Critical questions the Astros must answer in the short & long-term

Astros Tucker, Valdez, Correa, Maldonado
What should the Astros do with Martin Maldonado? Composite image by Jack Brame.

Perhaps it's too early to anoint the Houston Astros a certifiable dynasty. Let's reserve that for:

New York Yankees (1936-43) – seven American League pennants and six World Series titles.

Boston Celtics (1959-66) - eight consecutive NBA championships.

UCLA Bruins (1967-73) – seven NCAA titles, including four undefeated seasons.

Ming (1368-1644) – trade expansion, drama and literature in China.

But with five consecutive American League Championship appearances and sitting one home win from their third World Series visit in five years – and counting - the Astros certainly qualify as a modern baseball dynasty. At the very least, the current Astros are the most successful pro sports team ever in Houston.

Still, as the Astros steam toward the 2021 World Series appearance, there are questions that must be answered, two for the future, one immediately. Let's start with the here and now.

What to do with catcher Martin Maldonado? Sure he's a fine defensive catcher with a Howitzer throwing arm. He guns down potential base stealers like the shooting gallery at Carter Country. But MLB teams don't steal – or even try – like they used to, so Maldonado's best talent is reduced to merely a reputation.

That leaves us with Maldonado's offense. He is, quite simply, one of the worst hitters in the Major Leagues. He batted a puny .172 this season. Below the Mendoza Line? He can't see the Mendoza Line. So far in the ALCS, he is 0-11, with key rally-killing outs. Maldonado is a throwback to Little League baseball, where teams have "automatic outs" at the bottom of the batting order. The only difference between Maldonado and the No. 9 hitter on Tadpole teams in Little League – Maldonado can't return his bats for a refund at Academy at the end of the season.

Meanwhile Jason Castro is 2-3 in a pinch-hitting role and delivered a monumental hit for the Astros in their critical Game 4 victory. Yes, he's not as skilled behind the plate as Machete, but as the World Series approaches, you play the hot hand. Castro's hitting is more valuable than Maldy's defense.

What to do with Carlos Correa? This one is easy. Sign him. The end. The fans love him. The players respect him. He is a team leader. He's a clutch hitter and an amazing shortstop. What's not to like about Correa as a pivotal Astro moving forward? Do not screw this up, owner Jim Crane and general manager James Click.

What to do with Dusty Baker? With two ALCS appearances in the bag and a World Series appearance looming, Baker is the most successful manager in the American League the past two seasons. The players respond to his leadership. He restored calm after the Astros cheating scandal was revealed. He's a future Hall of Famer. If the Astros do not sign Baker to an extension, there would be one reason and one reason only – he's 72 years old. That is the very illustration of age discrimination.

Can Baker still do the job? Obviously. Does he still want to manage the Astros? Absolutely. Does he look like a weirdo wearing batting gloves and wristbands with a toothpick in his mouth during games? He's quirky. Do his post-game press conferences sound like transmissions from the Bizarro World? That's what happens when AT&T SportsNet buys audio equipment from Mattel. But bottom line, Baker is the manager to lead the Astros in the future, if only the near future. Good luck defending a decision to let him go, Astros.

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Astros lose to Braves, 6-2. Composite Getty Image.

Reynaldo López struck out seven over six scoreless innings, Orlando Arcia homered and the Atlanta Braves won their third straight, 6-2 over the Houston Astros on Tuesday night.

López (2-0) allowed four hits and walked one in his third straight sterling outing to start the season.

“It’s like I’ve always said, for me, the important thing is to focus,” López said through an interpreter. “To have the focus during the outings and then, to be able to locate those pitches.”

He has given up one run in 18 innings for an ERA of 0.50.

“He threw the ball really well against a really good hitting club,” Atlanta manager Brian Snitker said. “Another solid one.”

Arcia hit a solo home run to left in the second and a sacrifice fly in the seventh.

Luis Guillorme and backup catcher Chadwick Tromp each hit a two-run double in the ninth to put the Braves ahead 6-0.

“Tromp has done a good job ever since we’ve been bringing him in these situations and filling in,” Snitker said. “I’ve got all the confidence in the world in him back there. ... He’s an aggressive hitter. He’s knocked in some big runs for us in the limited time that he’s played.”

Kyle Tucker homered for the Astros leading off the ninth against Aaron Bummer, and Mauricio Dubón had a two-out RBI single to cut the lead to four. After Bummer walked Chas McCormick to put two on, Raisel Iglesias induced a groundout by Victor Caratini to end it and secure his fourth save.

“They pitched well, and our guys are grinding out at-bats,” Houston manager Joe Espada said. “Even in the ninth inning there, we’re grinding, fighting until the end.”

Hunter Brown (0-3) yielded two runs on five hits with three strikeouts and three walks in six innings. Brown allowed nine runs in two-thirds of an inning in his previous start, last Thursday against Kansas City.

Brown said he executed better Tuesday than he had in his previous two starts.

“He mixed all his pitches well,” Espada said. “The breaking ball was effective. He threw some cutters in on the hands to some of those lefties. He mixed his pitches really well. That was a really strong performance.”


Braves: 2B Ozzie Albies was placed on the 10-day injured list with a broken right big toe. IF David Fletcher had his contract selected from Triple-A Gwinnett to take Albies’ place on the roster.

Astros: RHP Justin Verlander (right shoulder inflammation) threw a side session Tuesday, but Houston will wait until Wednesday to see how Verlander feels before deciding whether he will make his first start this weekend against the Nationals, Espada said. ... RHP Luis Garcia (right elbow surgery) threw around 20-25 pitches off the bullpen mound, and RHP José Urquidy (right forearm strain) also threw off the mound, Espada said. ... LHP Framber Valdez (left elbow soreness) played catch off flat ground.


Atlanta LHP Max Fried (1-0, 8.74 ERA) starts Wednesday in the series finale opposite RHP J.P. France (0-2, 8.22).

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