ASTROS REPORT

Let's examine which players are heating up at the right time for Astros

Yordan Alvarez continued his hot hitting. Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images.

The Astros started last week on a sour note, losing three of four games in Kansas City.

The Royals outscored the Astros 16-15 in this series due to Houston's unfamiliarity with Kansas City's pitching staff. With the exception of Mike Minor, Houston was facing the Royals' rotation for the first time. Needless to say, the Astros were happy to leave the City of Fountains and return home to face the Mariners.

Offensive woes didn't seem to be an issue when Seattle came to town, as the Astros outscored their division foe 30-10 over the weekend.

Three Astros' players in particular shined bright during this offensive showcase in Houston.

1). Taylor Jones had his best performance of the season Saturday night against the Mariners.

He recorded three hits and a career-high 4 RBI to help the Astros crush Seattle 15-1. Jones was a last minute replacement for Chas McCormick when he was scratched from the lineup with a sore left hand. He played in left field and had a great throw to get Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager out at home plate.

This last minute addition to the lineup proved to be a great one, as Jones was just one of a few Astros players to have a breakout series and boast season high numbers at the plate.

2). Jose Altuve feasted on some Seattle pitching. The All-Star second basemen had a season-best four hits against the Mariners on Saturday, then followed up with a three-hit performance on Sunday.

Altuve increased his batting average from .272 to .280 over the weekend and looks to be heating up at the right time as the playoffs inch closer and closer.

3). Yordan Alvarez continued his hot hitting as he drove in eight RBI and hit three home runs over the weekend. This was the first time in the young slugger's career in which he hit homers in three consecutive days.

Alvarez's home run on Sunday was his 25th of the season, tying him with Altuve for the team lead in homers.

Even though Houston lost the final game against Seattle on Sunday, they still won the series and gained one game on the Oakland A's. As it currently stands, the Astros lead the A's by 3.5 games in the American League West standings.

Injury Update: Astros pitcher Jose Urquidy is scheduled to pitch the first of two games of a rehab assignment for Triple-A Sugar Land on Tuesday. If this goes well, the starting pitcher could be back as early as September 1st.

Chas McCormick has sore hand and his injury looks to be day-to-day as it doesn't appear he will have to go on the injured list.

Alex Bregman went 3-8 with four RBI in the two games he played with the Skeeters. The third baseman has made some good progress and looks to be on his way back to the club sooner rather than later. He took some batting practice with the Astros on Saturday and seems to be champing at the bit to return to his team.

Kyle Tucker looks to come back some time this next series off of the COVID-19 injured list. If not this series, he should return in time for this weekend's series in Arlington against the Texas Rangers.

Up Next: The Kansas City Royals start another series with the Astros for the final time this season. The first matchup will showcase Zack Greinke vs Daniel Lynch Monday night at 7:10 CDT.

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The Astros will have some new rules to adjust to in 2023. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

If you are savvy enough to read next week’s column, you will be doing so with spring training underway in Florida and Arizona. Hip, hip, hooray! Astros pitchers and catchers have their first workout scheduled for next Thursday, with the full squad due early the following week ahead of games starting February 25. Spring training baseball is not meant to be exciting, but the major rules changes that will take effect this season will be in full effect in the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues, making spring games more interesting to follow.

The biggest change is the death of infield shifts. As reminder or to get up to speed, the first and second baseman must now always be aligned on the first base side of second while the shortstop and third baseman must both be on the third base side of second. Plus, all infielders must have both feet on the dirt of the infield.

There are legitimate points to be made as to why shifts should be allowed, and also why modifying the rules makes sense. I get the argument that if hitters can’t take advantage of an open side of the infield, shame on them. However, taking advantage of a shift is not as easy as it looks.

The best argument against shifts is that they clearly more penalized left-handed hitters. You think Kyle Tucker and Yordan Alvarez will miss losing some hits on balls smashed on one hop 30 or 40 feet into the outfield only to have a second baseman make the play? If once every other week Tuck or Yordan picks up a hit that the shift would have taken away, over 500 at bats, that’s about a 25 point difference in batting average. Defenses couldn’t shift in the same fashion against right-handed hitters because unless the batter/runner has Martin Maldonado or Albert Pujols level (non)speed, throwing guys out at first from 30 or 40 feet out in left field is not viable.

Welcome the pitch clock. There will be griping from some pitchers and hitters. Suck it up buttercups! Adapt or die. In the minor leagues the pitch clock knocked off 20-25 minutes from the average game length. The average big league game should not take more than three hours. For darn sure a 3-1 or 4-2 game shouldn’t take more than three hours.

With no runners on base a pitcher has 15 seconds from when he gets the ball to start his motion, with runner(s) on base 20 seconds. Failure to comply is an automatic ball. It’s called the pitch clock but batters are on notice too. There is simply no need for batters to be stepping out of the batter’s box to contemplate the meaning of life every pitch or two. Batters not in the box and ready when the clock gets down to eight seconds get an automatic strike. There are several exceptions, such as a batter gets one timeout per plate appearance,

The bases themselves are 20 percent larger. Instead of 15 inches square they are now 18 inches square which serves a couple of purposes. There will be a bit more space for infielders to avoid baserunners at the bags. That’s sensible. We’ve all heard “Baseball is a game of inches.” Legendary General Manager Branch Rickey is credited with coining the phrase. Rickey is also the guy who brought Jackie Robinson to the Major Leagues, and the guy who basically invented the farm system.

Anyway, back to game of inches. The larger bases shorten the distance between first and second, and second and third base, by four and a half inches. A massive change it is not, but a meaningful change it is. Think of the close calls on stolen base attempts, or a runner going from first to third on a single. It’s not mastering advanced calculus to get that a shorter distance between bases makes it easier to successfully get to the next one. Anything that increases the value of speed in the game is a good thing.

Base stealing will also be impacted by the new pickoff limitations rule. Say Jose Altuve leads off with a single. Up comes Jeremy Pena. The pitcher gets two “disengagements” during Pena’s at bat. Pickoff attempts and stepping off the rubber both count as “disengagement.” A third disengagement not resulting in a pickoff is an automatic balk. Does Altuve take a huge lead to draw pickoff throws knowing that after two non-pickoffs he gets a big advantage?

Might any unintended consequences result from the rules changes? Let’s find out.

Can I interest you in an Astros podcast?

Stone Cold ‘Stros is the weekly Astro-centric podcast I am part of alongside Brandon Strange and Josh Jordan. On our regular schedule it airs live at 3PM Monday on the SportsMapHouston YouTube channel, is available there for playback at any point, and also becomes available in podcast form at outlets galore. Such as:

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