THE PALLILOG

Dog day scuffles magnify apparent internal power struggle inside Houston Astros

Astros Jose Altuve
Fortunately for Houston, the Yankees are also going through a rough patch. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.
Houston Astros hope to get good news about Jose Altuve soon

The Astros playing all their summer home games in air-conditioned Minute Maid Park waters down one aspect of the “dog days of summer” component of the baseball season, but the Astros are dealing with the dog days nevertheless. Even Justin Verlander was afflicted some Wednesday (these things are relative) as the Texas Rangers bombarded him for three runs. Three! Verlander’s season earned run average shot all the way up to 1.85 as he gave up more than one earned run for the first time in eight starts. It’s been a frustrating stretch for the Astros and their fans. A second series loss to the awful Oakland A's, a home series loss to the going nowhere Red Sox, settling for a split in Cleveland after winning the first two games of a four game series, and the as usual also-ran Rangers pestering them. Frustrating, but really not a big deal.

Since exploding out of the All-Star break with five straight wins, the Astros have stumbled to a 7-9 mark in their last 16 games. It happens. 162 games is a lot, and the gap between the haves and have-nots in terms of winning percentage is much smaller than it is in the NFL or NBA. The good news is the Yankees have been stumbling longer. There was no chance the Yankees were going to sustain the pace that had their record at 56-20, but their 15-20 mark since enabled the Astros to eliminate an eight game deficit in the race for the best record in the American League. The Astros have the clearly easier remaining schedule and hold the tiebreaker.

Back in 2017 the Astros blew the doors off the American League with a 42-16 start to their season. As you may recall they’d wind up winning the World Series. Their finishing kick to the regular season was spectacular, 22-8 the final month after acquiring Verlander from the Tigers. The Astros won 101 games in 2017. So simple math tells you for the nearly half the season that fell between the 42-16 start and the 22-8 close, the Astros were a perfectly mediocre ballclub winning 37 and losing 37. The point is, it’s the full body of work that defines the regular season. The Astros opened this season 11-11. Meaning between that and the recent 7-9 struggle, the Astros were an awesome 53-21. The 162 games are about how you finish overall to be positioned for the playoffs. The best team over the whole regular season infrequently wins the World Series. Since the advent of the Wild Card in 1995 in only seven of 27 seasons has MLB’s best team in the regular season won the postseason tournament.

Head-scratching lineup decisions continue

Dusty Baker does some things with the Astros lineup that are simply ridiculous. Among others General Manager James Click is either aware of this or overmatched in his job. Click is not overmatched in his job. Jake Meyers has been overmatched in his job offensively for a month now. As in nine for 64 at the plate, a .141 average and hard to be that bad .422 OPS. Chas McCormick has clobbered left-handed pitching this season while being inept vs. right-handers. So Dusty starting Meyers vs. lefty Martin Perez Tuesday then McCormick vs. righty Glenn Otto Wednesday was daffy. Not exactly shocking they combined to go 0 for seven.

Batting Yuli Gurriel second is also silly, with a bit of a caveat. Yuli has fallen way over the hill. His bat speed has obviously slipped, his plate discipline declined. Martin Maldonado is closer in on base percentage to Gurriel than Gurriel is to McCormick. I mean, come on. The somewhat caveat in Dusty’s defense is the Astro offense has more holes than it has had in years, so he has fewer good options. Michael Brantley’s get on base skill is sorely missed, looking more and more like for good. Over his last 50 games Jeremy Pena is batting .204 with a sub-.600 OPS. Other than McCormick vs. lefties the center field output stinks, Kyle Tucker’s season to date is disappointing, and while Alex Bregman has been much better the past six weeks he’s nowhere close to the stud of 2018 or superstar of 2019. Oh, there’s this. DUSTY, TREY MANCINI SHOULD BE IN THE LINEUP FOUR OUT OF EVERY FIVE GAMES. Mancini should be the primary first baseman, Gurriel more of a pinch hitter and defensive replacement.

McCullers returns this weekend

Lance McCullers has made nearly 12 million dollars so far this season. Saturday he’ll finally throw a pitch that counts. The five year 85 million dollar contract extension the Astros gave McCullers was an eyebrow raiser at point of signing given Lance’s injury history. Will he show enough to be in the Astros’ postseason starting rotation? Verlander is the unchallenged number one with Framber Valdez second. Cristian Javier and Jose Urquidy would be the other two. Does McCullers supplant one? Luis Garcia’s ERA over his last 10 starts is 4.76, so he presently would not get consideration, though plenty can change. Under eight weeks of regular season remaining for water to find its level.

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Astros defeat the White Sox, 5-3. Photo by Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images.

Yordan Alvarez homered in the first inning and drove in a run during a four-run seventh as the Houston Astros rallied past the Chicago White Sox 5-3 on Thursday.

Alvarez made it 1-0 with a 439-foot drive to right against Chris Flexen for his 15th homer, and his single in the seventh tied the game at 3-all. The two-time All-Star finished with three hits after missing the previous two games for a family matter.

Alex Bregman added three hits and scored a run for the Astros, who won their second straight after dropping the opener of a three-game series against the team with the worst record in the majors.

Flexen worked six innings, allowing one run and five hits. The White Sox fell to 20-56 with their 26th loss in 32 games.

Chicago chased Astros starter Spencer Arrighetti in a three-run fifth.

Martín Maldonado led off with a single on a pop fly that deflected off second baseman Jose Altuve’s glove and came around on a one-out double by Luis Robert Jr. Andrew Vaughn knocked Arrighetti out of the game with an RBI single, and Andrew Benintendi made it 3-1 with a sacrifice fly against Tayler Scott.

Houston sent 10 batters to the plate in the seventh.

Mauricio Dubón led off with a double against Steven Wilson (1-4) that extended his hitting streak to 13 games and scored on Altuve’s single. Alvarez grounded an RBI single past a diving second baseman Danny Mendick against Tanner Banks. The Astros took a 4-3 lead when third baseman Lenyn Sosa threw low to first after fielding a chopper by pinch-hitter Cooper Hummel with two out, allowing Bregman to score.

Justin Anderson came in for Chicago and walked Jake Meyers and Jeremy Peña to force in another run, making it 5-3.

Arrighetti was charged with three runs and five hits in 4 1/3 innings. Four relievers combined to hold the White Sox to one hit, with Scott (3-2) recording five outs and Josh Hader working the ninth for his 11th save in 12 chances.

TRAINER'S ROOM

White Sox: RHP Mike Clevinger (right elbow inflammation) is expected to throw 70 to 75 pitches in a rehab start on Sunday. He threw 55 for Triple-A Charlotte on Tuesday. ... DH Eloy Jiménez (strained left hamstring) could return next week, though manager Pedro Grifol said he is “not real sure” which day.

UP NEXT

Astros: The Astros plan to call up RHP Jake Bloss from Double-A Corpus Christi to make his major league debut against the Baltimore Orioles on Friday and fill a hole in their injury-depleted rotation. Bloss, a third-round draft pick out of Georgetown in 2023, has a 1.74 ERA over 12 starts in Class A and Double-A. RHP Grayson Rodriguez (8-2, 3.20 ERA) pitches for Baltimore.

White Sox: RHP Erick Fedde (5-1, 3.09) looks to win his second straight start as the White Sox open a three-game series at Detroit. RHP Jack Flaherty (4-4, 3.01) gets the ball for the Tigers.

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