Astros baseball 101: Cramming for a new season.

After Brad Mills was hired to be the Astros’ new manager last October, he had just a few months to acquaint himself with a brand new organization, one he had barely crossed paths with during the previous six years that he spent with the Red Sox. Other than one series in Houston a couple of years ago, the Astros were a team pretty foreign to the Red Sox. The two teams hadn’t as much as faced each other in a Spring Training game.

Mills’ first order of business was to get to know his new club top to bottom, inside and out. To do so, he watched somewhere in the neighborhood of 120 to 130 Astros games from the 2009 season, all from his home computer.

Accessing his account, Mills woke up early every morning, as he always does, and got to work. He has a big screen TV hooked up to his computer, and he watched around three games a day, each taking around an hour and a half (since he was watching sans commercials).

The objective?

“To see exactly what was happening,” Mills said. “If I didn’t want to watch a particular player, I would look at streaks they had. Maybe they lost five or six in a row, or won five or six. Why did they win or lose five or six in a row? What exactly was happening? When they won, was the pitching all that much better for those streaks, or did they have some guys coming through swinging the bats more? Did they run a little more?”

And when the Astros lost a bunch, Mills also wanted to know why. Errors? Or something else?

Pitching coach Brad Arnsberg had a similar task when he was hired away from the Blue Jays soon after Mills was named manager. Arnsberg didn’t watch every game, but the team sent him a hard drive containing every appearance by Astros pitchers last year so that he could familiarize himself with their deliveries before Spring Training started.

“You’re trying to learn 27 new names and learn them as quickly as I can,” Arnsberg said. “I read all their bios and I knew about their pasts, but it was mostly about watching deliveries. I jotted down some notes and maybe things that if there were problems, I could try to help them right out of the chute rather than having to wait two or three weeks into Spring Training before I could approach them. I was just trying to get ahead of the game.”

Spring Training is almost over, and while none of us have any idea how the season will play out, there is one thing I am certain of: this team will be ready to play every single time it steps onto the field. You might think I’m just stating the obvious — after all, aren’t teams always ready to play? The answer is, simply, no.

Last year, I wrote that the Astros played 162 games in 2009 and rarely were they the most prepared of the two teams to take the field. From the stands, baseball can look like a pretty simple game. But there is a ton of preparation required, and it starts with the manager and his coaching staff.

Focus was stressed more this spring than any other I can remember. Mental and physical mistakes on the basepaths were addressed. Same goes for fielding deficiencies. And the players were reminded, constantly, that there is work to be done and that’s where the focus needs to be.

During one of Mills’ recent preworkout chats with the team, he said he understood camp was coming to a close and that players have families to tend to, living arrangements to be made and other elements that can, understandably, be distracting this time of year. But he commended them on maintaining their focus, working hard all spring and asked that they continue to do so.

And the players appear to be responding, favorably.

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A stark contrast in this team, compared to 2008, and 2009.
When you have a well balanced clubhouse, you have a
win-win situation. The bottom line is getting to the finish line in first place. These guys might just do that. I have
high hopes for them, and I know they do too!

Last year was *agonizing* (especially the latter part.) The 2009 season stands out as one of the more painful ones I can remember. The term “fresh start” has never felt so good.

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