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The Astros are a mess, but they need to be patient

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The Astros wouldn't be so bad if their good baseball players stopped playing bad baseball. Sometimes it's that simple, and that's about all they can hope for.

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The Astros had a backup catcher throw knuckleballs for them on Tuesday night. This a beautiful, ephemeral experience, something we shouldn't take for granted. There were glorious knuckleballs.

And there were ... less glorious knuckleballs.

This is a moment of celebration. Everyone go to a friend's house and open something expensive. The backup catcher was throwing knuckleballs, with some fastballs harder than Jered Weaver's mixed in. What a night. Celebrate, Astros fans. Celeb---

Alas, they can't enjoy this. The reason they had a position player pitching is because they haven't had a starting pitcher go more than five innings since last Thursday. They've lost seven of their last eight games, They've lost 11 of their last 14. And, heck, they've lost 15 of their last 21, which would explain why they're 6-15. They're a movie star throwing up on the red carpet at the gala premiere, and all of the fun they were anticipating is slowly yet quickly slipping away from them.

We're here to diagnose the 2016 Astros and figure out what they should do. What they can do. I'll start by spoiling the ending: uh, it's only April, so chin up and stay strong, I guess, idk? If I had a magic solution to fix every team, my undistilled genius would have been recognized by now, and I'd be running a franchise. This is not the case. And there are no magic solutions to fix a roster that was a functioning bullpen away from the ALCS last year.

We'll try, though. We'll try.

Problem: Carlos Gomez

Solution: Be patient

The Astros were probably a year ahead of schedule last year, to be fair. Once they realized it, they did the right thing and traded a heapin' helpin' of the prospects that were a huge part of that schedule in the first place. They picked up a star hitter, and they picked up pitchers who should have been complementary members of any contending staff. We'll get to those pitchers. For now, though, focus on Carlos Gomez.

Gomez now has 240 plate appearances with the Astros since coming over. He's hit .228/.266/.339 for them, with 10 walks and 52 strikeouts. Which means he's been even worse with the Astros than he was for the Twins when they decided to give up on him. He's always been impatient, but now he's broken, swinging at more balls out of the strike zone and making far less contact than ever before. Even though we're fond of the ol' it's-April excuse, those are stats that stabilize quickly enough to matter right now.

That doesn't seem like a physical problem, unless the gory hip maladies discovered by the Mets are forcing Gomez to cheat and guess more. It fits the pattern of a panicky, pressing player more.

The solution is to work with him, be patient, and trust in the talent. While I haven't spent a season with Gomez and can't vouch for the best targeted approach for his personality, I can't imagine a simple benching would lead to some sort of a-ha moment. He needs at-bats, and the Astros need to remember that the upside of a Tony Kemp or Derek Fisher in the absolute best-case scenario are akin to a standard Carlos Gomez season.

Trust in the talent? He said, trailing off and backing away? Just don't follow Domingo Santana's progress with the Brewers, and trust in the talent.

Problem: Jason Castro

Solution: Be patient

All of the above applies to Castro, who is hitting .114/.250/.205, which is worse than 29 different starting pitchers in the National League. The Astros' catchers in Triple-A are struggling just as poorly, and then there's the matter of Castro's ability to handle a pitching staff. He's leading the world in runs saved by pitch framing, a category in which he usually ranks well.

There's no change to be made. It's not like he needs to get back to his All-Star levels of hitting to be valuable. He just needs to dig his way out of the Jon Lester zone and become a typically weak-hitting catcher again.

Problem: Dallas Keuchel

Solution: Be patient

A headline from David Cameron:

There Are Reasons to Worry About Dallas Keuchel

The support for the thesis:

(Scary graphs that show Keuchel's velocity plummeting into the abyss, as well as a suspicion that umpires aren't being duped as much by his sinker below the zone)

The piece was written when Keuchel's ERA was 3.55, so it wasn't just reactionary scaremongering. Since then: three starts, one brilliant and two iffy. The brilliant one was just the universe making the baseball writer look silly, and I'm familiar with that game. The two iffy ones fit the pattern, though, and the velocity hasn't returned, which might explain why his sinkers are getting hit harder than ever, even though they aren't being grooved that much more.

The important thing to remember is that velocity change does not always correlate injury or irreversible wear and tear. It might have to do with wonky mechanics, though it's hard to see in the pitch-release data. Keuchel is still the Astros' best chance at a rotation-leading ace, and five starts shouldn't change that.

Well, Vincent Velasquez was apparently the Astros' best chance at a rotation-leading ace, BUT WE'RE NOT HERE TO DWELL ON THE PAST.

Problem: The rest of the rotation

Solution: Be patient, with a little panic sprinkled in

Yeah, here's where you start lopping heads. The Doug Fister signing was inspired, but the results have been abominable. Mike Fiers has been a wreck, and Scott Feldman has been on the wrong side of the Scott Feldman spectrum of expected competence. Collin McHugh has allowed two hits and a run for just about every inning he's pitched in 2016. And if you're looking for the cavalry, Lance McCullers is starting extended spring training and won't be back until the end of May.

McHugh's numbers are ruined by his first chemical fire of a start, but the FIP is fine. He's fine. Everything about Mike Fiers seems normal, apart from him allowing three months of homers in a month. He's probably the same pitcher the Astros should have expected.

Keep working with them and Keuchel, and worry about Fister and Feldman. They're already doing it, really, starting Chris Devenski on Saturday, which is just about all they can do for now. I'm not sure if Brad Peacock is better than Fister at this point, but he probably is. They could make that decision, or they could wait for McCullers and hope his shoulder is okay.

It's as good a plan as any. Which is both encouraging and the problem.

Problem: Ken Giles

Solution: Sob a lot

Sob a lot. Consider a return trip to the minors. Wonder what the hell happened. Pretend Giles was acquired for Chris Carter and only Chris Carter. Complain about the Phillies to the BBB. Leave a nasty review for the Phillies on their Amazon page. Sob a lot.

There are silver linings. The players who are struggling are legitimately talented, so it's not like they're hitting Yuniesky Betancourt cleanup and wondering how to get out if it. And the stats suggest they should be in the middle of a bad stretch, instead of in the middle of a season-immolating span of despair. According to their expected record with runs scored/allowed, they should be a little better. According to the runs they should have scored/allowed based on the raw stats, they should be a little better, still.

The Astros should be patient and hope the bad things stop crawling through the vents. One important note is that they're exactly a half-game behind where the Rangers were last year at this time. It's too early for doom and/or gloom.

And with any luck, they should return to the kind of talented, winning team that can enjoy the simple pleasures of baseball life. Like a backup catcher throwing knuckleballs. That is an honorable goal, if nothing else.