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

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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Jae'Sean Tate had himself a night. Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images.

No Christian Wood. No Kevin Porter Jr. No Jalen Green. No problem. Jae’ Sean Tate became a complete superhero for the Houston Rockets versus the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday night.

He recorded 32 points, 10 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 5.0 blocks, and 2.0 steals and shot 73 percent from the field. With that stat line, he joined former Rocket Hakeem Olajuwon and other historic big men from the past, which Tim MacMahon reported.

Tate is known for his leadership and the ability to be humble. When a reporter asked Tate about the stat line, he said, “How many turnovers? Nah, 25 assists, that’s what sup! Can’t be mad at that.” An expression like that shows the importance of putting his teammates first before taking all the shine. Tate is providing more passion with communication and being the rock that the "Baby Rockets" can lean on.

Coach Silas' confidence in Tate is something built from last year and it shows. Those two have constant dialogue throughout the game, and it’s seen before the huddle or when Silas is standing on the sideline before he calls a play. Silas has run consistent sets for Tate, as he did that within the 15-game losing streak. He dialed up an out of bounds action with 33.4 seconds left, so Tate could make a clutch layup towards the rim.

“Long, long, long ago in his rookie year…we definitely have a bond and with those two guys out, we needed some scoring,” Silas said. “He was the guy who was playing the hardest from start to finish and down the stretch we ran that elbow iso for him. And he just went through his defender and finished. And he made some huge plays in the 4th quarter, which is what you need. Yeah, I trust him as much as anybody else, and he has earned that, and he deserves it.”

“That just shows the confidence Coach Silas, and my teammates have in me,” said Tate. “We lost some of our primary guys tonight. And not only me, but everybody also stepped up.”

His usage rating is slowly going up, which is posted at 18.9 percent per NBA stats. In isolation, Tate is averaging 1.00 points per possession, which puts him in the 75th percentile(!) per NBA stats. Tate is seeing more action out of the corner, so it can allow him to get to his left hand on offense. The elbow iso action is a play that Tate has run since high school, college, overseas, and in the NBA now. He mentioned that the set allows him to get comfortable when his number is called.

“That’s not my primary role and I think everyone knows that,” Tate said. “I am very confident [in] what I bring to the table offensively. Not only scoring wise but seeing the floor and being able to make [a] decision in space. And that kind of helps me when they overlook the scouting report.”

“[I've] been running that play since I was [in] high school. At Ohio St. I ran that. Even when I was overseas, Will Weaver, that was a play he put in. To have that called tonight, it felt familiar and it’s one of my strengths. And playing in the mid-post area and getting to my left hand.”

Tate was excellent for the Rockets on both sides of the ball, as he had a 116.9 offensive and 108.5 defensive rating with an 82.5 percent in true shooting versus the Thunder. Hopefully, Tate can be the leading catalyst again, as the Rockets face the Orlando Magic and New Orleans Pelicans, which are winnable games. It should become a six-game winning streak, as John Wall might play if his condition is right.

Up next: The Rockets face the Orlando Magic on Friday night.

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