MLB.com Columnist

Lindsay Berra

No sour Grape(fruit): Astros don't miss AL West foes

Houston is only division team to train in Florida

No sour Grape(fruit): Astros don't miss AL West foes

By virtue of training in Florida and playing in the American League West, the Astros hold a quirky distinction: They are the only team in baseball that does not have a chance to play a division rival during Spring Training.

That wasn't an issue until the Astros moved from the National League Central to the AL West for the 2013 season, and they now play in a division in which the four other teams -- the Angels, Athletics, Mariners and Rangers -- all make their Spring Training homes in Arizona, thousands of miles away from the Astros in Kissimmee, Fla.

The situation is a double-edged sword. While manager A.J. Hinch doesn't have to worry about division rivals seeing too much of his pitchers and getting used to their stuff, his hitters also never get to see and adjust to the tendencies and release points of other AL West pitchers.

"If I could pick one or the other, I'd pick to not play division teams, so they have a little bit of a lack of familiarity with our pitchers," Hinch says. "As it gets late in Spring Training, I'm even wary of having our guys see other American League teams outside the division when they're going six or seven innings."

For the first part of Spring Training, though, that's not really a problem. Hinch points out that he, along with many other managers, has yet to play his starting lineup, which makes it difficult to gauge the readiness of a team or a team's skill in its entirety.

If deception is a top priority, it is toughest to maintain in the AL East, the NL East and the NL West, whose teams all camp in the same state. The AL Central and the NL Central each has three teams in Arizona and two in Florida, giving fewer clubs a brief look at each other before the season starts.

Houston catcher Jason Castro, whose job it is to know the tendencies of each hitter his pitchers will face, wouldn't mind just a tiny preview of the opposition.

"From a defensive standpoint, it would make more sense to see guys so you could get more familiar with them," Castro says. "So I have to pay close attention to the scouting reports and watch a little more video to get caught up, especially if there are new guys in the division."

Hinch and his boss, general manager Jeff Luhnow, are wary of playing any team too much, division or otherwise. The Astros finish the spring with two exhibition games against the Brewers at Minute Maid Park. Then a week into the regular season, they have a three-game series in Milwaukee.

"This is most relevant when it comes to starting pitchers," Luhnow says. "If a team has to face a starter who faces the same team a week later in the regular season, the offense has an advantage. When we play Milwaukee, we're not going to compromise getting guys ready, and if someone has to pitch that day, we'll have no alternative, but we'll most likely use more Minor League pitchers during those games than we would otherwise."

Gamesmanship aside, the situation for the Astros is what it is.

"Ever since that first year, it's been kind of a moot point," Castro says. "Spring Training is more about just getting your game-speed reps back in."

Lindsay Berra is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.