6 intriguing Astros observations with a quarter of the season almost in the books

Yordan Alvarez Astros
What a start for Yordan Alvarez. Composite photo by Brandon Strange.

Silver Boot Fever! No, but the Astros and Texas Rangers this weekend at Minute Maid Park and next weekend up in Arlington should have the Astros distancing the .500 mark in their rearview mirror for this season. Seven games with the Rangers are wrapped around a three game set at Oakland next week. The Astros taking the first of them Thursday night assures they'll be over .500 as they finish the first quarter of the season.

Some quick almost quarter pole facts and thoughts:

1) The starting rotation lacks an ace, but the depth of at least pretty good pitchers enables them to withstand the continued absences of Framber Valdez and Jake Odorizzi. The bullpen is shaky but Brent Strom gets the benefit of the doubt toward coalescing pieces into all right.

2) Yuli Gurriel has been tremendous thus far. He turns 37 next month so we'll see how he holds up through the summer, but after an abysmal 2020 showing Gurriel is well positioned to bat .300 this season (he's at .333). Before his inept .232 last year, Gurriel hit .299, .291, and .298 in his first three full seasons.

3) Among Astros only Yordan Alvarez has been as good as Gurriel in the batter's box thus far. Yet while hitting .350 Yordan has not been better than he was as a rookie. That's because the Cuban missile launcher has only drawn four walks so far this season.

4) Carlos Correa's drive for a monster free agent contract has not gone well to this point. A .246 average and .299 on base percentage are simply not good numbers. Forget his injury history, from 2018 to now Correa is a .257 hitter. Not the stuff of which 10 year 300+ million dollar contracts are made.

5) Myles Straw was obviously going to be a huge dropoff offensively from George Springer but he has been a serious disappointment to this point. They have no viable alternatives.

6) Jason Castro should be getting more starts behind the plate as Martin Maldonado continues to flail away mostly hopelessly at the plate. Astros' catchers bat ninth for a reason and aren't expected to be big offensive producers but Maldonado has been almost unbelievably bad. Castro will never be confused with Mike Piazza or Joe Mauer but should be getting at least half the playing time right now. Castro is plenty competent behind the plate. Maldonado's handling of pitchers and pitch framing skills aren't so good as to justify his getting two thirds of the playing time if his OPS is .507. His OPS is .407.

It's good for franchise imaging and future recruiting efforts which is just fine given that Jim Crane and the organization decided to provide furnished apartments for all their minor leaguers this season. No other franchise has done that. Most players in single-A make five hundred dollars per week. That's about eleven thousand dollars for the entire season.

Rockets wrapping up the season

The Rockets' season mercifully draws to an end Sunday. Yes, the Rockets have been playing games the last several months. Losing almost all of them. Consider that after losing a franchise record 20 consecutive games the Rockets have gone 5-24. Owner Tilman Fertitta this week spoke enthusiastically about the club's future. Did you expect him to say they could stink for several more years? Stinking for at least the next two seasons is quite likely, especially if the Rockets lose their first round pick by having it drop to the number five pick on draft lottery night June 22. That would give them three straight losing seasons, after having just three in the prior 36.

The two years roughly 92 million dollars left on John Wall's contract are a pair of cement sneakers the organization is wearing. A buyout that could save Fertitta several million and let Wall try to latch on as a backup with a contender makes sense for both sides.

Texans schedule

The NFL full 2021 schedule release Wednesday marked four months to go until the Texans' season opener. Stifle the yawn or laugh. Barring quite a turn of events that wind up with Deshaun Watson starting at quarterback for them September 12, the Texans' 20th NFL season will be by far the least anticipated in franchise history.

Buzzer Beaters:

1) So, if the Texans lose their season opener at home vs. Jacksonville do you immediately start thinking 0-17 is possible? It would be pretty funny if they go 1-16 with the lone victory coming at Arizona. DeAndre Hopkins and J.J. Watt would see that differently.

2) The horse did nothing wrong, but Medina Spirit should not be trying to get two-thirds of the way to the Triple Crown by winning Saturday's Preakness Stakes. Trainer Bob Baffert is shady.

3) Best Jennifer Lopez OR Ben Affleck movies: Bronze-Out of Sight Silver-The Town Gold-Good Will Hunting (really a Matt Damon or Robin Williams movie but work with me).

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With both Luis Garcia and Lance McCullers making their way back from surgeries that sideline that Astros pitchers last season, and given the team's thin depth in their starting rotation, Houston fans and media have waited on bated breath for scraps of information to leak out of the notoriously secretive organization regarding their progress.

In a week full of mostly Hurricane Beryl-related bad news, the Astros organization had some discouraging news of their own when manager Joe Espada told the media that Lance McCullers has been shut down from pitching after his arm did not respond well to his latest bullpen session. The team says they are "formulating a plan for what's next."

Another Astros starter making his way back from injury is HOF-bound Justin Verlander. Verlander has been on the IL since June 16th with neck discomfort and, while there was initial hope that JV would only miss a start, his status has become increasingly murky as he is still apparently not close to returning.

Shifting from the health questions of the starters to the performance questions of the bullpen, some Houston fans have voiced concern via social media that Astros big-ticket 9th inning pitcher Josh Hader is not looking like a "shut-down" closer. Hader gave up more home runs in the first week of July (3) as he did the entire month of June (2).

In this week's episode of Stone Cold Stros, Charlie Pallilo and Brandon Strange discuss how the fluid dynamics of Astros pitching is impacting the competitive landscape of the division race. To watch the conversation, just click the video YouTube embedded in this article. To listen to the entire episode on podcast, search "Stone Cold Stros" in your favorite podcast app or click one of the following links.

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