Breaking it down

A complete, horse-by-horse look at the Belmont Stakes field

Saturday is the last of the Triple Crown races for 2019 with the Belmont Stakes. There is no shot at a Triple Crown, so basically it is just another nice stakes race. Here is a look at the 10 horses in the field.

No. 1 Joevia (30-1)

Trainer: Greg Sacco

Jockey: Jose Lezcano

Why he can win: He has one weapon in his arsenal - speed. He will be the early pacesetter, and if he is not, he has no shot. The Belmont - despite being the longest of the Triple Crown races, tends to favor early foot, so he will gun and hope. Probably not good enough to hold on all the way but could hang around for a piece late.

No. 2 Everfast (12-1)

Trainer: Dale Romans

Jockey: Luis Saez

Why he can win: He did run second in the Preakness at a monster price. But horses that did not run in the Derby, then fared well in the Preakness historically struggle at Belmont. Plus he is a deep closer, and that style rarely wins here. Might clunk up for a piece late.

No. 3 Master Fencer (8-1)

Trainer: Koichi Tsunoda

Jockey: Julien Leparoux

Why he can win: Was surprisingly beaten just four lengths in the Derby and was moving well at the end. Japan based horses win a lot of races around the world and while this guy is second tier there, he should love the distance and could be a live long shot in a field lacking quality. Would not be shocked if he is in it at the end.

No. 4 Tax (15-1)

Trainer: Danny Gargan

Jockey: Irad Ortiz Jr.

Why he can win: He has some nice races on his resume, but was no match for Tacitus in the Wood Memorial and was no threat in the Derby. Plus he has a horrible name. Would need significant improvement in this spot, but I think we have seen his best and it does not appear to be good enough.

No. 5 Bourbon War (12-1)

Trainer: Mark Hennig

Jockey: Mike Smith

Why he can win: We loved him in the Preakness, and he simply did not fire at all. Horses skipping the Derby and doing the Preakness/Belmont double rarely do well, but he might have needed the last race off a layoff, he should handle the distance and not ready to give up on him. Will be a long shot play.

No. 6 Spinoff (15-1)

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Jockey: Javier Castellano

Why he can win: He was a strong second in the Louisiana Derby, is lightly raced and should improve. Still, he was no factor whatsoever in the Kentucky Derby and probably does not want any part of the distance here. Pass.

No. 7 Sir Winston (12-1)

Trainer: Mark Casse

Jockey: Joel Rosario

Why he can win: He doesn't very often - just twice in nine starts - but he was a good closing second in the prep for this and tends to hit the board at big prices. A classic grinder, would not be surprised if he picked up some pieces late and helped blow up the trifecta price.

No. 8 Intrepid Heart (10-1)

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Jockey: John Velazquez

Why he can win: He has only raced three times, so there is room for improvement. He finished behind Sir Winston in his first stakes try, running third. But he is bred to go farther, and they spent $750,000 on him. A big step up but won't be surprised if he is a small factor.

No. 9 War of Will (2-1)

Trainer: Mark Casse

Jockey: Tyler Gaffalione

Why he can win: His Preakness was a thing of beauty after the rodeo that was the Derby. At his best, he generally stalks the pace and takes control late. Expect him to be in the front tier of horses and try to employ that strategy again. Could win, but could also find himself off the board if he throws in one of his occasional clunkers.

No. 10 Tacitus (9-5)

Trainer: Bill Mott

Jockey: Jose Ortiz

Why he can win: The morning line favorite was probably the second best horse in the Derby. He hated the surface, was unsettled, and still managed to finish fourth, beaten less than four lengths. (He was placed second). He is bred to love the distance, should get a better track today and will be very tough to beat if he brings his A game.

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The Astros need to get the offense going. Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images.

Overreactions to things both good and bad are part of the fun of being a fan, but don’t lend themselves to the most insightful of discourse. There was some excessive fanboy and fangirl gloating over how the “Astros were back!” after they swept their last homestand. The Astros did a fine job of handling the business at hand but taking three from the not good Cubs and three from the almost inconceivably awful A’s did not mean the Astros were back in juggernaut mode. But then they hammered Brewers’ ace starter Corbin Burnes Monday night. Eight straight wins! Sweep the Brewers then this weekend the Astros could take aim at the franchise record 12 game winning streak! The Astros haven’t scored since Monday night.

Overall the Astros are fine entering the weekend at 28-21. Thank goodness for a pitching staff which has the best earned run average in Major League Baseball, because the Astro offense remains impotent too often. There are only five American League teams scoring fewer runs per game than the Astros (White Sox, Royals, Tigers, Athletics, Guardians). They are the five worst teams in the American League. The Astros’ back-to-back shutout losses Tuesday and Wednesday in Milwaukee coupled with a pair of Texas Rangers’ wins in Pittsburgh have the Astros back to three games off the lead in the AL West.

This while Martin Maldonado is actually having a strong May offensively, batting .298 with an OPS of .845. No misprint there. Alas, it’s not as if as he approaches his 37th birthday Maldy has figured out things and projects as a strong offensive player going forward. Bad hitters have good stretches just as good hitters have bad stretches. But credit is due where credit is due.

So, when will Alex Bregman be due some credit? He certainly has earned very little so far this season. Overall, Maldonado’s numbers are still weak with the batting average .216, OPS .637. Forget Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker, Maldonado’s OPS is now closer to Bregman’s than Bregman’s is to Jake Meyers’s. Bregman has a history of slow starts. Monday is Memorial Day. We’re past slow start. “Breggy Bomb” carries a different connotation right now. The good news is that with just over two-thirds of the season remaining there is still ample time to take off. Last season as late as June 16 Bregman’s OPS was under .700. The rest of the season he posted a .902. Bregman has a very discerning eye at the plate. He draws lots of walks and strikes out very infrequently by 2023 MLB standards. The walks have been his saving grace this year.

Even with Bregman’s batting average at a puny .219, his on-base percentage is .326. That OBP is only three points lower than Mauricio Dubon’s despite Dubon’s average being 78 points higher. Still, Bregman may be too discerning at the plate. It could be more perception than reality but Bregman seems to be complaining incorrectly about strike calls against him pretty frequently this year. He has played in every game yet is on pace for a meager total of 43 extra base hits. In 2019 Bregman hit 41 home runs among his 80 extra base hits. In 2018 he had 51 doubles among 83 extra base hits.

Then there’s Jose Abreu who continues to show zero signs of getting it going. Zero. Like his home run total. From Jeff Bagwell as he subbed for Geoff Blum on the Astros’ telecasts from Milwaukee: “Abreu cares.” Gee, that’s comforting. How pathetic would Abreu’s numbers be if he didn’t care?

Jeremy Pena is three for his last 24. He last drew a walk May 12 and had only drawn one before that this month. He last homered April 29. Pena’s sophomore campaign is disappointing to date. At the start of the season any notion that Mauricio Dubon would be having the Astros’ best season among their infielders heading into Memorial Day Weekend would have justified a drug test. Yet here we are.

Bring on the A's!

For the second consecutive weekend the Astros have the opportunity to whip up on the A’s. Oakland woke up Thursday morning with 10 wins and 41 losses. The A's have won consecutive games once. If you and several thousand of your good friends can catch flights to Oakland, tickets are available. Announced attendance for the A’s last home game, 4159. And that was the biggest “crowd” of a three game series following gates of 2064 and 3261.

The Astros come home for three vs. the Minnesota Twins starting with a holiday matinee Monday. Hope you didn’t buy tickets to watch Carlos Correa play. Correa has left foot problems, a muscle strain and plantar fasciitis. That is not the leg that caused Correa to flunk Giants and Mets physicals and forced him to “settle” for six years and 200 million dollars with Minnesota. Correa has not been good this season, batting .213 with a .699 OPS.

Listen to Stone Cold 'Stros every week

Stone Cold ‘Stros is the weekly Astro-centric podcast I am part of alongside Brandon Strange and Josh Jordan. On our regular schedule it goes up Monday afternoon on the SportsMapHouston YouTube channel, with full audio available in podcast form at outlets galore. Such as:

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