The Astros have been on an unbelievable run the last five seasons.
They’ve been to three World Series in the last five years, including last season when they came up a couple of games short to the Atlanta Braves. But if the Astros are hopeful of continuing their success, their soon-to-be 73-year-old manager Dusty Baker may have to do his best managing job yet.
And if we have learned anything, especially over these past two seasons, it’s that you never bet against Baker, who has to find a replacement at shortstop for Carlos Correa and figure out who will be his leadoff hitter this season, among other unknowns as an abbreviated spring training winds down and the April 7 Opening Day is creeping up fast.
“I’m trying things,” Baker said. “That’s what spring training’s all about. I’m trying as many things as I can in this short period of time.”
The owners’ lockout of the players and the battle that ensued with the MLB Players Union took away some of the valuable time Baker and his staff would normally have to evaluate talent in spring training.
But we’ve gotten used to seeing Baker do more with less, especially during his first two seasons of taking over an Astros clubhouse that was in disarray when he came aboard in 2020 on the heels of the sign-stealing scandal. Baker, who has led five different teams to the postseason, led the Astros to the ALCS in 2020 and last season came up just two games shy of winning the World Series.
For his efforts and accomplishments, Baker has been given a year extension on his contract to see if he and the Astros can run it back this season. But before doing so, Baker has questions he must resolve.
Who will replace shortstop Carlos Correa?
We knew there was a great possibility that Correa would leave in free agency, but once he actually took his superstar talents to the Minnesota Twins, it placed an immediate hole in the Astros lineup. Who will fill it? Right now, it’s looking like second-year big-leaguer Jeremy Pena is slated to step in but those are big shoes to fill. Pena has the defensive skills but it may take time for his bat to come around.
Is ace pitcher Justin Verlander all the way back from Tommy John surgery?
There is no question Verlander is one of the best in the game, but after he missed essentially two seasons, there seem to be some unknowns at the top of the Astros rotation. Verlander has looked good in his appearances in spring training, but camp and the season are two different things. If Verlander is indeed back, that returns the Astros’ rotation back to the top of the American League.
Who will bat leadoff this season?
Jose Altuve reluctantly batted at the top of the order last season, but Baker understands that isn’t the best spot for his 5-foot-6 star. So Baker has committed to moving Altuve to his more natural two-hole spot in the lineup. That leaves questions about who will be the tone-setter at the top of the lineup this season. Shortstop Jeremy Pena seems to be the early favorite, although outfielder Chas McCormick could also move up to fill the role.