“Dealing with interleague stuff last year was basically starting from scratch,” Castro said. “We had to put that work in and try to build on what little we had as quickly as possible. From the time the series started to the end of the series, hopefully we had a lot better idea from when we started.”
Players will need to become familiar with different ballparks, too.
“Oakland is known for its foul ground, so it's something that we'll have to take into account,” Castro said. “There are adjustments to be made in all facets of the game.”
Needing a designated hitter, the Astros signed Carlos Pena, who can also play first base. Porter's lineup remains uncertain in many respects — no surprise for a team evaluating young players. He'd like second baseman Jose Altuve to hit second, meaning somebody else would have to handle the leadoff spot.
Even that role is a bit different because of the league switch. In the AL, the leadoff man doesn't have to bat after the pitcher.
“It's definitely a chance for him to come up more often with men on base,” Porter said. “If you have that guy in the one hole that can hit extra-base hits, that can do some damage, it changes the dynamic of your ballclub.”
Eventually, the Astros will be used to the differences between the AL and NL. Starting pitchers won't have to worry about being pinch-hit for, for example.
For fans, the benefits and drawbacks of the switch are obvious. Houston will play more games against the Rangers, creating the potential for a spirited in-state rivalry. But there will also be plenty of West Coast games, with later start times on TV.
Before beginning their new schedule, the Astros will have a few weeks during spring training to size up the competition. And yes, they'll want to focus a little more than usual on the AL teams.
“In spring training, you'd pay attention a lot more to the National League games,” right-hander Bud Norris said. “It's going to be a different mindset. We're going to have to make some adjustments.”