went 13-13 the rest of May to finish the first two months at 31-20 with a four-game division lead over the Angels.
Injuries and struggles brought new faces from the minors. Outfielder Preston Tucker was tearing up the Pacific Coast League so he was called up to replace an injured George Springer and collected several key hits. As a pinch-hitter on May 24th, he drilled a two-out three-run homer off Anibal Sanchez to key a 10-8 comeback win in Detroit.
21-year-old righthander Lance McCullers, Jr., was called up from the minors and made his debut on May 18th against Oakland. The tenacious hurler showed maturity beyond his years while posting a 6-7 record over 125-2/3rd innings.
After Lowrie injured a thumb early and the shortstop tandem of Jonathan Villar and Marwin Gonzalez proved lackluster, the Astros brought up Correa - the former first overall draft choice. On June 8th, the 20-year-old phenom made his debut against the White Sox, getting his first big league hit and RBI. His first major league homer came the next night. He proved quickly he was not overmatched by the big league spotlight, batting .279 with 22 homers, 68 RBIs and 14 steals while providing a highlight reel in the field.
The division lead held up until July 12th, the day before the All-Star Break. Dallas Keuchel was named the American League starting pitcher while Jose Altuve was voted the starting second baseman. It was the first time since 2009 that the Astros had more than one all-star representative and the first time since 2004 that they had two or more starters. The American League took the game, 6-3.
The pitching performed better than expected and the offense produced runs with the best of the American League but the club was still near the bottom in batting average and near the top in striking out. Gattis got off to a terrible start. Chris Carter was below .200 for most of the year. Valbuena, Castro and Rasmus also suffered with low averages.
Yet, the team stayed in contention. At the trade deadline, Luhnow pulled two big trades. They sent two prospects to Oakland for Houston native Scott Kazmir to solidify their rotation and then dealt four prospects to Milwaukee for former All-Star outfielder Carlos Gomez and pitcher Mike Fiers. These trades represented a changing tide for the Astros - now dealing prospects for veterans and also behaving like pennant contenders rather than rebuilders. Kazmir blanked the AL Champion Kansas City Royals in his Astros debut. The ballclub was 27-26 for June and July and knew they needed to jump start their club if it was going to make it to October.
Houston won three walk-offs in four games during mid-August and maintained a slim lead over Anaheim and Texas in the AL West race. On August 21st, Fiers no-hit the Dodgers, 3-0, to become the first Astro to toss a no-hitter in 12 years. Two days later, Houston outlasted Clayton Kershaw for another walk-off victory. At times, they looked like a team of destiny but the magic slowly eroded.
On September 13th, the fading Astros trailed the Angels, 3-0, in their final at bat with two outs when they suddenly produced five-runs including a dramatic three-run homer by Lowrie just inside the right field foul pole. After that, they were swept by the Rangers and fell out of first for the last time. They would finish second with an 86-76 record.
The rotation was led by two men: Keuchel (20-8, 2.48 ERA) and Collin McHugh (19-7, 3.89). Remaining starts were largely chewed up by McCullers (6-7, 3.22), Scott Feldman (5-5, 3.90), Kazmir (2-6, 4.17), Fiers (2-1, 3.32) and Hernandez (3-5, 4.36).
Altuve (.313 batting average, 15 homers, 66 RBIs, 38 steals) quietly led the offense again and produced a surprising number of home runs for such a small man. Gattis (.246, 27, 88) led in homers and RBIs but four others produced 20 or more homers and the team tied a league mark with 11 players that hit 10 or more homers. One more from Lowrie (.222, 9, 30) or Jake Marisnick (.236, 9, 36) would have set the record. Included in the group were Carter (.199, 24, 64), Castro (.211, 11, 31), Valbuena (.225, 25, 56), Tucker (.243, 13, 33), Springer (.276, 16, 41), Rasmus (.238, 25, 61), Gonzalez (.279, 12, 34) and backup catcher Hank Conger (.229, 11, 33).
Part of the shenanigans that forced the Astros into the American League also provided for a second wild card spot. For the final two weeks, the club watched both the division standings and the wild card standings while their postseason hopes dangled precariously. On the season's final weekend, the Astros, Rangers and Angels all had a shot at the division title while the same clubs, plus the Yankees and Twins, were contending for the two wild card berths.
With the lowly Arizona Diamondbacks as the only team left on their schedule, the Astros still had a chance at the division and still had the possibility of falling out of the playoffs altogether. On Friday, October 2nd, Keuchel sought to be the first American Leaguer with 20 wins and his teammates made it easy for him. Springer and Correa homered to give Houston a 7-2 lead after five innings but then the Astros put it into overdrive with three runs in the sixth, seven in the seventh and four more in the eighth to reach and surpass 20 runs for the first time in club history.
Rasmus and Valbuena also homered. Correa was the hitting star with three hits in four trips with four runs scored and four batted in. For trivia buffs, it was late-season call-up Matt Duffy who broke the record with a two-run single off A.J. Schugel for Houston's final runs.
It wasn't one of Keuchel's best pitching performances but the 21-5 blowout was good enough to notch his 20th win and cement the Cy Young Award he would claim in November. Correa, too, would win AL Rookie of the Year honors.
The Astros would win again on Saturday and lose on Sunday but had still clinched the final wild card berth - one game behind the Yankees. They finished two games behind the Rangers in the West Division race.
The Wild Card Game...
Keuchel would return on short rest for the one-game playoff before over 50,000 in the Bronx. Rasmus drilled a solo shot to lead off the second against Masahiro Tanaka to give the Astros an early lead then Gomez repeated the feat to lead off the fourth for a 2-0 lead. Altuve added an insurance run in the seventh while Keuchel tightened the noose around a Yankee club that was running on fumes. The bearded lefty allowed three hits over six shutout innings while fanning seven. Three hitless innings of relief later, the Astros were on their way to Kansas City and a Division Series match with the Royals.
The ALDS... (Full Recap)
The Astros broke out to a 3-1 lead behind McHugh in Kansas City then held on for a 5-2 victory in Game One. Springer and Rasmus went deep while Altuve added three hits. Houston got the early jump again in Game Two but the Royals roared back with three late to pull out a 5-4 verdict that evened the series. Rasmus stayed hot with a homer and a double.
Back in Houston, it was Keuchel's turn and he earned a 4-2 triumph, allowing one run and five hits over seven frames. A two-run single by Castro in the fifth off Edinson Volquez was the key blow.
The Astros needed just one more win to move on in the playoffs and gave the ball to the rookie McCullers. After allowing two runs in the second, McCullers settled down as the Astros chipped away with single tallies in the second, third and fifth innings to take a 3-2 lead. Minute Maid was rocking in the seventh when Correa and Rasmus went back-to-back to provide a seemingly safe 6-2 cushion but then the bullpen cratered and the Royals scored five times in the eighth and added two more in the ninth to suck all the life out of the party.
Game Five saw the return of McHugh but the momentum of Game Four carried over and the Royals won the series, 7-2. An early homer by Valbuena gave Houston hope but the Astros' magical ride was over leaving only a resolute glow that, next year, things would be different.
2nd Place, AL West
To be added later.
Nov 3, 2014 - Claimed Will Harris (P) from AZ-N on waivers
Nov 5, 2014 - Traded Nick Tropeano (P) and Carlos Perez (C) to LA-A for Hank Conger (C)
Dec 8, 2014 - Waived Marc Krauss (1B/OF). Claimed by LA-A
Dec 12, 2014 - Signed Pat Neshek (P) as a free agent
Dec 12, 2014 - Signed Luke Gregerson (P) as a free agent
Dec 15, 2014 - Signed Jed Lowrie (IF) as a free agent
Jan 14, 2015 - Traded Mike Foltynewicz (P) and minor leaguers Rio Ruiz (IF) and Andrew Thurman (P) to ATL-N for Evan Gattis (OF/DH) and James Hoyt (P)
Jan 19, 2015 - Traded Dexter Fowler (OF) to CHI-N for Dan Straily (P) and Luis Valbuena (IF)
Jan 20, 2015 - Signed Colby Rasmus (OF) as a free agent
Jan 21, 2015 - Traded Carlos Corporan (C) to TEX-A for minor leaguer Akeem Bostick (P)
Feb 12, 2015 - Signed Roberto Hernandez (P) as a free agent
Feb 13, 2015 - Signed Joe Thatcher (P) as a free agent
Apr 1, 2015 - Traded Gregorio Petit (IF) to NY-A for cash considerations
Jun 16, 2015 - Waived Matt Dominguez (3B). Signed by MIL-N
Jul 23, 2015 - Traded minor leaguers Daniel Mengden (P) and Jacob Nottingham (C) to OAK-A for Scott Kazmir (P)
Jul 30, 2015 - Traded Domingo Santana (OF), minor leaguers Adrian Houser (P), Brett Phillips (OF), and Josh Hader (P) to MIL-N for Carlos Gomez (OF), Mike Fiers (P), and cash considerations
Aug 8, 2015 - Released Roberto Hernandez (P)
Aug 8, 2015 - Traded minor leaguer Junior Garcia (P) to AZ-N for Oliver Perez (P)