Here's an outside the box look at the Astros latest stretch

Here's an outside the box look at the Astros latest stretch
Fear not, Astros fans! Composite image by Jack Brame.
Here are the critical factors that helped Houston climb to top of AL West

Here in the city of Houston, we have a very culturally and socially diverse city. If you visit our sister site CultureMap, you'll know everything you need to know about the social scene around our fair city. When it comes to the food, Houston has very few rivals. CultureMap Food Editor Eric Sandler is the man when you're looking for guidance in that department. He's a tremendous follow on Instagram and Twitter.

If you're into food as much as most of us are, you undoubtedly have your pick of favorite places you want to eat. Whether it's a high class place, hole in the wall, chain restaurant, or a mom-and-pop shop, there's a variety of places to choose from. The variety of different types of food is vast as well. Because the city is so culturally and socially diverse, one can feed any type of craving on any given day. But there's always your favorite places that you end up eating at multiple times a month in some cases. You tend to enjoy the food, atmosphere, and the service.

Service may be the most important of all because we all want to be treated fairly. Food and atmosphere mean a lot too. The Astros remind me lately of your favorite restaurant shocking you with bad service, food, and atmosphere. They're 4-6 in their last 10 games and have had a penchant for playing down to the level of their competition this season. It's like asking for a steak to be cooked medium, and it comes out well done. Or asking for a sweet tea, but you get unsweet tea instead. What happens if you get there and the air conditioning isn't working? Talk about a disappointment!

The good thing is, we know we can't expect for our favorite restaurant to get everything right every time. That's why we'll go back time after time (watching game after game). We know what they're capable of because we frequent the establishment often (World Series champs in 2017, another appearance in 2019, four straight ALCS trips). So do you bail on your favorite eatery if they fall short once or twice (having a 5-10 combined record against the Tigers, Orioles, and Rockies)? No! You will still go back and order something, possibly the same thing you ordered last time when they messed it up, and give them another shot!

There's almost a third of the season left. The Astros are up in the AL West by two games, and behind the White Sox for best record in the AL by two games. The bullpen was shored up and some guys in the lineup are dealing with injuries. The starting pitching hasn't been consistent either, but we know the potential they have. Once healthy and roles are clearly defined, this team will hit its collective stride just in time for the playoffs. When that time comes, they'll be playing the league's best teams, and that's when they typically perform their best. Fear not, Astros fans! The restaurant is only having some staff issues, but will be back up and running like a well oiled machine in no time, serving up your favorite dishes!

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Jose Abreu looks lost at the plate. Composite Getty Image.

It’s a long baseball season, sure the Astros have started 4-8, and there are plenty of fingers to point around. But there’s no need to push the panic button.

Not yet.

Last year, the Astros didn’t start much better – they were 5-7 after a dozen games. It just seemed different, though. Nobody was wringing hands over the slow start. After all, the Astros were the defending World Series champions, coming off a 106-win season and figured to make mincemeat of the American League West again. Business as usual.

This year is different. The Astros are losing games in very un-Astros-like fashion. While the starting pitching has been surprisingly fine, at least the starters healthy enough to take the field, the bullpen has been a mess. The back end relievers, supposedly the strongest in all of baseball, have been disappointing. Bryan Abreu’s earned run average is 5.79. Ryan Pressly’s ERA is a sky-high 11.57 and closer Josh Hader, the best shutdown in the bigs, is at 6.00. The Astros are losing games late.

The Astros starting rotation is comprised mostly of seat-fillers. The Astros are sitting in the doctor’s waiting room for Justin Verlander, Framber Valdez, Jose Urquidy, Luis Garcia and Lance McCullers to be declared fit for battle. McCullers’ contribution to the team in recent years has primarily been confined to H-E-B commercials.

Impatient fans and copy-hungry media need a target to blame for the Astros’ slow start and they’ve zero’d in on first baseman Jose Abreu.

For good reason. Abreu, 37, a former American League MVP, is being paid 19.5 million this year and next. He is having a miserable time at the plate. Originally slated for No. 5 in the batting order, now dropped to No. 7 and sinking in the west, Abreu is hitting a paltry .088. But that number actually is deceptively positive. He has three hits (all singles) in 34 at bats, with 12 strikeouts, no home runs and no RBI. Frankly one of Abreu's singles was a pity hit from a friendly scorekeeper who could have given Royals shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. an error on Abreu’s weak grounder Tuesday night.

We can go all-analytics and brain-busting stats to explain Abreu’s troubles at the plate. But let’s use simple baseball language: Abreu is horrible. He’s done. Maybe it’s time for the Astros to cut bait. He is untradeable.

Abreu had a disastrous 2023 season, batting .237, the lowest average of his 11-year career. But after 12 games last year, he was hitting .271, not bad at all. Or as Larry David would say, pret-tay, pret-tay, pre-tay good.

This year he’s fallen off the end of the Earth. Fans groan as he swings meekly at breaking balls outside the zone. Or he fails to catch up to 95 mph-plus. Or he can’t connect on low inside pitches. Look, when you’re batting .088, it’s all bad.

Last year, the Astros actually had two, as Little Leaguers put it, automatic outs in the lineup. Abreu hit .237 and catcher Martin Maldonado blasted .191.

This year, it’s a tight battle between who’s the worst of the worst. Maldy is hitting .091 with two hits in 22 at bats and no RBI for Abreu’s old team, the Chicago White Sox. Abreu is hitting .088 for Maldonado’s old team, the Astros. This could go down to the last week of the season.

If Abreu is still with the Astros at season’s end. The Astros are no longer the high exalted dominant force in the American League West. They can’t afford an .088 hitter in the lineup. They can’t play eight against nine.

It didn’t help when manager Joe Espada recently said, “I got a ton of confidence in Abreu. I'm not going to talk about strategy. José Abreu has been a really good hitter for a very long time, and I have 100 percent confidence in José that, at some point, he's going to start hitting.”

How long is at some point? Didn’t Astros fans go through this last year with manager Dusty Baker refusing to sit Maldonado despite Maldy killing rallies in a tight pennant race?

The Astros don’t have a strong support system, especially backing Abreu at first base. But there are options. Mauricio Dubon is a jack of all trades. He could play first. Despite the funny line in Moneyball, first base statistically is the easiest position to play in baseball. Backup catcher Victor Caratini can fill the gap until the Astros sign a free agent first baseman.

Or the Astros could do something that would light a fire under fans: call up rookie Joey Loperfido, who’s belted five homers and driven in 13 RBI in 10 games for the Sugar Land Space Cowboys.

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