The crowd erupts as the Astros enter their home field. The boos overpower the cheers, a greeting they will have to get used to for the foreseeable future. The starting pitcher, Lance McCullers Jr., pitches for two innings, giving up two triples and two earned runs. The Mets are up 2-0 as he leaves. It’s been a tough offseason for the Astros, and from the outside, any struggles from the most hated team in baseball will be met with applause.
However, It’s a yearly occurrence for fans to overvalue the results of spring training. In reality, spring training is about the process, fixing and working on the small details, not the results. Lance Mccullers Jr. coming back from Tommy Johns surgery, after missing the entire 2019 season, is in the middle of that process. “I’m really happy with the way I felt today. My stuff was much more crisp,” McCullers said. Improving his four-seem fastball, once a staple in his arsenal is the goal for his spring training. “I had gotten away from it, and I’m trying to find it again.”
Lance McCullers Jr. was a 2017 All-star selection. He’s 26 years old and has the makings to be a great ace. Yet, with all the controversy surrounding his team, his return has been muted.
In recent memory, no MLB club has had as brutal winter than the Astros. Coming off a game 7 World Series loss leaves a deep sting in the offseason. Losing a 2019 CY young runner up in Garret Cole, and one of the most consistent relief pitchers in Will Harris, while still being over the $208 million luxury tax threshold makes the winter especially cold. Being the center of the biggest baseball controversy in years that cost both your manager and GM their job, suddenly, the Astros are wondering if they will ever see green again.
However, spring is the quintessential metaphor for a rebirth, after the decaying winter. It’s also inevitable, and as much as it must pain the rest of the league, Astros baseball is back and as talented as ever.
In charge of guiding McCullers and the talented Astros, through the turmoil of their self-inflicted chaos, is Dusty Baker, the new manager for the team. Baker’s career as a manager is undeniably impressive. In 22 seasons, he has accrued 1863 wins with a win-loss rate of .532. His last four seasons, his clubs have surpassed the 90 win mark. The one thing that has alluded him his postseason success, he’s yet to win a title.
Regardless of public opinion on the validity of the Astro’s recent success, Dusty Baker is stepping into a club with an established winning culture and a championship pedigree. “I’m not here to change a whole bunch cause they were doing pretty good before me,” said Baker. Detractors may say that their culture that placed winning above all else is what allowed the sign-stealing scandal to fester. And, it will be interesting to see how Dusty balances keeping the Astros winning ways while removing the negative aspects associated with it, and maybe capture that elusive championship. Already Astros players are committing to the narrative that the drive for the season will be to get Dusty his first championship.
It remains to be seen how the sign-stealing scandal will affect the Astros going forward. They are both the most enviable and hated team in baseball. Every game will be scrutinized. Every away field will be hostile; even the home games won’t be safe from boos. As was the case on Friday, at FITTEAM park, Jose Altuve, the reluctant face of the scandal, stepped up to the plate facing the loudest jeers of the night, “Nice Tattoos!” can be heard through the noise. His bat connects and the crowd silences as he makes his way to first. Don’t be surprised to see a similar sight in October.